BOOK FAIR: The Many Reasons to READ

by SDJJ Staff | November 2012 | Post your comment »

By SDJJ Staff

The San Diego Jewish Book Fair never disappoints. Each year, it connects locals to authors from around the country and around the world — authors who are experts in their field, who are celebrated rabbis, award-winning journalists, New York Times bestselling authors and everything in between. This year is no different. The Book Fair starts strong, with opening night speaker and author Daniel Silva speaking on “The Fallen Angel,” his No. 1 bestselling novel, according to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly. The Book Fair shifts gears to focus on the real-life matter of Israel with its closing night speaker, Daniel Gordis, when he will share excerpts from his newest look at Israel and her nation-state identity, “The Promise of Israel.” In between Silva and Gordis, authors will speak on everything from cooking to fashion, and from psychology to the history of the Mossad. Get ready to read. This year’s San Diego Jewish Book Fair provides more than two-dozen reasons why. We feature 10 of them in the following pages. Read on for our reviews, and in some cases, a sneak peek of what the authors themselves will have to say to you in November. For more information on these and the rest of the authors scheduled to appear at the book fair, visit www.sdjbf.org or call the JCC Box Office for tickets at (858) 362-1348.

 

Daniel Silva

“The Fallen Angel”

 

Daniel Silva, the former CNN journalist turned master storyteller, has written another No. 1 bestseller, high-intensity thriller. Fans of the series that features Gabriel Allon — the Israeli spy/assassin by night who passes as a master art restorer by day — have propelled Silva’s latest masterpiece, “The Fallen Angel,” to the top of the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Denver Post and The Washington Post bestseller lists.

“Gabriel Allon is one of the most intriguing heroes of any thriller series,” writes The Philadelphia Inquirer. According to Silva, Gabriel’s birth as a character occurred quite by accident. The German-speaking Israeli Mossad agent whose cover job brings him up close to the world’s greatest pieces of art was dreamt up during a dinner party with a real life master art restorer. When Silva inquired if his friend would show him the behind-the-scenes secrets of what he calls ‘healing’ paintings, the friend agreed, and Gabriel Allon was born.

Since his introduction, Gabriel has accomplished something his creator never expected him to do — carry several global best sellers as an Israeli character.

He’s also courted many fans, including President Bill Clinton, since being introduced to readers in “The Confessor” (2003). In Fallen Angel, Gabriel is now a middle-aged Israel intelligence officer. Time and age are starting to catch up with him when he is called to solve a crime in a setting that is as colorful as Silva’s lead character.

“Fallen Angel” wastes no time with pleasantries. The opening pages strike a fast pace with the murder of a woman at the Vatican, and immediately we know there will be two investigations: one for the public and one to cover up the real reason for her death.

“Readers of my series know that Gabriel has intersected with the Vatican on numerous occasions throughout the Allon series,” Silva explains. For anyone who has traveled to Rome and the Papal City, it is easy to understand how the abundance of priceless artifacts, secret passageways, private intrigues and real life scandal make for excellent fiction.

“I fell in love with the Vatican as a setting several years ago. I spent eight days there last summer researching for the book and found the Vatican simply irresistible,” he explains. Why? Secrets and the Vatican go hand-in-hand.

“In the real world, I think a lot of novelists have had a lot of fun at the Vatican’s expense,” Silva says. “That said, the Vatican is a very secretive place. It is an absolute monarchy. The Pope in answerable to very few people, and quite frankly, the Vatican and the Church have made some dreadful mistakes over the past few years. That serves as a backdrop for this work and a motivating force for what propels the action in “Fallen Angel.”

 

Daniel Silva will speak about his book at 8 p.m. Nov. 3 at Temple Solel.

 

— Tinamarie Bernard

 

 

Daniel Smith

“Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety”

 

Daniel Smith makes the audacious claim, “I was anxiety personified,” in the introduction to his book “Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety.” This assertion falls under the heading “why I am qualified to write this book.” Uh oh, I worried, wondering whether Smith’s book would be a tough slog through a miasma of solipsistic thought. By page eight, he’d dispelled my “book-review anxiety” and won me over.

In “Monkey Mind,” Smith writes with disarming honesty about his lifelong battle with his jumpy, disordered, assume-the-worst monkey mind. He comes by his anxiety with genetic honesty, as his Jewish parents both battled the condition themselves. He takes us through his most debilitating panic attacks, all of which involved life’s major milestones: losing his virginity at age 16 to two older lesbian women who aggressively seduced him; adjusting to college life at Brandeis University; coping with his first post-college job as a fact-checker for The Atlantic magazine; and falling in love in his mid-20s, then struggling to maintain the relationship while battling his anxiety.

A gifted prose stylist, Smith marshals medical facts, literary quotes and even pencil-etchings to expand on his personal battles and make them universal. He uses some of his most absurd experiences to provide comic relief and several laugh-out-loud passages. One of his funniest bits involves his discovery that his wife’s ultra-thin maxi-pads with wings provide the perfect means to absorb and conceal the sweat produced by his anxiety-fueled armpit glands.

Why rehash so many excruciatingly painful and occasionally humiliating memories? As Smith notes in his introduction, “Anxiety is the most common of psychological complaints, not only the clinical condition that applies to the most people [nearly three of every 10 Americans], but, it’s often said, a universal and insoluble feature of modern life.” He offers himself up as a relatable case study. Smith has said he hopes readers who suffer from anxiety will see themselves in the book. He believes feeling that your experiences are described accurately can be healing and empowering.

At book’s end, Smith explains how he’s learned to keep his anxiety in check. He’s tried therapy, medication, deep breathing and meditation, amongst other remedies. He credits cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) as being the most helpful tool in his coping arsenal. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the distorted thoughts and beliefs that create anxiety. By recognizing and talking through irrational thoughts, a CBT patient learns how to head anxiety off at the pass. Smith also practices meditation to ease his worried mind. He notes that both CBT and meditation require dedication and discipline. “After all, a lifetime of anxiety doesn’t change overnight,” he says.

While Smith doesn’t provide easy answers, he gives his readers the benefit of his own, at times, debilitating struggle with anxiety, laced with humor, love and compassion. Smith emerges as a humble, hyper-intelligent, funny, empathetic mensch. Nu, so he’s anxious? What else is new? Smith will speak about his book at 4 p.m. Nov. 4 at Temple Solel.

 

— Sharon Rosen Leib

 

 

M. G. Lord

“The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness, and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice”

 

The ultimate film icon, Elizabeth Taylor left a legacy of beauty, activism and film. According to cultural critic and investigative journalist M. G. Lord, the woman with the violet blue eyes and ultra-opulent curves was also an accidental feminist.

Lord is no stranger to interesting topics, having written a biography from Barbie’s point of view (“Forever Barbie”), and a memoir that explores the masculine overtones in the U.S. space program. In “The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice,” Lord explores the legendary actress’s role as a ‘third wave’ feminist, one committed to social justice and cultural diversity.

It’s a role that Lord suggests started long before Taylor advocated for AIDS patients (widely known) or Israel (less widely known), and “Accidental Feminist” introduces readers to this premise that is both original and thought provoking.

“The legendary actress has lived her life defiantly in public — undermining post-war reactionary sex roles,” Lord writes. “Her powerful feminist impact has been hidden in plain sight,” in films such as: “A Day in the Sun” (1951; abortion and women’s access to birth control; “Giant” (1956; social injustice and activism); “BUtterfield 8” (1960; women’s sexual sovereignty); and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966; women’s self-actualization and film censorship).

Taylor converted to Judaism (as did another film icon, Marilyn Monroe) in her 20s, after the death of her third husband, Mike Todd. She explained in one of her many biographies that, “I felt terribly sorry for the suffering of the Jews during the war. I was attracted to their heritage. I guess I identified with them as underdogs.” Taylor is also quoted as saying that she had many questions about life and death and a need for formalized religion beyond what her upbringing in Christian Science provided.

Her commitment to Judaism and support of Israel was more than headline deep; in 1997, Taylor offered herself as an exchange for Israeli hostages in an Air France Hijack attack. This led to some of her work being banned in parts of the Middle East, including Egypt, for a time. When the epic film “Cleopatra” was released in 1963, the Egyptian authorities changed their minds and allowed the film to be shown in their country.

“The Accidental Feminist” draws on Taylor’s film career, interviews with those who knew her, letters and other materials to strengthen the claim that Taylor was a woman decades ahead of her time. Lord says she hopes her book inspires the newest generation of feminists to revisit Taylor’s archives of film.

“Younger feminists have also made a practice of re-appropriating pioneering cultural icons from the past,” says Lord in a discussion with Book Review. “I hope they will come to embrace Taylor — or at least explore that possibility by reading my book.”

M. G. Lord will speak about her book at 10 a.m. Nov. 5 at Temple Solel.

 

— Tinamarie Bernard

 

 

Susan Isaacs

“Goldberg Variations”

 

Meet Gloria Goldberg Goldberg Gallinson. Or better yet, you might want to pass. Excluding her employees at her own beauty company, Glory, few would probably find her at all likeable. Especially her three 20-something grandchildren, who hardly know their grandmother, and from what they know, they’re not exactly thrilled about spending a long weekend away from their New York City homes and in her Santa Fe, N.M., mansion. That’s because the bitter, hardened 79-year-old woman has been estranged from her family for many years. She’s also a self-made millionaire who is trying to decide which one of the three will inherit her lucrative business. Except none of them really wants it. In “Goldberg Variations,” Susan Isaacs takes the reader on a comedic, satirical battle of wits between grandparent and grandchildren in a search for reconciliation. Isaacs speaks her book at noon Nov. 5 at Temple Solel.

 

San Diego Jewish Journal: I’ve heard you describe “Goldberg Variations” as sort of “King Lear” turned on its head.

Susan Isaacs: Right. I didn’t think “Oh ‘King Lear,’” and then write the book. About halfway though the book, Gloria was simply giving me her dialogue, and said some thought from “King Lear,” and I said, “This is what it is.” It’s “King Lear,” except nobody wants the kingdom. It turns it on its head, and it makes it comic. It’s really about reconciliation, and whether or not that’s possible or realistic.

 

SDJJ: Is there any relation to Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”?

SI: Only in that I was listening to it on my iPhone, and partway through I was just looking down at the screen, and I kept seeing the title scroll across, “Goldberg Variations,” “Goldberg Variations,” and I thought, “Oh, that would be a funny title for somebody’s novel.”

 

SDJJ: That was before you’d even come up with the idea?

SI: Right. [Then, coming up with the concept] was quick. I’ve always felt that my subconscious mind does more than half the work, so I think something like that was there, and this brought it to the surface.

 

SDJJ: All of your characters, especially Gloria and her two granddaughters, are full of electricity and chutzpah. Did you have any real-life inspirations for them?

SI: There’s certainly no one-on-one correspondence. But I’ve known a lot of strong women in my life, strong Jewish women — my grandmother, who was my role model, and so many others. I think one of the things I enjoy writing about is taking relatively ordinary women … and putting them into a situation and seeing how they react. I think I’ve done that in most of my novels; it’s been Jewish women or partly Jewish women, on the theory of ‘write about what you know.’

 

SDJJ: What about Gloria? Was it difficult to put yourself in her head when you were writing her parts, particularly some of the nastier things she had to say?

SI: That’s really part of the fun for me, in that I’d written characters before who were tough. … It’s not so much that Gloria is aggressively confrontational, but she just is perceptive enough to find someone’s most sensitive area and then go for it. She lacks an internal sensor, and certainly in her thoughts she’s even less generous than she is in her speech. But was it hard? It was actually fun. Her background was so different from mine, and her opinions were so different from mine, that I didn’t feel exposed.

 

SDJJ: With this particular family’s set of circumstances, would you say that Judaism saved the family and the relationships?

SI: There’s so much within Judaism about life, about how to live and rules and traditions and arguments and fights, that if you go there, any of your concerns will have had an airing at great length. You can go seeking and find something, and I think in that way, yes. There are laws and there are traditions, but there’s so much open to interpretation, and there’s so much experience there.

 

— Jessica Hanewinckel

 

 

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

“The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person”

 

Always a popular draw when he speaks at the San Diego Jewish Book Fair, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner is back this year with his latest work, “The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person.” The theme of God’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the misfortunes of our lives is a topic with which Rabbi Kushner is all too familiar, and one that has touched him personally ever since his own 3-year-old son was diagnosed with a degenerative disease and died in his early teens, in 1977. In fact, it was also the topic of his 1981 national bestseller, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Kushner revisits the subject with an evolved personal viewpoint, and this time through the context of the Book of Job, which Rabbi Kushner calls “the most challenging book of the Bible and one of the most sublime creations in all of biblical literature.” He will speak on his newest work at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at Temple Solel.

 

San Diego Jewish Journal: How did you write this book to be different from the first book you wrote on the topic “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”?

Rabbi Harold Kushner: In “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” which I wrote 31 years ago, I devoted about 10 pages or so to the Book of Job; what the problem is and how I think it’s answered. This [new] 200-page book is a chapter-by-chapter guide through Job, because some marvelous things happen there. You really have a debate on both sides of the equation. It’s the only book like it in the Bible, and nobody appreciates it because they read that awful first chapter and they give up on the whole book. There are some wonderful ideas in it.

 

SDJJ: Where do the philosophies differ, and does that mean that your personal perspective has changed over the years?

RHK: In 1981, my point was, God’s power is limited. Some people were liberated by that and very encouraged to be told that God didn’t cause your mother’s cancer. God didn’t cause the accident. Other people felt I was diminishing God, and I’ve been trying to explain myself for the last 30 years. In this book, I think there’s a subtler, more mature attitude. God’s power is self-limited. That is, God could have created a world in which He controls everything, in which He maintains all power, and we would be powerless. But He didn’t want that kind of a world. He wanted a world in which human beings, male and female, would be His partners. We get to choose whether we want to do something good or bad; He’s not pulling the strings.

 

SDJJ: At the end of your book, you say the reason something bad might happen to someone is because God is fair, nature is not.

RHK: You’ve got that perfectly right. The first time I ever made that point was in my talk on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I was speaking at a church in New Orleans, and I said, ‘You’re wondering why God would let this happen to you?’ And that was my answer: God is moral, nature is not. Nature is blind. Hurricanes go wherever winds and water currents tell them to. It’s not God’s choice and it’s not God’s punishment on a sinful city. This is not Sodom and Gomorrah replicated.

 

SDJJ: Do you think it’s okay to be the Job from the poem part of the Book of Job, to question God and to be angry with him?

RHK: Oh, it is more than okay. I think it’s the only acceptable religious response. I think we blaspheme against the notion of God if we say in the wake of a teenager killed in an automobile accident, ‘It was God’s will.’ I cannot worship a God who wants things like that to happen. I have two favorite passages in the entire Book of Job, maybe the entire Bible. In Chapter 6, where Job says, “If God is as great as you believe He is, He will respect my integrity more than your flattery.” He doesn’t use those words, but that’s what he means. Again in Chapter 18, where Baldad says to him, “The idea that we have a loving Father in heaven who will always protect us means so much to people. Why are you taking it away from them on the basis of your one week of atypical experience?” And Job answers, “I will not lie to God and I will not lie about God.”

 

— Jessica Hanewinckel

 

 

Jonathan Tropper

“One Last Thing Before I Go”

In “One Last Thing Before I Go,” Jonathan Tropper’s lead character, 44-year-old Drew Silver, is on the skids. The washed-up drummer from the one-hit-wonder rock band The Bent Daisies hasn’t been able to get his life back on track after the band breaks up and his wife gets fed up with his post-rock star antics and divorces him. Since the divorce seven years ago, he’s been a less-than-stellar father to his bright, beautiful, forgiving, Princeton-bound, 17-year-old daughter Casey. He’s missed many of her birthdays, sporting events and recitals. Full of self-loathing, Silver distances himself from his warm, loving, Jewish family. Despite all this, we can’t help but empathize with him. He’s male vulnerability personified.

Wisecracking Casey, who, like everybody else, calls her father Silver (not Dad), shares his vulnerability. And she still loves him. When she makes her own mistake by getting pregnant on the night she loses her virginity to (literally) the boy next door, she turns to her father. As a veteran maker of mistakes, Silver doesn’t judge or berate her. He asks her what she wants to do and then takes her to the local abortion clinic. While in the clinic’s waiting room with Casey, Silver has a stroke and passes out. He wakes up in the hospital to the news that he has a torn aorta and needs surgery to repair it ASAP. Problem is he doesn’t want the surgery because he doesn’t believe his miserable life needs to be prolonged. Silver decides to live it up and be a better man and father until the aorta breaks free and kills him.

The novel chronicles Silver’s family’s attempts to talk him into having the surgery. Will he or won’t he? Will Casey decide to follow through and have an abortion? Will Silver’s ex-wife Denise and her fiancé Rich get married? You’ll have to read this deftly written, sharply observed family-in-crisis novel to find out. Alternately funny and poignant, “One Last Thing” made me laugh and cry.

“I write about families from a male point of view. I like exploring the challenges of contemporary middle-class suburban families,” Jonathan Tropper said in an interview. Tropper, who lives in New Rochelle, in New York’s Westchester County, knows of what he writes. He’s the father of a 13-year-old boy and two girls, aged 11 and 6.

A prolific writer, Tropper has published six novels in the past 12 years that have been translated into more than 20 languages. His first four novels didn’t deal with explicitly Jewish subject matter. But his 2009 breakout novel, “This Is Where I Leave You,” and “One Last Thing” not only feature Jewish families but also delve into issues of faith and ritual.

“I finally allowed myself to access that world. It’s been a rewarding experience as a writer getting feedback about Jewish family life,” said Tropper, a Jewish day school graduate.

In addition to his body of fiction, Tropper writes screenplays (three of his novels, including “One Last Thing,” have been optioned for films) and just wrapped up five months of work on the HBO/Cinemax television series “Banshee” (premiering in 2013) that he co-created and executive produced. Despite all that, he said, his novels have his heart.

