Summer 2009 Newsletter

creating community for English writers in Israel


  1. Summer writing seminars in Jerusalem – Fiction and Memoir
  2. Your accomplishments
  3. The Writing Life

1. Summer writing seminars in Jerusalem

  • Memoir (creative nonfiction):  Ilana Blumberg will teach three days of creative nonfiction on July 20, 21 and 22.This is a rare opportunity to learn how to approach personal essays and memoir from a master writer and teacher. Blumberg’s Houses of Study: A Jewish Woman among Books (University of Nebraska Press, 2007) won the 2008 Sami Rohr Choice Award. Currently, she is an assistant professor of humanities, culture, writing and Jewish Studies at Michigan State University.
    • Day 1 – Who is your narrator? What is the story?
    • Day 2 – How do you weave sacred texts into the body of your memoir or personal essay?
    • Day 3 —  How do you find the right balance between action (scenes) and meditation/analysis/commentary?

    For each day you sign up, you will receive readings to complete before the seminar.
    Classes will consist of discussion and writing exercises. The seminar is open to all; no previous writing experience necessary.

  • FictionEhud Havazelet will lead a two-day seminar on August 3 & 4 for people who want to start writing short stories. Before the seminar you will read stories by I.B. Singer, Edgar Allen Poe, Grace Paley and others. During the seminar you will discuss these stories from a writer’s point of view and start your own stories. No experience needed.
  • Havazelet is the prize-winning author of two collections of short stories – What Is It Then Between Us? (Scribners, 1988) and Like Never Before (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998) and a novel, Bearing the Body (FSG, 2007), which will be coming out in Hebrew this summer. He teaches creative writing in the University of Oregon’s MFA program and the Warren Wilson MFA Program, one of the best in the United States.
  • As Coordinator of the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University, I invite you to take advantage of these marvelous teachers who are coming to Jerusalem this summer. There are still a few places left. (The advanced fiction seminar with Havazelet is full.) For further details, please email me at

2. Your accomplishments

Many of my students are publishing and winning prizes.

  • Linda Goldberg, a woman from Boston, whom I mentored on-line, has a short story, “Closing Doors,” in The New Vilna Review at
  • Shoshana London Sappir, who participates in my Friday bi-weekly writing workshop, won another Simon Rockower Award for Excellence in Jewish Journalism  for an article she wrote for Hadassah Magazine about Najem Wali, an Iraqi writer living in Germany.
  • Judith Sudilovsky’s “Basma Rides the Bus” received honorable mention in the flash fiction category of the Press 53 Open Awards competition. Her story will appear in the Press 53 Open Awards Anthology in October. Judith participates in my Friday workshop. This is her first fiction publication.
  • Reva Mann, whose The Rabbi’s Daughter is on the bestseller list in Israel and England and whom I mentored during the first year of her writing the book, has opened a business to help other emerging writers. Her new web site is
  • Gila Green’s story “Reverse” was accepted to Many Mountains Moving for their April 2010 issue.  Green earned her MA in fiction from Bar-Ilan University.
  • Linda Zisquit’s translation from the Hebrew of Rivka Miriam’s These Mountains: Selected Poems of Rivka Miriam will be published by Toby Press in 2010. Zisquit is Poetry Coordinator of the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing  at Bar-Ilan.

I’m very proud of the above accomplishments, just as a midwife must be proud of the births she attends. If any of you who write fiction or creative nonfiction would like to join my Friday morning workshop that reconvenes on October 23, 2009 and meets every other week, please email
Please send me your publication successes for the November  newsletter .

3. The Writing Life

 It’s one thing to accept Ann Lamott’s description of “the shitty first draft,” take a deep breath and trudge on filling the page with words. It’s quite another to sense the writing is so bad, the words dead day after day that you don’t even want to reread them. You know  as the words appear on the screen they are as superficial as Dora, popular culture’s icon for three-year-olds. You know you’re creating one-dimensional stereotypes whose lives transpire on a sit-com set, even though you’re not writing humor.

When this happened to me, I turned to poetry.

My writing life started on Arbor Day in 1954 when my abab ode to the holiday was thumb tacked onto the class bulletin board in the school hallway. What fame! In fourth grade it was Red Cross Day that made my year. Fifth grade I rested, but in sixth grade I wrote the graduation song to the tune of Jingle Jangle and in seventh grade the junior high school alma mater. All these poetic occasions afforded me immediate recognition. After that it was adolescent poetry until the age of twenty-five . . . or last week.

I never called myself a poet, even though one of my abca poems appears on the same page with poems by Thomas Merton and Robert Herrick, a mere page away from poems by Octavio Paz and William Carlos Williams in a college reader, published unbeknownst to me. I’m a failure at bragging, but I do try to convince myself that my poem in Headway: A Thematic Reader (Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc., 1970) must mean something, that once, in 1966 a streak of inspiration hit me with successful iambs and if it happened once, it can happen again.

Over the past forty years I’ve written a poem every now and then: twenty in the 1980’s, ten in the ’90’s, three this century. I am returning to them now with the help of a marvelous mentor. What a glorious feeling to finish a poem. Immediate satisfaction, unlike the delayed joy of finishing a novel.

The mentor has me reading poetry again. Randomly, I scanned my shelves and took down Body Rags by Galway Kinnell. There on the first page I discovered “Another Night in the Ruins.” In the most subtle but honest and interesting way, the poem describes what it’s like to feel empty, down, to not be able to write. The poem has fifty-three lines divided into seven stanzas. Here’s the last one:

How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren’t, after all, made
from that bird which flies out of its ashes,
that for a man
as he goes up in flames, his one work
to open himself, to be
the flames?
Body Rags, Houghton Mifflin, 1968

Reading and writing poetry reminds me of the power beauty elasticity magic and depth of words. Hopefully, this reminder will serve me well when I return to my stiff fictional characters.

Summer is the season for reading and writing. Here’s hoping we all achieve some of our writing goals during the hot summer months ahead and that we learn how to open ourselves, “to be the flames.”


About Judy Labensohn

I'm a writer and teacher of writing.
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