Tag Archives: New Jewish Press

You Are What You Read

For our final contribution to the University Press Week Blog Tour (November 4-8), editor Natalie Fingerhut discusses the importance of compassion and how this forms the foundation of our soon-to-launch imprint, New Jewish Press. 

By Natalie Fingerhut

A little personal story: I spent my 20s working at the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University here in Toronto and teaching English at the Centre for Victims of Torture. Through a newcomer service, I helped an Iranian family adapt to their new life in Canada.

In my 40s, when the Syrian refugee crisis reached Canadian Jewish ears, I was busy with work, my kids, and I felt that it was other people’s turn to help out.

At the time, I had just finished Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe under Hitler and Stalin. Through that reading, I discovered the Soviet Jewish journalist, Vasily Grossman, on whom Snyder relies as a primary source. It was this paragraph taken from Grossman’s report, The Hell of Treblinka, about his 1944 visit to the remains of the Treblinka death camp that changed the course of my behavior:

“The SS men subjected the group of rebels from the Warsaw ghetto to especially vicious torture. They picked the women and children and took them not to the gas chambers but to the cremation ovens. They forced the mothers half crazed with terror to lead their children between the red hot bars on which thousands of dead bodies writhed and squirmed twisting and turning as though alive. This spectacle was enough to rob the strongest man of his reason, but the Germans knew that its effect would be a thousand times more terrible on a mother who was frantically trying to shield the eyes of her children from the ghastly sight while they shrieked in terror, “Mama, Mama…what are they going to do to us…will they burn us?” 

For a brief moment, I was that mother with my hand over my daughter’s eyes. It was only by an accident of birth that I was not. And it is only by an accident of birth that you were not.

The next morning I had a call into our synagogue’s private sponsorship group and asked them to put me to work. We wound up sponsoring a set of Syrian grandparents, parents, and a grandson now safe in Toronto.

Such is the power of words.

Such is the power of compassion.

Compassion, as well as empathy, critical thinking, and attentive hearing form the moral foundation on which our new imprint at the University of Toronto Press, New Jewish Press, rests. Our two new titles for Spring 2020 include The A–Z of Intermarriage by intermarried rabbi Denise Handlarski and The Conflict over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate by renowned freedom of speech and human rights advocate Kenneth S. Stern. These two books epitomize the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam – the repairing of the world – by offering their expertise on complex issues facing twenty-first-century Jewry.

Rabbi Denise Handlarski tells us that we may not like that our children marry out of faith but that we need to hear them out and respect their decisions. Ultimately, all marriages are intermarriages and there is so much good that comes out of mixing different cultures. Less Oy and More Joy!!!

Kenneth S. Stern tells us that we may not like when pro-Israel speakers talk on our university or college campuses, but we cannot ban them. We cannot retreat to safe spaces. We cannot disrupt them. Instead, we use rational and reasonable thinking – skills that we have learned in our higher education institutions – and we listen to each other as human beings.

As an editor, I believe in – and am proof of – the influential power of books. My goal with the books I acquire for New Jewish Press is to inspire Jewish, Jew-ish, and not-Jewish to read, think, and act with compassion.

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To round out a successful University Press Week Blog Tour, check out posts by these other fine university presses:

University of Washington Press
Blog: https://uwpressblog.com/
Twitter: @UWAPress

Columbia University Press
Blog: cupblog.org
Twitter: @ColumbiaUP

University of Illinois Press
Blog: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/wordpress/how-the-transformations-series-invites-us-to-practice-compassion-university-press-week-blog-tour/
Twitter: @IllinoisPress

Penn State University Press
Blog: https://pennstateuniversitypress.tumblr.com/
Twitter: @PSUPress

University of South Carolina Press
Blog: facebook.com/USC.Press
Twitter: @uscpress

University of Nebraska Press
Blog: https://unpblog.com/category/jewish-publication-society/
Twitter: @UnivNebPress
Twitter: @JewishPub

Bucknell University Press
Blog: upress.blogs.bucknell.edu
Twitter: @BucknellUPress

Beacon Press
Blog: http://www.beaconbroadside.com
Twitter: @beaconpressbks
Twitter: @WitnessToGTMO

Becoming a Writer of Jewish Fiction

Can a novel be taught as history? Author Sharon Hart-Green shares her experience as a writer of Jewish fiction, and argues that fiction readers not only acquire factual knowledge, but emotional affinity. Here’s why her poignant new novel belongs in classrooms this fall.


I must admit that before writing Come Back for Me, I felt a sense of trepidation about writing a Holocaust novel. Since neither my parents nor grandparents are Holocaust survivors, I did not believe that I had the “right” to do so. At the same time, I was caught between two opposing pulls: the feeling of obligation to somehow give voice to those who were brutally murdered, and the knowledge that no book could ever do justice to what they suffered. How could I possibly resolve what seemed to be an impossible dilemma?

I believe that I was able to negotiate a solution to this impasse by taking what I would call an “indirect” approach:  writing about the lingering effects of the Holocaust on two generations of Jewish families, rather than trying to write directly about the Holocaust itself. Since I had grown up in a neighbourhood full of Holocaust survivors and their children, I felt well equipped to undertake this task. This allowed me to explore the event through the experiences of those who survived as well as how it affected their offspring. History, after all, is composed of many layers of experience, and if I could approach it from this indirect angle, then perhaps I would be able to unearth some truths about it that could not be otherwise revealed.

Indeed, one of the most effective ways to teach about history is through fiction. Why? Because fiction beckons the reader to enter another person’s life – to “live” that life on an emotional level – even if only for a short while. That is not to underestimate the value of learning from history books as well; to be sure, reading about the rise and fall of great leaders and analyzing the causes and effects of historical change is vital. However, historians rarely tell stories about ordinary people. Fiction has the unique ability to draw a reader into the personal life of everyday individuals. In fact, this might be the best way for readers to learn most deeply about a historical period. When reading about characters from other eras, they not only acquire factual knowledge, but also emotional affinity.

Yet teaching about the Holocaust through the use of fiction is a particularly complex matter, partly because the enormity of the Holocaust itself makes it a difficult subject to convey in any form. How can any of us fathom that it was only seventy-five years ago that a regime arose which attempted to systematically murder every man, woman, and child of Jewish descent in all of Europe? The victim toll alone is so massive that most people who read statistics like “six million” can barely grasp what that means.

However, I think that if a work of Holocaust fiction is written with historical accuracy, it can serve as an invaluable resource for teaching about this dark period, especially in schools. By this I mean that a writer of fiction must be absolutely unwavering in representing the brutal facts of this event before taking on this task. I say this because some novelists in recent years have tried to commercialize the Holocaust, and in doing so, misrepresent it, sometimes in grossly distorted ways. For example, there have been some novels that inject elements of romance into their storylines in order to make their plots more exciting. (The Tatooist of Auschwitz is only one such example.) What does this convey to the reader? It gives the impression that the Holocaust “wasn’t all that bad,” which of course is not only a contemptible distortion of history but it also trivializes the suffering of the victims.

I hope that writers continue to write fiction about the Holocaust – about the factors leading up to it, the people who were destroyed by it, and the world that allowed it to happen. My main hope however is that they do so with caution and with a deep sense of duty to represent it with accuracy. It is the least we as writers can offer as a gesture of respect to those who perished.


Sharon Hart-Green has taught Hebrew and Yiddish literature at the University of Toronto. Her short stories, poems, translations, and articles have appeared in a number of publications. Come Back for Me is her first novel.