“Writing novels is my first love. I’m always excited about meeting the people reading my books and having the opportunity to talk to them,” he said.

 

— Sharon Rosen Leib

 

 

Dan Raviv

“Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars”

 

The Mossad, Israel’s indomitable intelligence agency, has its reputation for a reason. It’s common knowledge that the Mossad doesn’t play games when it comes to defending Israel and her citizens. But other than that, most people know very little of this agency whose reputation for anonymity, secrecy and stealth puts it somewhere between the Mafia and James Bond. But CBS journalist Dan Raviv doesn’t fall into the category of “most people.” In his follow-up to his 1990 bestseller “Every Spy a Prince: The Complete History of Israel’s Intelligence Community,” co-written with Yossi Melman, he and Melman reunite for “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.” In this complete account of Israeli intelligence history, which reads more like an edge-of-your-seat espionage thriller, they delve further into the depths of the Mossad and update readers on how Israeli intelligence and counter-intelligence have changed in the last 20 years — and change they have. We talk to Raviv about a few of the many fascinating angles his book explores. He’ll speak at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at the JCC.

San Diego Jewish Journal: How does someone on the outside of the Mossad write a book about the most classified details of its various operations over the years?

Dan Raviv: Well, it’s really a matter of whom you know. First of all, I’m very fortunate to have as my co-author Yossi Melman, who is acknowledged as the best writer on Israeli intelligence; this is our fifth book together. The second one was “Every Spy a Prince,” which similarly, in 1990, took a fair and balanced look at Israeli espionage with failures and successes, and in 1990 no one had done that. We had a good degree of cooperation back in 1990 from veterans of the Israeli security agencies who were ready to tell their stories, and Yossi especially stayed in touch with all those sources and developed even more sources as he continued writing for Haaretz. I kept my interest in the subject and did what I could in Washington and in London, where I was based before. We decided about two years ago that it really would be worth updating “Every Spy a Prince.” Clearly a lot more things had happened, but we felt that Israeli security had re-directed its attention to Iran as the main subject, so we went back to our sources; we continued to talk to people, some of them still in government, most of them, frankly, not, but recent veterans of Israeli security. And it’s a matter of do they trust you, and maybe even, do they like you. So Yossi and I have had a very good degree of cooperation, not officially with the Mossad or the prime minister’s office, but with individuals. And one last thing. Despite all the secrets that exist in Israel, Israelis are a talkative people, and so if you get friendly over the years and prove you’re trustworthy and not inventing stories, most of them will open up to a degree.

 

SDJJ: When it comes to Iran, you write about all kinds of ways the Mossad has sabotaged the Iranians’ nuclear efforts. You say they’re keeping up the pressure to avoid all-out war. Do you see this continuing, or do you see something more dangerous, potentially more violent, happening?

DR: There’s no question in our minds that the U.S. and Israel are still acting together in covert ways to slow or sabotage Iran’s nuclear work. But as the political leaders realize they might have to resort to the use of force, intelligence also has the function of finding the vulnerable spots, how best to attack, where an airplane could drop bombs. There’s no question when serious countries are planning major military action, they send spies beforehand and use satellites overhead. Both the U.S. and Israel have spy satellites and expert analysts. So we think everything is taking place: sabotage and cyber warfare aimed at avoiding all-out war, but still preparing if necessary for a military strike.

 

SDJJ: Where is the future of counterintelligence, intel gathering and warfare for Israel? You write that a lot seems to ride on Israel’s cyber warfare and its “humint,”or human intelligence.

DR: Yes, but it’s fascinating that human intelligence has changed in recent years, as Israel is so good at technology, it’s able to leverage its capabilities so as to reach into places where a human agent might never be able to go. I feel that Israeli intelligence represents the perfect combination. Many brave and innovative operatives who are willing to go into enemy countries, but in addition, technology and well-trained analysts would do a tremendous job at using information that’s picked up with modern methods by communications intercepts and satellite photography.

 

SDJJ: You write that from an American intelligence perspective, Israel had not always been forthcoming with information. Everything changed between the U.S. and Israel after 9/11, when America suddenly found itself in the same boat as Israel. Since then, how do you think the relationship between Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies has been?

DR: I agree with your conclusion, but things didn’t change 100 percent. I’ve spoken with many people in the U.S. military and the intelligence agencies who are still suspicious about the Israelis. Many of these Americans think Israel does not reveal all of its plans, and I think they’re probably right. Even friendly countries don’t reveal everything to each other. In the intelligence business, there’s a phrase about the need to know basis. And I feel the Israelis and the Americans still treat each other that way. The U.S. doesn’t want Israel to know everything about how America gets its intelligence, and similarly the Mossad has its own methods it doesn’t want to share. But the level of sharing did increase after 9/11, and even more so just a couple of years after that, when Israeli intelligence decided Iran is the biggest danger. Israeli leaders felt American cooperation could be the key to stopping the nuclear program of Iran, so they are cooperating covertly more than ever.

