Publishing House Calls for Diversity in Short Story Submissions


Photo: Neil Heilpern

A special call for short stories by Reclaiming Judaism Press focuses attention upon the need for stories that reflect the great diversity among Jewish youth and families.

Scheduled for a 2014 fall release, the emerging collection from the jury’s process for “A Family Treasury of Mitzvah Stories” revealed gaps in coverage when it came to lives that include: GBLTQ, immigration, special needs, interracial, interfaith, Middle Eastern and Sephardi Jews and neighbors, Jewish cultures outside of the U.S., and progressive gender roles.

Founder and editor in chief of Reclaiming Judaism Press, Rabbi Goldie Milgram, called for submissions of stories that reflect youth and family diversity, while deepening appreciation and understanding of the vast array of Jewish spiritual practices, each of which is termed a mitzvah.

More after the jump.
The submission guidelines for “A Family Treasury of Mitzvah Stories” include a request for fiction, as well as creative non-fiction stories, between one page- and 3,000 word-long, that are appropriate for families with youth from the age of 5 through teens.

A wide array of mitzvot, interpreted through the lens of spirituality and meaning for living, are given in the special call in order to stimulate creative storytelling. For example:

  • lo tikom v’lo titur (Hold no grudges and take no revenge), and
  • teshuvah (admitting errors and taking steps for healing of relationships).

A Family Treasury of Mitzvah Stories will be dedicated to Danny Siegel. Vast numbers of Jewish educators and clergy have been inspired by Siegel’s decades of innovative mitzvah-centered publications, poetry, guidance and programs, including the Ziv Foundation, which dedicated over $14 million to fulfill a huge array of mitzvah opportunities.

Reclaiming Judaism Press creates innovative resources for meaningful Jewish living in a context of respectful Jewish pluralism. The first volume in this series Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning, along with its matching deck of Mitzvah Cards and free downloadable discussion guide, fully reached its goals for diversity inclusion, receiving finalist honors from the Jewish Book Council’s National Jewish Book Awards.  

New Jewish Faces on Capitol Hill in 2013

PM Netanyahu Meets with Senator Daniel Inouye— by David A. Harris

Now that the 113th Congress has been sworn-in, we thought you would be interested in learning a little bit about the newest members from our community who are bringing their Jewish values to Capitol Hill.

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu presents Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) with a replica of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jerusalem
(September 2, 2012). Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO

More after the jump.

  • Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz was appointed to the U.S. Senate following the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) — a pro-Israel giant and true friend of the American Jewish community. Notably, Senator Schatz was sworn into the Senate with a Tanakh, and his entrance into the Senate brings the total of Jewish partisan Democrats to 10 — the number required for a minyan. (Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an eleventh Jewish senator who caucuses with the Democrats, is an Independent.)
  • Representative Lois Frankel (D-FL) is a former Mayor of West Palm Beach, Florida and she successfully fought a tough campaign against a formidable opponent. Frankel is very familiar with the issues that concern her constituents, including protecting the social safety net and support for Israel.
  • Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL), who was defeated following his first term in 2010, is beginning the second chapter of his congressional career in the 113th Congress. Grayson is an outspoken advocate for many of the issues of concern to American Jews, and his voice will be important in rallying the Democratic caucus.
  • Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) was a prominent voice in both the California Assembly and Senate, and believes in so many of the policies supported by the clear majority of our community.
  • Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL) is a distinguished businessman and Jewish leader from Chicago who ousted incumbent Representative Robert Dold (R-IL). Schneider is an outspoken Israel supporter and is committed to protecting America’s middle class.

Film Chat: One of the Lamed Vav

— by Hannah Lee

With much difficulty and the necessity of a personal courier to hunt for it in Israel, my shul, Lower Merion Synagogue, was able to screen the documentary film, One of the Lamed Vav, about the life of Rav Aryeh Levin, whose biography was titled, A Tzaddik In Our Time. (Lamed Vav refers to the 36 righteous people hidden in our midst, according to mystical lore.) Our Rabbi Emeritus, Abraham Levene, then spoke about his esteemed grandfather to an audience of seniors. I took privilege in attending, although I was not a member of the target audience.  

