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Without leaving your seat: JCC's annual bookfest takes readers on a journey
Masada Siegel

Paula Shoyer’s “Kosher Baking” offers a sweet twist on pareve desserts.

Adventure, travel and excitement are what many people live for, however getting away and exploring the world can be as simple as turning the pages of a book, with the added bonus of getting to enjoy the comforts of home.

JCC Rockland is hosting a variety of authors at its annual book festival whose stories will dazzle and amaze as they take the reader from Vietnam to Israel and cover a myriad of topics.  The best part is not only do you have an opportunity to live vicariously through the author’s experience, but showing up allows you to ask them questions live in person. The book fest begins On Wednesday, Nov. 3 and continues through Thursday, Nov. 18 with all events taking place at the JCC, 450 West Nyack Rd., West Nyack. The festival, now in its 7th year, is sponsored by Linda and Jim Gerstley and Advanced Radiation Oncology Services at Nyack Hospital. Sponsorship opportunities are still available.

Martin Fletcher will be discussing his new book, “Walking Israel” on Tueday, Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m.  It is his personal search for the soul of a nation, and on his journey of walking the 100 mile coast of Israel from Lebanon to Gaza; he discovers hidden treasures in both people and places.   

“Sweet Dates of Basra” offers a positive take on Muslim-Jewish relations.

Fletcher, who has appeared on television thousands of times, has spent years reporting about the Arab- Israeli conflict, yet, his multifaceted book shows the unspoken Israel; a mosaic of people, places and personalities, and this time, it’s from his own perspective.  
He exposes more than just sound bites, snippets of a conflict situation, rather he shows the people of Israel, Arabs and Israeli’s and gives them a face, a voice, and shares their stories in a unique way, a human one.

In our interview via Skype, Fletcher was in London on assignment for NBC. 

He explained his decision to write about Israel, “I wanted to write books and being in Israel so long, I had to write about Israel, it’s not about the wars with Arabs, but about the Israel people don’t know so well.  Israel has been good to me, I love the place, and I wanted to do a book that reflected that.  All the books out there are about the conflict, but there is more to Israel.”

Fletcher, who has reported about daily disasters, ranging from terrorist activities to Wars, had a different experience when he discussed Israel from his perspective.

Martin Fletcher, author of "Walking Israel"

“Writing the book was different then my career as a television correspondent, walking Israel was very personal, and it’s more interesting that way, to write a good book you have to give a lot of yourself.  I have been in Israel 28 years, but through writing the book I saw things from a different perspective.  I learned a lot during the walk down the coast.  I was also a victim of looking at Israel through the conflict, because that is what one does as a network correspondent, mostly it is about the conflict, in this situation I looked at Israel through fresh eyes.  It was a new for me too, not completely, as my wife and children are Israeli, but I looked at Israel through their perspective, rather then through my American editor’s eyes.”

One of the poignant stories Fletcher relates is that of Smadar Haran, a woman who in 1979 survived a terrorist attack in her apartment building which left her husband and four year old dead.  During the attack, she hid in a crawl space above a door in her apartment building and to keep her two year old daughter from making a sound, unwittingly smothered her to death.  It was a tragedy of epic proportions, and the entire country of Israel mourned.  

Fletcher tells her story and surprises readers with Haran’s incredible perspective on life today.  It is one of many chapters which will evoke tears and thought. 

Fletcher himself is personable, extremely funny, and has a great energy about him.  Yet, I wondered if years of covering wars and terrorism had affected him personally. 

“Truth is I am affected by what I see, sometimes to the point I feel tears coming, but I am a bloke. I suppress it.  I shrug it off and keep going.”  He said.

His writing style has the ability to reach into your heart, and grab your attention making him appear to once again be in your living room television screen as he tackles stories from all perspectives from the modern Israeli Arab and where their loyalties lie, to the Israeli soldier and what it means for young men and women to devote their lives to Israel.

Festival Authors
The book festival also welcomes a variety of authors sharing their international stories such as Marilyn Berger’s, “This is a Soul,” which tells the inspiring true story of Rick Hodes, a doctor who, with the support of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, saved countless lives of the poorest of the poor in Ethiopia.  Berger, who will be on hand on Sunday, Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. to recount the story, not only wrote the book, but her own life changed completely as she was inspired to act, and she did by adopting an Ethiopian boy.

Another book exploring the Middle East from a worldly perspective is Jessica Jiji’s, “Sweet Dates in Basra.”  Jiji worked as a speech writer for the UN covering international developments, and is an advocate for the positive portrayal of Arabic-Jewish relationships. 

She will be opening the festival on Wednesday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m., discussing her father’s Iraq and the lost traditions of a more idyllic world.  Her background gives her unique insight into the camaraderie between Muslim and Jewish families as they suffer crisis after crisis together, exposing how sometimes relationships can move beyond ethnic and religious differences.

Local author Barry Fixler penned “Semper Cool” about his experience as a Marine.

From international relations to military operations, two of the featured authors discuss war and violence and help people learn from their dangerous and important experiences.

Mordechai Dzikansky, author of “Terrorist Cop” highlights his experiences as a Jewish NYC police department officer and his work which led him to become a leading authority on suicide bombings.  He will speak on Monday, Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m.

Wars are filled with challenges and perils.  Barry Fixler also discusses his experiences as a marine in “Semper Cool”.  Fixler will talk about his book on Thursday, Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m.

In November 2009, Fixler was named Rockland County’s Veteran of the Year.  In the book he explains how his combat experiences in Vietnam and his Marine service has contributed enormously to his success in life and business.   (He is donating all of his royalties from the book a to non profit organizations that benefits wounded warriors and the children of fallen soldiers.)

This year’s book committee selection includes topics such as medical and ethical issues.  In Daniel Asa Rose’s book, “Larry’s Kidney,” he takes you on a medical journey clear across the globe, on what can be described as a misadventure as he seeks to help a distant family member.  The story will be highlighted at the festival on Thursday, Nov. 4  at 7:30 p.m. In the book, Rose shows what it is like to be a medical tourist and the ethical questions it posed.

In an emotional but extremely poignant story, Laurie Strongin, talks of every parent’s worst nightmare in “Saving Henry”.  She is an outspoken advocate of stem cell research, and in the book Laurie Strongin shares her experience with her son’s rare genetic disorder.  An emotional but ultimately, uplifting account of Henry’s life and his family’s love highlights scientific possibilities for a cure.  The movie “My Sisters Keeper” was based on Henry’s life.

While some people are dealing with family issues on a daily basis, author Lee Kravitz, spends a year of his life year tying up “loose” emotional ends in all areas of his life in his book, “Unfinished Business.”  During a year of unemployment, instead of job searching, he went on a personal journey, an attempt to follow up on all the reaching out to people he missed out on while dedicated to his job.  In making amends he opened new paths for both personal and spiritual growth. Kravitz will share his story on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m.

Finally, what book festival would be complete if food was not included?

“The Kosher Baker” provides appealing kosher dessert recipes.  Pastry chef and teacher, Paula Shoyer, provides inspiration and innovation to turn the challenges of paerve baking into delicious treats.  She’ll share her tips on Monday, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

So from Paula Shoyer sweetening life up, to Martin Fletcher’s adventures through Israel, there is a book to keep everyone inspired and of course well fed, both mentally and physically.

Masada Siegel can be reached at

October 2010