 

—Jessica Hanewinckel

 

 

Justin Halpern

“I Suck at Girls”

 

In the latest offering from funny guy Justin Halpern, known for his debut bestseller “Sh*t My Dad Says”, “I Suck at Girls” takes readers on a journey through the author’s most memorable life experiences, complete with Halpern’s patented blend of humor that fans of his first book will enjoy. The book begins with Halpern taking his father out to lunch to announce his plans to propose to his longtime girlfriend.

“You’ve been dating her for four years,” his dad replies. “It ain’t like you found a parallel f*cking universe.”

Welcome to Justin Halpern’s world. His father’s wry sense of humor and matter-of-fact advice find their way into tales of first loves, school and jobs.

“The book is a collection of universal and funny stories that people will read and remember similar events in their lives,” Halpern said in an interview, “and hopefully they will get to see my father and me; and my father is really the funny character in the book, so readers will enjoy it quite a bit.”

Although the book spans Halpern’s life and hilarious rites of passage (loosing his virginity to a Hooters waitress who dumped him soon after), he is quick to point out that this is not a memoir.

“I don’t have that interesting quality that [someone like] David Sedaris has, where he could write about going to the store and it would be fascinating, so I kind of have to lean on other characters,” he said. “I don’t think I am an interesting enough guy to have a memoir, but I thought I had an interesting enough family and friends, and I thought that if I could tell these sort of universal stories and center them around a theme, then it could work.”

Although the advice Halpern receives from his family is often so blunt that it may border on cruel, it’s easy to sense the undercurrent of strong family ties running through each story and detail.

“I think I am able to deal with rejection and failure a lot better having grown up with mentors like my father and older brothers…I was much more prepared for the world to take a sh*t on me than I think most people are, just based on my upbringing.”

Halpern, a native San Diegan who now calls L.A. home, will speak about the writing process and his unusual rise to fame when he returns to the city of his roots. He will speak at 9 p.m. Nov. 10 at the JCC. In The Mix will also hold a special Cocktails and Comedy event featuring Halpern for Jewish young adults over 21 at 7:45 p.m. just prior to Halpern’s talk.

 

— Alanna Berman

 

 

Jonathan D. Sarna

“When General Grant Expelled the Jews”

This year, 2012, marks the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, a commemoration that has been the catalyst for countless books, exhibits, lectures, documentaries and plays on the topic. It also sparked Jonathan D. Sarna, chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History and a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, to write his latest book, “When General Grant Expelled the Jews,” about a little known, but hugely impactful, event that, ironically, occurred just a few weeks before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing black slaves. A blatant act of anti-Semitism, the event came in the form of an order issued by Union General Ulysses S. Grant, who would later become president of the United States. Grant issued his General Orders No. 11, which ordered all Jews “as a class” living in his territory, to leave it immediately. In this fascinating peek into what became one of the most regrettable acts of Grant’s political career, Sarna examines not only the causes and immediate implications of the act for Jews, but also reveals how Grant spent the rest of his life trying to repent, and how it quite possibly changed the course of American Jewish history for the better. Sarna will speak at 4 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Lawrence Family JCC.

 

San Diego Jewish Journal: Why don’t Jews, or the public in general, know about General Order No. 11? It isn’t taught to kids in history classes.

Jonathan D. Sarna: I wrote this book because I had a strong sense that this subject had not been exploited. There is no book on it, and while experts knew something about it, even the experts didn’t know the second half of the story, meaning that Grant spent the rest of his life trying to atone for the incident, and it seemed to me that that was very important as well.

 

SDJJ: You write in your book about several different theories as to why Grant issued his General Orders No. 11, though historians haven’t come to a general consensus on one. What reason do you buy?

JDS: I certainly think the occasion for the expulsion, not necessarily the root cause, but the occasion, was the fact that Grant’s own father cooks up this scheme with the Macks [a Jewish family] to move Southern cotton to the north and east, and they’re going to try and get passes from Ulysses, and here Grant sees, “Wow, my own father is engaged in smuggling, and with a Jew!” And that leads him to explode in anger. In a sense, instead of expelling his father, he expels the Jews. I definitely think that explains the timing. But anybody who reads Grant’s letters will see that he’s been worried about Jews and smuggling for a year. I have to say, though, that for many of them, all smugglers were Jews, whether they were Jewish or not. It’s very important to remember that within Civil War discourse, very often smugglers were identified as Jews, and in fact, the folks who benefited from war were sometimes identified as Jews. Now, were there Jewish smugglers? Unquestionably. Were there non-Jewish smugglers? Also unquestionably. We now know Jews played a very important role — this is the work of Professor Adam Mendelsohn — in the clothing provided to both the North and South [militias]. But my own view is that the cause was smuggling and the occasion was the scheme by Jesse Grant and the Macks.

