Chanukah 2007 Newsletter

Dedicated to creating a supportive environment for English writers in Israel


  1. “Let’s Talk: A Writing Retreat on Dialogue”, held Nov. 2007
  2. Your publications
  3. Shards
  4. The Writing Life

1. “Let’s Talk: A Writing Retreat on Dialogue” with Judy Labensohn, Evan Fallenberg and Joan Leegant, Nov. 2007

Evan and I often wonder how each retreat can be better than the previous one. Again, tfu tfu, we were delighted by the response to this, our fifth writing retreat together. What made this retreat extra special was the presence of Joan Leegant, a wonderful writer, a generous teacher, a closet stand-up, and a quiet sleeper. We hope Joan will join us again at a writing retreat in Israel. We were also honored by the presence of two wonderful Danes who came especially to Israel for our retreat and hope to see them again, along with all the old-timers and newcomers. Following are some comments from emails we received from participants:

  • I’m still flying, and more important, I’m writing . . . Judy Hammond
  • It was so great seeing old friends and making new ones in such a stimulating atmosphere . . . Jenni Tsafrir
  • Gosh, it’s only been 24 hours and I already miss everyone from the retreat! So hard to come down from that high . . . Rachel Gurevich
  • I wanted to write to you this morning to say that I’m on top of the world . . . I can’t wait for the next retreat . . . I had a wonderful time and consider it a learning experience and a personal developmental 2 ½ days . . . Susan Bell
  • I believe that you and Evan are doing avodat kodesh . . . No need to stress the additional bonus that we all received from Joan. . . . Bianca Raikhlin-Eisenkraft

At the last session in White Dove Hall Judy Gray, group bard, read a take-off of our retreat announcement, which was a take-off of Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” She called it “Hills Like White Doves.” Here is an excerpt:

“What should we write?” the student asked. She had taken out her notebook and held her pen poised in the air.
“Write pretty dialogue,” the teacher said.
“I’ve never done one,” the student said.
“No, you wouldn’t have.”
“I might have once,” the student said. She looked out the window and saw the hills like white doves.
“Use it in fiction or creative non-fiction,” the teacher said.
“You really want me to?”
“I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to.”
“Do I need to use tag lines and dialect and think about syntax?”
“Well,” the teacher said, “if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”
“Then what will we do afterwards?”
“You will compress and expand, revise and rewrite, find Anglo-Saxon words for Latinate words. It’s perfectly simple.”

You will find a selection of pictures from the retreat, and further comments as we receive them, on the Photos page of this site.

2. Your Publications

  • Rachel Gurevich, freelance writer and editor from Beit Shemesh, won First Place in an essay contest. Go to to read her essay. In addition to being a prize-winning essayist, Rachel is a cornucopia of information on print rights and the business of writing. See Shards for some of her tips.
  • Tania Hershman, a Jerusalem writer, launched on Nov. 1st. This site is dedicated to reviews of short story collections and anthologies. It is Tania’s attempt to give collections the attention they deserve.
  • Gila Green Tal’s short story “Suspicious Objects” was accepted for publication in Skive Magazine. See Gila is a graduate of the MA creative writing program at Bar-Ilan.
  • Sophie Judah and Reva Mann spoke about their respective books Dropped From Heaven and The Rabbi’s Daughter: A True Story of Sex, Drugs and Orthodoxy at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Nov. 4th. Both first-time authors toured the United States promoting their books. Sophie is a graduate of the MA creative writing program at Bar Ilan.
  • Jessica Apple from Tel Aviv published an essay on Prozac and depression in The Financial Times on Nov. 17th. Go to and search for “Prozac”. Her story, “One Act,” appeared in the Autumn 2007 issue of The Southern Review, along with three poems by Linda Zisquit. Linda coordinates the poetry track at Bar Ilan and Jessica is working towards her MA in the fiction track.
  • Evan Fallenberg is off to the US in January to promote his book, Light Fell, published by Soho Press. For US events go to Send your friends and relatives to meet Evan. On Wed. Jan. 16th, he will be at Book Court Booksellers, 163 Court St., Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, NY. You can buy Light Fell in Israel at any Tzomet Sefarim. Do.
  • Ruth Abraham published “The Circle” in a column called “Old Lives Tales” in a recent issue of The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS). Read about Ruth’s work with Alzheimer patients at

