An Interview with Beloved Author Yaffa Ganz

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Exciting news for Jewish children (and parents) everywhere!! Many of the beloved Yaffa Ganz titles are being reprinted so that a new generation of kids can enjoy the classics we all grew up on.

In anticipation, we jumped on the opportunity to talk to Yaffa Ganz and learn about her experiences as a writer:

How has the Jewish book industry changed since you started writing?

Like Topsy, it’s grown and grown. There are at least ten Judaica children’s books in 2014  for every one published in 2004!

Tell us about the differences in writing and publishing a book back then versus the current process.  

Writing then and writing now hasn’t changed any but publishing is different. With all the magic new technology, publishing books is cheaper and  easier than ever before. But on the flip side, there’s lots more competition so that fewer copies of each book are sold. Personally, for me as an author, I spend the same amount of time and  do the same amount of work on any given book…although I probably land up making less money!

During your career, you’ve written many children’s titles, a Jewish history series geared toward teens, and many articles/essays for adults. What do you focus on for each audience?

Obviously I focus first of all on the age group I’m writing for. Choice of topic, level of language, head and heart – all have to be appropriate for the  reader. Aside from that, I just begin to work and then plow ahead!

Your writing varies from children’s fiction to Jewish history and Jewish contemporary life. Which do you relate to best?

Whatever I happen to be working on is what I like best! The world is out there waiting to be written about and it’s all very interesting, don’t you think?

What was your aliyah to Israel like?

The day we came was probably the hardest day of my life and the  most blessed. The hardest because fifty years ago, communication was not what it is today and it meant leaving my parents behind; the most blessed because  it was the fulfillment of a Jew’s dreams. Once we arrived, every single day was a privilege and a blessing.

Are any of the characters in the Savta Simcha or Simmy & Mimmy series based on people in your life?

Everything an author writes is based on something that lit his/her imagination. Many of  my characters are undoubtedly somehow, indirectly, subconsciously based on someone I knew, met, saw or heard of. There are probably bits and pieces of all sorts of people in my characters, but they are never purposely based on a specific character.                                          

What made you choose a boy who lives in Australia in Yedidya and the Esrog Tree?

Probably because Australia seemed so very far-away from Israel and therefore a bit mythical! Somehow today, it seems closer. Perhaps because the world has grown so much smaller. Or because today I know so many wonderful people who are from Australia.

Can you tell us a little bit about writing for kids? Do you always have a lesson in mind before?

Never! I don’t write to “teach a lesson”. I write so that Jewish kids will have something fun to read. Of course we want their “fun reading” to be positive and Jewish and wholesome as well.

Which book did you enjoy writing the most? Why?

Sand and Stars – A Jewish Journey Through Time was the hardest because it was the longest and the most serious. But I got a lot of satisfaction from doing A Jewish Factfinder – A bookful of Important Torah Facts and Handy Jewish Information. It’s a very short and concise book – actually a book of lists – and I think it’s a great book for every Jewish kid.  The Adventures of Jeremy Levi and Hello Heddy Levi were lots of fun as was the Mimmy Simmy Series. But the Savta Simcha books probably win the prize for enjoyment, despite the hard work that went into them.

What are you working on now?

Feldheim Publishers is reprinting many of my books which were out of print for several years and we’re busy working on that. Some new ideas are “cooking” but at the moment, I’m mostly thinking about “cleaning” … for Pesach! However I would  like to see more of my books translated into Hebrew for my many grandchildren who don’t speak English.

For information on Yaffa Ganz’s many books, click here.

 

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Author of Bestselling The Life-Transforming Diet as Guest Blogger!

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Acclaimed author David Zulberg is an ACE-certified fitness specialist and health coachand is considered one of the foremost experts in Maimonides’ medical works. He turned to the forgotten wisdom of Maimonides to find consensus about ideal human nutrition, and both emotional and physical health while incorporating the latest dietary and fitness guidelines. His bestselling book The Life-Transforming Diet is currently in its 7th printing.

