Shut up and read this book review

“Shut Up, I’m Talking: And Other Diplomatic Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government” by Gregory Levey (Simon & Schuster/Free Press, $24).

Consider the Zionist dream of Jews living as “normal” people in a “normal” country. Then consider Gregory Levey’s hilarious and unexpectedly touching memoir, “Shut Up, I’m Talking: And Other Diplomatic Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government.” You’ll soon wonder, “What were Herzl and Ben-Gurion smoking?”

“Shut Up” is a sitcom involving weapons of mass destruction. It’s a historic tragedy featuring acne and sheep. It has car-chase scenes better than “The Fast and the Furious.” Yes, it’s Israeli diplomacy dissected — funny bone by funny bone — all by a nice Jewish boy from Toronto.

Levey’s is a classic tale of a fish out of water, a stranger in a strange land, a North American Diaspora “Can I do your taxes?” kind of Jew forced to fend for himself among the Israeli “Hold my Uzi while I take a leak” kind of Jews.

If you still cleave to your memories of the Israel of “Exodus,” the Six-Day War and the Raid on Entebbe, “Shut Up” will shatter those illusions. But Levey strikes with a Nerf hammer. He is no ideologue. He is barely even political. Rather, he is a Jewish Chauncey Gardiner, but a lot funnier and smarter.

Being there, in New York, a 25-year-old Canadian Jewish day school graduate in his second year of law school, Levey applied for a posted internship at the Israeli consulate in New York. He is then offered (because they don’t offer internships) a job as a speechwriter — first at the U.N. Mission and later in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Levey’s internship application is motivated less by Zionist zeal, however, than a burning desire to escape the tedium of studying corporate tax law and the like.

Levey’s adventures in speechwriting over the next two and a half years take him from signing-up for a U.N. salsa dancing club, to responding to such weighty accusations that the “occupation” is causing higher levels of acne among Palestinian teenagers, to writing speeches for Prime Minister Sharon in defense of his Disengagement plan for Gaza and more. The intifada boils on, Arafat dies, the barrier and withdrawal from Gaza controversies rage, Hamas comes to power and Sharon goes into a coma. In other words, a typical few years in the life of Israel before its 60th birthday parties begin.

Through Levey’s wide eyes, Israel is a great many things, some wonderful, but “normal” is not one of them. There’s a taxi driver who kicks him out of the taxi because he doesn’t understand a joke; the petty bureaucrat who spits sunflower seed shells on him; the foreign minister who greets him in only underwear; and the spokesman for the prime minister, who gives an interview to CNN while speeding through traffic — via the sidewalks when “necessary” — with ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” playing in the background, slowing only to yell at pedestrians who cross his path.

And people wonder why Israel does not have a better image in the world?

Levey’s experiences are so amusing, the uninitiated might think he made them up. As anyone who has spent considerable time in Israel knows, though, he didn’t need to. Levey’s cast of characters merely exemplifies the saying, “Jews are just like other people — only more so.” And that goes doubly for Israelis. Normal people in a normal country? Feh. Never.

Levey’s parents emigrated from South Africa and cast their lot with Canadians — “polite people who had opinions about nothing,” rather than Israelis — “ill-mannered people who had opinions about everything.”

This culture clash fuels the book’s hilarity, although I doubt most Israelis would see the humor: “So you’re 25, not an Israeli citizen and have to cast Israel’s vote on weapons of mass destruction at the U.N. What’s the big deal? Improvise,” they’d say.

In a strange and serious way, “Shut Up, I’m Talking” is of a piece with the movie “Munich.” It is a critique that Israel is no place for a nice Jewish boy. Perhaps different standards apply to Israelis and Diaspora Jews, or perhaps it is the difference between writing non-fiction and fiction about real events. Unlike “Munich,” though, it’s hard to be offended by Levey. Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner imposed their Westside/ Eastside Diaspora disillusionment onto a Mossad agent risking his life in an important mission for the state. Levey, by contrast, never intended to represent Israel. He is adrift, an everyman treading water, trying only to find meaning and humor in his surreal surroundings. When his Zionist experiment ends, Levey leaves Israel and reflects that he felt he “had finally come home” upon landing in New York. And he’s from Canada. Although sad, somehow, there is a sweetness about it.

