The Jerusalem Women Writers’ Seminar 2016

Another fantastic and inspiring seminar. Read Libi Astaire’s article for all the details.



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The Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Conference 2012

Some inspiring moments from Bar-Ilan University’s International Creative Writing Conference.

I attended the Tuesday May 8th session.                                                                                       In the Poetry workshop with Linda Ziquit and Joy Katz, we were given the startling assignment to “write a poem that scares you.”  I started to write a poem about two doors: one door leads to an abrupt and steep drop into nothingness and the other door opens only to be slammed shut again. I didn’t have enough time to get too far with it.

The highlight of the conference for me was the Fiction Workshop with Evan Fallenberg and Joan Leegant on Tuesday May 8th.  Joan cited a New York short story author Debra Eisenberg who stated that as writers we should resist the word that first comes to mind and struggle to come up with the real word we mean, not the easy one that pops into our heads. She went on to say that we should penetrate a story and discard the shell. Transcend the givens of a narrative.

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Women of the Book: The Writers Seminar in Jerusalem

Women of the Book
by Chava Dumas

What inspiring event has been happening for years in Eretz Yisrael?
Where is one guaranteed to meet friends, learn something new, gain a different angle, approach, perspective, insight and skill?
What special seminar packs so much information on such a variety of related topics into one day?
Are you still guessing?
The Annual Jerusalem Writers’ Seminar!

The first writers’ conference, for women, Pri Chadash, was co-led by Varda Branfman and Judy Belsky in Jerusalem nearly a decade ago. Then Esther Heller and Leiba Smith began organizing an annual conference in the mystical city of Tsfat, which went on in Cheshvan for four years. These were unpretentious, intimate affairs, with innovative writing exercises presented by creative experts, stimulating women to discover untapped resources within themselves that were worthy of being brought out to light and transcribed onto paper. There were tears and laughter as we listened to our comrades share their poetic responses: our emotions were triggered and our souls were tugged by the blatant power of the word.

Leah Kotkes brought the experience of Tsfat back to Yerushalayim, where she organized The Writer’s Journey, six annual writing seminars held in Iyar, from 2005 until 2010, each one growing in size. She was the driving force for much inspiration: What started out as small gatherings of like-minded women grew beyond overflowing halls in Yerushalayim, each seminar expanding exponentially as the word spread that tremendous opportunities for chizuk would be gained by attending.

How many people have the habit of picking up a pen and piece of paper and pouring out their thoughts in prose, poems, letters, essays, articles, features? This incredibly valuable process has been a part of our collective expression as a People for millennium! And now, with the eruption of a volcanic force from a previously concealed quiet community of Orthodox Jewish women writers, the impact of our words is being felt around the world.

All of this is enhanced by the influence of these annual seminars, these writing conferences that serve to stretch us further, each time we delve into new dimensions of self-discovery and emerge with a heightened awareness of the power of the pen.

“I have never met such driven people,” a non-Jewish woman once told me.
“Where I come from, people ‘hang out’ and ‘shoot the breeze.’ They aren’t possessed with this need for meaning. Everyone thinks so much and so deeply about every move they make! And everyone I meet is writing a book!”

A long way from the 30-40 women who met in Tsfat once upon a time, the 2011 annual seminar welcomed over 150 participants, not including the large team of publishers and presenters. Expanding beyond the Reich Hotel and the Prima Palace of previous years, this was the first conference held in the wide and spacious Shirat Yerushalayim hall in Givat Shaul.

With Leah Kotkes now living in England, far from us physically, but close to us in spirit, this year’s event was organized by Tamar Ansh and Esther Heller, with assistance from Chaya Baila Gavant and Yocheved Leah Perkal.

Inspiration, encouragement, practical guidance and concrete tools were given over in a professional way. “Networking opportunities”—also known as making new friends—abound! It is truly incredible to share so much common ground and similar values with women from all over Eretz Yisrael as we, together, honor the written words ability to convey our core values in the most powerful, effective way, in this most holy medium of communication.

It was evident how much thought and planning was invested into offering practical workshops, writing sessions and discussions to enhance both personal and professional writing, for beginners and experienced, published writers. Considerable consideration was invested in meeting the writing needs of every participant, from journal dabbler and closet poet to potential professional journalist. All venues of writing and writers are highly prized and endorsed, which is what makes attendance at these events an affair of tremendous chizuk!