Featured as a guest blogger last week for the Jewish Book Council, Zulberg talks about his journeys beginning with researching and writing his book, leading to his exploration of the herbal aspects of Maimonides’ works (which included trips to India and China) and continuing on to developing his own kosher herbal remedies:

“After the book was published, I pursued my interest in the herbal aspect of Rambam’s writings. Besides writing about nutritional and lifestyle habits, Rambam details herbal remedies extensively in his medical works…I succeeded in communicating with the most renowned expert in the translation of Maimonides’ works from the original Arabic and other manuscripts of that era…I researched the best herbal ingredients for an appetite suppressant based on Maimonides’ nutritional suggestions and the most current herbal scientific research…To make the formulations kosher one needs the actual ingredients to be sourced kosher and the actual encapsulation needs to be supervised.”

Be sure to read Zulberg’s full blog post here!

For more information on The Life-Transforming Diet, click here.

 

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Bringing the Torah Portion to Life – with a Mashal Tov!

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There are many books relating to the weekly parashah that aim to interpret and draw lessons from the stories and characters in the Torah. Mashal Tov! by Rabbi Yeshaya Greenberger is unique in that it brings Torah lessons through parables based on classical meforshim. Each stimulating mashal inspires discussion that engages the whole family!

A recent review in The Jewish Connection asserts:

Mashal Tov! is perfect for the Shabbos table all year round…you can give your child a precious gift that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

The Jewish Connection also emphasizes the discussion that the parables found in Mashal Tov! are sure to encourage:

“After your child gives over the appropriate week’s Torah parashah parable, you can utilize this as a precious opportunity to create a discussion that will interest the entire family and make the Torah portion truly come alive for family members and guests alike.”

To read the full review, click here.

Learn more about Mashal Tov! here!

 

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Can We Remember the Holocaust Too Much?

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We will soon reach the point when there are no survivors of the holocaust still alive. As the survivors age there is a steady flow of memoirs published which document their experiences. Is it too much? The new book Sori’s Story is proof that a well written memoir of the holocaust is always a valuable contribution to the writing of Jewish and indeed, human, history. Written from the perspective of an 8 year old girl readers can only be captivated by the story of Sori’s parents sitting her down one night to explain that the next morning she was to be taken away by a non-Jewish woman who would smuggle her to over the border to Hungary and hopefully to safety from the Nazis. The scene is so powerful. Sori’s world has been overturned in just one conversation. It is rare to read and experience  such a heart-wrenching experience from the perspective of a young girl. It highlights the awful truth that literally millions of Jewish children went through similar experiences of having their families torn apart. Unfortunately, most did not survive to describe their experiences. Sori’s Story is here for us and is an excellent read for anyone looking to deepen their knowledge of how individuals survived the Nazis and actually flourished afterwards.

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As Long as I Live – Inspiration for Life

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Describing As Long as I Live, the autobiography of Rav Aharon Margalit, the back cover challenges readers to “Learn from his hard-earned lessons and original insights, and change your entire outlook on life.” After reading this engaging, inspiring work, it would be hard to imagine any reader not touched by this mission. In every area of life, from childhood to adulthood, school, work, individual actualization and social interactions, Rav Margalit describes his sometimes mountainous struggles with insight and clarity. Even greater care is used to describe how he works to overcome them, ultimately illustrating seemingly super-human heights of personal strength and perseverance to reach his goals. Rav Margalit’s triumphs outshine and outweigh his immense, and often fearsome struggles in this volume not to be missed. It’s uplifting messages of personal ability and responsibility are especially important in a time focused on realizing the greatest potential in every person.

Readers reviews point to a “must read” book:

“I couldn’t put the book down. It was so emotional and inspiring that it could bring one to tears one minute and laughter at another.”

“What an awe inspiring book of chizuk! And what a page turner. Perfect for a 12 year old and a 52 year old as well.”

Click here to see the book.

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The Story Behind Shemirat Shabbat by Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth z”l

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There is a very sweet article about Rav Neuwirth z”l on the Jewish Mom blog. It is worth reading.  A highlight: The author explains that upon hearing of the Rav’s death this week  ”I was hard-pressed to think of any person in recent history who has written a book that has done more good, and helped more people to keep a mitzvah than Rabbi Neuwirth zt”l.”

She then goes on to tell about the story behind the writing of Shemirat Shabbat, the Halachic masterpiece which Rav Neuwirth wrote.

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More Staff Picks for Children’s Sale…

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Another Feldheim staff member has suggested some titles currently on sale: “Coming on the heels of Yom Tov, my pick is ‘Round & Round the Jewish Year’.    Even my big ones will pick it up if it is lying around after the little ones read.”

