Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Jewish Fiction Finds a New Home on the Internet

September 19, 2012 2:10 am 2 comments

Nora Gold, founder of JewishFiction.net. Photo: JewishFiction.net.

Speaking over lively klezmer music in a Krakow café, Canadian author and freelance journalist Menachem Kaiser wonders if Jewish readers are comfortable with the term “Jewish fiction.”

Kaiser is a recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship in Lithuania, where he teaches creative writing. His story, Din, was recently published alongside several prominent authors in a new online journal, JewishFiction.net.

Din is a sensitive account of the personal guilt and private anguish of “genetic incompatibility” faced by a young Jewish couple, each a carrier of lethal Tay Sachs disease. Although Kaiser admits that his Jewish background strongly influences his work, and that “highly Jewish” themes often rise to the surface and become his focus, he is reluctant to narrowly define the genre that he and fellow Jewish writers produce.

“Are we writing in a closed language?” he tells JNS.org, warning against typifying Jewish motifs. “We’re not exactly an endangered species, and it’s not an emerging market. In many ways it is actually a dominant voice.”

If not dominant, Jewish voices have always been impacted by the cultural and political realities that surround the faith. Always at the center of modern public dialogue and debate, Israel is the source of strongly emotional and disparate views among readers. For Dr. Nora Gold, the founder and editor of JewishFiction.net, publishing Jewish stories from around the world has highlighted and linked unique perspectives. “I see this journal as a means to bring together in one place first-rate Jewish fiction from many different countries, thus allowing us all to experience simultaneously the rich diversity that exists within Jewish culture and the core elements that unite us,” she writes in the “About” section of the journal. “I am also committed to trying to build a bridge, and a dialogue, between Jewish writers in Israel and the Diaspora.”

Since débuting in September 2010, the JewishFiction.net site —which can be read free of charge—has attracted readers in 95 different countries. Registered as a non-profit in Canada, the site is the only online or print publication in the world devoted solely to Jewish fiction. Gold actively solicits and receives submissions and translations of works by distinguished authors—including Elie Wiesel, Ann Birstein, Chava Rosenfarb, Yorem Kaniuk, and others—lending the publication real prestige. To achieve broad appeal, every issue reserves space for bright, energized, up-and-coming new writers. Gold’s team of reviewers is swamped with submissions and blessed with an abundance of young talent. Gold herself won a Canadian Jewish Book Award for Marrow and Other Stories.

As editor-in-chief, Gold pays particular attention not only to gender balance, but also to the language mix represented on the site. Every installment includes at least two or three Hebrew works translated into English. Stories have also been translated from Spanish, French, Russian, Rumanian, Serbian, Turkish, Croatian, and Yiddish.

Gold recalls founding JewishFiction.net in part because she worried that upheaval in the publishing industry might limit opportunities for Jewish voices to be heard. The global nature of the Internet allows her to portray a vivid perspective of Jewish communities previously isolated by language barriers, but also provides a vehicle for spotlighting quality storytelling otherwise rejected by mainstream publishers due to its Jewish content.

Ostracizing Jewish writers is a serious charge. Yet, several writers in Gold’s circle readily recount rejection because their work focused on Jewish themes unfamiliar to general audiences. Indeed, many also worry that hints of anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment influence modern media practices.

Author Leora Skolkin, whose novel Edges is currently being adapted for film and whose story, A Tape of Helen Gilderstein Speaking, was published in the December 2011 issue of JewishFiction.net, observes a narrowing of publishable Jewish perspectives, especially in journalism. “When I talk to Jewish Americans they expect there to be one ideology or sensibility applicable to Israel,” she tells JNS.org. “This is not the case. For example, Israel is now less a by-product of the holocaust in Europe than it once was. In fact it is an authentic Middle Eastern country and this viewpoint is almost never heard.”

Skolkin’s fiction focuses primarily on her relationship with her mother, a character whose lineage in the Levant dates back to the 16th century. Skolkin’s mother represents the heroine who once concealed munitions during a daring mission to supply Haganah soldiers fighting for Israel’s independence, but she also is a symbol of the country’s historical diversity. Through this character, Skolkin is able to conjure a time when borders were porous, Israel was not surrounded by hostile Arab states, and Jewish relations with Palestinian Arabs were not as tense.

“My mother always said: once you talk about certain things, you ruin them,” Skolkin writes in A Tape of Helen Gilderstein Speaking. The quotation is a reference to a Kabbalah ritual that her mother strictly observed. “In silence you are preserving the dignity of experience,” Skolkin further explains the quote. She openly wonders if this method of dealing with traumatic events like the Holocaust might have saved Jewish people today from having to deal with a backlash in public opinion.

“Prior to the 1967 war there was still post-Holocaust sympathy for the plight of the Jews, but we forgot to be humble after victories and now we are seen as ‘occupiers,'” Skolkin says. She refuses to accept the title of “occupiers” given her family’s presence in Israel long before the conception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ultimately, Skolkin sees a unique opportunity for writers submitting their work to JewishFiction.net rather than to mainstream publications like the New YorkerThe New York Times, or even popular Jewish sites like Tablet. “I thirst for the world to be more open to a comprehensive history of Israel,” she explains. “At JewishFiction.net there is real diversity you can’t get anywhere else. What Dr. Gold and JewishFiction.net gave me was a sense of affirmation.”

As new and acclaimed voices in fiction join JewishFiction.net, it is clear that Gold is fulfilling her ambition: highlighting the rich diversity of Jewish culture. Whether or not the publication represents the emerging genre of “Jewish fiction,” the term Kaiser worries is overbearing, ultimately will be determined by the publication’s readership. Gold is pleased to report that JewishFiction.net engages a large Jewish audience as well as a growing number of enthusiastic non-Jewish readers.

Kaiser, meanwhile, remains focused on his writing and distances himself from being labeled a Jewish Author. “You get a nugget of an idea and something happens,” he advises creative writers, “whether or not the story fits with a publication’s mission shouldn’t matter.”

2 Comments

  • Good to see Algemeiner able to picture Lithuania in a more balanced and positive light that at times in the past.
    I have met Menachem on occasion in Vilnius and was happy to have a number of conversations, as fun and intelligent as any we might have had anywhere else in the world. The enmity (real or fictional) of the previous Jewish or Lithuanian generations do not apply to that of Menachem – or mine. I wish Jewish media was as reflective of this fact as the Lithuanian.

  • Fascinating interview.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Music Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    Coldplay Begins Concert With Broadcast of Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech in ‘The Great Dictator’

    British rock band Coldplay started its set at the Glastonburg Festival on Sunday by broadcasting excerpts of the iconic speech Charlie Chaplin delivered in The Great Dictator, the 1940 political satire in which the famous filmmaker/movie star played a Jewish barber. “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone,” Chaplin begins his address. “I should like to help everyone, if possible, Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    JNS.org – The seed for the city of Cleveland’s first professional championship in a major sport in 52 years may have been planted at the Shaw Jewish Community Center on White Pond Drive in Akron, Ohio, nearly 20 years ago. That’s when a tall, lanky kid from Akron named LeBron James walked onto the hardwood court and changed the game of basketball forever. Coach Keith Dambrot, now the head basketball coach at the University of Akron, conducted those sessions that attracted […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →