Jewish fiction thrives in the digital age

Why would an award-winning published author decide to expose other writers to a wider audience? Isn’t there something about jealousy among writers that would prevent such a radical movement? Not so for Nora Gold, a Canadian Jewish writer, who about ten years ago created an online literary magazine exclusively for Jewish fiction, called A professor of social work at McMaster University who left the academy in 2000 to have more time for her own fiction writing, by 2010 Gold had already won a Canadian Jewish Book Award for her first book (Marrow and Other Stories), and later in 2014 his The First Novel (Fields of Exile) won the Canadian Jewish Literary Prize. His third book, the novel The Dead Man, published in 2016, garnered international acclaim and was published in Hebrew by Carmel. But in 2010 he began to notice that several writers he knew were having trouble getting their work published.

“In 2010,” he said The Jerusalem Report“I talked to these writers, who I knew they wrote very well, and I asked them what was going on. Basically, the publishing industry was undergoing a sea change due to the move to digital publishing. This may sound strange now because at this point digital publishing is a reality, but back then it caused a real crisis in the industry, and publishers were reluctant to take a chance on someone who was not known. One of the writers I spoke to was informed by an editor he had approached that in a decade or so all of this would probably subside, so until then he should keep his novels in a drawer. This writer told me: ‘I can’t wait 10 or 15 years. If no one is willing to publish my work, I’ll just stop writing. ‘ This made me worry about all the good Jewish fiction that was being written that had no way of going out into the world. And even if things got better in a decade, which I’m not sure has happened now, it meant that a lot of work would be lost in the meantime. I thought that although I am not an expert in digital technology, maybe I could do something to help these writers. So I created (the name taken from their website address,

“Fortunately, as I was starting this magazine and preparing for our first issue, I attended the International Kisufim Conference for Jewish Writers, which took place at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, organized by the Israeli poet Hava Pinhas-Cohen. There were writers from all over the world and people were very excited when they heard about Someone suggested that I make an announcement about it at one of the plenary events, and I did. I explained that this magazine would publish Jewish-themed stories or excerpts from novels that were written in English or translated into English, but had not yet been published in English.

“Many people came to me afterwards and some offered me their work, including translations from Romanian and Turkish. Now, ten years later, has published 475 works of fiction that have never been published before in English and were originally written in 17 languages. And we are the only magazine in English, whether in print or online, dedicated exclusively to the publication of Jewish fiction. “

When its first issue appeared, the response to was instantaneous and positive. Articles about this magazine appeared in The Forward, The Jewish Week and The Jerusalem Post, and many writers wrote to express their gratitude.

Nora Gold presents and moderates a panel at an event sponsored by the Toronto International Festival of Authors (credit: courtesy)

“We received some very moving letters from the authors,” Gold said. “They were excited and grateful for what we were doing. And we could feel the importance of our work because often, as soon as we accepted a story, the author would immediately send us another, as they felt there was no other place for Jewish-themed fiction. Being a writer myself, I could understand how happy they were to find a publication that respected and valued what they were doing. But because this happened so frequently, we had to institute a policy of publishing authors only once; otherwise, we would be repeatedly publishing the same select few, and there would be no place in our journal for other emerging writers.

“Of course, we don’t just publish emerging authors. We are honored to have published fiction by such eminent writers as Elie Wiesel, Aharon Appelfeld, Chava Rosenfarb, and AB Yehoshua, to name just a few, and each issue is a mix of well-known and lesser-known authors side by side. We also include a mix of languages. For example, in our most recent issue, Issue 28, we feature stories originally written in five different languages: Czech, Hungarian, Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. Discovering new translations and translators is a special pleasure for me. For example, at one point I received through our submission portal the translation of an outstanding story originally written in Hungarian by Gábor T. Szántó. We accepted this story and then I asked their excellent translators, Walter Burgess and Marietta Morry, if they had translated any other Jewish-themed stories that had not yet been published in English. In fact, they had, and we published it too! So it happens that sometimes through a translator we discover new authors. The same thing happened with Andrea G. Labinger, a translator from Spanish who introduced us to several wonderful Jewish writers from South America. “

Does Gold find some authors or translators difficult?

