Cover Reveal at B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog!

It’s an exciting day: my publisher has teamed up with Barnes and Noble to reveal the gorgeous book cover of Silent Hall!

I love what cover artist Andreas Rocha has done here. This cover really captures the essence of my book: the scenery is majestic, and there is plenty of action to be hinted at, but at its core it is a story about five people with nothing to return to, who don’t know what to expect from the road ahead. I think it will draw people in – it’s certainly drawn ME in!

Anyway, check out the big reveal on the B&N blog. As a bonus, it includes a longer, more thorough explanation of the story behind my pen name! I’ll give you a little thumbnail teaser below, but seriously, check it out!

SilentHall_125px

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What is Activism For?

This will be a short one, I promise. I just want to take a moment to point to tonight’s huge wins for the Black Lives Matter movement. In Illinois, state attorney Anita Alvarez lost her reelection bid by big margins after gaining notoriety for shielding Chicago police after their killing of Laquan McDonald. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, it looks like County Prosecutor Tim McGinty will lose his reelection bid too, after coming under fire for refusing to prosecute the killer of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

Put simply, THIS is what activism is for. The little races are often the ones that matter the most, and local government has in many ways a lot more power over people’s day-to-day lives than the federal government does. Building a protest movement is sometimes deceptively easy, and many movements have failed because of an inability to focus on those places where real change is possible.

Black Lives Matter, for all that it is decentralized in its leadership, seems to understand this on a basic level. Their ability to influence the next president more or less ends once the the Democratic primary does, but the problems that BLM seeks to address are primarily state-level problems (ignore the headline and read the whole article – you’ll be glad you did). The vast majority of state- and county-level races have so little public attention that a modest bit of organizing can go a very long way. And those races matter a LOT. DAs and county prosecutors, for example, have practically absolute power over whether police are held accountable for criminal behavior.

When Occupy Wall Street was at its height, its most obvious flaw was that it functioned much more as an expression of left-wing rage than as a driver of alternative policies. Black Lives Matter isn’t falling into the same traps, and that means it’s also much less likely to fall into the same memory hole.

My Recipe for Challah

I grew up on my mother’s double-decker whole wheat challah, a gloriously hearty start to every Shabbat meal. Sometimes she let me help, teaching me how to braid on a Friday afternoon. But for whatever reason, I never learned how to make her recipe (or lack thereof, for she never had one written down).

In college, I lived in the “Kosher Mod,” the on-campus apartment that hosted Shabbat dinners for the Hampshire college community (I’d say the Hampshire college Jewish community, but we had plenty of non-Jewish friends who came, and no-one was ever turned away). My childhood friend Gideon, who was also conveniently my college roommate, baked the challah for these events, using his mother’s recipe for a much sweeter, cakier version. He often did a four-braid or even the occasional six-braid, and his challah was the toast of Hampshire College (heh heh, see what I did there?). But I didn’t learn how to make that either.

But in my first job after college, as an Activity Assistant at an assisted living facility in Newton, I decided that I ought to learn. The facility had a monthly Shabbat service for its Jewish residents, and Challah seemed like a perfect activity for the day before the service: it’s a yeast bread, so you can spend a morning making the dough, let it rise while people are at lunch, and do the braiding and baking in the afternoon as a sensory activity. The challah could become a social centerpiece when it was done, with residents telling their friends, “I helped make that.” Plus everyone agrees that challah is delicious.

So I called my mother and asked for her recipe. But as I mentioned before, she didn’t have a written recipe, she just did it. So she dutifully made one up, and I dutifully wrote it down. Then I ignored it and did what felt right.

It took some time to perfect, and I’ll probably end up tweaking further as the years go by, but seeing as my own mother sometimes asks me to bring some along when we go over for Shabbat dinner, I think the recipe is good enough to share. Now, like my mother, I don’t actually measure my ingredients out when I’m cooking at home. But after enough people asked me for the recipe at work, I felt I ought to take the time to measure it just once, so that’s what I did. I’m pretty confident that if you follow the directions below, you’ll end up with more or less the same challah I do. Which looks like this, by the way:

Challah on board

I figured you’d like to see it.

As I said above, it’s a yeast bread, so it’s perfect for making on a day off, when you may have plenty of errands, but you also have the freedom to schedule them however you like. I still make this challah at work now and then, baking four loves at a time and sharing them with the entire 104-bed facility. That’s a pretty good way to make friends.

It’s also a great activity for doing with kids:

challah

(Picture from December 2014, when my daughter was 2 years old)

So with no further ado, here’s the recipe:

Noah’s Challah

Yield: 4 loaves. Time: about 4 hours (mostly waiting)

Ingredients:

-8+ cups of flour

-3/4 cup vegetable oil

-2 tbsp. active dry yeast

-1 cup honey

-1 cup raisins

-5 eggs

-2 cups warm water

Directions:

1) Combine water, yeast with about 1.5 cups of flour and a drop of the honey in a large mixing bowl. Mix well, but don’t worry about small clumps. Cover bowl with a cloth, and let sit for 15-20 minutes in a warm place.

