Dorit Rabinyan’s banned Israeli-Palestinian love story woos new readers


During her recent US tour for the English translation of “All the Rivers,” her complicated 2014 novel about an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who fall in love during a frigid New York City winter, Dorit Rabinyan spent much of her time on college campuses.

The university circuit was a noteworthy destination for this Israeli novelist, considering that her book, an exploration of shared destinies, was excluded in December 2015 from the Israeli Education Ministry’s list of books approved for high school reading for being too controversial.

The ban made it more appealing to the college audiences, who she said were a mixture of Jewish Americans, Israelis and students of Arab or Iranian heritage.

“It was fantastic,” said Rabinyan, who is herself of Iranian descent. “In a way, the commotion around this book has credited me with a kind of ‘radical’ label that made it more approachable.”

Politics took over the opening of every reading session, said Rabinyan, which to her was unsurprising in light of how her delicate and complex work had already been entangled in political scandal.

“It was provocative enough to appeal to students,” she said. And once their attention was engaged, they realized that “what literature should suggest to us as readers is beyond debate — it’s our ability to elaborate our perspectives and to have knowledge of the other from within his mind and feelings, allowing us to recognize the humanity of the other,” she said. “It makes us not only better human beings but better citizens of our worlds.”

Dorit Rabinyan's 'All The Rivers,' recently published in English (Courtesy Amazon)

It took time for Rabinyan to hone that approach in the wake of the firestorm of debate and vitriol prompted by her novel, which was dedicated to her former lover, Palestinian artist Hassan Hourani, who drowned in 2003.

Rabinyan saw her book as being about the Jewish fear of being subsumed by the surrounding religions and cultures. That fear is represented by Liat, a middle-class Israeli woman from Tel Aviv temporarily working in New York as a translator, who must wrestle with her emotions and beliefs while falling in love with Hilmi, a Palestinian artist living in Brooklyn.

Rabinyan said she was initially hesitant about adapting Israel’s conflict into literature.

“I’ve always been a little bit suspicious, because sometimes this poetic sensibility in Israeli culture turns the conflict into something romantic,” she said. “There is nothing romantic about occupation and occupiers and the occupied. Nothing about these conditions makes it sexy, and it took a lot of effort to overcome that obstacle and make the relationship between Hilmi and Liat seem human and authentic.”

Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Rabinyan started and stopped writing the novel “a million times,” she said.

“You write and rewrite and rewrite until you come up with the most reflective tone,” she said.

It was also Rabinyan’s first novel written in the first person after two previous works written in the third person. She wrote her first book, “Persian Brides,” in 1997, when she was 23 years old. She is now 44.

It was her first time “importing a raw memory” from her own personal history and adapting that into fiction, she said, “with a decent amount of imagination, reinvention and fantasy in order to make it freshly alive enough to compete with the wholeness of the memory.”

She praised her translator, Jessica Cohen, for her marvelous “rewriting” of the book in English, and recalled her intensive work to make the New York City scenes feel authentic to New Yorkers.

“It’s an outsider’s view of New York,” she said.

There are also magical scenes about a garden grown by Hilmi during a sojourn back home to the West Bank, a “golden time” for him, said Rabinyan, written by her as she traveled back and forth to the West Bank to see, taste and feel a place that she wasn’t familiar with. “It was an exploration of my Hebrew,” she said.

But the language she needed to describe the New York winter was more complicated, given that Hebrew is only reflective of mild, rainy Israeli cold seasons. “I had to force the Hebrew to describe fall and cold and snow and blizzards,” she said. “Once the story arrived in the Middle East, and I could describe Tel Aviv and the West Bank, I could get Hebrew in its place so the challenge reached a comfort zone.”

Rabinyan was anxious when the book was first published, knowing that the political climate in Israel had changed during her six years of writing. The Israel she had previously known seemed to be shifting and she could sense it wasn’t going to be an easy or smooth publication, which was why she was thrilled by the initial reactions she received from the Israeli readership.

Eighteen months on, the book had been named one of the 10 best books of the year by Haaretz and awarded the prestigious Bernstein Award for Literature. Rabinyan was getting ready to write a new novel when news broke that the Education Ministry found her novel threatening to young readers and refused to add it to its list of approved books.

Opposition leader Issac Herzog posing with a copy of Dorit Rabinyan's 'All The Rivers,' originally called 'Borderlife,' surrounded by students at the pre-army academy in Sderot, December 31, 2015. (Photo by Zionist Union)

“I was and still am amazed by the absurdity,” said Rabinyan. “My mission is to keep a reader reading, to capture the reader and satisfy and keep him tense and devoted to my work.”

The book was published in Hebrew during the summer 2014 war with Gaza, and Rabinyan’s hope that it would be about dialogue and shared destinies was transposed into a very different reality.

“But then I started getting phone calls from readers who were really clinging to my book while they were sitting in shelters,” she said, recalling Israelis’ experiences of running to safe rooms, bomb shelters and stairwells during rocket attacks.

“They would read from one siren to another with missiles flying over their heads,” she said. “People from southern Israel were calling in and thanking me for reflecting their reality.”

Rabinyan began seeing pictures posted by Israeli soldiers carrying the book with them into Gaza, their guns in one hand and “All The Rivers” in the other.

“One wrote to say, ‘I’m not fighting against orgasms, only against Hamas,’” she said. “It was something I could never have expected.”

Then came the Education Ministry ban, followed by frightening and disturbing incidents. She was harassed, receiving threatening calls in the middle of the night, and bullies from the extremist anti-assimilation group Lehava waited at the entrance to her apartment building.

“I paid a huge price,” she said, though on the other hand, she conceded, she was “fortunate to receive such attention.”

There were signs of support as well. In January 2016, the magazine Time Out Tel Aviv made a video of Jews and Arabs kissing to protest the Education Ministry’s decision.

She recalled meeting British Indian writer Salman Rushdie at the famed New Yorker Pen Festival, and asking him how he managed to keep on writing novels when a Muslim fatwa was issued ordering his death after the publication of his 1988 novel, “The Satanic Verses.”

“He told me that it was only then that he learned how to say, ‘Fuck them,’” she said.

“I don’t give them the pleasure of toughening me,” said Rabinyan of her critics. “My vulnerability and fragility are part of who I am… They tried to pull me into this mud-fight, with monstrous interpretations of my writing. But they’re not my partners, my partners are my readers.”

Dorit Rabinyan will appear in conversation with A.B. Yehoshua at the Jerusalem International Book Fair on Tuesday, June 13, at 7 p.m., “From Nai’im to Hilmi: The Lover who Crossed the Border, Forty Years Later.” Entrance to the event is free; seating is on a first-come, first-served basis for the hour-long, Hebrew discussion.


New Book Exposes Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty — “Erasing The Liberty”

New Book Exposes Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty — “Erasing The Liberty”


There is nothing like an eye witness account. And as the author of this new book writes,

“This book is dedicated to my fallen shipmates and to all patriotic Americans who, when they read it, will come away shocked and dismayed as to how the U.S. government lied to the American people about the cold-blooded murder of Americans on the high-seas, a cover-up perpetrated not just by them but by the government of Israel as well.”