 

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Feldheim Staff Picks for our Children’s Sale! (20 – 74% off!)

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We have asked Feldheim staff for their suggestions of great titles to buy during our children’s sale.  One staff member suggested books from the Kid’s Speak series.  She tells us “Forget kids! I love these books and just read one yesterday!” Find Kid’s Speak titles on sale here.

We’ll share more suggestions as we get them!

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A Taste of Challah – Talking with author Tamar Ansh

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Excerpted with permission from A Taste of Challah by Tamar Ansh

It is a fact that everyone loves challah (there are probably studies that prove this!).  For many, Tamar Ansh, author of the bestselling A Taste of Challah, is a guide and inspiration to start baking challah or to improve and perfect their current baking efforts. Tamar is also the author of bestsellers Let’s Say Amen!; Splitting the Sea; & Riding the Waves; Pesach – Anything’s Possible! Tamar also does challah shows and live cooking demos which focus on healthier food & tons of tips, with easy ways to implement healthier food choices for fussy eaters and busy mothers.

Thus Inside Feldheim is excited to talk with Tamar – especially as A Taste of Challah is back in stock after selling out (and is 15% off right now on Feldheim.com!). Make sure to scroll down for an exclusive challah recipe from Tamar.

Tamar, Why did you write this book?

I’ve been asked this questions many times, especially when I do a live presentation about challah – why write an entire book on challah?  The answer is kind of simple: I didn’t know how to make challah and so I went looking for a book on the topic, preferably with pictures or demonstrations on how to braid. But I came up empty-handed. There seemed to be nothing out there on the topic, or at least, nothing that was helpful to me. I found one old thin book but it was totally not what I needed. And I still really, really wanted to make better challahs than I knew how to at that time. It became a sort of overriding dream of mine, to learn how to shape and make beautiful challahs, to really learn the mitzvah of challah thoroughly and to find out as many shapes as possible. And then one day I said to myself, Well, if you really want a book on challah, why don’t you just make one yourself? And so, with lots of help from Hashem and other people, I did…

Why are so many scared away from baking challah? What advice do you have for them?  

I think a lot of people just assume that making your own challahs is a project, a burden, something that will take too long and will be too hard to do. Many  women are also not aware of the tremendous reward they get for this mitzvah, as it is one of the three main mitzvohs given specifically to women! Every single mitzvah is very important but the mitzvah of challah is especially so since it was designated for women. Men can do the mitzvah (as in the case of bakeries) too, but it was really set aside for women to do. And the opportunities for praying while doing it are immense.   Baking challah is not so hard; and in fact, it can be quite enjoyable. I wrote the book splitting it up into steps with lots of tips there to help even the busiest, least kitchen-oriented person. You can break the process up into parts if it’s easier for you that way, you can make a large amount at once on a day that you plan to be home for a few hours and then freeze the challahs – there are lots of ideas on how to still do this mitzvah even if you are short on time or don’t usually bake. It is something that really can become very meaningful to everyone.   By the way, the mitzvah of challah is NOT the shaping and the baking – that is the part of beautifying the mitzvah. The actual mitzvah is when you make a dough using quantities of flour large enough to need the biblical ‘separating of challah’ the piece we separate off with a blessing and then either burn or double wrap it and throw it away. When we had the Bais Hamikdash, that piece went to the Kohen. Today we don’t have that possibility but if enough women everywhere would do the mitzvah properly and pray the first tefillah we all say after taking challah with a bracha, it will bring that possibility much closer, much faster!

Challah seems to touch the soul of so many…why do you think that is?

Because its essence is holy; since it is a mitzvah from our Torah, it is NOT just another baking session.

Is Challah baking today different from 100 years ago? How?

Can’t say that I’m exactly old enough to know the differences myself…but I’m sure it involved different steps since they did not have electric ovens, refrigerators, freezers, and the plethora of ready made flour and materials that we have today. My grandmother, may she live and be well, tells me about her mother making challah and how she would get up before sunrise on Fridays in order to have it done on time.

What are your top 3 tips for someone who wants to start baking challah?