Of course, the laughs won’t stop farbissiners from kvetching that “Shut Up” is a shande fur de goyim, an insulting betrayal of Israel. In talking with him, Levey said he wishes perhaps that he featured more instances of the good of Israel, the random acts of kindness, the compassionate one-family feel of the place. Understandably, he did not think it served his narrative; after all, it’s not news when a plane lands safely. Levey also reports that he has received dozens of sympathetic e-mails from Anglo American immigrants in Israel. If the book does not offend that group of people, whom should it offend?

Like every great Jewish joke, “Shut Up” not only makes us laugh at ourselves, but tells us some deeper truth. Taken seriously, “Shut Up” could be a one-man independent government inquiry to fix what’s wrong with Israel’s Foreign Ministry. It could clear the noxious atmosphere at the United Nations. It could inspire Israelis to be more considerate of one another. It might even make Israel an attractive place for nice Jewish boys from North America.

It is a dream Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion would enjoy.

Jon E. Drucker is a nice Jewish boy who practices law in Los Angeles.

Books: ‘The Year of Living Biblically’ includes a beard, snakes and peaches

Remember Amelia Bedelia? She’s the bumbling housekeeper of the beloved children’s books of the 1970s by Peggy Parish who took all instructions literally, so when her list said she should “draw the drapes,” she took out her pen and paper and drew a picture of the drapes. When it said, “dust the furniture,” Amelia Bedelia, perplexed but obedient, sprinkled dust all around the room. In the end, she was saved from unemployment because of her fabulous lemon meringue pies, as well as the fact that she was truly endearing.

But in real life, people who take things literally are often annoying.

That’s an initial reaction to Esquire editor-at-large A.J. Jacob’s quest in his new book, “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible” (Simon and Schuster, $25).

He’s going to take the Bible literally, I’m thinking for the first quarter of the book. Why doesn’t he just become Orthodox? After all, Jacobs is Jewish. He’s of the “High Holy Days, 20-minute Passover seder” Jews but a Jew nonetheless. Why doesn’t he just follow the path of the increasing ba’alei teshuva, returnees to the faith, who have taken on a tradition that’s been hammered out for centuries by rabbis and scholars who are far more knowledgeable? (Not to say that Jacobs isn’t smart — his last book, “The Know-It-All,” catalogued his year reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. But that can’t compare to scholars who study Talmud 24 hours a day, six days a week.)

In these objections, I am echoed by Jacobs’ Aunt Kate, the black sheep of his secular family, who became Orthodox after marrying the cultish weirdo and now ex-Uncle Gil, one of the many ultrareligious characters who spice up the book. (The still-Orthodox Kate is more of an affront to his ultrasecular mother, who spits at a Chasid and scoffs at those on the religious extreme, than Aunt Marni, a vegan hippie, an extremist at the other end of the spectrum.)

“It’s misguided,” Kate tells her nephew. “You need the oral law. You can’t just obey the written law. It doesn’t make sense without the oral law.”

But it makes sense for Jacobs, whose “religion,” first and foremost, is rugged individualism. An atheist (even though he calls himself agnostic, for most of the book he struggles with the existence of God), whose faith in science, evolution and rationalism trumps tradition, Jacobs decides he must figure out how to follow the Bible — both Jewish and Christian — on his own.

Yes, he does have a spiritual advisory board, including rabbis, ministers and priests (and also informally comes to include the kindly Mr. Berkowitz, an inspector for shatnez, the commandment to not wear clothes made of a wool and linen blend, one of the top five perplexing biblical commandments Jacobs tackles). And Jacobs does have dozens, if not hundreds of books, Web sites and religious experts to consult, not to mention a humorous and comprehensive Esquire-like index: “Berkowitz, Mr. (Bill), AJ chided for missing prayers by,” p 250. But he’s going to do it himself because it’s his visit to the spiritual world, an opportunity to discover his possible “hidden, mystical side.”

“If I wanted to understand my forefathers, this year would let me live like they did but with less leprosy,” he writes.

The year of living biblically would also let him explore biblical literalism, which 33 percent to 55 percent of Americans follow, according to Jacobs’ research.

“But my suspicion was that almost everyone’s literalism consisted of picking and choosing…. Not me,” Jacobs thinks at the outset of his journey. “I would do exactly what the Bible said, and in so doing, I’d discover what’s great and timeless in the Bible and what is outdated.”