We have come to expect a variety of top-quality workshops offered by our favorite writers and teachers, and we were not disappointed. Sarah Shapiro, Shifra Devorah Witt, Esther Heller, Debbie Shapiro, Yaffa Ganz, Varda Branfman, Yocheved Leah Perkal, Pessie Frankel, and Tamar Ansh all offered information essential to writers. The challenge of the day was how to decide which worthy workshop to join, since that meant not being able to attend others! This was very tough, especially if The Art of Writing for Children, How to Release Vision through the Craft of Poetry, Writing Out of the Box, and the Ins and Outs of Publishing and Publicity were all of equally vital interest! Looking longingly in different directions around the hall, it was difficult to choose in which beloved speaker’s presence to be. But as an interviewer, I wanted to hear Debbie Shapiro’s “The Successful Interview: Getting to the Heart of the Matter” to gain some trade secrets.

Speaking in an entertaining, engaging way, Debbie took us right to the point: writing an interview means learning to listen. We have to tune in with our hearts, and hear more than the words being said. Facial expressions, body language are all clues. She also gave over practical tips regarding equipment, interview etiquette, questions to ask, time considerations, putting it all together. Her words were relevant to all our bein adam l’chaveiro interactions, not just interviews. The same is certainly true of the other workshops: “How to Release Vision through Poetry” is similar to asking “how do we learn to access what our inner vision is?” —a question vital to all of life! And what does it mean, as an Orthodox Jewish woman, to think and write “out of the box”?

An impressive morning presentation was held after the smaller workshops were concluded, with a publishing panel moderated by Tamar Ansh. Miriam Zakon from ArtScroll, Deena Nataf from Feldheim, Aviva Rappaport from Jerusalem Publications, Miriam Walfish from Judaica Press, Liron Delmar from Israel Bookshop Publications, and Suri Brand from Brand Name Publishers each spoke as a representative of their company, to explain what they offered the writer looking to publish her work.

Bassi Gruen, Chavi Ernster and Shira Moncharsh spoke as representatives from Mishpacha, Hamodia and Binah magazines. (Unfortunately, Esty Weiss from the new Ami magazine was not able to attend.)

After a great buffet lunch, a book raffle took place, where many attendees won new books donated by publishers and authors. We then were entertained by Elisheva Phillips’ hilarious comedy skit—“Editing Advice You’ve Never Heard Before!” She showed us how she would have edited the works of Robert Frost and William Shakespeare.

Sarah Shapiro spoke about “The Velveteen Jew,” and then Esther Heller moderated an in-depth career discussion panel with Yael Mermelstein, Suri Brand, Naomi Elbinger, Beth Shapiro and Paula Stern, each one explaining the particular niches—in freelance writing, editing, web writing, grant writing and technical writing— that exist as lucrative career options. This was a particularly practical presentation to encourage our application of writing as a marketable skill. In these financially challenging times, this presentation was especially appreciated.

Thirty years ago there was hardly a way to whet one’s thirst for Torah knowledge if one wasn’t proficiently fluent in Hebrew. When Rabbi Bulman, zt”l, encouraged Sarah Shapiro to write about her life as a Jewish mother, a new chapter opened, a very, important chapter in Jewish history. Observant Jewish women began to write about their personal experiences as Torah Jews. The Jewish world at large would now hear the voices of the women from within.

Those of us who are aware from whence we have come as women writers could feel a sense of awe and amazement at this year’s Writing Conference —at this magnificent public display of historical accomplishment—Orthodox Jewish women writers have really come a long way and are making a tremendous impact on the Jewish world today.

May our continuing efforts to learn to effectively use our written and spoken words be met with success. May we internalize the value of our ability to build and repair, edify and uplift, support and educate through this essential medium of communication that helps transform us into better people. And may all of our efforts to be a Light to the Nations with our example of the true power of the pen give Hashem tremendous nachas and help hasten the geulah sheleimah!

Chava Dumas is a freelance writer, editor and certified doula living in Jerusalem. She teaches a series of shiurim on emunah called “Making Every Day Count” and can be reached at

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More from the Annual Jewish Writers’ Seminar

See Ann Goldberg’s post on the Publishing Panel and see what Jewish books and magazine publishers are looking for.
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The Annual Jerusalem Writers’ Seminar

See Naomi Elbinger’s Post: Writing Careers in Israel: Can you make money?  Naomi taped the Career Panel at the recent Writer’s Seminar. To hear what the speakers had to say about a career in writing in the Jewish world, visit her website.
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Idea #8. Dear Editor…

Write a letter to the editor of your favorite magazine. Tell them what you, the reader would really love to see featured in an upcoming issue. Go into detail about what and why you would like to see it. Now revise that letter by turning it into a query letter. Plan to write that article yourself!

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Idea #7 Instead of Cookies in the Jar…

Take two coffee cans, oatmeal cartons or something similar and clean them out. Write 25 words or phrases such as “emergency” “the ninth inning” “lost and found” “horrified” and whatever other intriguing lines come to mind. Put them all into the first can. In the second write “poem,” “letter”, “diary” “children’s story” and other types of writing that you would like to try your hand in. Now take one piece of paper out of each can and start to write!