  Read the book from the beginning to the end first so you see what is involved. If you’ve never baked challah before, don’t do it the first time on a pressurized Friday. Do it on a day that you have more time. Don’t expect perfection immediately. Remember: the mitzvah is the separating the dough, IF you have enough quantity of flour (about 5 lbs. of flour in the dough – which is why the main recipe of the book is based on 17 cups of flour, i.e., 5 lbs.). If your challahs are not pretty to start off with, don’t despair – neither were mine! There is hope! It will get better! And besides, you can always write to me on my “help-my-challahs aren’t coming out-hotline” at info@atasteofchallah.com … Better yet – come to one of my live shows or see the challah video I did for those who like to see things up close.

 

What advice do you have for experienced bakers who want to improve their challahs?

The key to good challahs is a very good dough. It should be soft enough to handle easily, but not too wet or too thin, and firm enough to shape with well. You should knead it for at least 5 minutes when you make the dough, 5 minutes from the time the mixture turns into dough. Turn on a timer to measure the time. Then let the dough rest, covered in plastic for 15 minutes, and knead once more for 2-3 minutes. Take challah, cover the dough and let it rise for 1 hour – 1.5 hours and start to shape!

Do you bake challah each week?

I most certainly try…   Most importantly of all, besides praying while you create the challahs, praying when you do the mitzvah and praying that it comes out good (Yes! I do that too!) is to just enjoy the process. It may take a bit longer than a cake, but it is so worth it…

Click here to buy Taste of Challah – now at 15% off! 

Will you please share a favorite recipe with us?

Delicious Egg Challahs

I made up this recipe years ago when I was first experimenting with challah recipes, and kept tweaking it until I was happy with both its taste and its texture. For those who are looking for a genuine, easy-to-work-with, home style egg challah, this is just the one…

Yields: 4 large loaves or about 20-25 small individual sized rolls

Remember, that if you have a small family or don’t want to use so much challah at once, you can either opt to halve this recipe, or follow the freezing tips and advice on page 42 of the book, Step Seven out of ‘Seven Steps to Amazing Challahs’. However, if you do make the entire recipe, you get the mitzvah of being mafrish challah with a bracha, i.e, separating challah with a blessing – the full mitzvah.

Ingredients:

2 ounces/ 50 gram cube of fresh yeast

3-4 cups very warm water, divided

3/4 cup canola oil

3/4 cup light brown sugar, divided

1 & ½ T. salt

4 eggs

17 cups freshly sifted flour (2.3 – 2.4 kilos / 5 lbs. of flour)

1 more egg for glazing later on

Seeds for sprinkling the tops of the challah with, optional

 Method:

 Sift your flour and set is aside. In a small bowl, add 2 cups of warm water, the yeast, and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Cover the bowl loosely and leave it to activate for about 8 minutes.

In the mixing bowl add:

The oil

The salt

Rest of the sugar

Rest of the water

The 4 eggs

8 cups of flour

Start to mix it so it becomes a thick mixture. Check your yeast to make sure it activated properly. If so, pour it into your mixture and continue to knead. It should now turn into a sticky dough. Keep adding in the rest of the flour in increments until it is all kneaded in. If the dough is too firm, add bits more oil and water until it is smooth, pliable and non-sticky. Cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes or so. Re-knead for five more minutes. Now your dough is ready!

 Separate challah at this point, with a blessing.

 If you plan to shape and bake your challahs immediately, leave the dough to rise on your counter for an hour or until double in bulk, covered in plastic. If you cannot do this now, simply place your dough in a large plastic bag to rise in the fridge overnight or several hours.

 Follow braiding and rising techniques in chapters 2-4 of the book. Brush the risen challahs with the last egg, and add on toppings of your choice. Bake as directed, at 360° / 190° until golden brown on top and bottom. Let the challahs cool on wire racks. Freeze the extras in good quality freezer bags until the day of use.

And most of all…

Enjoy!

Tamar Ansh www.aTasteofChallah.com  

Click here to buy Taste of Challah – now at 15% off! 

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New for Shavuos: Let Me Join Your Nation

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Just in time for Shavuos – a new release in the bestselling Let My Nation series by popular author Rabbi Yosef Deutsch. Using classic Jewish sources Rabbi Deutsch brings together the story of Ruth, her challenges and ultimate triumph in a page turning book which enable readers to experience Jewish history in a unique and thoroughly enjoyable way.  On sale now everywhere. Available on the Feldheim website here.

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