The book Memories of Jewish Poland: The 1932 Photographs of Nachum Tim Gidal lets the photos do most of the talking. And they speak strongly and with passion of a lively, bustling and diverse community, the vast majority of whom were killed in the Holocaust.
“Of the 3.3 million Jewish residents of Poland before World War II, only 380,000 were still alive by 1945,” notes the book’s curator, local scholar, writer and philanthropist Yosef Wosk, in the preface. Wosk will help launch the release of Memories of Jewish Poland on Feb. 11, in a “prologue” event of the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival, which opens Feb. 20. He also helped organize Invisible Curtain, the current exhibit of Gidal’s work that is being co-presented by the festival with the Zack Gallery.
Wosk was friends with Gidal, who he met in Jerusalem, where Gidal lived. Born in Munich in 1909, Gidal had made aliyah in 1936, but then lived in various places before returning to Jerusalem in 1970; he passed away in 1996. It was not only Gidal’s dying wish that the 1932 Polish photos be published in book form, but that they be allowed to “speak for themselves.” And that request has been honoured. In addition to Wosk’s brief preface, the book opens with some notes written by Gidal for a 1984 exhibit and includes an introduction to Gidal’s work by photography historian, researcher, author and curator Nissan N. Perez, founder of the Israel Museum’s photography department. At the end, there is a list of the plates included in the book and a brief biography of Gidal. A map of Poland, indicating the locations in which the photos were taken, bookends the commentary and photographs.
“This book illustrates the largest number of photographs from Gidal’s Polish photo essay ever assembled. It is not, however, a catalogue raisonné: more than 20 images are not included,” writes Wosk. The reproductions included in the volume are taken from prints in Wosk’s collection and that of the Israel Museum. Wosk thanks Diane Evans, “master teacher, photographer, bookseller and friend in photography,” for serving “as a patient, experienced and disciplined midwife in giving birth to this book.”
Gidal – born Ignaz Nachum Gidalawitsch – was motivated to travel to Poland “by his desire to know more about his family’s background,” writes Perez. The photographs Gidal took were “actually a rather small chapter of his oeuvre at the beginning of his outstanding career, an exercise in perfecting his vision.”
“He gains the interest of the viewer not by staging elaborate scenes, but by capturing expressions and gestures that can only be described as both intimate and straightforward,” explains Perez. “As he said in one of the many meetings conducted toward the exhibition in 1995, ‘My photographs, I like to think, are variations on the everlasting tragicomedy of human life.’”
The images in Memories of Jewish Poland are prime examples of Gidal’s ability to capture images of life as it is happening, in all its unromantic but beautiful distinction.
“In the heterogenous assembly of the Polish galut (diaspora), I myself became immersed in the flow of Jewish life from the past to the future,” wrote Gidal for the 1984 exhibit. “When we left Poland after three weeks, I had passed through an invisible curtain, which had separated East and West. Now the curtain had opened, and I was made to feel the unifying presence of Jewry.”
A selection of Gidal’s 1932 Polish photos is currently on display at the Zack Gallery (for the full story, click here). The Memories of Jewish Poland book will be launched at a virtual Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival prologue event Feb. 11, 7 p.m. For tickets to the prologue and other Jewish Book Festival events, visit jccgv.com/jewish-book-festival.
Israeli writer Eshkol Nevo, whose latest novel is The Last Interview, opens the JCC Jewish Book Festival Feb. 20. (photo from JBF)
This year’s Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival opens online Feb. 20, with Israeli writer Eshkol Nevo, whose latest novel, The Last Interview, brilliantly sprinkles facts amid a lot of fiction and interjects humour into much pathos. It entertains, of course, and, as all good books do, it raises many salient points that will get readers thinking – and feeling – about, in this case, storytelling, marriage, truth, parenting, friendship, lies, family, identity, media, politics and relationships. So, life.
In The Last Interview, the protagonist, who is suffering from a chronic form of depression and writer’s block, responds to an interview sent to him “by an internet site editor who collected surfers’ questions.” He later notes, “It was supposed to be only an interview, nothing else, but slowly – it seems I can’t do it any other way – I’ve been turning it into a story. I was supposed to leave Dikla and the kids and the dysthymia out of it. And all of them are in it.” This inability to stop himself from telling stories about others in his published writing is an Achilles’ heal in his personal life, but a boon to his professional one.
His interview answers are sometimes short and direct:
“How do you manage to deal with the loneliness that’s part of writing?
