Jerusalem – After six mini-altoids, my tongue was encased in a minty fresh numbness. The room was hot and I was glad to be wearing a sports coat. It covered the pools of nervousness spreading through my shirt. There was an audience of about 120 Jewish Community representatives and 35 authors packed into the Hebrew Union college sanctuary last June at the Jewish Book Council audition in New York.
The Jewish Book Council is an organization that is devoted to the promotion of Jewish-interest literature. In advance of Jewish Book month (which occurs the month before Hanukkah), the JBC invites a hundred or so authors to a gathering where each writer has two minutes to convince an audience of representatives of Jewish communities from across the country that he or she is worth taking home, for a book talk to the community.
I happened to arrive late to the audition. I actually fell asleep on the subway, going the wrong way no less. So after rushing in late, I sat stuffed between a couple of fellow authors whose last names were somewhere in that meaty part of the alphabet, between “Michaels” and “Rosen,” and waited my turn. A short female MC with glasses and a no-nonsense demeanor introduced each author, announced who was "on deck," and then relinquished the floor for exactly two minutes. As each author pitched, the MC held up signs indicating that one minute was left, then 30 seconds, then 10 seconds, and finally that time was up. Once time was up, she stood and walked towards the podium, quite effectively signaling to the gasping author of the moment that his or her time was up.
It was nerve wracking to watch. What made it worse was that all the other writers' topic were so different and so much more connected to Jewish things than mine – there were books about teaching the bible, combating anti-Semitism, preparing a spiritual Friday night dinner, and telling the history of Jewish sweatshop workers in America. Further, the other authors seemed so accomplished. This one had won Jewish book of the year three times, that one had a public television show, and something like five of them had radio shows. And here I was, psyched to have hit the top 7000 books on Amazon the week before, that is after I’d bought 20 books myself. As my neighbor’s shaking legs made me seasick, I couldn’t help but get nervous about how my “human face of the Middle East” shtick was going to go over with an exclusively Jewish crowd and whether I would be able to get it to go over in less than two minutes.
I had prepared a two-minute speech according to what I guessed people wanted to hear. But when it was mercifully my turn, I stood up, popped in another mini-altoid, and winged it. I apologized for being late, I made fun of my ability to fall asleep on public transportation in any country, I referenced my Safta in Queens and her homemade Matzah ball soup, and I simply said that Live from Jordan was about the questions we all had on 9/11 and my pursuit of answers to those questions.
Somehow, it worked out. There was a lot of interest in me and in Live from Jordan.
Maybe it was because I was different than the other presenters; I like to think that I said something funny. Or maybe it was just that I seemed young and unattached and some nice people wanted to bring me home to meet their neighbor or niece. After the event, there was a buffet dinner and a chance to meet the representatives of different communities. I was speaking to a young woman in her 30s from the Atlanta Jewish Community Center and somehow it came up that I had just gotten engaged the week before. Her face literally fell and she said, “Oh.”
After a pause, she added, “I had the perfect girl for you. Mazel Tov.” She then walked away.
I wasn’t invited to give a book talk in Atlanta. But I was invited to NJ, South Florida, Richmond, NY, and Philly (sort of), and I’m looking forward to a trip home in about a week. If you are in the area, please stop by. Here’s the schedule:
• November 11, 2:30 PM, Betty & Milton Katz JCC, 1301 Springdale Rd. Cherry Hill, NJ
• November 12, 7PM, Ruth Hyman Jewish Community Center of Greater Monmouth County, 100 Grant Ave., Deal Park, NJ
• November 13, 8PM, Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Community Center 11155 SW 112th Ave., Kendall, FL
• November 14, 7:30 PM, David Posnack Jewish Community Center, 5850 S. Pine Island Rd., Davie, FL
• November 15, 7PM, Weinstein Jewish Community Center, 5403 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA
• November 19, 7PM, Bay Terrace Jewish Center, 1300 209th Street, Bayside, NY
• November 20, 7:30 PM, Shir Ami Bucks County Jewish Congregation, 101 Richboro Road, Newton, PA