Most importantly, Jacobs is doing it on his own because he needs a book.

And if ever there was a moment in time — and in American publishing — for a book about living the Bible, this is it.

God is hip right now — whether God’s “Not Great” (Christopher Hitchens), a “Delusion” (Richard Dawkins) or a “Failed Hypothesis” (Victor J. Stenger) — God is the cause for all good/evil in the world.

Which is what some believers and practitioners of religion might initially find annoying about Jacobs’ quest: He’s doing it for a book, like a game with his own rules (finding the original intent). He doesn’t much believe in God, although he’d like to, so for him, the whole endeavor is much like reading the encyclopedia, except he wears kooky white clothes and grows a beard of such proportions it has to wear a hair mask in the hospital delivery room. It’s just a stunt.

Or is it? “You’re dealing with explosive stuff,” one of his spiritual advisers cautions, adding that it’s going to be hard to be objective. “People a lot smarter than you have devoted their lives to this. So you have to admit there is a possibility that you will be profoundly changed by the end.”

One certainly hopes so. In the beginning of the book, Jacobs seems like a cheeky, narcissistic twit more obsessed with the state of his facial hair and his rankings on Amazon than anyone remotely interested in anything resembling a spiritual quest. Yes, he’s really funny — in that Jon Stewart/Beavis and Butt-head way — but he’s not necessarily the nicest human being on the planet.

But you know who is a saint? Jacobs’ wife, Julie. With one toddler son and twins on the way during this quest, how she puts up with her husband’s disorderly beard — and conduct — is nothing short of a miracle. It seems like the only thing she gains is the superpower to get answers to the question, “What are you thinking about?” when Jacobs really decides to stop all lying.

And his quest to take things literally often seems antithetical to religion. For example, when he tells his wife he can’t take the dirty diapers to the trash — “I use the Sabbath to weasel out of household tasks” — he’s reminiscent of the thousands of people who are so rigid in their practice (say, praying three times a day) they might miss the bigger picture (helping their wives, spending time with their family).

An Orthodox ‘cast-off’ holds God accountable

“Foreskin’s Lament: A Memoir” by Shalom Auslander (Riverhead, $24.95).

Dressed in black, Shalom Auslander wears three tiny silver blocks on a chain that falls close to his neck, with Hebrew letters spelling out the word “Acher,” or other. This was a gift from his wife when he completed his memoir, “Foreskin’s Lament.” Acher was the name given to Elisha ben Abuya, a learned second-century rabbi, after he adopted heretical opinions. Auslander says he smiles whenever he looks in the mirror and sees the chain.

Both humor and anger run deep in this memoir, two excerpts of which have appeared in The New Yorker. The author of the story collection, “Beware of God,” Auslander, 37, grew up in the ultra-Orthodox world of upstate Monsey, N.Y., from which he is now estranged.

“I’m completely religious,” he said, in an interview in New York City.

While he no longer observes the laws of Judaism, he’s rarely without the fear of God, or negotiating with God, on his mind: “If I could get rid of it, I’d be thrilled. I would love to have that atheistic sensibility that’s flying around now, to get some rest.”

The memoir is framed as the story of Auslander’s son, from learning of the pregnancy to deciding whether to circumcise him to the child’s first birthday. Auslander first describes the terror of God that he grew up with, and then skips ahead to his wife’s doctor’s visits and his unrelenting fear that his wife will miscarry, or will die during childbirth, or that they’ll all die on the way back from the hospital.

“That would be so God,” he writes.

He talks about God without a trace of reverence. His God is a personal God: vengeful, brutal and tormenting. While Auslander believes in God, he’s not entirely comfortable with the word ‘believer,’ which suggests that God is an answer.

“I’d like to hold God accountable,” he said. “I’m all for a bit of revolution. As a parent you start to realize that you’re trying to create a person who moves away from you to become himself. Maybe that’s what God is waiting for, for us to reach adolescence, to say it can’t be right, to come to a new understanding. The way it is now reeks of ancient stupidity.”

For an article about him in The New York Times, Auslander took a reporter on a driving tour through Monsey, and he said that he didn’t realize they had made plans for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. But he was aware that it was Sukkot on the day we met. His wife, Orli, the more traditional of the pair, likes to hang branches with birds and leaves in front of their Woodstock home, and their 3-year old son Paix (rhymes with Max, and means peace, as his own first name does, but “without the God part”) calls it “thukkah.”