But, most often, they are quite involved, going into more detail, retrospection and introspection than the questioners would ever have expected. We learn about his failing marriage, but also its sweet beginnings. We are privy to his feelings about his best friend, who is dying of cancer. We see how he struggles to be a good father to his three kids. We hear some of his travel adventures. We witness his attempts to extricate himself from an unwanted speech-writing gig. We share his discomforts with the Israeli-Palestinian situation. We find out a bit about his motivations for writing:
“If I don’t write, I have nowhere to put my memories, and that’s dangerous. I have a problem. I don’t forget anything. My forgetting mechanism is completely screwed up. All the partings, the deaths, the unexploited opportunities. They are all trapped in my body, and writing is the only way to release them … if I don’t occasionally unburden myself of the weight of some of those memories, I won’t be able to breathe. No air will enter my body. Or leave it.”
Part of his current creative block – “I was supposed to be writing a novel this year. Instead, I’m writing answers to this interview” – is that he and his wife are becoming more distant. “I can’t say that I became a writer to win Dikla’s heart, but I can assume that with another, less stimulating woman, I wouldn’t be writing.” He notes that, since his first letter to her, “In fact, everything I’ve written since then, eight books, is one very long letter addressed to her.” At the end of a lengthy response to the question, “All of your books are written in the same style. Have you ever thought of writing something completely different? Maybe science fiction? Fantasy?” he says that genre wouldn’t make any difference: “In any case, it would turn out that, once again, I wrote about an impossible love.”
While the overall mood of The Last Interview is solemn, there are many funny parts. One especially hilarious section is the writer’s response to the question, “When will they produce a film adaptation of your latest book? When I read it, I could actually imagine the movie.” As the writer shares the details of an encounter with a filmmaker of a similar opinion, the conversation cynically – but with the ring of truth – moves from flattery to the many ways in which the movie will ultimately be unrecognizable from the book, yet concluding nonetheless with the filmmaker enthusing, “The minute I finished it, I said to my wife: This is a movie!”
With a writer as intelligent, sensitive and amusing as Nevo and an interviewer as experienced as the Globe and Mail’s Marsha Lederman, the book festival’s opening event should be well worth attending. For tickets to it, and for the full lineup of events, visit jccgv.com/jewish-book-festival. The festival runs to Feb. 25.
Lillian Boraks-Nemetz’s latest collection of poems offers comfort, even though she does not shy away from the tragedy of her Holocaust experience and ever-present memories of that period. From the very title, Out of the Dark, she gives hope. If she can still see beauty and love, then we can, too.
An established and award-winning writer, Boraks-Nemetz has published many books and her poems have appeared in literary anthologies. A child survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, she is an eyewitness to some of the most cruel aspects of humanity and openly wrestles, in these poems, with the death she has seen, with the hiding she was forced into and can’t completely shake the habit of, with the stark contrast of her life before coming to Vancouver and the world she has created here. While deeply marked by suffering, she makes space for the pain that others experience.
Out of the Dark is divided into three sections: Survival, Flickers in the Dark, and Into the Light. Even the most sombre first part, which includes poems about those murdered in the Holocaust, the impacts of war and the existence of antisemitism, starts with a poem called “Flowers of Survival,” in which a daughter recalls the words of her father, from whom she has been separated, forever: “‘Let the wind thrash us if it will // And the foul earth open to swallow us,’ you said, / ‘for in the end / neither the violent wind nor / the foul earth will succeed.’”
In midsection of the book, Boraks-Nemetz gives voice not only to her sadnesses and joys of making a new life in Vancouver, but of the immigrant experience in general. She writes of the difficulties of living in another place, both with regards to location but also in her mind and body, as well as in time, so different is British Columbia than Poland, so changed is Warsaw now from how it was during the war, so renewed a person is she, yet, she advises, in the poem “Identity,” “when they tell you / forget the past – let it go / they are in error // your past is your memory / and memory – a bridge / to you.”
As people are marked by what happens to them, internally and externally, so is nature, and Boraks-Nemetz has included several poems about its splendour, what it has witnessed and how we humans are threatening it, despite its strong will to survive.
There are many poems in Out of the Dark that are dedicated to family, friends, poets and others, but the bulk of them are in the final section. Boraks-Nemetz seems to be saying that, despite our capacity as humans for brutality and destruction, we need one another and we are the only ones who can fix what we have wrought, and make the world a better place.
Uri Adoni shares “The Six Rules of Chutzpah” in his book The Unstoppable Startup. (photo from Uri Adoni)
Uri Adoni, author of The Unstoppable Startup – Mastering Israel’s Secret Rules of Chutzpah, is on a mission to teach businesspeople how to use chutzpah to their advantage.
Born and raised in Israel, Adoni was working at a large advertising agency when the internet was just starting to catch fire.
“I really remember the exact moment when I first saw the internet,” Adoni told the Independent. “It was back in 1995 and it really blew my mind. I said, ‘Wow! I can talk to somebody in Singapore!’ It was very slow, dial up. It took ages to download anything, but it was crazy for me. And then I realized I just had to be part of it.