They are also making a full length feature film. As soon as Gumshoe gets hold of a copy, it will be sent to Mr Jon Faine at the ABC.

Malcolm Fraser

When Mr Faine interviewed the late Malcolm Fraser, Faine refused to consider the former prime minister’s version, even after all the research he had done.

It seems that those working for the mainstream media are just unable to review the facts.

Mad, Demented Conspiracy Theory

When Malcolm Fraser was promoting his book, a few years ago, this is what the Australian MSM had to say:

“MAD claims from former PM”

That was the headline to an Australian Jewish News article. They wrote:

“Claims from Malcom Fraser that Israel deliberately bombed the USS Liberty in June 1967 is a “mad, demented conspiracy theory”, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) national chairman Mark Leibler said this week.

“The former prime minister made the assertion while promoting his new book Dangerous Allies during an interview with ABC Radio Melbourne broadcaster Jon Faine.”

The Herals Sun followed with an article titled:

“Sad Fraser has new anti-Israel conspiracy theory.”

What is sad is that the mainstream media are to fearful to ever “go there” — maybe too fearful to read Phillip F. Tourney’s new book, Erasing the Liberty.

Casualty station after the attack

This is what Tourney had to say (on VT):

“It’s hard to believe that nearly 50 years has passed since Israel attacked my good ship USS Liberty in international waters.

“I have personally spent the last 30 years getting the truth out; writing thousands of letters to politicians, attending events across the country, having the great honor of being the only three-time president of the USS Liberty Veterans Association.

“The book [Erasing the Liberty] ties in thousands of facts and first-hand accounts to present one undeniable conclusion: the attack on the Liberty was anything but a mistake, and our own government betrayed, and continues to betray, all Americans with its disgraceful cover-up.”

Polish alderman wants pogrom’s reference deleted from historical graphic novel

(JTA) — A Polish alderman is seeking the removal of references to anti-Semitic violence in the history of Bialystok from a graphic novel about the city.

Marek Chojnowski, who represents the ruling Law and Justice party on the Bialystok City Council, was quoted this week by the news site Onet as protesting references to a 1906 pogrom in the booklet published with municipal funding.  The 2014 booklet commemorates Ludwik Zamenhof, a Polish Jew who invented the international language Esperanto.

One page that Chojnowski wants censored shows dozens of civilians wielding clubs and hitting a group of Jews while they are prone on the street. Another shows four men dressed like Polish farmers beating three people — a woman wearing a torn dress and two young men.

The illustrations refer to pogroms carried out by Bialystok residents that were enabled by Russian authorities when they controlled the area. Some 90 people died in the violence.

But the inclusion of these scenes, which biographers of Zamenhof said had a profound effect on the linguist who was born in the eastern city, is unacceptable, Chojnowski said.

“This must show the city in the best light,” he said. “It is unacceptable that they are presented as anti-Semites.”

Bill Gates (White Freemason) told new grads to read this book. Now it’s surging on Amazon.

Since stepping down as Microsoft’s chief executive in 2000, Bill Gates has seen his reputation transform from that of a hard-nosed businessman intent on shutting out the competition — which produced comparisons to oil magnate John D. Rockefeller — to that of a wise, inspiring philanthropist seeking to solve some of the world’s toughest social challenges.

Now, Gates regularly dispenses the wisdom he’s gained over the years in an effort to get people to dream bigger, think more positively and be a force for good. He’s even willing to give all this advice for free.

On Monday, Gates delivered what seemed like an entire graduation speech in the span of 14 tweets.

Like the best commencement speeches, Gates’s tweetstorm is a personal reflection on the ways he’s grown since he was a young adult. He admits that it took him “decades” to learn about inequality, and he says he no longer believes there is only one way to measure intelligence. He also articulates a philosophy that drives what he does: the notion that the world is steadily getting better, not worse.

The argument for that, Gates said, is laid out in a 2011 book called “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” Written by Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, the book attempts to explain why, as the New York Times put it, “our era is less violent, less cruel and more peaceful than any previous period of human existence,” despite headlines that may scream to the contrary.

“That matters,” Gates tweeted, “because if you think the world is getting better, you want to spread the progress to more people and places.”

So it’s probably no surprise that, in light of Gates’s recommendation, “Better Angels” is surging on Amazon. As of Monday afternoon, it had risen in Amazon’s sales rankings by more than 6,000 percent in the previous 24 hours.

“If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be this — the most inspiring book I’ve ever read,” Gates tweeted.

New grads or otherwise, many people appear to be taking his advice.

Class focused on great Greco-Roman books may be changed after students complain it’s too white (LOL….)

At Reed College, a mandatory freshman literature course focused on the works of great thinkers underpinning Western Civilization has come under fire from campus activists, who allege the mandate is systemically racist because the class only assigns the works of white authors and therefore perpetuates white privilege and racism.

The target is Humanities 110, “Greece and the Ancient Mediterranean,” an introduction to the works of celebrated Greco-Roman thinkers such as Aristotle, Plato, Epictetus and Ovid.

Humanities 110, which has evolved over the years, has been a required course at the private, Portland, Ore.-based liberal arts college for decades, but a group of students calling themselves Reedies Against Racism want the curriculum changed.

In their words, it must be “reformed to represent the voices of people of color.”

Last fall they launched frequent protests against the class — an effort that continued through spring semester and prompted scholars to now consider revising the course.

During many of the lecture sessions of Hum 110 throughout the school year, while professors spoke on “The Rise of Rome” or “On the Nature of Things,” protesters sat or stood in the lecture hall holding up signs that read “I am more than a way to get federal funding” or “We cannot be erased.”

Some even wore tape across their mouths to signify that “Greece and the Ancient Mediterranean” is silencing them by only teaching white authors. Some professors asked the students not to crash their lecture halls, but those pleas were ignored.

The protests prompted scholars to move up the course’s review to this year. The results of that review, and any possible changes to the Humanities 110 syllabus as a result, may be announced this summer, a campus spokesman told The College Fix.  

“The current humanities course focuses on the Classical world in its ancient Mediterranean context; this has not always been the case and the faculty differ on how important they think this focus is to the course,” Reed spokesman Kevin Myers said via email, noting faculty make all curricular decisions.

“Among other questions, the review will consider the focus for the next iteration of the course​. Regardless of its content, the main emphasis of the humanities course is ​for students to ​develop the skills that will help ​them succeed in their classes at Reed and their lives after graduation,” Myers stated.

Western Civ on trial

Despite the criticisms from the vocal minority, many Reed students have appreciated the course as is.

It aims “to understand the philosophical underpinnings of Western society, and goes a long way towards giving students the context to think through the great problems of government and society themselves,” senior economics major Zachary Harding, who has taken the course, told The College Fix.