“There have certainly been some who have not been a pleasure to work with. But most of the writers and translators I have met through Jewish Fiction .net have been wonderful, and it has been a real and unexpected gift to now have this literary network from around the world. As for translators, we have a very fruitful collaboration with the Hebrew Literature Translation Institute and as a result we have been able to include many exceptional Israeli writers on Jewish Fiction .net. We also work with other freelance Hebrew translators, all very talented. Hebrew is the language with the most translations that we have published: so far we have published 77 Israeli stories or excerpts from novels ”.

In the sometimes cutthroat business of publishing, how does Jewish survive? At this point, Gold is sincere:

“We exist entirely on donations, and all of us, except our attorney and the website technician, work on this magazine on a voluntary basis. I am fortunate to have an incredible group of volunteers who evaluate our incoming submissions or edit manuscripts. Every story we receive is read by at least two reviewers, and all of our reviewers are very knowledgeable about Jewish literature. When we read submissions, we do so by anonymous review, so we do not know who the author is, or even if they are male or female, Jewish or non-Jewish, famous or unknown. In fact, it’s happened a couple of times that we’ve rejected something from someone we know, and that was awkward. But unless we think a job is top-notch, we just won’t post it. It is a question of integrity ”.

Gold is delighted when he sees that the emerging writers he has published are publishing elsewhere and succeeding. He keeps in touch with several of them and encourages them as best he can. One question that arises in our discussion is why there aren’t more online literary magazines like And also why there is no print version of this magazine. Gold has a very explicit view of the why’s and why’s of the current situation, and is not limited to writing Jewish fiction.

“Part of the answer to both questions is financial,” he says. “On the second, we simply don’t have the funds to publish a printed newspaper. Regarding the first question, many people think that fiction in general, and even more so Jewish fiction, will not give them any benefit, neither in book form nor in a journal. Whether they are correct or not, this is not a problem for us, as we are not a profitable company. It could be, I suppose, if I chose to engage with this magazine as a business, but I am not that inclined. I see Jewish Fiction .net as a gift to the Jewish people. It seems significant to me to support new authors or discover Jewish fiction translated from a language that we have not published before. (In issue 28, we published our first translation from Czech). It’s also exciting to be able to publish a classic work that has never been translated into English before, such as Agnon’s And The Crooked Shall Be Made Straight, translated by Michael P. Kramer, or a new translation of a previously translated classic, such as Cavalry. Roja de Babel, but recently translated by Boris Dralyuk. This is really exciting. “

One specific problem Gold has faced over the ten years of Jewish is the fact that, as a genre, the tale is perhaps the most difficult to pull off successfully.

“We publish stories between 1,500 and 6,000 words, as well as novel excerpts of the same length, and it says so on our submission page,” he says. “However, to our surprise, some people send us plays, poetry, drawings or one-page writing, apparently without having checked our website. In any case, we are inundated with introductions, most of them short stories. I myself love stories and consider them a challenging and sophisticated way. I remember that it was strange to me when, after publishing my first book (a collection of stories), people said to me: ‘Okay, you’ve already done it; now you can write something real: a novel. ‘ I’ve written two novels and novels are great, but I don’t think novels are superior to short stories. The length is interesting. There are novels that need 350 or 400 pages, but a lot of the ones I’ve read lately really don’t. I recently finished writing two novels, to be published together, and I think the novel form is wonderful. So concise and so powerful. There are also arguments in favor of fictional forms that are shorter than novels because of the difference with which people read now, even less than five years ago, in terms of shorter attention spans. This may be due to online reading rather than print, or in the last year and a half due to Covid and other factors, but brevity today is appealing to many readers.

And the future?

“I hope that will continue for many years to come. The donations we receive are obviously an essential component of this, as is my persistence in this role, which I plan to do. It feels important. There are all kinds of Jewish publications, but there is no other magazine that offers what we do. So we are hopeful for another decade of fantastic Jewish fiction from around the world. ”

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