More after the jump.
I’d read the 1976 biography A Tzaddik In Our Time but the new documentary filled in for me the early years of Rav Aryeh’s life and how he became known as the “Tzaddik of Jerusalem” and one of modern Israel’s most beloved icons, known for his great acts of chesed (loving kindness) for prisoners, lepers, and the poor. He died in 1969, but people still tell stories about Rav Aryeh.  Israel used his image on postage stamps in 1982.

Aryeh Levin was born on March 22, 1885 near the village of Urla, near Bialystok, in northern Lithuania. He was tutored by local teachers until the age of 12, and then left home to attend the great yeshivas of Eastern Europe in Slonim, Slutsk, and Volozhin.  His passion for Eretz Yisrael led him to study with Abraham Isaac Kook, later the Chief Rabbi of Palestine.

In one of his most renown roles, Rav Aryeh was the unofficial chaplain (he refused to be paid) for the Jewish political prisoners– members of the Palmach, Haganah, Irgun or Lehi who were fighting for Israeli independence– held during the British Mandate in the 1930’s. As these individuals dared not implicate their families, they had no means of communication with their loved ones. Walking long distances, Rav Aryeh would walk from his home in the Nachlaot neighborhood to the Central Prison in the Russian compound, then deliver messages to the prisoners’ families all over Jerusalem, offering words of comfort and hope. The former prisoners who were interviewed for the documentary were effusive in their praise of a man who was so gentle and loving; he inspired them all to become better people with his mere presence and kind words.

The documentary film, One of the Lamed Vav, has interviews with two grandsons, Rabbi David Levin and his cousin, Rabbi Benjamin (Benji) Levene as well as others, both in prominent positions as well as elderly folks interviewed on the streets. The two grandsons spoke about how their grandfather helped them find their niche in life– the former as chaplain in the Israeli Defense Forces, the latter for work bridging secular and religious Jews through his work with Gesher– as well as a continued source of inspiration and chizuk (strength), such as managing one’s anger in the face of verbal attacks.

Simcha Raz, the author of A Tzaddik In Our Time, was interviewed on the documentary and he recalled that on one of his last visits with Rav Aryeh, he asked if Rav Aryeh thought of himself as one of the Lamed Vavniks.  Sometimes, said the latter, because it’s not a permanent role and one could fulfill a necessary task and revert to being an ordinary person.  How inspiring is that for all of us?  We, too, could have our moment of divine mission and rise to the occasion!

Spiritual leader of Lower Merion Synagogue for 40 years, Rabbi Avraham Levene told me how his family’s name got changed: They were visiting his maternal grandparents in England when World War II broke out. He was traveling on his mother’s visa (being so young) and her name was spelled Levene.  His father’s name was Anglicized Lewen (in Hebrew, Lamed Vav or Lev), so to avoid the confusion of multiple names, his family adopted the spelling of Levene. After the war, they moved to the United States where his father had a pulpit position and there they stayed until the father retired back in his beloved Israel. Abraham Yitzhak was 15 when he traveled by himself to visit his grandfather, Rav Aryeh, who cried when they met– Abraham Yitzhak being the eldest grandchild of his eldest surviving son. The stories that my Rabbi Levene tell are of the time spent living with his grandfather, in a simple one-room home, where love and faith were the guiding principles.

Rabbi Benji Levene, younger brother of my Rabbi, has published a story about their grandfather, “The Escort,” in the 2011 book Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning, edited by Philadelphia Jewish Voice Religion Editor, Rabbi Goldie Milgram and Ellen Frankel with Peninnah Schram.

The biography of Rav Aryeh Levin, A Tzaddik In Our Time, by Simcha Raz is now out-of-print but it can still be ordered through Amazon; the DVD is not yet available for distribution in the United States.

Standing Ovation for World Premiere of Slaying The Dragon

The audience roared to its feet at the conclusion of the premiere of the new opera, Slaying the Dragon on Thursday night, with music by Michael Ching and an original libretto by Ellen Frankel. Perhaps you know the name, Ellen Frankel? Former long-time CEO of Jewish Publication Society and author of numerous books, a life-time goal, to create opera was satisfied in this powerful event at the Prince Music Theater in downtown Philadelphia. A renaissance woman among us and there’s another week of performances ahead!
Inspired by the true story about a Grand Dragon of the Klu Klux Klan and a transformative series of experiences with a rabbinic couple that was chronicled in the book Not the Sword by Kathryn Watterson, Slaying the Dragon stimulated voluminous lobby discussion of the challenging events portrayed which challenge each of us to find our own courageous voice in a world increasingly rife with racism, hatred and intolerance.