Another former student of the class, 2016 Reed College alumnus Aristomenes Spanos, agreed. “There is value in learning the different methods people used to tackle the same problems we deal with today,” Spanos told The Fix.

But other students say they see the class as a systemically racist course that perpetuates white privilege and racism and works to silence people of color.

Reed College student Addison Bates, who is among those leading the charge against the course, has said she is motivated by the school’s low black student population and low black graduation rate.

She spoke with other black students about her concerns, and they shared experiences of feeling unsupported at Reed, and feeling used by Reed just to increase its diversity statistics, Bates told The College Fix in a telephone interview.

Ultimately Humanities 110 became a major object of their critique. To Bates and her friends, it exemplifies Reed’s failure to seriously commit to diversity, arguing that Reed mandates all students take a course where everyone reads white authors.

Inspired by Isaiah Washington’s call last September for African Americans to boycott the United States, Bates and her friends began an almost daily protest against Humanities 110, an effort that launched last fall and continued through the spring semester.

Reedies Against Racism is another iteration of a nationwide movement among student activists calling for greater ethnic and racial diversity on college campuses, and for special accommodations for students of color.

The group’s 25 demands, which can be found on their website, include a staff-maintained Black Student Union, and more black counselors at the Reed health center. When it comes to Humanities 110, they declare it should be “reformed to represent the voices of people of color.”

“Lecturers should structure delivery and analysis of content that is sensitive to and proactive for inclusive practices. There should be an articulated understanding that ‘foundational texts’ are subjective and that the importance of the course is to foster student’s abilities to read, write, and listen/respond,” the demand continues. “Before this is accomplished, Hum 110 should be conscious of the power it gives to already privileged ideas and welcome critique of that use of power. This could be done by 1) allowing alternative readings that critique texts on the current syllabus, 2) making Hum 110 non-mandatory until reform happens or 3) alternate options for Hum lecture.”

Bates told The College Fix that Reedies Against Racism want texts from outside the “Caucasoid” region.

But not all students agree with a model of higher education in which syllabi attempt to represent a diversity of identity groups.

“I don’t think it is important to try to segment the curriculum of Hum 110 by identity. I think the curriculum is meant to represent an historically important segment of texts,” Harding said.

Faculty under siege

More fundamentally, some are critical of the very notion that diversity based on identity groups can be used to to guide syllabi decisions.

Professor Jordan Peterson, a University of Toronto psychologist, told The College Fix with reference to activists like Reedies Against Racism: “Their claim for diversity is untenable because groups can be fractionated down to the level of the individual.”

Other students are concerned about Reedies Against Racism method of protesting.

D.K., a junior studying political sciences, told The Fix: “The way they are going about this is very juvenile and they have alienated a lot of faculty by refusing to take criticism from moderate faculty. What’s that led to is a lot of rationalization for not doing work – class-work – and hard work. As much as I hate the right-wing anti-coddling discourse, there is some truth in it, and this protest doesn’t at all help.”

Last October, Russian Literature professor Marat Grinberg became the first professor to ask Reedies Against Racism not to protest during a lecture.

While Grinberg declined to be interviewed, Bates explains that Grinberg felt “that the classroom isn’t the proper place for dissent.”

Nevertheless, Bates said, “We went full force that day he [Grinberg] had his lecture, because we wanted to make sure that if a professor said not to represent our opinion, we were going to represent our opinion.”

Reedies Against Racism galvanized so much support that day that they took over the lecture hall. Grinberg, unable to deliver his lecture, went outside to speak to the students willing to follow him.

Another incident came in early November when English Literature professor Lucia Martinez emailed Reedies Against Racism saying that she would be pained by any protesting during her lecture.

In an open letter to Martinez, Reedies Against Racism organizers replied: “Saying that any form of protest would trigger your trauma ignores the traumas of students protesting whose mental health is deteriorating right at this moment… You are also someone who has been anti-black.” The protest continued during Martinez’s lecture (protesters sat in the audience wearing all black).

In Reedies Against Racism’s open letter to Martinez, the group also wrote: “We would also like to remind white students that when it comes to how black and brown people educate and communicate with one another, you do not get to have an opinion…You are voyeurs at best.”

When a student did in fact ask for justification on Facebook for the claim that Martinez was “anti-black,” RAR supporters and organizers responded by rejecting the question due to his perceived race.

“It’s not really students of color’s responsibility to explain their trauma to you… You should consider trusting the word of students of color.” Another added, “For everyone who wants dialogue – some dialogues are not for you to have or be a part of.”

Anne Frank, Syrian refugee? Appropriation of diarist sparks debate in Holland

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Decades after her death at a Nazi concentration camp, Anne Frank’s restless spirit in heaven finally finds a soulmate in Zef Bunga, an Albanian teenager who was murdered in a revenge killing.

Anne, whose world-famous diary recounts her two years in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam with her family, falls in love with the Muslim boy. They kiss and they commiserate and bond over the injustice of their early deaths — Zef in the 1990s in Tirana, Anne in 1945 in the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp.

This original take on the Anne Frank story is the plot line of a 2015 opera for children titled “Anne and Zef.” Critical of the Nazi genocide as it is of Albanian revenge killings, the show was performed last month at the National Holocaust Museum here by singers and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra.

Based on a 2009 play of the same name, the “Anne and Zef” opera is a recent addition to a growing but controversial slew of artworks and essays that examine the Anne Frank icon outside of her historical context.

Lilian Farahani and Benjamin de Wilde portraying Anne Frank and Zef Bunga at the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam, March 5, 2017. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

As witnesses to the Holocaust leave this world, proponents of such adaptations say they are necessary to keep the message and memory of the genocide relevant and accessible to future generations. Yet opponents argue that such projects blur historical accuracy, obfuscating, diluting and ultimately cheapening the memory of the Holocaust.

After decades where she was largely thought of as the quintessential Jewish victim of the Holocaust, “in the past 20 years Anne Frank has come to symbolize the victim of all of the world’s evils,” said David Barnouw, author of the 2012 book “The Anne Frank Phenomenon.” Barnouw is a former researcher at the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

The debate on whether Frank’s story should be viewed and taught as a particular case of the genocide against the Jews or more generally as a story of a child victim of war is as old as the diary itself, which has been translated into dozens of languages since its publication in 1947. A 1955 Broadway play and the 1958 Hollywood version were dogged by accusations that their creators had made her story less Jewish and more universal.

View of the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, Holland, where Anne and her family hid during the Holocaust. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

But amid rising levels of anti-Semitic hatred in Europe and on social networks, appropriations of the Anne Frank symbol have rekindled the debate among scholars and activists.

“Everyone took Anne Frank for their own beliefs, and with Zef it’s just the same: ‘Yeah, we’re all victims,’ etc.,” Barnouw said, adding that he does “not feel comfortable with this” but despite his objections, “this is the general perception today.”

The creeping decontextualization of the Anne Frank story is the main theme of a 2014 Dutch documentary featuring interviews with dozens of the roughly 1 million people who each year stand in line for hours to enter the Anne Frank House — the Amsterdam museum that was set up at her family’s former hiding place.

