Rabbi Yoel Gold: innovative storytelling

Last week, my profile of Rabbi Yoel Gold appeared in The Jewish Home – L.A. edition. Rabbi Gold leads Congregation Bais Naftoli here in Los Angeles, and teaches in a local yeshiva high school, but he is also becoming quite well known due to a series of videos he began making last year.

I got a chance to interview Rabbi Gold, and he said several interesting things about storytelling, particularly it’s role in education and how he makes sure his “true stories” are true. He also explains how to identify a “good story” to retell. Check out the interview yourself to see what he said.

The Role of Periodicals in Jewish Life: Rob Eshman’s “Why We Write”

I read a fascinating essay in The Jewish Journal today.

Publisher-about-to-go-on-sabbatical Rob Eshman relates a recent visit he had with young Israelis, when he had the opportunity to explain why Jewish newspapers have had such a prominent and consistent role in the life of Jewish Americans.

The major reason Eshman highlighted was the importance of communication between communities and unifying them to promote certain, common agendas. He also touched on how this role has changed, from an institution what taught Jews how to become good Americans–find jobs and acclimate to their new environment–to an institution which “teach[es]Americans to be Jews.”

Teaching Americans to be Jews

This latter element particularly struck me. As Eshman mentioned, many Jewish magazines and newspapers exist primarily on the web. In fact, that’s where they now find the majority of their readers.

Jews who live outside major Jewish communities–due to geography or due to a lack of affiliation–can now access information about their co-religionists via websites like The Jewish Journal‘s, The Forward‘s, Kveller, and so on. Need a latke recipe? Look online. Need advice about how to handle the funeral of a relative? Look online. Such sites bring community to people who previously felt excluded.

In the Orthodox world, even, you find magazines devoted to Jewish cuisine, divrei Torah (words of Torah, including all of Tanach, the Oral Law, and commentaries), inspiration, and advice from the Jewish standpoint.

What’s your favorite Jewish magazine or newspaper? Why? What role do you think periodicals have in contemporary Jewish life? Please share your comments.

Save the books for L.A. Jewish kids!

The local Jewish children’s library here in L.A. will be closing in a month and a half. It gets plenty of visitors, but the Federation wants to let the Zimmer Museum (a bigger money-maker) use the space.


Think she heard the Jewish Library is closing? (Picture available through Creative Commons–rumolay on Flickr)

Regular patrons like me are grumbling. How else can we feed the voracious literary appetites of our Jewish kids without breaking the bank? PJ Library is a fabulous resource, but has three drawbacks:

  1. Kids can’t select their own titles to read.
  2. Kids can only receive books for a small window of childhood.
  3. Kids get only one book a month.

This past Sunday, the Jewish library was packed for the monthly Read with Dogs event, and the parents bemoaned the closure. We’re upset that the amazing librarian, Amy, will lose her job, and will miss the books and activities that we’ve enjoyed there.

There’s a Facebook Page for the effort to save the book collection at a new location. If anyone has the link, please post it below in the comments. It’ll only work through grassroots efforts.

Expanding my home business

This summer has been very enjoyable, but hasn’t left me with much opportunity to work. In just a week and a half, I hope to have a little more time on my hands. For the first time in ten years, I will have no children at home with me for half of the day. At least in theory, I will be using this time to write more, edit more, proofread more, and coach more writers.

One of the areas I want to expand into the most is writing coaching, especially for graduate students. In the past, I’ve helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations and Master’s students complete the requirements of their degrees. Some graduate students need help structuring their work so that their arguments are comprehensible. Without assistance, their writing tends to ramble and wander…it contains lots of ideas, but who can follow them if they are all jumbled together?

Do you dump all your research together in no particular order?

Others need help pacing themselves so they can meet deadlines. Some students don’t even know where to start–I help them organize their research and prewrite so that they have a strong scaffold on which to build their writing. I’ve also seen that non-native speakers of English struggle with the editing and proofreading of their own work. They might have mastered the concepts and skills required by their graduate program, but find it difficult to express themselves in a final product that competes with those of native speakers.

There are some people who outright (ghost)write academic papers for graduate (even undergraduate!) students. Such writers make money that way, but who really benefits? Those who I help acquire real writing skills which they will employ in the years to come. They also gain greater mastery of the concepts they are expressing in their dissertation or thesis, because they have to explain them to their audience (including a layman–that would be me). Students who are properly coached can feel pleasure in their accomplishment, because it is real, as opposed to someone whose degree is based on a deception about who actually completed the graduation requirements.

While I love working with graduate students–especially because I learn so much from them about a wide range of topics–I also love coaching people through their first picture book submissions and the like.

Now that I will truly be working part-time every weekday, I will be advertising more widely for clients. If you or anyone you know hopes to graduate with a PhD or Master’s Degree in the spring, now is the time to get a handle on your graduation requirements. Writing coaching might just be the boost you need to help you finish with less mess and less stress. Coaching can be done in person for those in L.A., or over Skype for those elsewhere.  For more information, follow this link: proofreading, editing, and writing coach services.

Using books to build the emotional intelligence of children: Innovative programming at Aleinu/JFS this week

Aleinu Family Services here in Los Angeles will be integrating literature into parenting classes over the next few weeks. Parents attend with children in tow. The Aleinu therapists have selected picture books that effectively communicate social and personal skills to children, then developed discussions and art activities for parent(s) to share with their child(ren) to reinforce those ideas. Many teachers do this in classrooms, and some parents do this will their own children, but this is the first time I’ve seen this in a therapeutic setting like this. Very creative! See the flyer below for details. * UPDATE: THE TIME FOR THE SECOND AND THIRD PARTS OF THE PROGRAM HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO 6-7:15 p.m.

“Out of Town:” 1 sure-fire way to drive Jewish Angelenos crazy

I’ve long found myself annoyed with the expression that if an American Jew resides in New York, they live “in town,” but if they reside outside of New York (or maybe New Jersey), they live “out of town.” This is true even if they live in Chicago, Cleveland, or Baltimore–all of which have influential yeshivos–or if like me they live in L.A., home of the second-biggest Jewish population in the country.

It’s enough to make you want to scream. Even secular Jews are not immune to it…think of the stereotypical American Jew straight out of an episode of Seinfeld or a Woody Allen movie.
As a result of this lop-sidedness, I have tried to compensate. Any piece of fiction I’ve written that has a clear setting has taken place in either L.A. or Baltimore (my hometown)…unless it’s on another planet, which has happened twice, so far.
My eldest son, Aryeh always gets very excited reading about HIS hometown, and when I write a story set in L.A., he lets me know he approves loud and clear. Unfortunately, his disapproval can be just as vociferous. You see, my attitude has rubbed off on my son. Yesterday, he told me that he hated the library book I’d so carefully selected just for him. Why? “Because the author lives in Los Angeles, but he sets the story in New York.”
Lucky for us, he plans on being a writer (and rocket scientist, and automotive engineer, and world traveler….) himself. Expect lots of stories from him in about 15 years. They’ll all be set in L.A.