How was it for Ellen? In her own words:

After working on the opera, “Slaying the Dragon” for two years, through nine revisions of the libretto, seven workshops, and hours of collaboration with a team of talented artists, it’s hard to believe that the opera has finally taken its bow on the stage before live audiences — and to enthusiastic applause.There’s no feeling like it in the world!

Slaying the Dragon continues at the Helen Corning Warden Theater June 14 & 16 at 8:00 pm and June 17 at 2 pm. It is appropriate for a wide age range and those from all backgrounds. As Ellen added: “I’ve been incredibly gratified by the audience’s positive reaction, especially from a group of African-American high school students, who told me how meaningful and real it was to them. ‘It was so real, so emotional,’ one said.”

Tickets: www.OperaTheater.org

 

Talkback on “Slaying the Dragon”

— by Hannah Lee

Teshuvah (repentance) is a prominent Jewish value, but what happens when a high Ku Klux Klan high official renounces his life?  The world premiere of the opera, Slaying the Dragon, was heralded by a Q&A session with a panel consisting of: Ellen Frankel, the librettist and managing director of Center City Opera Theater; Kathryn Watterson, author of Not by the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman on which the opera is based; and Bob Wolfson, Associate National Director of Regional Operations for the Anti-Defamation League and formerly the local ADL officer in charge of Lincoln, Nebraska where the events took place.  The panel discussion took place on Sunday, June 3 at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

More after the jump.

In her 1995 book, Watterson, a professor in the English Department of the University of Pennsylvania, chronicled the stranger-than-fiction narrative of Larry Trapp, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan’s Lincoln chapter who had a change of heart, renounced his life of hatred and violence, and embraced Judaism.  

A double amputee and blind from the complications of diabetes, Trapp — a black-sheep, distant relation of the von Trapp family singers of The Sound of Music fame —  was inspired by the love and kindness offered by Michael and Julie Weisser.  

A remarkable couple, Michael Weisser was then cantor and spiritual leader of the Reform Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, one of two synagogues in Lincoln, and Julie was herself a convert to Judaism.  Together they were raising five children, and they all welcomed Trapp into their home — with the teen sisters giving up their own room — and nursed him while he was dying from his illness.  When Trapp died at age 42, he was buried in the Jewish cemetery there.

There are still people in the Jewish community in Lincoln who doubt Trapp’s sincerity in his transformation.  Wolfson recounted the “surreal feeling” he had when Trapp, who’d previously threatened his family, rolled up to the ADL office in his wheelchair and asked to give Wolfson a hug.  This was the guy that he had to warn his children against, and the reason they had to monitor the in-coming mail to the house.  

Wolfson thinks it was because the Angel of Death was at his back that Trapp personally apologized to every person he’d hurt in his campaign of hate.  However, it took courage to leave the KKK, because it was a public betrayal — by a Grand Dragon, no less!  The opera deviates from reality in that Trapp is portrayed as vulnerable, being mocked by his fellow Klansmen for his physical disabilities.  In actuality, he was a strong leader and was admired by his Klan, despite his inability to physically carry out the acts of evil and spite that he advocated.

Michael Weisser, now a rabbi in Flushing, New York, was a strong believer in redemption — he’d had his own tragedy to overcome.  Neither he nor his wife were punitive people; their preferred motto was: “Educate, not punish.”  When two college boys were on trial in Lincoln for defacing his synagogue, Weisser offered to lead educational classes for them both in lieu of jail time.  Watterson pointed out that society has surely gained more by the time these misguided youth spent at Weisser’s side than in prison.

Watterson noted that white supremacists are under-developed emotionally.  So much energy is expended on projecting hate that there is no room for personal growth.  Wolfson said that people often prefer to think of these people as “nuts.”  “Some are, but not all are so.”  Larry Trapp was not intellectually impaired, he said, but it is harder to contemplate rational people who hate obsessively.

Could what had happened in Lincoln happen here?  Hatred can happen anywhere.  Wolfson said that Weisser was a radical, whose Reform temple had lost members.  The conservative Jewish community looked askance at him, whom he would describes as “to the left, politically, of Mao Zedong,” the late Communist dictator of China.  