“Funnily enough, one of the partners in the agency at the time, he said to me, ‘This internet thing, it’ll never catch on.’ But, I begged to differ! And the old advertising world, I think, it will change dramatically, because you have so much data and people will know exactly what you were doing. That’s when I joined Microsoft.”
Adoni was chief executive officer of MSN Israel, working for Microsoft, for about seven years. He then moved to managing venture capital, giving him a unique view as to why some venture owners succeed while others fail. After a decade on the job, he decided to share this knowledge in book form.
According to Adoni, “One of the questions we’ve been frequently asked by people from all over the world is, ‘What is the secret sauce behind the Israeli success?’… We’re the second-largest tech hub in the world, second only to Silicon Valley, the largest per capita. We have the highest density of startups per capita, the highest venture capital per capita.”
Adoni shared that Israel has the third most companies on the NASDAQ, after the United States and China, though, in terms of population and geography, Israel is tiny compared to these countries.
“The positive side of chutzpah is what makes the difference between Israeli entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurs from around the world,” said Adoni. “One of my hypotheses is that, unlike charisma, which you’re either born with or not, chutzpah is actually something you can teach. And, I’d say, more than that, by the way. I think that any entrepreneur in the world, whether Israeli or not, they all have chutzpah. They just don’t know how to define it this way. But, I really think it’s a key ingredient in any successful startup.
“I felt the best way to explain it is by demonstrating what it is, and that the best way to demonstrate it would be to interview very successful entrepreneurs who could relate to it – asking them how important chutzpah has been in the success of their startup. If they are Israelis, they’d know it, and be able to put their finger on it.”
In The Unstoppable Startup, Adoni delves into what he has dubbed, “The Six Rules of Chutzpah,” with plenty of examples. The first rule involves changing one’s mindset, which, in turn, enables you to challenge reality as you know it, by thinking ahead of the curve.
“One of the companies we invested in at the time was a company, called CyActive, in the computer anti-virus world,” he said. “Usually, the way it works is that you have a virus and then you have the anti-virus that comes up with some sort of virus blocking. But it’s a cat-and-mouse thing, because they have to come up with a new virus and the anti-virus has to block it.
“They came up with a really interesting approach by changing the paradigm,” he explained. “They took the existing virus and, with a very smart algorithm, they created tens of thousands of potential viruses that could be expanded or developed from the original virus. And then, once we had all these viruses, we could create a tool to block them, before they even existed. So, they actually built something that blocks viruses that no one had come up with yet, but that there’s a chance they’ll come up with.”
Another rule, Adoni said, is innovating in order to meet future demand. In this context, he gave the example of the navigation app, Waze. Users share real-time data about their travel location and speed, allowing Waze to calculate the quickest way from point A to B.
“Once they use the application, all of this data [is] collected and you can sometimes know and predict where there will be traffic jams, guiding people to different routes and getting them to the destination faster,” said Adoni. “A lot of people were very skeptical about it. They said nobody will share their data; privacy issues. But, they proved everybody wrong. The market actually needed that, but we needed to bring them the tool. Once the tool was introduced, it was adopted very quickly.
“By the way, [Apple’s] Steve Jobs was one of the best – all the way from the Macintosh to the iPhone, having this entrepreneurial mindset that says, ‘I know what people need and will introduce it to them.’”
While Adoni’s book is naturally geared to startups and tech companies, he is adamant that the principles are relevant for any company, “no matter if they are small, big, or what state they are in because, at the end of the day, if you’re just doing more of the same, you may sell, you may make a living, but not necessarily make it big, or breakthrough, or grow in a large way.
“Even if you just have a small coffee shop, you should have your own competitive advantage, whether that’s with your cakes, experience, prices, name, or community. You need to differentiate yourself, showing why people should choose you over others. Random choice will not build return business. Any company around the world, any business you can think of, must think in a mindset of how they can outpace their competition, figure out their competitive advantage.”
Adoni believes his book is also great for investors, as it will teach them what to look for in startups.
In non-pandemic restricted days, Adoni regularly travels the world, speaking with university students.
Not wanting to reveal much, Adoni said he is currently working on a venture to challenge the mindset of Americans about developing new high-tech hubs in places that many people would not even consider a possibility.
Junie Swadron recently released her latest book. (photo from Junie Swadron)
The Nov. 3 release of Junie Swadron’s most recent book, Your Life Matters! 8 Simple Steps to Writing Your Story, could not have arrived on the shelves of booksellers at a more opportune time. The pandemic has presented an occasion for self-reflection, and a chance to place memories and contemplations onto paper and computer.