In the film, titled “In Line for Anne,” an activist for African-American rights from Texas, Omowale Luthuli-Allen, compares Anne’s experience to that of blacks living under segregation.

“We’ve lived like that,” he says. “In a way we have lived Anne Frank’s life.”

Augustine Sosa, a gay man from Paraguay, says his “life is very similar to that of Anne Frank.”

A memorial stone for Anne Frank and her sister Margot on the grounds of the former Prisoner of War (POW) and concentration camps Bergen-Belsen in Bergen, north of Hanover, central Germany, on June 21, 2015. (AFP / NIGEL TREBLIN)

A tearful Beatrix Marthe, an Austrian woman in her 30s, tells the filmmakers that she is crying not only for Anne but also for her grandfather, a soldier who fought in Adolf Hitler’s army. Other interviewees include Tibetan monks who say Anne is the ultimate symbol for their quest for independence from China.

An eccentrically dressed British mother explains that she brought her teenage daughter to the museum so she would feel more comfortable wearing flamboyant clothes even though it makes her “excluded.”

Such interpretations are part of what makes the “reception of the Anne Frank story after the war a sad affair,” said Yves Kugelmann, a volunteer board member of the Anne Frank Foundation, which Anne’s father, Otto, founded in Basel in the 1960s and the designated heir to the family’s archive, including the diary.

“The bottom line is that the broad public’s knowledge about her is inaccurate, decontextualized and therefore easy to distort,” Kugelmann said. “She’s become an iconized saint instead of a real Jewish girl who was in hiding from the Nazis and their Dutch collaborators.”

He added that Anne Frank has been “transformed into a kind of kitsch and everybody uses her for anything.”

But the use of Anne Frank as a symbol for causes unrelated with her life and death can amplify the lessons of her diary and the Holocaust, according to Ernst van Bemmel van Gent, an Amsterdam lawyer with Jewish roots who visited the Holocaust museum for the first time to catch the “Anne and Zef” opera.

A man shows a handwritten poem by Anne Frank, written shortly before she went into hiding from the Nazis, at the auction Bubb Kuyper in Haarlem on November 22, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / ANP / Koen Suyk / Netherlands)

“Seeing it here, next to a room commemorating the victims, adds another dimension to my understanding of the Holocaust,” van Gent told JTA.

The play and opera “break from taboos on representing the Holocaust” because they present it “not as unique, but together with other forms of violence,” according to Cock Dieleman and Veronika Zangl, Dutch theater scholars who analyzed the play in a 2015 essay.

The opera is a relatively a mild example of how Anne Frank’s memory is used by artists and activists.

A more controversial case is the reproduction in Amsterdam of images of Anne Frank wearing a kaffiyeh, the checkered shawl favored by pro-Palestinian activists. Postcards and T-shirts bearing the image, which was first circulated on social networks and adopted by activists seeking a boycott on Israel, were sold for years despite protests by Dutch Jews who said it suggested an equivalence between Israel and Nazi Germany.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam also objected to the image because it is “deeply hurtful, even in 2016,” the institution’s director, Ronald Leopold, told JTA last year at a symposium about the iconization of Anne Frank. The conference, featuring prominent scholars, was an attempt to understand what Anne Frank will mean to future generations.

In 2006, the Arab European League, a radical Belgium-based Muslim rights group, posted on its website a caricature of Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler. A Dutch appeals court in 2010 fined the organization for hate speech and ordered the offensive caricature removed, but it had spread on social media, where it circulates today.

Photograph taken in the Anne Frank House book shop with her image and translated copies of the diary in the background. (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

And last year the Anne Frank Foundation criticized an escape room-style game in a southern Netherlands town made to look like Anne’s hiding place in Amsterdam.

A more mainstream attempt at recontextualization came in a New York Times op-ed from August 2016 titled “Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl.” Columnist Nicholas Kristof likened US reluctance to admit refugees from Syria to the refusal to take in most European Jews fleeing Nazism.

Anne Frank “is the holy trinity of symbolism: the child, the young woman, the Jew,” said Eyal Boers, an Israeli filmmaker and director of the 2009 Dutch-language documentary “The Classmates of Anne Frank.” “It’s not surprising that she is so attractive as an icon.”

But that power, he added, means that the Anne Frank story and its elements — including Anne’s Jewish identity — “will ultimately transcend any attempt to twist it.”

The Christian Reinterpretation of Beowulf
by Professor Revilo P. Oliver (Liberty Bell, July 1987)

IN ONE OF THESE “Postscripts,” published in May 1986, I described briefly one ominous symptom of the growing epidemic of unreason among scholars, an attempt to Christianize the oldest monument of English literature by atrocious mutilation and interpolation of the Anglo-Saxon text.

Now I learn from a review in Speculum, LXI (1986), pp.668-670, that another attempt to distort for Jesus the fundamentally pagan epic was made by Professor Bernard F. Huppe of the State University in Binghamton, New York, in The Hero in the Earthly City, a Reading of Beowulf, published by that university in 1984.

I have not looked at the book. As it is, to report incidents that seem to me noteworthy to the readers of Liberty Bell, I afflict myself by reading so much tripe that I am beginning to wonder whether I should be so supercilious when I refer to the Christian dolts who used to wear horsehair shirts to make themselves suffer.

I rely entirely on the review by Professor Edward B. Irving, Jr., who notes various errors of fact in the book and also remarks on the absurdity of an “Augustinian” interpretation of the poem. Huppe seems not to have tampered overmuch with the Anglo-Saxon text, but, as the reviewer remarks, he “smuggles in the Christian concept of grace” by simply giving to the Anglo-Saxon words meanings they could not possibly have had. “A tidy Christian poem is reconstructed from the ruins of its proper original contexts, …and the pressure to distort is constant.” Having thus Christianized the poem, Huppe then denounces its failure to adhere to his favorite theology: Beowulf ought to have remembered that Jesus said revenge was sinful, and he sins terribly by fighting the dragon without getting Yahweh’s permission.

The details of the travesty do not matter. As I said in my “Postscript,” the Anglo-Saxon epic is fundamentally and unmistakably a pagan composition, and the only question is who introduced the bits of Christian or ambiguous phraseolgy that are found here and there in our only extant text and are as conspicuous and incongruous as patches of red calico on a dinner jacket. Everyone knew that in 1920, when what is still the best edition of the text and commentary was published, and it is only sheer perversity to pretend otherwise today and use the methods of scholarship to defeat the very purpose of scholarship.

The pernicious factor in such misbegotten studies is their effect, not on scholars who have read and understood the poem, but on students in cognate fields, who may have to rely on the reports of “specialists” in Anglo-Saxon. A multiplication of books that distort the epic is apt to create an impression that “modern scholarship” has discovered that it sprang from a Christian society. And that application of the “democratic” principle of ascertaining truth by counting noses will deceive many earnest students and may confuse or even vitiate some of their work in their own fields of research.