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Workshop in NYC for Jewish Children’s Writers

WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?: 3 Literary Agents, 3 Opinions

You have written a children’s or YA manuscript that you are excited
about. You would love to get it published, but where do you go from
here? We think we can help!

We are three literary agents (Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic
Literary Agency, Anna Olswanger of Liza Dawson Associates, and Ann
Tobias of A Literary Agency for Children’s Books) who specialize in
children’s books and who are in daily touch with our clients and their
publishers. We have devised a new workshop called Where Do I Go From
Here?: 3 Literary Agents, 3 Opinions.

We offer this new one-day workshop to help those who are trying to
make sense of the publishing world. The day will include discussions
of attendees’ partial manuscripts (which will be sent to the 3 Agents
in advance of the workshop) and a general Q&A session. We will also
cover such topics as the search for an agent/and or publisher,
marketplace considerations, writing tips and critique groups.

Workshop date:
Sunday, March 6, 2011

The New York Open Center, 22 East 30th Street, New York NY 10016.
(Please note: This event is not affiliated with The New York Open

9:30-4:00 p.m.

Fee (lunch included):
$295.00 to February 6, $325.00 thereafter

Our previous workshops have all been a sell-out. Here are a few
comments from the participants:

“It was a great pleasure to be with other writers and hear all of your
critiques. The day gave me much to think about, both in terms of
children’s writing in general and my own work in particular. Thanks so
much to all of you.”

“Since this was my first professional critique session, I wasn’t too
sure what to expect. However, I got a tremendous amount out of it-both
personally in terms of your direct feedback and also indirectly in
terms of your feedback to others.”

“The information you provided was very helpful and sometimes
surprising. I was impressed with your balanced and supportive comments
regarding our work. You gave me a lot to think about as I revise my

“It was very refreshing to meet three literary agents and hear them
speak. They were not fierce! In fact, they were very nice and helpful.
I have so many invaluable notes from the workshop. It was helpful to
get three different viewpoints about my work. I loved the workshop and
I would do it again.”

Register early for the special rate of $295. Group size is limited.

For further information, please visit our website

Contact Information: Anna Olswanger | Literary Agent, Liza Dawson Associates
350 Seventh Avenue, Suite 2003 | New York, NY 10001-1930
t: 201-791-4699 | w: | w:

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The Growing Writer

How do writers grow? How can we keep improving, accepting new challenges, exploring new terrain? How do we prevent ourselves from slipping into a cozy, self-satisfied, stagnation, where we are saying the same thing or using the same form over and over again?

The first step is to learn more about You, The Writer.

Get out your journal or a new notebook and ask yourself the following questions:

What are my writing strengths?

What are my writing weaknesses?

Do I feel excited by what I write?

What do I want to write?

What is holding me back from writing what I want to write?

What are my goals for getting published?

If you wanted to play the piano would you sit in a room everyday without a teacher or music book?

Probably not. You would take lessons or read books on how to play the piano. Imagine just sitting there, banging on the keys without anyone to help you and dreaming of being able to play a symphony. Wouldn’t you feel discouraged after awhile that you couldn’t even play a simple tune?

Because everyone learns to write while growing up, (unlike the piano) we expect ourselves to become better writers without giving ourselves any of the instruction or tools we need to really succeed.

Thank G-d nowadays there are so many resources available for the serious writer. Developing the talents that G-d has given us can be an ongoing adventure.

And there are many ways to learn, grow and improve.

Here are some possibilities:

*Set writing goals each month

In your journal or date book, start out each month by writing down your writing goals. Select goals that are realistic for one month’s efforts. For instance, don’t state as a goal that you will write an entire book. Set for a goal that you will finish one chapter. You can push yourself, but your goals should be realistic. Look over last month’s goals and see what you achieved. If you didn’t reach last months goals, discover why. Were they harder than you thought? Did you lose interest in the task? Did something block you or stop you?

*Read other authors’ works

Read to get the feel of good writing, read and notice the scope, breadth and depth of the writer’s expression. Read to expand your mind to the endless possibilities that await you as a writer.

*Keep a small idea book handy

Keep it with you in your purse, or at home nearby, so that when you get ideas you have somewhere organized to place them. The more you write down your ideas, the more ideas will come to you.

*Join or start a writing group

You can learn and be inspired by other writers. Writing is a solitary profession; it can get lonely. Connect with a group. You can inspire and be inspired.

*Find one other writer with whom to share work and feedback

A writing chavrusa will help you stay motivated and develop your writing. For many it’s the perfect compromise between being in a group and being alone.

*Brush up on basic skills such as grammar and vocabulary building

Look over a good grammar guide. Use and browse through a thesaurus. Learn one new vocabulary word each day.