Swadron, a Victoria-based psychotherapist, author and writing coach, hopes the book will aid prospective memoirists in writing their story, breaking through blocks with confidence and freeing them from what may have been a painful past. Hard lessons of life can become the greatest gift, she says, and writers can inspire others with the wisdom they have gained.
“In my 30 years practising psychotherapy, the most common theme among clients – whether they be CEOs of large companies or art students – is low self-esteem. Most people don’t value what they have achieved and don’t know how to recognize the good in themselves, to varying degrees,” Swadron, who is Jewish, told the Independent.
“This is a book for people to look at their lives and see the value, the beauty and the contributions they have made. And then to write their life stories from an empowered place, from a place of feeling strong, tall and proud. Not in an egoistic way, but in a way that they can say, ‘Hey, look how far I’ve come. Or, wow, I did that!’”
The challenge of writing a memoir can be daunting, the book notes, even for a professional with years of experience in their chosen field or an individual with a unique point of view. In Your Life Matters, Swadron attempts to guide the reader towards a focus on common themes – while remaining honest and truthful to the past – and the recording of meaningful experiences with certainty and ease. She also shares some of the factors that have helped her become a more assured writer and demonstrates how someone could apply these insights to their own memoir.
The book, too, provides therapeutic exercises for writers to use when drafting their stories. A memoir, Swadron said, can be a useful tool for an individual to work through difficult experiences and reframe their trauma. Your Life Matters lists steps to record the significance of life’s major events and influences. According to Swadron, memoir writing then becomes a memorable and achievable goal.
“The book is for anyone who wants to recount their life journey, whether they be a senior or an entrepreneur, and take the time to understand more about themselves throughout the process and transform pain from the past. What sets me apart from other writing coaches is being a psychotherapist. Not only do I know how to teach people how to write books, I get them to dive deep into their story and come out the other side stronger, as a result of them knowing who they are,” she explained.
“Say a person found a weight loss program and it’s really successful,” Swadron posited. “They got into it in the first place because they needed to lose weight. They lost 200 pounds, kept it off, and they need to not only write the story of how they did that but who they were as someone struggling with a food addiction. And who they have become since they have achieved their maximum goal of what is healthy for them. They need to put themselves in the story for others to be able to relate to whatever it is they are passionate about because they have found a solution and can assist others going through a similar struggle to find their way with more ease and grace.”
She cites her operating principle as “your soul meets you on the page and something shifts. You begin to stand taller. Then, one day, you notice your voice on the page has become your voice in the world.”
Swadron has three previous titles to her credit: Colouring Your Dreams Come True, a colouring book for people of all ages, Re-Write Your Life and Write Where You Are. Additionally, she has penned a piece for the stage, Madness, Masks and Miracles, a play to dispel myths and stigmas about mental illness. Last year, she founded the Academy for Creative and Healing Arts (ACHA) for people with mental health challenges.
Beyond her books, Swadron provides workshops, online courses and meetings throughout the year – all of which are currently taking place on Zoom – to help people with their writing. These include an author mentorship program, a class on creativity during COVID-19 and a Sunday morning “sacred” writing circle. For more information, visit her website, junieswadron.com.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Many Jewish Independent readers will be familiar with the name Mira Sucharov. Whenever the paper ran her op-eds, at least one passionate letter to the editor could be expected. Agree with her or not on the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she makes you think. And her latest book, Borders and Belonging: A Memoir, offers insight into how her mind works and how she has come to form her continually evolving ideas on the controversial subject.
But it’s not all politics and there’s no academic speak, though Sucharov is well-trained and has much experience in these areas – she is a professor in Carleton University’s department of political science and is University Chair of Teaching Innovations; she has developed courses for the university and has won teaching awards; she has multiple writing and editing credits. Borders and Belonging explores Sucharov’s political views and their development, but gives more time to childhood experiences, both happy and anxiety-ridden, including being a child of divorce, past romantic crushes, tales from Jewish summer camp, insights gained from living on a kibbutz, and more. It is an at-times cringeworthingly open coming-of-age story.
“I gave my dad and my mom parts to read, and I checked the scene about my daughter with her, as I did want at least their tacit blessing that this memoir wasn’t going to cause pain,” said Sucharov when the Independent asked about her candidness. “As for other family members, I basically let the chips fall where they may. I did make an effort to generally not try to ‘score points’ regarding other family members, for the most part. There’s a maxim in writing creative non-fiction (memoir), one that my writing mentor emphasized to me as well: write from scars, not wounds. Not only did I not try to actively make my family and friends appear in a bad light, I tried, most of the time anyway, to spotlight my own foibles and vulnerabilities. I think it makes for a more interesting read anyway. No one wants to read a memoir written by a narrator who is defensive and who is unaware of her own flaws.”