Academicians want to be fashionable, and it is likely the next few years will bring us more “studies” that affirm the factitious Christianization of our earliest extant monument of English literature, but that, of course, will prove nothing. It will be as meaningless as the Jews’ current efforts to shore up their crumbling Holohoax by producing more and more Yids, who pop out of the bushes and suddenly remember that they watched the wicked Germans cram millions of God’s Darlings into gas chambers or ovens, it being assumed that the notoriously methodical Germans inexplicably and unforgivably forgot to include the watchers with their fellow tribesmen. Lies do not become truth by multiplication. 50,000 x 0 = 0.

The continuing flurry of “critical reinterpretations” of Beowulf is symptomatic and highly signficant because it is, in a way, so comparatively trivial. The number of persons who read Anglo-Saxon is very small, and I cannot believe that multitudes are reading one or another of the translations into modern English. And does it really matter whether or not the poem is basically “pagan”? Is not that just a bit of antiquarian lore, comparable, for example, to identification of the corpse in the famous ship-burial at Sutton Hoo, interesting, no doubt, to some people, but of no relevance to the present?

That is precisely my point. If these were efforts to deceive Americans about something that will affect their thinking (such as it is) about their present plight, the explanation would be obvious. Manufacture of “evidence” to support the Jews’ great swindle, or production of a revelation that Karl Marx was, like Jesus, an avatar of old Yahweh, or even endorsement of the prevalent hokum about what is mendaciously called our Civil War, would have an obvious purpose.

If a man labors long to devise and perfect an elaborate swindle that will net him a billion of the ersatz-dollars now in use, we understand and have no more doubts about his rationality than about his morality. But if he makes the same prolonged and arduous effort to filch a dime, he is a problem in psychonosology. The contagion of unreason among scholars is so ominous and frightening precisely because it is so gratuitous.

This article originally appeared in Liberty Bell magazine, published monthly by George P. Dietz from September 1973 to February 1999.

New book says Hitler was an indicted war criminal at death (LOL…..)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A new book that examines previously restricted files from the UN War Crimes Commission cites documents showing that Adolf Hitler had been indicted as a war criminal for actions by the Nazis during World War II before his death — contrary to longstanding assumptions.

The book, “Human Rights After Hitler” by British academic Dan Plesch, says Hitler was put on the commission’s first list of war criminals in December 1944, but only after extensive debate and formal charges brought by Czechoslovakia, which had been occupied by the Nazis.

The previous month the commission determined that Hitler could be held criminally responsible for the acts of the Nazis in occupied countries, according to the book. And by March 1945 — a month before Hitler’s death — “the commission had endorsed at least seven separate indictments against him for war crimes.”

Plesch, who led the campaign for open access to the commission’s archive, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the documents show “the allies were prepared to indict Hitler as head of state, and this overturns a large part of what we thought we knew about him.”

A Dec. 15, 1944 document submitted to the commission by Czechoslovakia accuses Hitler and five members of “the Reich government,” including his deputy Rudolf Hess and Heinrich Himmler, one of the Nazis most responsible for the Holocaust, of crimes including “murder and massacres-systematic terrorism.” A photocopy is included in the book.

In this Oct. 6, 1938, file photo, Adolf Hitler, second from left, stands in front of the barbed wire fortifications at Kreuzbuche, Germany after German troops advanced and occupied the second zone of Sudetenland.  (AP, File)

The United Nations War Crimes Commission was established in October 1943 by 17 allied nations to issue lists of alleged war criminals — ultimately involving about 37,000 individuals — and examine the charges against them and try to assure their arrest and trial.

Its unrestricted records, related to more than 10,000 cases, were put online in July 2013 by the International Criminal Court after an agreement with the UN. Three months later, then US Ambassador Samantha Power announced that the restricted files — which contain some 30,000 sets of pre-trial documents submitted by national and military tribunals to the commission to judge whether a case should be pursued — would be given to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.

According to the book, legally certified documents, government transcripts and interviews with torture victims “prove beyond doubt” that the US and British governments were told about Hitler’s extermination camps in the early years of World War II.

Plesch said both governments acknowledged their existence but did almost nothing to stop the mass killings.

The earliest condemnations of Nazi atrocities were made in a joint statement by the Czech and Polish governments in November 1940.

In 1942, the American, British and Soviet governments led their allies in a public declaration “that explicitly condemned Hitler’s ongoing extermination of European Jews” and the book says that condemnation was far stronger than commonly believed.

“The records overturn one of the most important accepted truths concerning the Holocaust: that, despite the heroic efforts of escapees from Nazi-occupied Europe, the allies never officially accepted the reality of the Holocaust and therefore never condemned it until the camps were liberated at the end of the war,” Plesch wrote.

“The book documents not only that the extermination of the Jews was condemned officially and publicly by the allies but that specific features of the extermination were publicized, including a favored method — lethal gas — and the central place of execution — Poland,” he said.

Plesch wrote that it was beyond the scope of the book to assess why public condemnations of the extermination of Jews aren’t prominent in public and scholarly narratives of the Holocaust.

One possibility, he said, is that “significant parts of the governments in the United States and the United Kingdom were directly opposed to doing anything to help the Jews or to support war crimes prosecutions.”

Nonetheless, he cited material from the commission’s restricted archive which shows that hundreds of German “foot soldiers of atrocity” were indicted while the Holocaust was still underway by states where the crimes took place — and it shows that these national indictments were endorsed by the War Crimes Commission up to its final meetings before it was closed in March 1948.

One chapter analyzes country-by-country the indictments that began to be made early in 1944 for anti-Jewish persecution by Germans. It includes 372 cases submitted against Germany by Poland, 110 by the Netherlands, 91 by France, 52 by Czechoslovakia, 30 by Yugoslavia, 21 by the United Kingdom, 18 by Belgium, 14 by Denmark and 12 by Greece.

The book also notes cases brought against German allies Japan and Italy.

“Ultimately thousands of soldiers were tried for war crimes after World War II,” the book says. But Plesch wrote that “the commission’s files contain indictments against thousands of Nazis who were then allowed to go free.”



They say that the victors write the history. But who writes the fiction?

The Cold Warriors of yesteryear may be asking themselves this very question today.

News recently broke that a reputable publishing house released a book titled “Communism for Kids.” Its author appears to be the archetype of an Obama administration education czar: “Bini Adamczak is a Berlin-based social theorist and artist. She writes on political theory, queer politics, and the past future of revolutions.”

What better literature to which to expose young minds than communist propaganda packaged as a parable, and who better to write it than Ms. Adamczak?

The book’s overview reads in part:

Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true? This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism. Offering relief for many who have been numbed by Marxist exegesis and given headaches by the earnest pompousness of socialist politics, it presents political theory in the simple terms of a children’s story, accompanied by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening.

If you thought the old saw about communism leading to soul-crushing and violent collectivism, economic failure, and human misery only because it had never been implemented properly was dead, think again.