“Woodstock is a town of foreskins,” he said, using his term for people like himself who are cut off and cast out. “The place is filled with people who come from elsewhere, looking for something new. I found it in the solitude.”

There’s a Reconstructionist synagogue in town, but Auslander stays away. When he once attended services, he recognized that some people found comfort in the guitar-playing rabbi’s presence. But he couldn’t get the voices of his rebbes out of his head, dismissing the place as watered-down Judaism, or worse.

In the narrative, his own account of growing up is the back story to his son’s. He described attending the Yeshiva of Spring Valley with its competitive blessing bees. When the father of a classmate died, the teacher advised the students to pray to God for forgiveness so that He wouldn’t decide to kill their fathers, too.

Auslander then thought he could make everything in his unhappy home better: by pleasing his mother by winning the blessing bee and sinning so much that “Hashem would have to kill my father.”

His father was an alcoholic, violent with his two sons. His mother was a sad character, trying to keep up appearances of a normal home life. Incessantly reading decorating magazines, she harbored the hope that if she rearranged their furniture well, they would have a peaceful home.

The reader learns that Auslander’s mother is the sister of Rabbis Maurice and Norman Lamm, one a best-selling author and the other the chancellor and former president of Yeshiva University. While growing up, she had wanted to be a doctor, but her father used the money saved for her tuition to pay for her brother’s rabbinical education. Soon after she married, her husband’s father died, leaving his fortune, thought to be millions, entirely to charity. Early in their marriage, Shalom’s parents lost a baby son.

As a young boy, Auslander began sneaking out of the house on Shabbat afternoon; a first transgression was to ride his bike to a local store, but then he couldn’t get himself to step on the electronic pad to open the door, which would have been another transgression. But soon after, he was taking taxis to the mall, shoplifting small items and sneaking non-kosher foods. By the time he was in high school, the Manhattan Talmudic Academy, he was shoplifting the kinds of expensive clothing his classmates wore, smoking dope and skipping classes to go to museums, bookstores and porn shops.

When he was caught with more than $500 of stolen clothing and some marijuana in his pocket at Macy’s, he was sentenced to community service and a heavy fine. He worked at a local hospital, doing filing on Sundays, until he learned that he could also fulfill his service at a religious institution. He then went off to study at a yeshiva in Israel, pasting a poster of a bikini-clad Cindy Crawford above his bed.

Most of the rebbes there had stories of their own — they had been on drugs or in street gangs and then found God. While their tales were meant to be inspiring, for Auslander they were cautionary. He mostly skipped class and prayer services, and occasionally showed up stoned. But even he experienced the phenomenon of return. After accepting invitations to a rebbe’s home, he felt loved and accepted — as he had never felt before — as long as he agreed to live as they did. He returned to New York still wearing his black hat, and while studying in a Queens yeshiva, worked nights as a shomer, watcher, in a funeral home. Not the most traditional of watchers, he’d get high and fall asleep on the gurney.

Actor-writer pens memoir of life marred by murder

“Bigger Than Life: A Murder, a Memoir,” by Dinah Lenney (University of Nebraska Press, $24.95)

For the past 10 years, Dinah Lenney, author of the memoir, “Bigger Than Life,” has lived with the memory of the murder of her father, a prominent New Jersey businessman and onetime senatorial candidate who was knifed to death by three teens in Manhattan.

Lenney says that she is a “spiritually challenged” person. Still, as she wrote, she once contemplated the possibility that a wounded white pigeon that had adopted her backyard as its home might be her father. When reminded of this during a visit to her Los Angeles home, the author smiles and jokes that Sully, her barking dog, might be her father. If so, he is a cheerful, rambunctious spirit.

That is not so far from the man Lenney describes in her book. Although her father could be a scoundrel — he served six months in federal prison for campaign fraud and always made her know how important his golf game was, even when he visited Lenney and her children — he nonetheless was, she said, “incredibly charismatic.”

A tall, burly real estate tycoon, Nelson Gross had always been able to control anyone and anything. He delivered Bergen County in northern New Jersey for Nixon in 1968, served as assistant secretary of state in the Nixon administration, and even conferred in the Oval Office with the president and John Ehrlichman.