And Sucharov reveals many of her perceived flaws. She has dealt with high levels of anxiety her whole life, it seems, and, in many an instance, her stomach flips or lurches from feelings of rejection, excitement over a boy, worry over being among kids she doesn’t know, pleasure at being in beautiful surroundings, or tension at being confronted by someone who disagrees with her.
In addition to the sometimes-brutal self-assessment, readers will also be struck by Sucharov’s memory. The details – books read, games played, reimagined conversations, etc. – are noteworthy. And Sucharov did take notes, she said. She kept a journal for a couple of summers when she was a camp counselor and when she was in Israel in the early 1990s. But, she said, “I remember a lot. For some childhood scenes, I juxtaposed memories of objects I knew I owned (specific toys, games, clothing and books) with particular events I recall occurring. So, for example, when ‘Leah’ sleeps over, I don’t recall if I read Roald Dahl on that particular night, but I do know that I read lots of Roald Dahl at that point in my life, so I inserted it as a period detail.
“Same with the Archie comic being read in the cabin while I inadvertently undress in front of a boy, causing me great embarrassment. I don’t know for certain whether we were reading Archie comics on that particular day, but I do know that we read Archie comics during that time in our life. Adding these details is a way of setting scene and drawing the reader into a world, rather than writing, ‘we used to read Archie comics.’ I treasured my toys, books and games. I’m still trying to forgive my mom for selling my remote-controlled R2-D2 robot toy at a garage sale for five bucks one summer, while I was away at camp.”
By way of another example, Sucharov said, “As for the separation scene that takes place before I’ve even turned 4: my own memory is that my parents asked me to pick toys to place in one house and in another. Recently, though, my dad gave me a different account: he said that he and my mom took me into their bed, placed me between them and broke the news. I do not recall this. So, instead, I used the memory that I did have, even if it had been partly of my own creation. In that case, it may not have been totally accurate, but it succeeds at capturing the emotional dynamics of the event – me having to cope with my parents’ separation, which was traumatic.”
Other aspects, such as exactly which scary Disney movie she watched at her dad’s, were verified with one of her “all-time favourite tools: IMDb!” And some instances she recounts are composites of multiple moments.
Sucharov has no regrets about laying so much out there publicly. “I’m a firm believer in modeling vulnerability,” she said.
“In writing and in teaching, it creates a crucial connection between writer or professor/instructor and reader or student,” she added. “By introducing our backstage selves, it can help others better learn how to soar. It is an ethic of generosity.”
A participant in Yehudit Silverman’s The Story Within process shows off their self-made mask. (photo from Yehudit Silverman)
This past spring, Prof. Yehudit Silverman’s new book came out. In The Story Within: Myth and Fairy Tale in Therapy, the Concordia University professor emerita walks people through a step-by-step process to healing.
“When a person embarks on this journey, they feel called to a story, but they don’t know why,” said Silverman. “And it’s the sense of the unknown that’s really important…. Sometimes, in conventional therapy, we just go around in circles and might not necessarily get to the deeper layers that are inaccessible to us. But, through the arts and through the use of a character from a myth or fairy tale, gradually we can access those areas in ourselves.”
In Silverman’s approach, clients start by choosing their own story after going through a couple of exercises. “That process of choosing the story is therapeutic and healing in itself, because it’s part of the person’s sense of their own sense of knowing their own strengths and their own intuition, which is really important,” she explained. “Also, it’s important to stay with one character in a story for a long time, allowing the depth work to be done … recognizing what the character’s quest is, which is so important in myth and fairy tale, which is why I think they are still so relevant.
“The protagonist is on a quest and has to face obstacles and challenges,” she continued. “That can be so helpful when people are facing their own challenges and obstacles, so they don’t feel so alone. Also, they get to work with fiction, which is very safe, providing a certain amount of distance.”
People choose their stories for different reasons.
“Someone might be really drawn to a character that is having to do an impossible task, like in Rumpelstiltskin, where the girl has to make straw into gold,” said Silverman. “A lot of people think they are facing an impossible task, so they might then choose that story.
“Sometimes, it’s just the title of the story. I worked with an adolescent who was homeless and, sadly, addicted to drugs. When I worked with her, she chose the story of the handless maiden, which led to, sadly, to the revelation of her having been abused as a child. It was just the title that drew her.”
Once people choose a character, they start to build a mask. Then, they build the environment for the character and go through the steps that are described in Silverman’s book. The process is usually done within the context of a group, so that it is witnessed, which, according to Silverman, aids significantly in healing.
“They work with other people so that, at some point, they actually direct someone else in their mask and in their costume,” she said. “They get to look at what their character looks like to an outsider. And then, they have people embodying the obstacle and the helper, so they actually embody going through the quest and the challenges of the character.”