Never mind that communism is antithetical to human nature; that it is inherently authoritarian in its squelching of liberty; or that it is Adamczak’s “lovable little revolutionaries” who are always the first ones to lose their heads after the revolution “triumphs.”

This time things will be different, comrades!

The overview continues:

It all unfolds like a story, with jealous princesses, fancy swords, displaced peasants, mean bosses, and tired workers–not to mention a Ouija board, a talking chair, and a big pot called “the state.” Before they know it, readers are learning about the economic history of feudalism, class struggles in capitalism, different ideas of communism, and more. Finally, competition between two factories leads to a crisis that the workers attempt to solve in six different ways (most of them borrowed from historic models of communist or socialist change). Each attempt fails, since true communism is not so easy after all. But it’s also not that hard. At last, the people take everything into their own hands and decide for themselves how to continue. [Author’s note: When the people — as opposed to the state — “take[s] everything into their own hands,” is not that more classical liberalism than communism?] Happy ending? Only the future will tell. With an epilogue that goes deeper into the theoretical issues behind the story, this book is perfect for all ages and all who desire a better world.

What are we to make of this nightmare cast as a fairytale?

First, the Left never stops in its attempt to win the war of ideas. While Venezuela burns and the modern-day gulag of North Korea persists, in the minds of leftist true believers communism is ripe for rebranding. Just as these adherents cling to the idea that there can never be enough government spending to paper over problems, or power to be usurped and wielded to achieve the Left’s infinite flavors of “justice,” so too do they believe that communism remains the road to utopia if executed properly by the right actors.

Have you ever seen “The Black Book of Communism” mentioned in a movie or incorporated into your children’s curriculum?

Second, the Left believes it imperative to take all measures to convert people to their anti-religion as early as possible. Propagandizing our youth is not only fair game, but the right thing to do from their perspective. While there is something sinister about seeking to influence young minds with political messages with which they may not be ready to grapple — and without presenting counter-arguments to boot — this has been the hallmark of such leftist movements for decades. As progressive education luminary John Dewey wrote in one section of his “Democracy and Education” titled “Education as a Social Function:”

We have seen that a community or social group sustains itself through continuous self-renewal, and that this renewal takes place by means of the educational growth of the immature members of the group. By various agencies, unintentional and designed, a society transforms uninitiated and seemingly alien beings into robust trustees of its own resources and ideals. Education is thus a fostering, a nurturing, a cultivating, process. All of these words mean that it implies attention to the conditions of growth. We also speak of rearing, raising, bringing up—words which express the difference of level which education aims to cover. Etymologically, the word education means just a process of leading or bringing up. When we have the outcome of the process in mind, we speak of education as shaping, forming, molding activity—that is, a shaping into the standard form of social activity. [Emphasis mine]

Third, as always, the Left is laser-focused on competing in culture, of which children’s books are just one small piece. This is a space conservatives have ceded for far too long with devastating effect because if you lose the culture you lose the politics. And while we conservatives believe we have superior ideas, the Left understands that the packaging and distribution of such ideas is essential if its worldview is to prevail.

At the beginning of this piece I invoked the adage that the victors write the history. To that end, I would challenge readers to present a “conservative” history book that has been comparably successful to Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” in terms of its impact on our culture. Have you ever seen “The Black Book of Communism” mentioned in a movie or incorporated into your children’s curriculum?

Can we really claim that we are the victors in this ideological battle?

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How the people of the book became the people of the library


LOD — Sitting on the pint-sized couch in the bright, busy Gan El-Nagmen kindergarten, the stuffed, oversized figure waits, its floppy green arms outstretched for hugs and squeezes from the class’s five-year-olds.

The stuffed doll was made by one of the class parents after reading “Where Do I Go When I Am Angry?” a book in Arabic about how to handle emotions.

It’s one of the many tactile ways in which this kindergarten — like others participating in the extensive PJ Library program founded by the Springfield, Massachusetts-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation — capitalizes on the books it receives over the course of the 10-month school year to teach ideas, values and, of course, a love of reading.

While tangible results are hard to come by, over ten years into this global children’s book-reading network, organizers, publishers and community leaders say the impact the books are having is unmistakable, with young minds increasingly exposed to Jewish ideas — or Israeli values in Sifriyat Pijama (the Israeli PJ Library) and humanistic values in Maktabat al-Fanoos (the Arabic PJ Library) — and publishers are more likely to put those themes into their pages.

The Lod kindergarten is one of 2,800 preschools that take part in Maktabat al-Fanoos, or Lantern Library, the Arabic-language book program created by the PJ Library, a global early childhood reading program that started off as a project to expose American Jewish children to Jewish books.

Maktabat al-Fanoos, one of the more recent additions to the US-based program, now brings books to 90,000 young Arabic readers.

Reading 'xxxx', a Maktabat al-Fanoos book at a Lod kindergarten (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“We’re the largest gifting book program in the Arabic-speaking world,” said Galina Vromen, director of Sifriyat Pijama and Maktabat al-Fanoos.

Maktabat al-Fanoos was established in 2014, nine years after PJ Library and its cascading list of reading programs. It just marked two million books given to all children in Arabic preschools across Israel.

“Now these kids — and their families — are reading the books at home as well, building libraries in houses that may not have had much of a book collection,” said Ahlam al Masoudi, the energetic, veteran teacher at the Lod kindergarten. “They talk about feelings in the books and it helps them figure that out at home.”

The goal of Maktabat al-Fanoos is not just getting the kids to read, but acquainting them with books, said Vromen.

“They shouldn’t be terrified of books and learning to read when they get to first grade,” she said.

That’s a serious consideration for the Arabic-speaking population, which hasn’t always had the wherewithal to read or buy books to have at home.

“Maktabat al-Fanoos makes books very accessible to these kids and their families,” said Fatma Kassem, a supervisor of Arabic pre-schools in Israel’s Education Ministry. “In the past, books were just not as accessible to them, and that made it harder.”

The Education Ministry is a full partner in Maktabat al-Fanoos, contributing 70 percent of the funds used to run the program. It’s not the first time the ministry has had a children’s book program; My Bookshelf At Home was another ministry book-buying program that often required funding from the parents to participate.

“PJ Library just works better,” said Kassem. “It has books on all kinds of subjects; it opens the conversation between parents and kids.”

A report released in June by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in collaboration with Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, also known as the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, surveyed basic skills among people aged 16-65 in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in 34 countries.

When comparing scores between Jewish and Arab adults, there were significant gaps, particularly in literacy, in which Jewish adults scored 264 on average, while Arab adults scored an average of 225 – a 39-point gap.

There are no current figures showing how Maktabat al-Fanoos affects Arab adult literacy, or that of Arabic-speaking preschoolers, but Kassem pointed to clear advantages of the program.

“It enriches their vocabulary,” she said. “They’re using words from the books they’re reading in conversation.”

Working on artwork related to Malak Farooge's Lantern Library book, ' Where Do I Go When I Am Angry' at the Lod kindergarten (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

By the time a child reaches first grade, he or she has a personal library of 24 Maktabat al-Fanoos books.