 

SDJJ: You write, “Paradoxically, Ulysses S. Grant’s order expelling the Jews set the stage for their empowerment.” Is this a case of the end justifying the means?

 

JDS: [The incident] empowered Jews because they learned they could fight anti-Semitism. In other words, they get this order revoked. That’s deeply empowering, and in America Jews have not felt they simply have to accept as their fate anti-Semitic acts or pronouncements. This taught them they could fight back and they could go to the president of the United States and win. That victory was deeply empowering. The second empowerment is that it set the stage under Grant for this remarkable number of Jewish appointments and for the move of Jews into government and their acceptance as a kind of mainstream religion under Grant. So I had both in mind when I wrote that statement. That doesn’t mean it was good to expel the Jews, but it does mean there is a paradox, much as sometimes someone who has cancer feels that after they recover, it’s transformed their lives, they’re strengthened and they have clarity of purpose. That doesn’t mean that they wish they’d had cancer sooner or it’s good to have cancer. But sometimes some things that are bad can have very good implications, and that’s really what I think happened here.

 

— Jessica Hanewinckel

 

 

Daniel Gordis

The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness is Actually Its Greatest Strength”

 

It’s hard to refute the claim that Israel exists in a world that is largely unfriendly, critical or ambivalent toward it, at the very least; at worst, the world would be pleased if Israel ceased to exist. In his 2009 book, “Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End,” Daniel Gordis explored the reasons why Israel is good for the Jewish people. In his latest work, “The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness is Actually Its Greatest Strength,” he seeks to prove why Israel is good for the world, and for humanity at large. Principally addressing the benefits of Israel’s status as a nation-state, created specifically to preserve and foster the culture and ethnicity of the Jewish people, the book explains how a world of modern nation-states could be the answer to freedom and liberty for all ethnic groups — and he also explains why Israel’s status as a nation-state makes today’s universalist world of “global citizens” dislike it so much. Gordis will speak on his book at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at the JCC.

San Diego Jewish Journal: You argue that Israel has become the enemy of the western world, or at least heavily criticized by it, because it is a nation state and because it protects and preserves the Jewish people specifically. Yet you argue that preserving our differences under the guise of a nation-state actually leads to freedom and liberty.

Daniel Gordis: If you look at the recent news about the Nobel Peace Prize, it actually proves the point precisely. It proves the point that the whole universalist thrust is so much in vogue that they actually gave the Nobel Peace Prize to an organization, which is actually in the process of falling apart. It’s very ironic that the European Union would be getting the Nobel Peace Prize just as the European Union is in danger of literally collapsing. Now, they got it for their efforts over 60 years, but I think that giving the prize to the EU just highlights that there is this universalist ethic that has now taken over the world, and it’s motivated by good things, I think, usually, but I think it has very negative implications, both for human difference in general and for the Jewish state in particular, since the Jewish state is really designed to be about difference, to an extent.

 

SDJJ: You articulate the difference between ethnic groups with a nation state and ethnic groups without one, for example, the Spanish versus the Basques. Those without one “are peoples to which history happens, not peoples who shape history.” That is a very profound statement when it comes to thinking about the world for Jews without Israel.

DG: Think about the world of Jews before there was a state. We were a people to whom history happened. Look at the 19th century, look at the first half of the 20th century and so forth. It’s very complex, and we’re not perfect, but look how it’s changed in the aftermath of that.

 

SDJJ: Which do you see as a bigger threat to Israel: the world’s collective disapproval and desire that Israel not exist, or the perhaps more imminent threat of Iran and the growing unrest in its other neighboring Muslim countries?

DG: I would suggest there is a connection between the two, because if you didn’t have the international community’s disparaging of Israel and its very great ambivalence about having this country, which is so at odds with the ethics of the European Union, would it really have allowed Iran to get to this point? There is a linkage there. … Imagine if the Iranians were threatening France; if the Palestinians were threatening Turkey. Is there any doubt in your mind that the international community would have put a stop to it a very, very long time ago? How is it that it’s been allowed to go on this long with this particular country?