Silverman once worked with an anorexic teen who chose the character of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. “For her, the tornado was her eating disorder that took her to the Wonderful Land of Oz … which was, for her, magical. It was the ‘Land of Starvation’ and the good witch, Glenda, was actually evil for her, because she was trying to get her to go back to Kansas…. I realized that, for her, everyone in the hospital was evil, was going against what she felt was her sense of reality and her sense of what was magical and important, which was her starvation.
“And so, little by little, she worked with it and she embodied the tornado,” said Silverman. “She was actually swirling around and started crying, and realized how destructive it was. It was the first time she had had that realization – she didn’t have it when people were just talking to her.”
The teen connected and embodied the “chaotic energy of the tornado,” said Silverman. “She began to realize it was destructive and, then, she very slowly started healing. But, for her, having that story was essential.”
Although COVID-19 has made holding in-person group sessions impossible for Silverman, it has opened the door to including people from all over the world in the online groups she leads.
The Story Within outlines Silverman’s process step-by-step, taking readers through each one, and it can be useful for both therapists looking to implement the technique, as well as anyone wanting to understand why they do what they do.
“If you’re going through something that is severe or you are in crisis, you should definitely see a therapist,” said Silverman. “And, if you’re going to use the book, you should only use it in context of therapy. But, for people looking for personal healing and a way to have creative reflection about what their life and quest is, then it is definitely for those people – for seekers, for artists and, also, for therapists, as something to integrate into their process with clients. And that’s something I do a lot of right now – supervising therapists insofar as how to integrate this into their work.”
Silverman said already established groups can use the book, as well, to form a more solid structural foundation perhaps. And, “there are so many people at home right now, and they are really questioning what their life is about,” she added. With the anxiety, she said, “having this structure, where they can go through a creative process … is so life-giving. It really allows us to express what’s going on inside into an outside form.”
These loaded sweet potatoes were satisfyingly filling. (photo by Ingrid Weisenbach)
In a word: yum. I tried out four recipes in The Tahini Table: Go Beyond Hummus with 100 Recipes for Every Meal by Amy Zitelman with Andrew Schloss. All were delicious. All worth making. I will definitely bring more tahini into my life, but not every day, as the meals are somewhat complicated to make; at least they were for me.
Published by Surrey Books, an imprint of Agate Publishing, the cookbook is gorgeous. The colour photos by Jillian Guyette and the overall look and layout make The Tahini Table as much eye-candy as cooking guide. The first chapter is all about tahini – what it is, how to use and store it, with a foray into hummus and halvah and ingredients one should have close at hand, such as avocados, various oils, garlic and onion, yogurt, different vinegars, date syrup, etc. There is a relatively helpful instruction on how to mince garlic and a section on herbs and spices. Each recipe is labeled with the diets with which it is aligned; vegan or gluten-free or Paleo, for example.
There are six chapters, covering sauces, dips, breakfasts, lunch-type food and sides, main courses and, finally, desserts. While Zitelman promises easy and quick recipes – and perhaps they are if you do as recommended and stock up on the sauces, dressings and dips – I was starting from scratch. The two mains – the benedict and the sweet potatoes – each took almost two hours to make. Only once I started did I see, for example, that one of the benny recipe ingredients was pickled red onion, carrot or radish … go to page 127. So, off to make that before I could proceed. Oh, and don’t be fooled, as I was, by the directions for the pickles – for the benedict, you only need to make pickled onions, so adjust accordingly, unless you’re also wanting to have the carrots and radishes for other purposes. (In the end, I was happy to have made all three, but I was quite hangry while making them.)
Zitelman, who is a co-founder with her sisters of Soom Foods, writes in the introduction, “we founded Soom Foods with a vision that tahini would be a staple pantry item in the American market simply because it is a delicious, nutritious and versatile ingredient. Although this ambition was somewhat far-fetched at the time, tahini is increasingly recognized as a superfood that is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, protein and calcium.” More reason, if I needed it, to experiment further with the recipes in The Tahini Table. Here are the ones I’ve kitchen-tested so far, sans Zitelman’s informative and delightful preambles or suggestions, because of space limitations.
TAHINI BENEDICT (serves two)
sauce 2 large egg yolks 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 1⁄4 cup premium tahini paste 1⁄2 garlic clove, chopped 1⁄4-1⁄2 tsp sea salt 2-3 tbsp boiling water
eggs 1 tomato, cut into 4 rounds 3 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1⁄2 tsp ground cumin 1 tbsp white vinegar 4 large eggs
assembly 2 English muffins, split and toasted 1⁄2 cup pickled red onion, carrot or radish (see below)
To make the sauce: Fill a blender with very hot tap water to warm up the container. Wait five minutes, then drain. Add the egg yolks, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt and two tablespoons boiling water. Blend on medium speed until just combined, about 30 seconds. If the sauce is too thick, add the remaining one tablespoon of boiling water and blend to combine. Set aside.
