Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Interview With TJLF Authors Nora Gold & Matti Friedman

Gold and Friedman are currently in Toronto to speak about ‘Fields of Exile’ and ‘The Aleppo Codex’, respectively.

By: Ashley Baylen

Published: May 29th, 2014 in Culture » Books » Interviews

The Toronto Jewish Literary Festival is currently underway until June 1st. For an entire week, both local and international authors gather at various venues throughout the city to read from and discuss their books with Jewish themes.

Two notable authors participating in this year’s festival are Nora Gold and Matti Friedman.

Toronto-born Friedman has traveled the world as a reporter and currently resides in Jerusalem. He returned to his hometown on Monday to speak about ‘The Aleppo Codex’, the thousand-year old mystery surrounding the perfect copy of the Hebrew Bible.

Friedman’s debut book won the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, was selected as one of Booklist’s top ten religion books of the year, was awarded the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal and the Canadian Jewish Book Award for History, and was a finalist in the Religion Newswriters Association’s award for best book of the year.

Tonight, on Thursday, May 29th at 7:30PM, Gold will launch her new book ‘Fields of Exile’ at Artscape Youngplace’s Flex Studio. Selected by The Forward are one of the “5 Jewish Books to Read in 2014”, Gold’s novel is the first about anti-Israelism in the academe.

Gold is an author of fiction that edits Jewish Fiction .net, does academic and professional work, blogs for Haaretz, and engages in community activism. Her previous book, Marrow and Other Stories, won the Louis Lockshin Prize for Short Fiction, a Canadian Jewish Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award, a prize for the best first short story collection in Canada. Dr. Gold’s academic career includes ten years as a professor of social work and numerous scholarly publications and funded projects. She is currently the Writer-in-Residence and an Associate Scholar at the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education (CWSE) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto (OISE/UT).

Both Friedman and Gold sat down with Shalom Life to discuss their latest books and their participation in the Jewish Literary Festival.



ASHLEY BAYLEN (AB): Nora, congratulations on your newest book, ‘Fields of Exile’. Can you tell us what prompted the story of a young activist in graduate school in Canada?

NORA GOLD (NG): For quite some time, like many Jews who love Israel, I’ve been very disturbed by the increasing anti-Israelism in both the academe and the world at large. I’ve been concerned about the most overt manifestations of anti-Israelism, like Israel Apartheid Week, but also about the gradual normalization of Israel-bashing in classes, in faculty meetings, and at conferences. Over the past two decades, I responded to this phenomenon by conducting academic research on antisemitism and anti-Israelism and by engaging in pro-Israel activism (part of which ultimately resulted in a new Toronto-based organization, JSpaceCanada). At a certain point, though, because I was so distressed about anti-Israelism, I began writing a novel about it, too. Perhaps this was inevitable. The pain I felt because of what was happening around me was like having a fishhook in my stomach. I tried moving this way and that, but whatever I did, it was still there. So at some stage I guess I figured that the only way to get it out of me was to write it out.

AB: And congrats to you Matti on The Aleppo Codex. Can you tell us a little about the book and what motivated you to write it?

MATTI FRIEDMAN (MF): I encountered the Aleppo Codex at the Israel Museum in 2008, when I was an AP reporter in Jerusalem. What struck me at first was the fact that I had never heard of it, even though the labels made clear that it was a very important Jewish manuscript, perhaps the most important, and one of the most important books on earth. I began looking into it, assuming that it was a straightforward story that had been told at some point in the past — and found that I was wrong on both points.

AB: Nora, you spent more than ten years on faculty at McMaster University and, more recently, University of Toronto. Has your academic experience played a large part in the creation of Fields of Exile?

NG: It’s important to state upfront that Fields of Exile is not based on experiences that I had either at McMaster or University of Toronto. The incidents in my novel draw on events that began occurring on campuses across North America in the 1990s and that still occur today. The fact that in the 1980s and 1990s I spent 16 years in the academe — either as a graduate student or a professor — means that I know this environment very well, both from the student and faculty perspective. So yes, my academic background played an important role in Fields of Exile, but only in the sense that it gave me the knowledge I needed for this novel about this specific context.

AB: In addition to writing your own novels, you are also the creator of the online journal Jewish Fiction .net and also blog for Haaretz, an online news source, which must mean that you lead an incredibly busy life. How do you manage and does it ever get overwhelming?

NG: I don’t tend to get overwhelmed, but you’re correct that I lead an incredibly busy life. I left my full-time academic position in January 2000 in order to have enough time for writing fiction, yet it is still a challenge to balance my writing time with all my other commitments. Most significantly, being the editor of Jewish Fiction .net is a full-time job — something I didn’t realize when I first created this journal. And of course now that Fields of Exile has just come out, I am even more busy than usual because of that. Overall, though, I feel very fortunate to have all these different components in my life. They enrich each other and they enrich me.

Read the second half of our interview with Nora Gold and Matti Friedman on the next page!

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