The Newsletter of Fig Tree Books

March 2024: Issue #52 --- Fredric D. Price, Founder & Publisher

OUR MISSION: Through published books, essays, chapters of unpublished books, poetry, interviews, films, and videos, we aim to cover the dynamic American Jewish experience. We occasionally offer works from other parts of the world to which the American Jewish community can relate.


JEWS OF DIFFERENT HUES: Spending a Fortnight in Jew Town, Kochi, by Shastri Akella

ESSAY: Why Dostoevsky Loved Humanity and Hated the Jews

GUEST COLUMNIST: A video by Eve Barlow, creator of Blacklisted

ESSAY: The New Antisemitism Is the Oldest Kind, by Lance Morrow

SHORT STORY: A New Year, by Elizabeth Edelglass

CHAPTER: from Concealed, by Esther Amini

GUEST EDITORIAL: In Israel’s Time of Need, Jewish Hollywood Has Failed the Audition, by

Thane Rosenbaum

ESSAY: Orthodox Jews Are Finally Having Their Pop Culture Moment, by Chavie Lieber

BOOK REVIEW: The Little Liar, by Mitch Albom, reviewed by Andrew Lapin

ESSAY: Celebrating a legacy of antisemitism at Harvard, by Andrew Getraer

ESSAY: Orthodox Jews Are Finally Having Their Pop Culture Moment, by Chavie Lieber

Miriam Ezagui, a 37-year-old TikToker, takes her 2 million followers along her daily routines as an Orthodox Jew, where her “get ready with me” videos feature shopping for modest clothing, purifying kosher pots in the ocean, and wrapping a headscarf. 

Her non-Jewish followers love it. “YOU ARE MY FAVORITE,” wrote trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney in one of the nearly 5,000 comments on one of Ezagui’s posts. 

Ezagui is part of a bigger moment for Orthodox Jews, whose stories and voices are increasingly being featured across pop culture, and attracting broad audiences. 

Netflix’s “Rough Diamonds” tells an “Ozark”-like story of a Hasidic family’s struggles with crushing debt and organized crime in Antwerp’s diamond district. A crime procedural on Peacock, “The Calling,” featured an Orthodox NYPD detective named Avraham Avraham who quotes Talmud and solves murders. The Israeli musician Ishay Ribo, who wears a yarmulke and blends modern Hebrew poetry with traditional Jewish liturgy, sold out at Madison Square Garden over Labor Day weekend. And Aleeza Ben Shalom, the host of the show “Jewish Matchmaking” wears a wig, dresses modestly and tells a couple to refrain from touching to help find a spark. 

READ the essay

Jewish Writers Facebook Group

ESSAY: The New Antisemitism Is the Oldest Kind,

by Lance Morrow

I remember a dinner party on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1970s when I and my first wife, who was Jewish, shared lobster with a half-dozen nicely tanned Protestants in sherbet-colored golfing trousers. They chattered about what pests “those people” were, who kept “pushing” to join the local beach club, even though they were “not wanted.” 

“Gee,” said a middle-aged Princeton man—pronouncing the word “jay”—“why don’t they stick to their own clubs?”

My then-wife and I left the party early, and in the car she burst into tears. 

How innocent the moment seems. That was the postwar “Gentleman’s Agreement” version of American antisemitism—gentiles relaxing up-island, on their fourth glass of Chablis. The word “Jew” wasn’t mentioned. In the Martha’s Vineyard iteration—post-Auschwitz—American antisemitism often had a discreetly covert quality. It emerged from a kind of sly politesse because, after all, everyone at some time or other had seen the films from the Nazi camps—the ones that Gen. Eisenhower had ordered his troops to watch. In Elia Kazan’s 1947 movie based on the Laura Hobson novel “Gentleman’s Agreement,” desk clerks fidget and look away when Gregory Peck, as a journalist pretending to be Jewish, pushes them about renting a room.

READ the Essay


Spending a Fortnight in Jew Town, Kochi, by Shastri Akella

Like everything profoundly beautiful that transformed my life, I discovered Jew Town when I was out searching for something else. Back in 2016, when my novel The Sea Elephants was a work-inprogress, one of its key characters, Marc Singer, the

love interest of the protagonist, was an American expat living in India. I sought to deepen his presence in the text by giving him a historical association with his new geography. I started to study the history of migrations to the subcontinent, and learned about the long history of Jewish migrations to India. So I decided I wanted Marc’s family to migrate from New York to Jew Town, located in the southern coastal town of Kochi. And in the summer of 2017, I made a research trip to Kochi.

Art by Siona Benjamin

READ the essay 

Shas­tri Akel­la holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing and a PhD in Com­par­a­tive Lit­er­a­ture from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Amherst. His writ­ing has appeared in Guer­ni­caThe Mas­ter’s ReviewElec­tric Lit­er­a­ture, the Los Ange­les Review of BooksThe Rum­pusPANKThe Com­mon, and World Lit­er­a­ture Review, among oth­ers. The Sea Ele­phants is his debut novel.

GUEST COLUMNIST: A video by Eve Barlow,

creator of Blacklisted

"War in Israel's North? Hezbollah, Iran, and the Ring of Fire"

WATCH the video

Eve Barlow @Eve_Barlow 

"The interrupter" 

Journalist. Zionist. Feminist. Scottish. 