To make the eggs: Turn on the broiler to high and position the broiler rack as close to the heating element as it will go.
Coat the tomato rounds with two teaspoons of the oil and set on a broiler pan. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle on the cumin. Broil until the surface is speckled but the tomato is still firm, about three minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a 10- to 12-inch skillet with water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the vinegar.
Crack each egg into a separate cup or ramekin. Gently slip each egg from its cup into the water. Turn the heat to medium-low so that the water in the pan barely simmers.
Poach the eggs until the whites are set and the yolks remain creamy, about two minutes.
To assemble: Put an English muffin on each plate. Top each half with a broiled tomato. Use a slotted spatula to remove each egg from the water, wait a few seconds to let any extra water drain back into the pan, then place it on the tomato. Top each with sauce and a little pile of pickled red onion. Serve immediately.
QUICK PICKLES (makes about three cups)
6 carrots, peeled and julienned 1 red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced 12 red summer radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced 1 1⁄2 cups apple cider vinegar 1 1⁄2 cups water 6 tbsp honey 1 tbsp fine sea salt 1⁄2 tsp crushed red pepper
Put each of the cut veggies in their own pint container.
In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, honey, salt and crushed red pepper and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Pour a third of the pickling mixture over each of the veggies. Let cool for about 30 minutes before serving.
Store in closed containers in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
LOADED TAHINI SWEET POTATOES (serves four)
1 leek, trimmed, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts) 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided 1 garlic clove, minced with coarse sea salt 1 tsp ground coriander 1⁄2 tsp ground cumin 1⁄2 tsp smoked paprika pinch ground cinnamon fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 4 medium sweet potatoes, halved lengthwise 1 bunch lacinato kale, coarsely chopped 1 cup orange-rosemary tahini sauce (see below) 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered 1⁄4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley hot sauce, to taste
Turn the oven to 400ºF.
Toss the leek and chickpeas with one tablespoon of the olive oil on a rimmed sheet pan. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, salt and pepper and toss to coat everything evenly. Push the leek and chickpea mixture to the edges of the sheet pan.
Rub the cut surfaces of the sweet potatoes with the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put the sweet potatoes, cut-side down, in the centre of the sheet pan. Bake until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 45 minutes.
While the potatoes are baking, boil the kale in a good amount of salted water until tender, about 10 minutes.
When the potatoes are tender, put two halves on each plate and flatten them with the back of a large fork. Transfer the kale to the sheet pan and toss with the chickpeas and leeks. Drizzle some of the tahini sauce over the potatoes and pile the veggies on top. Top with more tahini sauce and the tomatoes, parsley and hot sauce.
ORANGE-ROSEMARY TAHINI SAUCE (makes about 2 cups)
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves 2 garlic cloves, minced with coarse sea salt grated zest and juice of 1 orange (about 1⁄3 cup) 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 cup premium tahini paste 1 tsp ground cumin 3⁄4 cup ice-cold water
Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat just until warm, less than a minute. Stir in the rosemary, remove from the heat and give it 10 minutes or so to cool down and get flavourful.
Meanwhile, combine the garlic, orange juice and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Let it sit for one to two minutes. Whisk the orange zest, tahini and cumin into the garlic mixture until just combined. Don’t worry if it gets thick and grainy. Whisk in the water, a quarter cup at a time, until the sauce is smooth and creamy. It should be the consistency of a creamy salad dressing, like ranch.
Stir the cooled rosemary oil into the tahini.
Store in a closed container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
TEHINA REGINA COOKIES (makes about 40 cookies)
1⁄2 cup premium tahini paste 1 cup granulated sugar 3 large eggs 1 1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract 1⁄8 tsp almond extract [optional, I’d say, as I could barely taste it] 2 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour 2 1⁄2 tsp baking powder 1⁄2 tsp fine sea salt 1⁄4 tsp ground cardamom 1 cup white sesame seeds
Mix the tahini and sugar in a large bowl until well combined. Beat in the eggs, vanilla and almond extract until the mixture is smooth.
Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom in a medium bowl, then stir the flour mixture into the batter just until there are no visible dry spots. The dough will be very stiff. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour or as long as 24 hours.
Set two oven racks near the centre of the oven. Turn the oven to 350ºF. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Put the sesame seeds in wide bowl. Scoop the dough with a one-tablespoon measure and arrange as mounds on a big sheet of aluminum foil, plastic wrap or parchment. Wet your hands and roll the mounds into egg-shaped ovals. As each one is made, coat all over with sesame seeds and place on the prepared pans, about one inch apart. You will probably get 13 to 14 cookies per pan.
Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool the cookies for two minutes on the pans, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely. When the pans are at room temperature again, form the remaining batter into cookies and bake in the same way.
Store in a closed container at room temperature for up to two weeks.
“I learned about climate marches and I learned about dancing bubbies,” said my niece Fae, 9, when we were discussing Bonnie Sherr Klein’s new children’s book, Beep Beep Bubbie, over FaceTime. Among other things, my niece Charlotte, 7, learned “you can learn to ride a bike at 53 and anything is possible.… And I learned about grandmothers who can shush a crying boy.”
Amid much laughter, including talk about dogs pooping – Bubbie has a dog – and what my nieces recalled of Vancouver from their visit here last year, Beep Beep Bubbie offered more discussion than I had anticipated. But, before I get to that, I have to say, for the record, that my nieces have dancing bubbies in their lives, and bubbies who can shush crying children, so they more related to these aspects of Bubbie’s character than learned from them. With that qualification and butt covering, I continue with the review, starting with the basic story of the book.
It is Shabbat and Kate and her little brother Nate are going to visit their grandmother, who is going to take them to Granville Island to buy apples for Rosh Hashanah. The kids have been told there’ll be a surprise waiting for them at Bubbie’s. That surprise, though – Bubbie’s new scooter – isn’t a happy one initially for Kate, who “already missed the Bubbie she used to have. That Bubbie danced and took them to climate marches.” However, during the afternoon’s adventures, Bubbie’s scooter not only allows her to venture farther from home than she otherwise would have been able to manage, but has other advantages, as well.
After their trip to Granville Island, Kate shares a library book that she’s brought along for the visit. About American educator, activist and suffragist Frances Willard, Kate and Nate find out that Willard “fought for women to have the right to vote. When Frances was 53 years old, she learned to ride a bicycle to show that women could do anything.” A conversation ensues about why Willard wouldn’t have known how to ride a bike. “People were afraid women’s ankles would show under their petticoats,” explains Bubbie. “Can you believe it?”
Well, at my nieces’ house, this part of the book was met with disbelief and more laughter, as Charlotte was keen to show off her ankles, which were hard to see, given the placement of their computer and her being the height of a 7-year-old. But, before things deteriorated into mayhem, Fae said, “I also learned that girls are tough.” And, she “learned another reason why women weren’t treated fairly in the past.”
“And what was that reason?” I asked.
“Because women didn’t ride bikes because their ankles were going to show. And they couldn’t vote, [it was] like they didn’t have an opinion.”
“It’s definitely not fair,” said Charlotte about people thinking that girls showing their ankles was wrong.
All in all, Beep Beep Bubbie elicited much talk and not an insignificant amount of gymnastics. The illustrations by Élisabeth Eudes-Pascal are wonderfully colourful and fun; full of energy and movement. Both Fae and Charlotte gave a resounding “yes” when asked if they liked the pictures.
One the drawings is a two-page spread of Bubbie, Kate and Nate and the park, where they join in the fun of flying kites. One young person is in a wheelchair, and Charlotte asked why Bubbie had chosen a scooter instead. Not knowing the answer, I asked the author. Here is her response: “I chose a motorized scooter over a wheelchair, btw, because it felt more sportif,” wrote Klein in an email, “and I am lucky enough to be able to transfer, which keeps me a bit more mobile.”
I like knowing, but the reasons aren’t important, as far as the story goes. Art is to be interpreted and my nieces and I talked about a lot of ideas, from serious to silly, during our FaceTime book review session.
Published by Tradewind Books, Beep Beep Bubbie can be purchased from pretty much any online bookseller. Enjoy!
So much of what we do in life we do almost automatically. For better or worse, we anticipate what’s coming next and, often, we’re right. But a trio of children’s books just published by Tradewind Books will amuse young readers and refresh the perspectives of their adults. Crocs in a Box, written by Robert Heidbreder and illustrated by Jewish community member Rae Maté, contains three expectation-smashing little hardcovers: Crocodiles Say …, Crocodiles Play! and Crocs at Work!
In Crocodiles Say …, it’s the bright, cheerful and iconic crocodiles of Maté that are at odds with Heidbreder’s words. In one scene, for example, we see three restrained crocs, the epitome of manners, “never rude.” The crocs “chew and swallow, their mouths closed tight. Crocodiles say … [page turn] Always be polite!” Well, it has to be said that the crocs are doing anything but eating politely.
In Crocodiles Play!, the crocs get all dressed up for one type of sport, such as baseball, but then play … basketball?! And, in Crocs at Work!, we are treated to a healthy dose of silliness, as the crocs engage in doctoring, cooking, painting and other work, all with a small twist, lots of joy and no little mess.
This collection would make a great Chanukah gift, expected or not!