Descended from a long line of Ladino-speaking Jews, the chief Sephardic rabbi of Sarajevo and an Ashkenazi Holocaust survivor, Lisa Alcalay Klug is well-rooted in her Judaism. But for those members of the Tribe less informed about their Hebraic history, Klug has compiled a nearly inch-thick handbook to bring young (and old) Jews up-to-speed.
Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe goes far beyond the Judaic basics to introduce so-called Heebsters (defined as Jews and their non-Jewish friends) to all the “cool” ways in which being Jewish pervades popular culture. Describing the handbook as “edu-tainment,” Klug says she wanted to create a fun way to teach Jews (and non-Jews) about Judaism.
Though she admits there exist other books with the same objective, Klug points out that hers is the only one to include a how-to Jewish gangsta tags (or did you already know how to spell “Jew” with nine fingers?), a color-by-number Lubavitcher diagram (that is disappointingly devoid of color), and a chart to help navigate the Jew-friendly ingredients at a salad bar (iceberg lettuce is clearly a Jewish relative unlike passion fruit which is too reminiscent of the Mel Gibson movie while carrots are a toss-up depending on whether you associate them with the Easter Bunny or the Gefilte Fish).
“I wanted to offer Jewish identity in many different ways,” says Klug who was raised in a traditional family. “I wanted to give voice to the Heebster in everyone…it doesn’t matter if you’re Ashkenazi or Sephardic, if you worked on a kibbutz or you’ve never been inside a yeshiva.”
Photo by Aron Korney.
A 1993 alumna of U.C. Berkeley Hillel, Klug studied journalism in college and made her professional career as a writer. She’s been published in mainstream and Jewish press alike, contributed to The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, written cover stories for Hadassah, Moment and Jewish Living and been recognized for her work by the American Jewish Press Association.
Klug has traveled extensively, researching Jewish neighborhoods across North America (her Top 10 list came out in June) and spent several years living in Israel. She has studied Hebrew, taught Torah Yoga and been a Jewish camp counselor. A regular at Jewlicious Festivals in Long Beach, California, Klug is well-acquainted with a good number of prominent Heebsters. Still, she maintains that her father is “the coolest Jew I know.”
Ezra Klug was near death in Buchenwald, Germany, when the camp was liberated in 1945. His parents and sister were exterminated in Treblinka, Poland. Fifty years after the war, Ezra Klug was reunited with the man he considers his liberator, Rabbi Herschel Schacter, at Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles. Schacter, a then-recently ordained military chaplain from New York, entered Buchenwald with American soldiers on April 12, 1945. Klug says her father has never forgotten the sounds of Schacter’s voice, booming in Yiddish through a bullhorn: “I’m a rabbi, you can trust me.”
And then, “Ihr zent frei.” You are free.
Rabbi Hershel Schacter conducts Second Passover services for Buchenwald survivors shortly after liberation.
“My father always inspired me to ‘never, ever be ashamed of being Jewish,’” says Klug. “That message of Jewish pride and celebrating Jewish culture is infused into my book. I call it a 250-page antidote for self-hatred.”
In 2000, Klug traveled to both Poland and Germany with her father, documenting his life story through film and photography.
“I want to encourage people to find their own way in,” she says of the book. “It’s a great way to learn and entertain yourself but it can also open up doors of being Jewish that you can explore in your life beyond the book.”
To that end, Klug is working with several local Hillels this fall to bring Cool Jew to campus. Klug will be at Colgate University on September 16 and UCLA on November 6 with other readings and book signings planned for Michigan, Florida, New York City and Montreal.
“My prayer for the book,” says Klug. “Is that it will help people get to a deeper, more meaningful, more celebratory place in their Jewish identity and Jewish experience.”