3. Shards
All publications and classes are in English. does not endorse anything, only spreads information.

  • Call for submissions to Poems for the Jewish Holidays, an anthology by Judith Sokolff and Gerd Stern. Send poems about a particular holiday or life-cycle event to by April 1, 2008.
  • The Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program (MA) in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University will be accepting applications from end January–end March 2008. If you want to apply, start gathering 25-30 pages of prose or twelve poems. Visit the website for an on-line application:
  • Carol Ungar from Telshe Stone is launching a literary ezine for Jewish women to feature creative nonfiction, short fiction, poetry and visual arts that affirm the Jewish tradition. She wants “well-crafted work that can be slightly edgy.” Email her at
  • Shifrah Devorah Witt (Ma, MFA) teaches creative writing in Nachlaot in Jerusalem. She also does manuscript development. Call 054 801 8483 or email
  • Dara Barnat is opening private groups for writing poetry in Tel Aviv. Contact Dara at 0547 501 458.
  • Lisa Katz, poet and teacher, is teaching “The Poetry of Surprise,” a poetry class/workshop at The Poetry Place near the shuk in Jerusalem. Tues. PM. For more details, call Merav, Noah, or Gilad at 02-621 4783 or 6214777.
  • Carol Ungar recommends this web site:, the webzine of personal stories.
  • Mai-Kim Dang is looking for poetry groups in Netanya, “just a place to get together with other writers.” Email her at
  • Sue (Yaffa) nee Tourkin-Komet sends this: A Jewish Playwriting Competition sponsored by the West Boca Theatre Co. of the Adolph and Rose Levis Jewish Community Center in Florida. The original play should have a theme exploring an aspect of Jewish life/culture, modern or historic. Non-musical; 8-20 minutes, no more than 6 characters. Email Sue for full details at
  • Tia Azulay in London, my web and blog master, suggests this site for learning about degrees and professional development in creative writing in England:
    She also sent me the link to Doris Lessing’s acceptance speech for her Nobel Prize for Literature, delivered Dec. 7, 2007. Get Kleenex before you click:,,2224068,00.html.
  • Raezelle Lazar from Bat Ayin is leading a “Walk ‘n Write” on Dec. 24, 2007 and Jan 22, 2008 in Nachlaot, Jerusalem, called “Landscapes Without and Within.” Email for details:
  • Rachel Gurevich, who teaches on-line at, recommends the following for writers:
  • Jenni Tsafrirrecommends the following sites for writers:
  • For a great article on creative nonfiction, go to

4.The Writing Life

I’ve never been able to keep to a writing schedule for more than a week. Always, before I lead a writing retreat, I have to remind myself that I am a writer. To prove it, two weeks before the November retreat at Neve Shalom, I committed to wake up by 6 a.m. at least five times a week to work on a particular story. I knew if I didn’t write first thing in the morning, I wouldn’t write at all and if I didn’t write at all, I wasn’t a writer.

For five days I did it. By 8 a.m. I had completed my most important work of the day. My self-esteem soared.

Then house guests arrived and I caught my annual late-October cold and I was tired, lazy, sick. Call it whatever you want. I did not want to get out of bed at 5:45 a.m. It was so easy to renege on my commitment to write.

The week of writing at dawn was enough to convince me, though, of the importance of showing up regularly. I’m glad to say I have continued this practice since the retreat. Sometimes, I sit at the computer when it’s dark outside, my eyes half-open, and force myself to crawl back into my story, as if it were a warm bed. Miraculously, the story grows a page or a paragraph a day. Sometimes, I stay in bed and thank God for the freedom of choice.

At the retreat, I called the 6:15 a.m. activity I led “Showing Up.” The idea behind it was that if you can wake up and write from 6:15 – 7:30 a.m. at a retreat, you can do it in your own home. The following is what I wrote that morning:


I am committed to this hour of the day, the hour when the cock crows, the cat calls, birds twitter and hum, and the first fart of the morning tells the system, “Awake, awake”. A new day has dawned at Neveh Shalom/ Wahat al Salaam in all its luscious and noisy surprise.

