Three recently published authors at BZBI discuss their books.
Plenty of pages were being turned and riffled through on Dec. 16 at Temple Beth Zion Beth Israel — with nary a prayer book to be found.
The reason for the gathering at the Center City synagogue was to celebrate the near-simultaneous publication of three works by congregants. With subject matter ranging from the New Deal’s effect on art in America to novels about the different worlds of Jewish families, the synagogue’s Rabbi Abe Friedman made no attempt to hide his admiration for the dedication displayed by congregants Judith Civan (A Dream That Vanishes), Rabbi Simeon Maslin (Uncle Sol’s Women) and Sharon Ann Musher (Democratic Art: The New Deal’s Influence on American Culture).
“I think it’s great to be able to celebrate the art that’s being created in the community,” Friedman said. “It’s a very different story to celebrate your own and look at three very different — and, from my perspective, three very compelling — stories that were told tonight.”
While the shul often holds book clubs and events with authors, this was its second program for members who are writers. President Arlene Fickler told the Exponent she is not surprised the synagogue has three published authors.
“I think BZBI prides itself on engaging in learning,” Fickler said. “We value the Jewish value of a commitment to literature and to books.”
Musher’s book — her first — outlines the successes, shortcomings and lessons of government funding for the arts in the 1930s.
Musher, an associate professor of history at Stockton University in Galloway, N.J., has always had a love for government funding for the arts, writing and reading.
“I think that BZBI is a place that values books and values ideas,” she said, adding that the synagogue proved to be an ideal venue. “For many people today, government sponsorship of the arts doesn’t exist.”
With this book under her belt, she is already focused on a new one, Americans Abroad: Hadassah Kaplan Zionism, and the Making of American Jewish Women, which examines her grandmother’s history as a young American Jewish woman in the early 20th century in a story that foreshadows the emerging special relationship between American Jews and Israel.
Maslin’s novel is a story of a second-generation American Jewish family and its assimilatory tensions. He served as a congregational rabbi for 40 years in Curaçao, Chicago and Elkins Park. He is the author of several nonfiction books of Judaica and is a past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
Uncle Sol’s Women is his first work of fiction. “Writing fiction is a whole different game,” Maslin said. “It’s a whole other life.”
Civan’s historical novel follows a family of dreamers, enthusiasts of social justice, Zionism, music and literature, who escape from pogrom-ravaged Russia to the challenges of pre-World War I Turkish Palestine, and then on to the safety and promise of America. She is also the author of Abraham’s Knife: the Mythology of the Deicide in Anti-Semitism, Leaving Egypt and Choosing.
She can trace her love of writing back to her father, Philip Hochstein, who was an editor of the Newark Star-Ledger and founded the Washington Jewish Week in 1966. Civan worked as a reporter and feature writer at the Star-Ledger more than three decades ago and was a columnist for both New York Jewish Week and Washington Jewish Week.
At this point in her career, she explained during an interview, she said she prefers writing books more than reporting because of the freedom it offers.
“Not that I enjoy it; it’s part of my life.”