*Send your work out to publishers (don’t let those rejection letters stop you- they are your dues for being a writer)

Send them out, and train yourself not to feel too badly if they get rejected. It’s just all part of the writer training process. I

*Study books on the craft of creative writing

Books will give invaluable information. Practice incorporating what you learn into your writing.

*Take a creative writing course

The content and structure of a course will keep you moving forward.

*Work with a writing coach

A writing coach is there for you, she will help you move forward and help you become the writer you want to be.

And of course, write as much as possible!

Ideally you should do all of the above! But start with one. Try something new in your writing life. And keep growing as a writer!

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How to Write Winning Query Letters

What is a query letter? A query letter is both a sales pitch and summary of your book or article. The goal of a query letter is to creates a positive first impression and motivate the editor to ask to see your story or book or to assign you an article to write.

Why is it important? It changes your status- from unsolicited manuscript to requested manuscript.

Before you query: You should first request or find writers’ guidelines. (often hidden on website)

The 3 parts to the query letter
1. The hook: why this book/article is important
2. The summary: what’s in it
3. The bio: why I am the one to write it!
When not to send a query- for humor or very short articles

SPP: Be Sure, Be Professional, Be Precise
Be sure: show confidence and enthusiasm
Be professional: make sure your letter is polished and professional sounding. No mistakes
Be precise: A specific query is better than a general query

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Writing Contest

In response to a slew of horrific tragedies last year, a daily inspiration e-mail, was born. The idea is to share positive, true stories about our People, so that we love each other and have everyone in mind in our prayers, before it is too late, before tragedy strikes.

One inspiring story about the greatness of Klal Yisrael is sent to recipients daily. The stories are about small people and great giants, about the committed and the alienated, about the young and old, individuals and groups. Some stories are cute, some deep, all of them inspiring (and short).

We believe that everyone could, and should, see what an amazing people we are. We believe that anyone who takes the time to share a story is benefiting not just the readers, but is doing good for him/herself.

Here are the details of our Writing Contest to promote knowledge, and ultimately love, of Klal Yisrael:

1st Prize:
$100 gift certificate at Feldheim will be rewarded to the most inspiring story. In particular, the story which, according to the judges, evokes the most emotion, whether laughter or tears, will get the winning prize.

2nd Prize:
For every submission, you enter a drawing for a $50 gift certificate at Artscroll.

Submissions must follow these rules to be honored:

1) The story must in some way reflect the verse, מי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ”- דברי הימים א’:י”ז: כ”א” (Who is like Your nation, Israel, one People in the land.) Any story that does not show the greatness of an individual or a group of Jews, will not be considered a submission.

2) Of course, a story is not positive if it states or implies something negative about another person or group.

3)The story should be SHORT. Our readers are busy people. (Our typical stories run between 100 and 350 words.)

4) The best type of story is the one written in first person, “I saw…” “I heard….” In all cases, the stories must be personally verifiable or must have a good source.

5) Multiple submissions are more than welcome! For every submission, you up the chances of one of your stories being chosen for the first prize, and you enter the drawing for the second prize again.

6) All the stories sent our way will be shared with all subscribers. Do not send a story that you do not wish to share.

7) You can write the story/ies anonymously, with a pseudonym, or with your name.

8) Submissions can be sent in until Sunday, November 28 (כ”א כסלו), 12:00 p.m. Israel time.

9) Dedications are available.

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12th Annual Jewish Children’s Writers & Illustrators Conference

Registration for the 12th Annual Jewish Children’s Writers & Illustrators
Conference in New York City, sponsored by the Jewish Book Council, is now open.
The event will be held on Sunday, November 21 at the Center for Jewish History
at 15 W. 16th Street.
See the Jewish Book Council web site,, for details.
Hope to see you there!

Barbara Krasner
Freelance writer, author, speaker
The Whole Megillah – The Writer’s Resource for Jewish-themed
Children’s Books

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Idea #6. A Writing Time Clock…

Try writing at different times of the day. Jot down the time and how long you wrote for. Then rate the writing session on a scale of one to five. One was very productive- five- unsuccessful. See what time your writing clock responds best to and in the future schedule your writing for that time.

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Idea #5. My Life as a Comic Strip…

Take an anecdote or event from your life and write it out like a comic strip. Don’t worry about the art; you can use stick figures and balloons for dialogue and bubbles for thoughts. Besides having fun, this will help you see events in terms of scene and dialogue, and getting your point across in the least amount of words.

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Idea #4. Catching your Dreams and Looking for Themes…

Each night before you go to sleep, tell yourself: tonight I will remember my dreams. In the morning when you first wake up, try to remember what you dreamed. Write it down in the handy notebook that you keep by your bed. The more you record your dreams, the easier it will be to remember them.  Just jot down the day and very briefly, what the dream was about. After you’ve got a list of dreams, look and see if there are any themes.

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