To his young daughter, Gross seemed all the more omnipotent and exotic because he was rarely around. He and Lenney’s mother divorced when Lenney was a toddler, and growing up with her mother and stepfather she was “brainwashed,” as she put it, to think of her father as a “bad guy.”

Inside Lenney’s Echo Park living room, books are piled everywhere — stacked on the floor, tiered up on a shelf and placed inside a glass bookcase. There’s also a photo of her father inside that bookcase, a dark-haired, handsome man standing by a squash court at what looks to be a private club. Even at the time of the photo, when Gross was probably in his 60s, he looks daunting and muscular, 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, with biceps palpable under his sleeve and a strong torso.

It still boggles Lenney that three “punks,” not one of them taller than 5-foot-8, could have overcome such a powerful figure.

One of the ironies of Lenney’s life, as she reveals in the book, is that she was more fearful of facing her own family than the killers when she appeared in the courtroom at their sentencing. The book indeed deals more with this toxic brew of upper-class Jews than it does with the three Latino felons.

Lenney, who is tall and dark-haired like her father, is a longtime TV actor who teaches acting at UCLA. She also has a background as a writer, having received an MFA in creative writing from Bennington College. Last year she published her first book, titled, “Acting for Young Actors: The Ultimate Teen Guide.”

“Bigger Than Life” gives her more of an opportunity to display her literary chops.

Consider her description of the cast of characters in her family to whom her husband, then boyfriend, Fred, was introduced one Christmas: “Iris … a renowned archaeologist who wore the family kilts with a crested dagger in her sock … Audrey, Noel’s mother, whose hair shone shoe-polish black and whose skin stretched like an old flesh-colored bathing cap across her narrow skull. She was in her nineties with toothpick arms, and she trembled when she spoke, beautifully, with a mid-Atlantic lilt. Her escort … was a man in his sixties, slim, coiffed, and affable, like something out of a Noel Coward play.”

Lenney said she had several premonitory nightmares about her father in the days when he was missing, nearly all of them involving death. In the book, she dramatizes her “conjecture” about the final moments of her father’s life, the dialogue and action that may have transpired between him and the three punks, one of whom is named Christian.

In the dramatization, she depicts her father as a mensch even in the face of his impending death, as he defends his son, Neil, whom she speculates may have been involved in drugs.

“Listen,” he says, “you leave Neil alone. You don’t deal with my son. Ever. Just deal with me. I’ll take care of you.”

Unfortunately, punks of the 1990s and 2000s, nihilistic Generation Y-ers, are not like the punks of Gross’ youth in the 1940s and 1950s, who might have cut your face with a knife and left you with a mark but probably would not have killed you.

Though not religious, Lenney says that she respects most of all what one rabbi told her, that what happened to her father was “simply evil” and that there is no such thing as an afterlife. She said, however, that “I carry my father in my genes — he’s bound to turn up here and there, in this one’s smile, that one’s reticence, this one’s athletic ability, that one’s lack of sentiment….”

At the end of her memoir, Lenney writes about how in a summer stock production of “Peter Pan” the director came up with the idea of having “a shadow, a stagehand dressed in black,” help each performer simulate flying through the air. Then she writes about how her own shadow appears more confident now when she goes for a walk in Elysian Park, near her home.

It leaves open the possibility that that shadow may be a spirit of a sort, like the wounded pigeon that healed and flew away, and the dolphin who leaped by a boulder out at sea after Lenney tossed her father’s ashes into the Pacific, and Sully the dog who is no longer barking.

Like the Ghost of Hamlet’s father at the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Nelson Gross may finally be at rest.

Books: A heretic with fries on the side

“Foreskin’s Lament,” by Shalom Auslander (Riverhead, $24.95).

Consider the poor foreskin: an object of desire for a few, a matter of indifference for many and anathema to the Jews. Like bacon and lobster, it serves as the very definition of treif. Its rejection is the primordial sign of the Covenant.

Consider, then, Shalom Auslander. In his corrosively funny memoir, “Foreskin’s Lament,” he claims ” target=”_blank”>The Forward and is reprinted with permission.

Want to hear a story?

So I’m at the Jewish Book Council’s (JBC) open auditions, in the main sanctuary of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Manhattan, in the front row of the L-Z section of authors who have written a book with a Jewish theme and who would like to sell more than three copies of that book over their lifetime, which is — let’s be honest here — what will happen to most of us if we don’t get invited to speak at a Jewish book fair or two next fall.