2) Add the oil, the rest of the honey, the raisins and 4 eggs (save the last one for later). Add a cup of flour, and mix until even. Keep adding flour, about a cup at a time (or a handful) until dough is thick and stirring becomes impossible.

3) Add another cup of flour and begin to knead with your hands. Keep adding flour and kneading until dough is evenly-colored (no visible flour) but not very sticky. Cover again, and let sit for at least 2 hours. In the meantime, do your laundry or something!

[Note: you can give the dough as many risings as you like. As long as you remember to punch it down every couple of hours, you can drag this part out over a full day’s worth of errands.]

4) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

5) Divide dough into 4 loaves. Separate each loaf into 3 equal lumps, and roll them between your hands into long “snakes.” Braid the snakes together as you would braid hair (if you’ve never braided hair before, ask a girl to show you how). Transfer to a pair of cookie sheets, 2 loaves per sheet.

6) Beat the last egg, and spread it over the four loaves as a glaze.

7) Bake the loaves for about 30-35 minutes, until golden brown.

I had a friend once who followed my recipe and missed the fact that it yields four loves rather than one. The results were…huge. Don’t make that mistake. I always make four loaves, and freeze two for the following week. It slices pretty nicely, and as everyone knows, leftover challah makes the best French toast.

Challah sliced

***

N.S. Dolkart is the author of Silent Hall, available for pre-order at any bookstore in the US, UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand. It’s coming out in June, and it’s really good. You should buy it.

On Fleeing the Donald Trump Presidency

A Jewish friend recently told me in all seriousness that she had renewed her family’s passports and was prepared to flee the country if Donald Trump actually won the presidency. The statement struck me as odd, but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.

Let’s be clear: I do not put genocide past Donald Trump. He has encouraged violence among his supporters in ways large and small, called Mexican immigrants rapists, suggested that entire Muslim families be exterminated for having a family member involved with ISIS (with no due process to verify that you’ve targeted the right people, of course), and suggested that we ban Muslim immigrants and deport those who are already here. He has come out in favor of torture. If you think that he’s just saying these things because he thinks they’re what his supporters want to hear, I encourage you to read this 1922 New York Times article about how this Adolf Hitler chap was definitely just playing to his base and didn’t really mean any harm, for all of his violent rhetoric.

So why do I find it strange to suggest that as liberal Jews, we should flee the country if Donald Trump is elected president? Because fleeing isn’t good enough.

First of all, the 21st century United States is not early 20th-century Germany. It is not one of many world powers struggling for supremacy in a pre-atomic world. If tomorrow the United States decided to exterminate a group of people, it would almost undoubtedly succeed. If, for example, President Trump were to decide to drop hydrogen bombs on Iran or Russia or even China, literally nothing in the world could stop him. On a smaller scale, you may have heard of these things called drones that are super popular among the US intelligence community…

On the whole, running is useless.

But even so, that’s not what really bothered me about my friend’s suggestion. What bothered me was the idea that we, the Jews of America, should flee the country rather than stay and try to protect the actual targets of Trump’s demagoguery. Because for all that Donald Trump is undeniably anti-semitic, his anti-semitism is a matter of ugly and thoughtless stereotyping, not hate. We are not the targets. The targets are Muslims, Latinos, and black Americans. Internationally his hate is directed primarily against China and Mexico.

First they came for the Muslims, the Mexicans, and the People of Color, but I said nothing because I was already on a flight to Israel.

That’s my concern. I feel that if we are serious about Never Again, we have to be willing to risk ourselves to protect others. We have to be willing to stay behind in Trump’s America, to protest his policies and even to take our neighbors into our homes if need be. We can’t hang around watching Schindler’s List and feeling powerless when there may be actual lives that we can save.

If we’re lucky, it won’t come up. Trump will not be our next president, or if that disaster should befall our country, hopefully his election will fail to turn America into the authoritarian hellscape that many of us fear. The risk that a President Trump would turn to genocide is real and it’s frightening, but it’s not exactly a lock. Maybe he’d turn out to be less Hitler and more Arnold Schwarzenegger. One can’t know for sure.

But if it does go down the way my friend fears, it would be wrong for us to abandon our country to the authoritarians. America will need people of good conscience more than ever. As Jews in the 21st century, our country has chosen to grant us the privilege of whiteness; the least we can do is to use it to defend Trump’s true targets.

***

N.S. Dolkart is the author of Silent Hall, available for pre-order at any bookstore in the US, UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand. It’s coming out in June, and it’s really good. You should buy it.