covers of "We Set the Night on Fire," "Sculpting a Life" and "Workin' for a Livin'"
"We Set the Night on Fire," "Sculpting a Life" and "Workin' for a Livin'" are among new books by Jewish Bay Area authors.

New books by local authors dive into music biz, gay history, sci-fi and Jewish theology

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“Zieglitz’s Blessing”

By Michael Goldberg (Cascade Books, 208 pages)

cover of "Zieglitz's Blessing"

Ricky Zieglitz is studying for his bar mitzvah when his family is rocked by tragedy — the suicide of his father. “Zieglitz’s Blessing” follows Ricky (later Rod) as he grows up, travels to Israel, attends rabbinical school, takes charge of a small Southern shul and has a son of his own.

Personal and professional misfortunes test his faith. “[W]hen you’re questioning what kind of god exists, or whether God exists in the first place, for God’s sake, don’t look to me or some other rabbi for answers,” Rod tells his congregation from the bimah. “Instead, look to your own life to find them. If you want, you can do it day by day like a sports fan; some days you win, some days you lose, some days God’s on your team, and some days He’s on your opponent’s.” In a statement, Goldberg, who lives in Walnut Creek, said he wanted to write a novel “that explored not only ‘Who is a Jew?’ but that also asked ‘Who is the Jews’ God?’ and in so doing, tackled deeper questions about divine justice, love, and above all, blessing.” Goldberg will discuss the book at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, June 4, at Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek.


“Workin’ for a Livin’: Makin’ it in the Music Business”

By Dick Bright (self-published, 260 pages)

cover of "Workin' for a Livin'"This is a practical guide for those looking to make it in the music business, written by a 50-year veteran of the business who worked with James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Tony Bennett, Huey Lewis and many others. “I have never had a hit record, a TV show, a starring role in a movie or play, yet I have been flown around the world, performed for hundreds of thousands of people and have worked with some of the biggest names in the history of show business,” Bright, who lives in Greenbrae, writes in the opening chapter. He told the Marin Independent Journal that he’s played 1,500 weddings and countless other gigs.

Born and raised in Southern California, Bright took up the violin as a child and still plays during Shabbat services at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. He will give a reading and performance at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley at 12 p.m. Sunday, June 11, and at Green Apple Books on 9th Avenue in San Francisco at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 15.


“We Set the Night on Fire: Igniting the Gay Revolution”

By Martha Shelley (Chicago Review Press, 224 pages)

cover of "We Set the Night on Fire"A co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front, the first LGBT activist organization formed after the Stonewall Riots in 1969, reflects on her life and involvement in the gay and women’s movements of the 1960s and ’70s in this memoir. Shelley (born Martha Altman) grew up in Brooklyn and dreamed of being the “first girl on Mars.” She recounts how at age 9 she was horrified by a newspaper article about the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. “I had a gut feeling — still do — that the Rosenbergs must have been picked out especially because they were Jewish,” she writes.

After coming out as a lesbian, she would join the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization in the United States. She also took part in the Lavender Menace, protesting the exclusion of lesbians and their issues from mainstream feminist movements. She moved to Oakland in 1974 and was a member of the Oakland Women’s Press Collective. “At Passover we say, ‘In every generation a new pharaoh arises’ — to oppress, to exploit, to murder us,” Shelley, who is 79 and now lives in Portland, writes in the book’s introduction. “The corollary is that in every generation we have to fight back. My hope is that this book inspires an army of younger activists to do just that.”


“Identicality”

By Jay L. Koppelman (Wheatmark, 319 pages)

cover of "Identicality"

This sci-fi novel tells the story of Adam, a tech entrepreneur who designs an experimental human “replicator” and convinces a reluctant friend to use it on him as he lies dying following an assassination attempt. When the real Adam unexpectedly survives his ordeal, he must figure out how to reclaim his life from his “replicant.”

Koppelman told J. he drew inspiration from “Star Trek” and the movie “The Fly” in writing the book, his first. “On one dimension, the story highlights the meaning and meaningfulness of genuine friendship and its responsibilities through thick and thin,” said Koppelman, who lives in Pleasant Hill. “But there are also take-aways about the meaning of life and the importance of respect for death, about the power of love and the pain of loss, about ethical obligations and moral values.” A retired real estate and mortgage investor, Koppelman has served on a number of Jewish philanthropic boards. He’s the former head of the Home of Peace Chevra Kadisha and a past president and current board member of the Contra Costa Jewish Day School.


“Sculpting a Life: Chana Orloff between Paris and Tel Aviv”

By Paula Birnbaum (Brandeis University Press, 440 pages)

cover of "Sculpting a Life"This is the first biography of Orloff (1888–1968), a Ukrainian-born Jewish sculptor whose work is part of collections in Israel, Europe and the United States. Birnbaum, a professor of art history and museum studies at the University of San Francisco, traces the artist’s multiple migrations — from Ukraine to Palestine to Paris to Switzerland and back to Paris while establishing a second home in Tel Aviv after World War II — and the impact these migrations had on her career. Orloff worked as a seamstress before attending art school in Paris. There she befriended other young Jewish artists, including Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz and Amedeo Modigliani.

“I would say that this book really started when I was in college in the late 1980s … when I noticed that there were zero, and I mean zero, women in my art history survey textbook, and I was just outraged,” Birnbaum said during a talk at the Booksmith in San Francisco earlier this month. “For Chana, she was a woman, she was Jewish, she was an emigré, she was a widow and she was a mother of a disabled kid, and so she had financial pressures that she took quite seriously, and she was a very shrewd businesswoman … And so that fascinated me, to try to understand her motives as a professional, not only as a creative but as someone who needed to exist in the world and pay the bills.”


“Never Sit Next to Sheldon at a Funeral”

By Maurice Edelstein (self-published, 96 pages)

cover of "Never Sit Next to Sheldon at a Funeral"

A lifelong San Franciscan, Edelstein made a living selling life insurance, but his real passion was photography. The 92-year-old has created several books of photography, mostly “images he captured during six decades roaming the streets of S.F.,” his son, Dan Edelstein, told J.

This latest collection of photos and short reminiscences from Edelstein’s life “presents a remarkable portrait of Jewish life in San Francisco during the second half of the 20th century,” according to his son. Among the local Jews who make appearances are Mel Segal, a one-time president of San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Sholom; Rabbi Saul White of Beth Sholom; Maurice’s father, George Edelstein, who owned Knit Kraft, a men’s clothing store on Mission Street; and Maurice’s cousin, the titular Sheldon, who owned a five-and-dime on Chestnut Street and enjoyed cracking outrageous jokes, even during funerals.


These books are available to order from Afikomen Judaica in Berkeley and online retailers. J. invites local authors to submit their books for possible inclusion in future columns by emailing [email protected]. Books that were published within the last six months and are available to buy from major retailers or borrow from local libraries will be given priority for coverage.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.