“This program is creating important change in Arab society,” said Kassem. “There is increasing research that shows that exposure to reading from an early age helps later academic success. And reading is also important for emotional development.

“Everyone takes it home, and they read it all together, all the time,” she said. “It’s a big change, because they might not have been able to buy kids’ books otherwise.”

The books in the program include original works in Arabic from authors such as Safah Amir, Fadel Ali and the late Jihad Iraqi, as well as translations from foreign works. Program evaluation has shown that more than 90% of teachers and parents like the books and consider them high-quality.

There are also books that are read by both Arabic speakers and Hebrew speakers, creating a joint literary experience whose importance can’t be overstated, added Kassem.

xxx, the energetic teacher who loves the teaching opportunities brought to her classroom by Maktabat al-Fanoos (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Maktabat al-Fanoos followed Sifriyat Pijama, the Hebrew PJ Library project, in Israel.

While PJ Library supports Jewish values, and Jewish and Israeli heritage with Sifriyat Pijama, Maktabat al-Fanoos supports universal humanistic values and knowledge of Arabic language and genres, said Vromen.

The Grinspoon Foundation never planned on expanding its children’s book program to this extent, said Vromen. But it believes in the importance of Israel, and Maktabat al-Fanoos helps to strengthen the fabric of Israeli society as a whole, she said.

None of this was necessarily the plan when Harold Grinspoon, the now-87-year-old philanthropist, first came up with the idea of handing out free books with Jewish content to families with young children.

The philanthropist who gives away books

In 2004, Grinspoon was listening to NPR when a report came up about country singer Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which set up book repositories for disadvantaged populations. The philanthropist, who had made his millions in real estate, was gripped by the idea that Jewish books could perhaps bridge the growing gap in the American Jewish community, particularly among intermarried families.

“It was really about Jewish values, it always has been and always will be,” said Diane Troberman, Grinspoon’s wife and co-founder. “In our community, 40% of the Jewish community was intermarried.”

Grinspoon and Troderman were familiar with those statistics from years of donating to different Jewish causes. A self-made millionaire who parlayed the purchase of a rundown two-family home into a real estate fortune, Grinspoon hadn’t always been a major giver.

It was when he met Troderman, his third wife — she was his reader, as Grinspoon, ironically, is dyslexic — that the two began expanding their charitable giving. Both were raised in secular homes, but knew enough about anti-Semitism and assimilation to grasp the importance of a strong Jewish community.

They met with representatives of Parton’s foundation and became convinced that giving away books with Jewish values could help instill greater awareness in their local Jewish community.

The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation began sponsoring Imagination Library in Western Massachusetts later that same year, and continues to do so. A year later, PJ Library was created.

Harold Grinspoon, the founder of PJ Library, reads one of the program's books with a gaggle of children. (photo credit: PJ Library/JTA)

Since then, PJ Library has expanded to more than 200 Jewish communities across the US and Canada, mailing some 200,000 books each month to participating families’ homes. The cost of the annual subscription, which is approximately $100 per family, is split between the Grinspoon Foundation and more than 200 community partners in the US and Canada. In most communities, the local Jewish Federation is the partner, although it may be the JCC or another Jewish organization in other places.

“There was a void for Jewish families in America,” said Grinspoon, chatting over breakfast a few months ago. “And that left room for them to invite us into their home.”

The project grew from its initial roots in Western Massachusetts, to 160,000 subscribers in the first 10 years and now 200,000 families.

As for impact: In a survey in 2013 of some 25,000 PJ library subscribers, 75% said they discuss Jewish-related concepts and values more because of PJ Library books, and 58% reported that PJ Library influenced their decision to build upon or add a Jewish tradition to their home life, whether with a Passover Seder, Friday night dinner or Purim costumes.

(The organization surveys its results every three years, and the results for the 2016 survey were not yet available for this article.)

The majority of PJ Library subscriber families have been part of PJ Library for three years or less, according to the most recent survey. Some 46% of subscriber families identify with one of the three major North American Jewish movements, and 28% identify themselves as “just Jewish.” One in five subscriber families identifies as interfaith.

“Harold has driven this,” said Troberman. She often jumps in for Grinspoon, whose speech is somewhat hampered by the surgery he had for tongue cancer years ago.

“It’s all measured on the return on investment,” said Grinspoon, pointing out the relatively inexpensive program. “How else could we reach Jewish families so inexpensively?”

A global bookmobile

There are now a total of 530,000 children’s books in English distributed around the world each month by PJ Library. That’s not counting, of course, the 90,000 books distributed to Arabic readers in Israel, or the 340,000 received by Sifriyat Pijama readers in Israel.

Galina Vromen, the director of Sifriyat Pijama and Maktabat al-Fanoos, the Hebrew and Arabic branches of PJ Library (Courtesy Galina Vromen)

In the US and Canada, the books come in the mail for the young readers, making them “the best missionaries,” said Vromen, the Grinspoon Foundation executive director in Israel.

“The kids get the envelope in the mail, and there’s no way parents can get away without reading it,” she said. “In Israel, where it gets distributed in the classroom, there’s the peer pressure of the other classmates having read it.”

Israel’s Sifriyat Pijama books couldn’t be sent by mail because they would have ended up in the post office as packages, and Israeli parents don’t have the patience to stand in line at the post office to pick up a book, said Vromen.

Instead, they came up with the solution of giving the books out in the classroom.

Once they ended up funneling the books through the classroom, the program gained the power of the teacher, said Vromen. It turned out that most teachers read to their young students almost every day,

“They are our best emissaries,” she said. “They liked that the books are good and that they value education.”

It was the teachers who “really took to the program,” said Vromen. Sifriyat Pijama began with 3,500 kids in 2009 and has ramped up to 340,000 along with the 90,000 Arabic-speaking kids.

“The Education Ministry has really taken this on board as part of what teachers do,” said Vromen. The ministry also provides financial support, buying the books and handling the curriculum used by teachers in the classrooms.

Preschool kids getting their Sifriyat Pijama books in the bags given out by the PJ Library program (Courtesy PJ Library)

Sifriyat Pijama is currently distributing four books a year to half of the Hebrew-speaking first- and second-graders. The plan is to distribute to the entire school system by next year and to all Arabic-speaking schools within two years.

“I’m a convert for the government involvement,” said Vromen. “If you want massive impact, you need the government and there are a lot of great people in the Education Ministry. I communicate with them at all hours of the day.”

Kids — and parents — still read books

How did such a relatively small idea become such a powerhouse in the children’s book industry? The best answer is probably that kids and their parents still want to read books together before bed.

Parents and small children want “something tangible to read at night,” echoed Catriella Freedman, who runs the program’s newest addition, PJ Our Way, for preteens.

It’s a truism backed by stats from one of PJ Library’s surveys, conducted every three years: A significant number of parents — some 35% — are still reading to kids, often past the age of 8.

