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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →
  • Commentary Featured Features Jewish 100 The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2014

    The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2014

    The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2014 ACADEMIA Alain Finkielkraut Moshe Halbertal Deborah Lipstadt Jacob Metzer Steven Pinker Tammi Rossman-Benjamin ARTS AND CULTURE Yaacov Agam David Blatt Leonard Cohen Gal Gadot Scarlett Johansson Ryan Kavanaugh Steven Spielberg Harry Styles INNOVATION AND ACTIVISM Meira Aboulafia Adina Bar-Shalom Nitsana Darshan-Leitner Daniel Gold Anett Haskia Ephrat Levy-Lahad Gabriel Nadaf Dumisani Washington GOVERNMENT Tony Abbott José María Aznar Ron Dermer Yuli Edelstein Abdul Fatah el-Sisi Stephen Harper Goodluck Jonathan Mitch McConnell Narendra Modi [...]

    Read more →
  • Features Jewish 100 Jewish 100, 2014: Bassam Eid – Voices

    Jewish 100, 2014: Bassam Eid – Voices

    Bassam Eid Palestinian human rights activist While Palestinians who demonize Israel as the sole reason for their woes receive no shortage of media invitations, those among them who spotlight their own leaders’ iniquities are far less in demand. Even so, the profile of Bassam Eid, the Director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, is thankfully continuing to grow. Eid’s latest campaign is for the overhaul of UNRWA, the UN refugee agency dedicated solely to the Palestinians, which he says [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.