A book is not going to stop Iranian nuclear progress, but I think that books and ideas in general can do a tremendous amount to engender conversation to get people thinking about some of the issues that are at play in the international community. If this book contributes, even in some small way, to changing the conversation, then it will be worth the effort that went into trying to create it.

— Jessica Hanewinckel

 

—————

BOOK FAIR SCHEDULE

 

The 18th annual San Diego Jewish Book Fair:

A Complete Schedule of Events

 

*Saturday, Nov. 3

Book Fair Opening Night (A tribute to Gert Thaler, z”l), 8 p.m., Temple Solel

Daniel Silva: “The Fallen Angel: A Novel”

 

*Sunday, Nov. 4

Cookbook Panel, 9:30 a.m., Temple Solel

Stanley Ginsberg: “Inside the Jewish Bakery: Recipes and Memories from the Golden Age of Jewish Baking”

Judy Kempler and Pnina Jacobson: “One Egg Is a Fortune: Memories and Recipes to Share”

Galit Urich, Michal Levi, Jennie Starr: “Israeli Food in America”

 

Food, Fashion and Friends Panel, noon, Temple Solel

Ari Seth Cohn: “Advanced Style”

Rachelle Bergstein: “Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How they Define Us”

 

Talk @ 2, 2 p.m., Temple Solel

Leonard Mlodinow: “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior”

 

Tea and Talk, 4 p.m., Temple Solel

Daniel Smith: “Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety”

 

Evening Talk, 7 p.m., JCC

Joseph Kanon: “Istanbul: A Novel”

 

*Monday, Nov. 5

Morning Coffee Conversation, 10 a.m., Temple Solel

M G Lord: “The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness, and We Were Too Distracted by Her Beauty to Notice”

 

Lunch and Talk, noon, Temple Solel

Susan Isaacs: “Goldberg Variations: A Novel”

 

Talk @ 2, 2 p.m., Temple Solel

Eyal Press: “Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times”

 

Tea and Talk, 4 p.m., Temple Solel

Anne Marie O’Connor: “The Lady In Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of the Gustav Klimt Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”

 

Evening Talk, 7:30 p.m., Temple Solel

Harold Kushner: “The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person”

 

*Thursday, Nov. 8

Mind, Body and Spirit, 9 a.m., JCC

Lisa Levine: “Yoga Shalom”

 

Panel: Confronting Life’s Challenges, 10 a.m., JCC

Ken Druck: “The Real Rules of Life: Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own”

Edie Lutnick: “An Unbroken Bond: The Untold Story of how the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald Families Faced the Tragedy of 9/11 and Beyond”

 

Lunch and Talk, noon, JCC

Jonathan Tropper: “One Last Thing Before I Go”

 

Talk @ 2, 2 p.m., JCC

Racelle Rosett: “Moving Waters”

 

Tea and Talk, 4 p.m., JCC

Matti Friedman: “The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible”

 

Evening Talk, 7:30 p.m., JCC

Rich Cohen: “The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King”

 

*Friday, November 9

Morning Coffee Conversation, 10 a.m., JCC

Lisa Klug: “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe”

 

Lunch and Talk, noon, JCC

Helène Aylon: “Whatever Is Contained Must Be Released: My Jewish Orthodox Girlhood, My Life as a Feminist Artist”

 

Evening Talk, 7:30 p.m., JCC

Dan Raviv: “Spies Against Armageddon”

 

In the Mix Lit, 7:45 p.m., JCC

Special reception and comedy show for young adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s

 

Late Night, 9 p.m., JCC

Justin Halpern: “I Suck at Girls”

 

*Sunday, Nov. 11

Family Day, JCC

Featuring Ellen Fischer, “The Count’s Hanukkah Countdown;” Jenny Meyerhoff, “Sami’s Sleepaway Summer;” Schram Penninnah, “The Apple Tree’s Discovery;” Penny L. Cohen, “Tapuchim and Dvash;” Anne-Marie Asner, “Noshy Boy;” and a Family Day concert featuring the Shirettes.

 

Morning Coffee Conversation, 10 a.m., JCC

Alex Kershaw: “The Liberator-One World War II Soldier’s 500- Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau”

 

Lunchtime Matinée with Look and Listen: Performing Arts Series, noon, JCC

Kathrine Kressmann Taylor: “Address Unknown: A Staged Reading”

 

Talk @ 2, 2 p.m., JCC

Eleanor Ehrenkranz: “Explaining Life: The Wisdom of Modern Jewish Poetry”

 

Tea and Talk, 4 p.m., JCC

Jonathan Sarna: “When General Grant Expelled the Jews”

 

Closing Event. 7:30 p.m., JCC

Daniel Gordis: “The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness is Actually is Greatest Strength”

 

 

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