My publisher, generous by any standards, has flown me here and put me up in a five-star, Madison Avenue hotel, all expenses paid with two publicists in tow — which isn’t a bad deal, really, I realize, and am terribly grateful — and all he asks in return is that I make a good impression on the good men and women of the JBC during the two minutes I’ll have to make my presentation.

But now I’m looking around at the rows upon rows of authors ready and eager and each carrying a copy of his or her book like a weapon and all I can think of is how much my poor publisher is going to hate me when he sees the first sales figures on my book and realizes he should have invested in a game of roulette instead.

I do like my book, you know, and I do believe it should be read by countless millions — though I will easily settle for dozens — who will mob the bookstores at midnight, dressed in costume, having legally changed their names to those of the characters in my story. But I also realize I’ve come to the world of publishing with a gross handicap — I’ve written a novel, as opposed to something useful, like a book of nonfiction, which is what everyone else seems to have written — and that nothing I can say at the podium tonight is going to tilt the balance in my favor.

You see, nearly 200,000 books are published in the United States every year. More than half of those are works of nonfiction-how-to, inspirational, biography, memoir. Those are the books people buy. People buy them because they serve a purpose — an actual function that justifies the $24 and dozen or more hours of time they consume. The rest — novels and collections of short stories or poems — are useful only as a tax write-off for the publisher, against profits from books of nonfiction, or the occasional novel about kites and wizards, or something that was written 30 years ago and suddenly discovered yesterday by Oprah. So if you’re smart, or semisensible, or at least not of the “don’t change the lightbulb; I’ll just sit in the dark” school of thought, you will write nonfiction.

Tonight, for instance, we hear from a professor of Jewish history who has taught at a major university for 50 years, and has now written a book about it. His facts are solid and his credentials are impeccable. And from a woman who has written about a boat full of Jewish immigrants that, 50 years ago, sank before it reached its destination. And from a rabbi who has written about the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States. This is all good stuff, you say, important stuff. And I agree. This is the kind of thing people should read, instead of some little story about things that never happened and people that didn’t exist.

I do agree with you. I really do. I can see why these writers’ careers should rise meteorically while mine lingers in the marshlands of publishing.

But then we have an author who calls himself “an investigative reporter” and who says he has “spent the last five years investigating your marriage.” He says his book will answer all the questions any woman ever had about a man, like “why your husband leaves his socks on the floor.” It’s not a book about Jews per se, he admits, but it could be: many Jews are men, and many of them are husbands.

So he’s over-reaching a bit for the Jewish angle, you say. But he’s spent five years researching this book, and maybe people should care more about socks on the floor than about my little novel, regardless of how much my poor publisher is paying for my hotel tonight.


Edward R. Murrow is followed by a woman who has written a book about bread. Good old ordinary bread. As in the kind you eat. Bread and the many things you can do with it. She holds the book up and, sure enough, there’s the picture of a loaf of bread right on the cover. Look inside and you’ll find the answer to all the questions you’ve always had but were afraid to ask.

The connection between bread and Judaism? Challah, of course.

And then there’s an author who has written a book about aprons. The history of aprons, to be exact. Why they were invented and what they’re good for. The author is wearing one herself, and she carries a cardboard suitcase — like the one Blanche carried to Stella’s house in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” In the suitcase she has brought more aprons, each with a different print. Feel free to wear one while you make challah for your Jewish husband.

But here’s the strange thing in all of this: at some point in the course of the evening, I realize I’m not having such a bad time after all. I’m actually enjoying this, actually eager to know what each book is about.

Somehow, this most blatant form of self-promotion, this venue that, until a couple of hours ago, had looked to me like a literary meat market, has suddenly reminded me of the reason I started writing in the first place: to tell a good story; a story about Jews; a story that in its own small way continues the tale of this people who have had to struggle, in every generation, to ensure that their story doesn’t end. And I think this is what all the other people in this room have also wanted to do — to write a word, a line, a chapter in that great story, and to make sure our story goes on.

Gina B. Nahai’s new novel, “Caspian Rain,” will be published this fall. Her column appears on the first Friday of every month. She will write more about the evening at the Jewish Book Council next month.