We should awake as the sun does, slowly, steadily, and with an inevitable desire to rise, to lift ourselves up onto the arc of the day. By noon we should be fully awake, half our day behind us and half ahead. When it is dark and the sun has finished its story above us, let us close our eyes in an inevitable downward sag, eyelids resting peacefully on lower lids, as we return once again to that semi-eternal resting place called sleep.

Few want to get up early to write. It’s 6 a.m. Five women drift up to this bench from sleep—Jackie, Judy, Bianca, Carole and Susan. I motion to them to take out their pens and do as I do. I am too tired to talk. Now? they ask. Can’t I finish my coffee? Shmooz? The answer is NO. The answer is You wake up in the morning and instead of a toothbrush, you pick up your pen. They write until everyone who is coming has arrived.

At 6:15 we are six women walking in silence on the road to wakefulness in Neveh Shalom, going to Beit HaDumia, the House of Silence. Six women are walking in silence on a road of new houses. Inside there are no lights in the kitchens, no smells of pita or toast. The only noise is the barking of the family dog at each house, warning us not to get too close. We don’t. The air is cool on my neck where the sweater does not reach. I take in the beauty of this November morning and after five minutes, I cry for so much beauty.

Then I wonder if I should have turned left at the first turn. I obsess about this until we arrive at the second turn. Once we make the turn I see the familiar bougainvillea and pebble path and I know we are not lost. My pace slows as we enter a friendship circle of pines and I wonder if anyone will choose to stay here to write. But no, they follow me. They trust their leader like they trust their pens. She will never lead them astray. If she gets lost and wanders aimlessly, she will always find her way home, enjoying each line of the journey.

The dense, dark pines open to a vista of the coastal plain. A pancake cloud covers the intersection at Latroun. Here is the heart of Israel spread out before us, so small and vulnerable from this hillock in the Judean lowlands. I can hold Israel in the palm of my hand. That is what I sought when I came here forty years ago—a small country, one whose roads I could master, trails I could follow, towns I could learn, a country small enough to hold in my hands and bring close to my heart, as I do now in this silent moment, full of early morning light, a moment that feels sacred.

We reach Beit HaDumia—a mushroom shaped structure with white stucco on the outside and white stucco inside. We are so full of words in our silence we all sit down to write on the floor, a stool, or a white plastic chair. We are five women sitting in silence in a house built for silence. (Susan is sitting outside.) We are all writing, pens racing along lines. The woodpecker outside is doing what a woodpecker must. The dogs in the distance protect their owners. The sun, in its silence, climbs up the sky.

And we, the guardians of words, write.


May the festival of lights bring you much light.


About Judy Labensohn

I'm a writer and teacher of writing.
This entry was posted in Newsletter, The Writing Life, Writing Retreats, Writing Schedule and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Chanukah 2007 Newsletter

  1. Jenni Tsafrir says:

    I was much too relaxed and lazy to get up at 6.15 at Newe Shalom, but Brenda Y. and I wandered down to Beit HaDumiah much later, and we each hummed and held one note for a few seconds, and let them echo on in the silence…then just sat outside and drank in the atmosphere… Thanks for helping me to recall those magic moments!


  2. judyl says:

    Dear Jenni,
    I’m so glad you and Brenda discovered the place. It wouldn’t be a retreat without you. Love, JL


  3. Sarita Perel says:

    This description is so moving, I want to sign up for the next retreat “sight unseen” and start showing up to my own writing at 06:00, wish me luck.


  4. judyl says:

    Good luck. You can do it, especially if you have a rooster or two in the background waking you up.


  5. evan fallenberg says:

    Judy, congrats on a great new newsletter and on this wonderful piece, which brings me to that lovely place where writing is pristine and invigorating.


  6. Rachel says:

    I loved, loved, loved reading your short essay here, Judy. Very inspirational, especially since I’ve recentely commited to waking up early to write, instead of my usual writing until the sun rises method. Trying to switch “time zones”… and also what inspiration it is to see that you, too, sometimes must remind yourself that you are a writer. (My gosh, whatever else could you be?!)

    Also, loved the pics!

    Thank you, thank you, I enjoyed reading,



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