Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider

I am very pleased and honored to host my friend Stacia Friedman today. Her two very funny and very Jewish novels TENDER IS THE BRISKET and NOTHING TOULOUSE: A FEDORA WOLF TRAVEL MYSTERY are now available on Amazon. (See at end for links to order.)

Here is Stacia’s take on trying to get published and why agents didn’t think her works were marketable. Buy her books and prove the naysayers were wrong!

Stacia Friedman

For almost twenty years, I’ve been paid to have a bad day. I write humorous essays. My subject matter comes from personal experience. The more painful in life, the funnier on the page. Starting with the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1996, I’ve turned the loss of jobs, lovers, and pubic hair into hilarious stories. But when my eighty-four-year-old mother Ceil was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I couldn’t translate her suffering – or mine – into laughter.

Several years after her death, I found myself smiling at things my mother had said, right up until the very end. Yiddish was her first language. When Ceil opened her eyes in a Catholic hospice and saw a nun standing over her bed playing a harp, her response was colorful and, frankly, unprintable. And, so, I did something that had seemed impossible while my mother was alive. I started to scratch the surface of dementia for the humor that lies just beneath the pain. It didn’t feel like writing, as much as taking dictation. I heard my mother’s Yiddish-inflected voice and she wouldn’t shut up. Mom made it clear: her story couldn’t be squeezed into a five-hundred word essay. She demanded an entire novel.

Stacia and Mom

Stacia and Mom

My approach wasn’t strictly autobiographical. I didn’t want to be sued by my relatives, most of whom are lawyers. I set the story in Manhattan, not my native Philadelphia, and gave myself a cross-dressing brother and two lovers. Why not? None of the characters are me. And yet they all are. Including my mother.

In writing her story, I realized that in losing my mother, I lost an entire world. A world with its own language, curses, dirty jokes, artery-clogging foods and garlic-scented hugs. My grandparents came from Belarus to Philadelphia and lived their entire lives in a South Philly enclave where speaking English was an option that they pointedly ignored. As a result, my mother, who was born here, had to repeat first grade. She didn’t know her A, B, C’s. She only knew her Aleph, Base, Gimmel.

I was always puzzled by the conscious choice of that generation to turn their mother tongue into a dead language, to purposely not teach it to their children. I didn’t see it happening in families of Italian, Greek or German descent. I wondered what was so shameful or unsuitable about Yiddish that they chose to discard it like fish on the third day. The answer I got was, “We wanted to be American.” As a result, when we went to the Catskills in the 1960s and the comedian’s punch line was in Yiddish, my mother would howl with laughter, tears streaming down her face, while my sister and I begged to know what he had said. “I can’t translate!” Mom would cry.

In the process of writing about my mother, I didn’t hesitate to use the Yiddish that peppered her conversation. However, when I submitted my manuscript to literary agents, their first comment was, “It’s too funny. Too Jewish.” One high-powered agent barked, “Get rid of the Yiddish!” I was mystified. Novels about growing up in Iran and Nigeria were climbing the Best Seller list. What was it about being Jewish in the 21st Century that wasn’t PC?
Eventually, friends convinced me to self-publish on Amazon. Some people say it isn’t really published because I’m not getting an advance.

I know what Mom would say. But I can’t translate.



Comments on: "TOO FUNNY! TOO JEWISH! by Stacia Friedman" (11)

  1. Enjoyed the interview Ilene! Stacia Friedman and her mom sounds like a hoot!

  2. From pone Jewish jente to another: wonderful! I enjoyed every word, can’t wait to BUY and read your books. Advance or no advance, published is published.

  3. There are always those agents, publishers even book store owners who say that your novels are too personal, too whatever. I’m glad you took steps to prove them wrong. Beryl

  4. I try to use Yiddish (the little I know) whenever it’s appropriate, and love the opportunity to translate for my non-Jewish friends. Your mother sounds like she was terrific.

  5. Your mom’s story sounds wonderfully relevant to this daughter of another “burier” of Yiddish [my father and mother talked to each other in Yiddish in order to keep secrets from my brother and myself. Published is published! I look forward to reading your published book.

  6. In this day being told too Jewish! Congradualtions.

  7. marilynlevinson said:

    Ilene and Stacia,
    I loved reading this blog. There are a few Yiddish words in my mysteries, words I assume my readers will know or simply understand from the context. So many Yiddish words are part of our everyday vocabulary. Or so I assumed. When an editor asked me if I thought readers would know the word “shiva,” I knew she wasn’t from the northeast.

  8. Having enjoyed Illene’s writing, I say you can’t be too funny or too Jewish. Go for it and entertain!

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