Parents like reading to kids beyond age 8, and PJ Library is honing in on that habit (Courtesy PJ Library)

Reading to kids, and making sure they’re still looking at printed books, is important to parents, said Freedman. Yet the “brilliance of Harold’s idea” was putting Jewish values into that content, “making it easy for them,” she said. “And they don’t want it on an iPad, they want it in a [printed] book.”

The timing of PJ Library with the explosion of personal devices and the games kids play on iPads and tablets was actually a boon for the program, added Troberman.

“Because of parents’ desire to limit screen time, they’re over the top about making sure kids are read to,” she said.

Freedman runs PJ Our Way from Zichron Yaakov, the northern Israeli town where she moved to Israel from the US with her family nine years ago. With a background in Jewish education, she had thoughts about how PJ Library should expand, and shared them with Grinspoon when they met by chance several years back.

“PJ Our Way is very much based on those ideas,” said Freedman.

Now there are 21,000 preteens signed up for the book program, with 13,000 books send out each month, “a huge number for this age group,” which is “so locked into” tablets, video games and apps.

Her focus, for now, is on the preteen set in the US, where the program has grown because of a perceived vacuum in content for that age group.

“It’s a platform for Jewish families to feel connected,” said Freedman. “So why have PJ Library stop at age 8?”

Reading PJ Our Way books (Courtesy PJ Library)

Dina Rubin, a fourth-grader from Cleveland, Ohio, is one of ten PJ Our Way national design team members.

She said she likes getting to meet people close to her age all around the US, as they meet virtually one Sunday a month. But reading books is, of course, the best part, said Rubin, who likes mysteries, fantasy and graphic novels, but won’t turn down a good non-fiction book.

She’s not averse to the Jewish aspect of PJ Our Way, either.

“It kinds of makes me feel closer to my religion,” said Rubin. “If it’s about a famous Jewish person, it kind of makes me want to do that kind of stuff.”

It’s been a challenge finding Jewish content for that age group, said Freedman, as most tween books are geared for slightly older kids, not the 9-to-11 set.

But just as PJ Library has changed the face of Jewish children’s literature, PJ Our Way has done the same.

The preteens have a big say in what they read and how they share that with fellow readers.

A PJ Library mentor meets virtually with her “readers” six months in advance of books chosen, going through the roster of titles and, once they are selected, making videos and writing blog postss about each book. There are also Skype chats with the authors.

“Kids love authors, they’re like rock stars,” said Freedman.

Reading PJ Our Way books at summer camp, one of the newest additions to the PJ Library plan (Courtesy PJ Our Way)

Once PJ Library extended to a slightly older readership, Grinspoon, whose foundation also helps Jewish camps through JCamp180, a program designed to help non-profit Jewish camps fundraise and be sustainable — wanted to send books to sleepaway Jewish camps.

Now JCamp180 camps can apply to receive PJ Our Way books each year, one per camper per summer. The program is up to 68 camps for summer 2017, up from 46 last summer.

The incentive to get kids to go to Jewish camps comes from their younger siblings’ PJ Library books, which have a sticker asking whether they’re planning to go to camp this summer.

The PJ effect on publishers and writers

With the increasing number of titles it distributes, PJ Library has also influenced the growing number of Jewish children’s books, and the publishers that seek them out.

“PJ Library has done a wonderful job of getting Jewish values and books out into the market, they’re remarkable,” said Joni Sussman, publisher of Kar-Ben Publishing, the largest Jewish children’s book publisher, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

A Kar-Ben title, 'The Passover Scavenger Hunt,' which was a PJ Library pick several years back (Courtesy Kar-Ben Publishing)

Named for the youngest children — Karen and Ben — of the two founders, Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler, Kar-Ben was established in 1975 to publish its first book, “My Very Own Haggadah,” a children’s Passover Haggadah. The company was later sold to the Minneapolis-based Lerner Publishing group.

The publisher now receives about 1,000 manuscripts a year, and publishes around 20, said Sussman. These days, a lot of their work is with PJ Library.

“They’ve certainly raised the profile of Jewish children’s books,” said Sussman. “These books are now going into many homes that, frankly, prior to PJ Library, wouldn’t have found their way there. What’s great about Jewish children’s books is that no matter where they are on the spectrum, you can find something to learn in a non-threatening manner.”

Ditto for Maktabat al-Fanoos, which has ended up supporting new authors like Malak Farooge, a Tel Aviv University-trained social worker who wrote “Where Do I Go When I Am Angry?” after working with young children and mothers in a battered women’s shelter.

Farooge has always written poems and prose, but submitted the book draft to a new authors’ competition at a local book organization, which then published it, and later connected her to Maktabat al-Fanoos.

“I wrote about anger, and how kids deal with anger,” said Farooge. “There’s not a lot of ways to do that with Arabic, with books that teach about the emotional world and emotional language.”

'Where Do I Go When I'm Angry?' by Malak Farooge Abu-Raiya, is one of several new Maktabat al-Fanoos books by local authors (Courtesy Maktabat al-Fanoos)

The second printing of her book was for Maktabat al-Fanoos, which meant that thousands of families were receiving copies and bringing a new culture into their homes, said Farooge, something that probably wouldn’t have happened were it not for the reading program.

“Until Maktabat al-Fanoos printed it, not many people bought it, because I’m a new writer, and new writers’ books don’t get bought in the same way,” she said.

For now, she wants to carefully tread the line between writing books that work for Maktabat al-Fanoos and writing prose that comes from her own emotional world, and plans on finding that balance.

The global program has created a similar demand for more original Jewish children’s books, and there are more being written now, said Kar-Ben’s Sussman. Other publishers are also getting into this niche market, knowing that PJ Library will buy a number of books in a given year.

“If PJ Library takes a book, that’s a big sale,” said Sussman. “We still publish what we publish, with books that aren’t necessarily part of the PJ program, such as a Holocaust story or same-sex family. We need Jewish in setting or context.”

Even to a secular children’s book publisher like Chicago’s Albert Whitman & Company, PJ Library can help shift the number of Jewish children’s books, as the publisher has now produced approximately 25 PJ Library titles, said Andrea Hall, an assistant editor at Albert Whitman.

“You can’t get away from the impact they’re having,” said Rena Rossner, a literary agent who specializes in children’s books and young-adult fiction. “There are a lot of living, breathing Judaism in books that PJ Library wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, but it is a wonderful program.”

Rossner, who lives in Israel but works only with English-language books, would like to see more PJ Library books that have “enough” Jewish content and values but better quality.

“I’d like to see books about characters who happen to be Jewish rather than in-your-face Judaism,” she said.

These are arguments and discussions that don’t bother Grinspoon and Troberman. They love the fact that Jewish books and values — or Hebrew or Arabic books — are what’s being discussed.

“I said to Harold, ‘You will change the world of Jewish publication,” said Troberman. “A Russian rabbi said we are the largest pluralistic congregation in the world, and when you look at PJ Library that way, it’s absolutely true.”