The Jews of Lincoln were Zionist and middle-of-the-road politically and they couldn’t understand Weisser who believed in the prophet-to-the-nation philosophy of Reform Judaism, stressing tikkun olam (repairing the world) and protesting injustice.  However, Weisser built up his congregation and brought life to the synagogue.

Watterson said that she focused on Trapp’s life as a white supremacist, because it was so similar to that of Timothy McVeigh, the man who detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring more than 800 people, the deadliest act of terrorism within the United States prior to the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Frankel, the librettist, said that the composer, Michael Ching, urged her to make Larry Trapp and Michael and Julie Weisser–  re-named Grand Dragon Jerry Krieg and Rabbi Nathan and Vera Goodman in the opera — less black-and-white evil and goodness incarnate.  He wanted her to bring the characters closer together and find the commonality in them.

Are we in a post-racial world?  Wolfson noted that the world has moved to the right in recent times, citing hate crimes in France, Greece, and the United States. Economic hardship and instability bring out the worst in human nature.  However, liberal-minded people tend not to regard this evidence of persistent racism as a motivation to keep the fight against bigotry at the top of their social action agenda, preferring to think that the issue has been resolved.

It’s most important, Watterson urged, “to get to know each other, beyond our comfort zone, and acknowledge each other’s humanity.”  She noted the spill-over of hate words into general society (e.g., “femini-Nazis”) and the public shaming and blaming tolerated in our communities.  We should foster more creativity, said she, not demonize “people of color.”

Herbert Levine, Frankel’s husband, asked from the audience about how the KKK was able to get away with its open acts of violence?  Where were the police, the FBI?  Wolfson said that in the case of the Asian immigrant community, the Laotian leadership told the police to let them handle acts of violence against their community in their own way.  Thus, after their community center was targeted by “Operation Gooks,” defaced and destroyed by Trapp’s minions, it was re-built by the Asian community anew, but this time behind barbed-wire fencing and patrolled by armed guards.

How strong is the KKK nowadays?  Watterson said they’re very organized — “the movement inspires action.”  One aborted example: Trapp himself had planned on assassinating Jesse Jackson, the black civil rights activist and Baptist minister, figuring that, in his weheelchair, he could get close to his targeted victim.  

Of the white supremacists groups, White Aryan Nation is more powerful, but there are local KKK groups in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Wolfson pointed out that the Internet allows these groups to organize more efficiently, not announcing a public rally until “12 minutes before” — with the leaders texting one another — to avoid police intervention.  The ADL (and the FBI) used to infiltrate these groups, but they can now avoid unwanted scrutiny more easily.  Wolfson noted that the biggest problem is the lone wolf, one who operates outside of group sanctions.  Frankel added that the Philly chapter of ADL has a full-time staffer who monitors the communication of hate groups and who maintains an ongoing dialogue with the FBI.

Evening performances of Slaying the Dragon will take place on June 14 and 16, with a 2 pm final show on June 17  at the Helen Corning Warden Theater at the Academy of Vocal Arts, on 1920 Spruce Street.   Limited  seating is available.  For tickets, visit www.OperaTheater.org.

 

New Opera Aims to ‘Slay’ Intolerance

Slaying the DragonA new opera, Slaying the Dragon, by composer Michael Ching, with libretto by Ellen Frankel, will have its world premiere in Philadelphia at the Prince Music Theater June 7 and 9 during the national Opera America Conference, with additional performances at the Academy of Vocal Arts on June 14, 16, and 17. It will be presented by Center City Opera Theater.

More after the jump.

Based on a true story depicted in the book, Not by the Sword by Kathryn Watterson, Slaying the Dragon is about a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, who renounces violence and hatred because of his unlikely friendship with a rabbi and his wife. The opera is a powerful vehicle for confronting contemporary themes of tolerance, the dangers of inflammatory rhetoric and stereotyping, and the possibilities of atonement, forgiveness, and personal redemption. Both men undergo personal transformations and break from the prisons of their dark pasts. We are all too familiar today with the brutal landscape of intolerance: bullying, gay-bashing, terrorism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and flash-mobs. One way to confront and overcome these modern manifestations of intolerance is to take a contemporary and non-traditional approach-through opera, for instance.

