by Phyllis Shaikun
The year’s Jewish Festival of the Book series sponsored by the Jewish Community of Louisville kicked-off with author Lisa Baron discussing her new book, Life of the Party: A Political Press Tart Bares All.
Several audience members were probably as surprised as I was to hear Baron deftly describe how a “not-so-nice, socially liberal” Jewish girl who served as a communications and press adviser for several high profile political figures including California Rep. Darrell Issa, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss ended up representing former would-be Georgia Lt. Governor Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition.
By her own admission, Baron spent her early 20’s as a sleep-deprived but eager young employee on Capitol Hill. Her sexual exploits, which she outlined in some detail during her presentation, helped her climb the ladder of success – one rung at a time.
In her late 20s, she left Washington and moved to Atlanta to represent Ralph Reed, leader of the fundamentalist Christian Coalition, in his unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor of Georgia. She was particularly concerned about telling her parents she would be promoting Reed’s conservative agenda, but it turned out their primary concern was that her job would take her too far away from Judaism.
In the end, Reed’s close association with disgraced former Republican “superlobbyist” Jack Abramoff was more than he could overcome, and Reed lost the vote by a wide margin.
Baron decided after the election that she wanted her 15 years in politics to mean something and started writing her book. She announced during the evening that she is pursuing movie and TV rights for her story.
by Shiela Steinman Wallace
Each year, the Jewish Festival of the Book includes a cookbook among its offerings. This year, the committee decided a homecoming was in order for Dr. Jane and Cantor Marshall Portnoy, so they chose A Jewish Calendar of Festive Foods. Jane Portnoy compiled the recipes; Cantor Portnoy wrote brief essays on each month of the Jewish calendar, giving this book its format; and Louisville artist Robin Reikes tied it all together with a series of fun-filled illustrations.
On Sunday, November 6, about 30 people gathered at Susan Callen’s home. Jane explained that she began collecting recipes – mostly desserts – as a teen and just kept going. Through the years, her collection grew into a series of three-ring binders.
The time came when she wanted to pass the best recipes on to her children – but where to start. Amy Shir helped her type and organize the full collection, and from that she pulled her favorites.
As the project progressed, Jane decided she wanted to create a Jewish holiday cookbook. Noting that while there are many Jewish holiday cookbooks, none tie in with the calendar. So she found her niche and the collaboration began.
Reikes displayed some of her drawings and explained that Judaism makes time sacred, so her illustrations in this cookbook use windows to show the time of day and the season, including the agricultural connections associated with many holidays.
No cookbook presentation is complete without a demonstration and some tastings. Portnoy prepared her rugelach recipe for the group and invited several of those present to try their hand at the finishing steps. Guests then had the opportunity to sample an assortment sweets baked from recipes in the book.
Melissa Fay Green
by Phyllis Shaikun
On Tuesday, November 8, Georgia Hall of Fame writer Melissa Fay Green, author of No Biking in the House, offered an amusing presentation about raising a family with nine children in the third installment of this year’s Jewish Festival of the Book series. The book has been called “exuberant, an absolute treasure of humor and profound wisdom.”
In 1999, Green and her husband, criminal defense attorney Don Samuel, saw their family of four growing up. Their youngest, Lily, was seven, older sister Molly was 17, and brothers Seth and Lee were 15 and 11 respectively. Instead of joining their friends who were happily awaiting becoming empty nesters, Green writes that she and her husband realized they “feel most richly alive, most thickly in the cumbersome richness of life, with children underfoot.”
While their biological family of four sometimes felt like more than enough, they decided to adopt a small boy from Bulgaria, an experience that plunged Green into a profound post-adoption depression. She rebounded and went on to adopt a daughter and three more sons from Ethiopia – the last two at the request of her son, Lee, who had worked at an Ethiopian orphanage for a year. The children, Fisseha, Daniel, Jesse, Helen and Yosef now range in age from 14 to 17. She considers “each child – whether homemade or foreign born – a revelation, a treasure.”
Her amusing talk centered on chaotic situations she has encountered at home, the difficulties of bringing her extended family into Judaism, and the joy of finally having athletes in the family! She also shared her profound regret about the millions of African orphans still needing homes and families to love them.
by Ben Goldenberg
On Wednesday, November 9, Myla Goldberg presented her work, The False Friend, as part of the Jewish Festival of the Book. The author gained renown with her previous book, Bee Season.
Goldberg grew up as a Reconstructionist Jew in Maryland, and then ignored her religion while attending college. It wasn’t until she started having children that she rediscovered her faith.
The one piece that always remained with her was Yom Kippur. She loved the idea of “just spending a day thinking about your life.” It was such an important thought, it became the subject of her book, The False Friend.
In it, Goldberg wanted to challenge the idea that everything a person remembers is automatically true and to look at how children change as they grow up. The False Friend follows Celia as she rediscovers a memory from her past, when she was involved in the death of a friend.
When asked about the end of the book, Goldberg said she left it purposefully open-ended. “My favorite books are ones that take me into a world that existed before I got there and will continue to exist after I leave.”
To the delight of the audience, Goldberg also explored her creative process. Not a fan of storyboards, she starts work on a book knowing a few key plot points and writes those. Then, she slowly fills in the details around them until they make sense together.
Goldberg announced that she is working on a new novel that is in the very early stages and also a children’s chapter book.
Local Authors Reading
The 2011 Jewish Festival of the Book wrapped up on Thursday, November 17, with a Local Authors Reading at The Bard’s Town. Contributing authors include Michael Jackman, Bob Sachs, Michele Ruby, Beth Adler and Kay Gill. This event was co-sponsored by the Writers Workshop.
Evie Topcik chaired the 2011 Jewish Festival of the Book. Michele Elisburg, Linda Goldberg, Georgia Goldman, Debbie Rose, Marcy Rosengarten and Jackie Rubin served on the committee.
Jewish Festival of the Book donors were: Literary Patrons: Dr. Sanford and Robin Reikes and Evie and Chuck Topcik; Patrons: Annette and Harry Geller, Linda and Stuart Goldberg, Sandy and Mark Hammond, Janet and Jonathan Hodes, Dr. and Mrs. Bob Kanovitz, Cheryl Karp, Bob and Margie Kohn and Marcia and Ed Segal; Friends of the Book: George and Angie Aronoff, Cantor David Lipp and Rabbi Laura Metzger, Marcy and Dr. Elliot Rosengharten, Stephanie P. Sarasohn, Dr. and Mrs. Lee Shai Weissbach, Stephi and Jonathan Wolff and Judy and Bob Tiell; and Chai: Susan and Jeff Callen, Gail Gilbert and Kate Latts.
Allison Schwartz coordinated the program.