ESSAY: Why Dostoevsky Loved Humanity and Hated the Jews

Call it the Dostoevsky problem, although it concerns more than Dostoevsky. On the one hand, he was the great writer of compassion for all who suffer. On the other, he became, toward the end of his life, an extreme anti-Semite. So the first question is: how was it possible for these two impulses to cohere in the same consciousness, and how did Dostoevsky reconcile them?

The second is: how and why did he become such an anti-Semite, apparently in 1876, when he had never been especially concerned with Jews and a decade earlier had advocated equal rights for them?

READ the essay

CHAPTER: from Concealed, by Esther Amini

Walking through the open streets of Queens with my mother, my face fully exposed, all I wanted to do was hide. Six years old, three feet tall, I was dressed in a pair of silky gold, ballooning pantaloons. My short arms barely protruded from a heavily brocaded sheepskin vest tailored to fit a mountainous, nomadic male. In blackest of black, Mom had penciled my brows and raccooned my eyes. On my head she had mounted a turban to match the vest— stitched with gold and silver coils, thickly banded in sequins, beads, and jingling bells. Satisfied, she had handed me a seven-foot-tall, hooked shepherd’s staff. We were headed to the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Kew Gardens, Queens for the Hebrew School’s Purim Costume Competition. Mom had entered me as a Boukharian shepherd.

READ the chapter

Esther Amini grew up in Queens, New York, during the freewheeling 1960s. She also grew up in a Persian-Jewish household, the American-born daughter of parents who had fled Mashhad, Iran. In Concealed, she tells the story of being caught between these two worlds: the dutiful daughter of tradition-bound parents who hungers for more self-determination than tradition allows.

ESSAY: Celebrating a legacy of antisemitism at Harvard,

by Andrew Getraer

When I first saw the headline of a recent article by the Harvard Crimson editorial board, I was optimistic. After 21 years of working on college campuses, I should have known better.

READ the essay

Andrew Getraer is the immediate past managing director of Harvard Hillel.

BOOK REVIEW: The Little Liar, by Mitch Albom,

reviewed by Andrew Lapin

For more than two decades, Mitch Albom has been perhaps the best-selling Jewish author alive — even as his books tend to embrace a much broader and more amorphous definition of “faith.”


But now, Albom says he’s ready to embrace his “obligation” as a Jewish writer: to publish a novel set during the Holocaust.

“The Little Liar,” which comes out on Tuesday, follows an innocent 11-year-old Greek Jewish boy named Nico, who is tricked by Nazis into lying to his fellow Jews about the final destination of the trains they are forced to board. It was written before October 7, but comes at a time when Jews are again grappling with the aftermath of tragedy in the wake of Hamas’s attack on Israel and Israel’s ensuing war against the terror group in Gaza.


Israel launched its war on Hamas in Gaza following the terror group’s murderous rampage through southern Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking some 240 people captive.

READ about the book and the author

Author, screenwriter, philanthropist, journalist, and broadcaster, Mitch Albom has written 8 number-one NY Times bestsellers — including Tuesdays with Morrie.

GUEST EDITORIAL: In Israel’s Time of Need, Jewish Hollywood Has Failed the Audition, by Thane Rosenbaum

READ the guest editorial

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.” 

Fig Tree Lit welcomes responses to this guest editorial; decisions to publish are exclusively within the domain of Fig Tree Lit. To respond, send an email to [email protected].

SHORT STORY: A New Year, by Elizabeth Edelglass

On the day after Labor Day, sun slanting through Annie’s bedroom blinds already looks like autumn, the white glare of summer faded to muted orange. It is the start of a new year—a new school year—and Annie has signed up the twins to start Chinese school next week, so they’ll remember their heritage.

“But they’re Korean,” Ryan says.

Chinese school meets on Saturday mornings in the Chinese church over on Center Street. Annie didn’t know it was a Chinese church until she started asking around. From the outside it’s the usual modern Christian house of worship—low slung with clear glass and a minimalist cross—one of several similar plus an older white clapboard version surrounding the green. How do Christians, new in town, know which church to enter, which edifice houses their own particular version of God?

“So find me a Korean school,” Annie says, assuming he won’t. Ryan isn’t their father, so he doesn’t get a say. Of course, nobody thinks Annie’s their mother, either. When she’s with them in the supermarket or pulling up their tutus at ballet, people look at her freckles and soft brown curls and register a double-take at Hadassah and Esther’s saturated skin tones, shiny black pixie-cuts.

“Isn’t it enough for them to be Jewish?” Ryan says.

READ the short story

Elizabeth Edelglass is a fiction writer, poet, book reviewer, and past director of the Jewish Community Library of Greater New Haven. Her fiction has won the Reynolds Price Fiction Prize, the William Saroyan Centennial Prize, the Lilith short story contest, and the Lawrence Foundation Prize from Michigan Quarterly Review. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Fish Prize and won third prize in the Voices of Israel Reuben Rose Competition. 

BLOG: With commentary and Guest Blogs on culture & current events, plus mini-reviews of books not published by Fig Tree Books

CLICK on the BLOG image to READ, REPLY to what we've written, COMPOSE something on your own about the state of literature (Jewish or otherwise), book publishing in general, culture & current events, or a specific book that you want to let others know about. And to SIGN UP, so you don't have to wait to read our blogs once a month when Fig Tree Lit is published.
We'd appreciate your FORWARDING this newsletter to friends who can then click anywhere on this button to sign up.
Visit Fig Tree