Ellen Frankel“This opera is a powerful vehicle for confronting contemporary themes,” says Ellen Frankel, librettist for Slaying the Dragon. “Tolerance, the dangers of inflammatory rhetoric and stereotyping, and the possibilities of atonement and personal redemption.”

Although Slaying the Dragon is librettist Ellen Frankel’s first opera, she has been writing libretti for choral works for the past twelve years, working primarily with Philadelphia composer, Andrea Clearfield. In May 2000, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony premiered Clearfield’s cantata, Women of Valor, which included two pieces by Frankel, “Sarah” and “Hannah.” In 2011, the Women’s Sacred Music Project commissioned Clearfield and Frankel to write a new movement, “Hagar,” for an adapted version of Women of Valor, which was performed in September 2011 at a Philadelphia abbey and synagogue.

In 2005, Philadelphia’s prestigious Mendelssohn Club Choir commissioned Clearfield to write a new oratorio; Frankel wrote the libretto. The resulting work, The Golem Psalms, inspired by the ancient Jewish legend of the Golem, premiered at the University of Pennsylvania in May 2006, performed by the Mendelssohn Club and the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, with Sanford Sylvan as baritone soloist, and has also been performed at Haverford College, Indiana University, and at Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center. Frankel and Clearfield have signed agreements with Center City Opera Theater to develop a full-length opera based on the legend of the Golem, as part of CCOT’s Creative Development Projects.

The Five Books of MiriamJPS Illustrated Children's BibleThe Encylopedia of Jewish SymbolsThe Classic Tales: 4000 Years of Jewish LoreDr. Frankel is the author of ten published books, including The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols, The Five Books Of Miriam and JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, which won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award. She served for eighteen years as the Editor in Chief and CEO of The Jewish Publication Society, the oldest and only nondenominational, non-profit publisher of Jewish works in English, and was named its first Editor Emerita upon her retirement in 2009.

Michael ChingIn writing the music for Slaying the Dragon, composer Michael Ching counters intolerance through the joy of music, bringing together a range of lively, eclectic, and wide-ranging styles. For his score, Ching drew from a variety of musical genres and sources-Yiddish folk songs, Vietnamese children’s songs, Jewish sacred music, Aryan rock, Broadway, and country-western tunes. Slaying the Dragon is Ching’s third full length opera.

Slaying the Dragon is the latest work to emerge from Center City Opera Theater’s Creative Development Projects, an ongoing series of new opera works that are brought from inception to fully-staged premieres. During the two-year development process, workshops for Slaying the Dragon included a libretto reading in June 2011, music workshops in September 2011 as a part of the Philadelphia Live Arts Fringe Festival and a second music workshop in January 2012, plus staged workshops in February 2012.

Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning

The Jewish Book Council has chosen Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning as its Jewish book of the week. Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning was written Ellen Frankel and The Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s Living Judaism editor Rabbi Goldie Milgram. Our heartfelt congratulations!

PJVoice readers will surely love, as the cover copy indicates: “to dive into these sixty inspiring and provocative adult-level mitzvah stories crafted by leading Jewish storytellers, rabbis and authors from across the full spectrum of Jewish life. These juried, newly-minted tales reveal how each mitzvah, when carried out with understanding and creativity, becomes a rich source of spirituality and meaning.” Mitzvah Stories cultivates respectful Jewish community and facilitates engaged Jewish living. Meant for reading and retelling across the generations, Mitzvah Stories shows us that Judaism is a spiritual practice.

Information on the companion deck of 52 professionally illustrated Mitzvah Cards follows the jump.

Mitzvah Cards: One Mitzvah Leads to Another

These 52 Mitzvah Cards convey many of the core spiritual practices of a meaningful Jewish life. Draw one card weekly for reflection, study & practice. Or, sort the cards by mitzvot you keep, those for further learning, and those you aren’t ready to take on. Discuss each with a friend or teacher. Guests can also select a card, and then share a mitzvah story or teaching. There are many more engaging applications for Mitzvah Cards. Each card has a pomegranate illustration based on the Talmudic saying “Every Jew is as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds.” Terms appear in Hebrew with transliteration and inspiring explanations. Appropriate for adults through b’nei mitzvah age. Meaningful gift for Hanukkah, birthday, wedding, Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah.