Wexler Family Series


Beth Kissileff holds a PhD in comparative literature and literary theory from Penn and has taught at Carleton, the University of Minnesota, Smith and Mount Holyoke. Her novel Questioning Return was started when she finished her dissertation and decided to write the novel she had always wanted to. Of course, the novel turned out to be about... a graduate student writing her dissertation! Kissileff currently works as a freelance journalist; she has also edited and contributed to Reading Genesis a collection of essays by academics on the first book of the Bible. Her short story collection I'm Not Here for Myself is under review for publication and she is at work on a second novel. She is a third generation Penn graduate.


Dr. Avraham (Alan) Rosen is the author or editor of twelve books. He is most recently the author of The Wonder of Their Voices: The 1946 Holocaust Interviews of David Boder (Oxford UP, 2010; updated paper edition 2012), and Sounds of Defiance: The Holocaust, Multilingualism and the Problem of English (U of Nebraska P, paper 2008); and the editor of Elie Wiesel: Jewish, Literary, and Moral Perspectives (Indiana UP, 2013, finalist, National Jewish Book Awards) and Literature of the Holocaust (Cambridge UP, 2013, also a finalist, National Jewish Book Award). His new book, Keeping Time Sacred, Making Time Holy: The Holocaust's Jewish Calendars, is due to appear in the coming months. His current writing, including two books and a number of articles, focuses largely on the legacy of his teacher and mentor, Elie Wiesel. He was a research fellow of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah from 2006-2009. He has also held fellowships at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem; the Katz Center for Advanced Jewish Studies, University of Pennsylvania, and the Archives for the History of American Psychology, University of Akron. In 2013, he served as the Wilkenfeld Scholar in Holocaust Education in Sydney, Australia. He has taught at universities and colleges in Israel and the United States, and lectures regularly on Holocaust Literature at Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies and other Holocaust study centers. Recent lecture venues include Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and a keynote address at a Leeds University conference on "Jewish Exile and the Arts." In Fall, 2017, he is scheduled to receive the Susan Herman Award for Leadership in Holocaust and Genocide Awareness from Kean State University.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, educated in Boston under the direction of Elie Wiesel, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and four children.


Focusing on the visionary work of seven contemporary female Jewish cartoonists, Tahneer Oksman in her book How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses draws a remarkable connection between innovations in modes of graphic storytelling and the unstable, contradictory, and ambiguous figurations of the Jewish self in the postmodern era. American comics reflect the distinct sensibilities and experiences of the Jewish American men who played an outsized role in creating them, but what about the contributions of Jewish women?

TAHNEER OKSMAN is Assistant Professor and Director of the Academic Writing Program at Marymount Manhattan College. In addition to her recent book on Jewish women and comics, Oksman has written on visual culture, women's literature, and Jewish identity for academic publications such as a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, Studies in American Jewish Literature, and Studies in Comics. She also writes reviews and essays for publications and sites including the Forward, Lilith, Jewish Book Council, the Los Angeles Review of Books, BookTrib, and Cleaver, where she is graphic narratives reviews editor.


Leslie Gilbert-Lurie is a writer, lawyer, and philanthropist, whose highly acclaimed memoir, Bending Toward the Sun, was published in 2009. In addition to co-chairing both L.A. County’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Welfare’s Transition Team and Human Rights Watch’s California Committee South, Leslie recently served as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Welfare. Gilbert-Lurie also is a founding member and past president of the Alliance for Children’s Rights, and for fourteen years she also served as a board member and three-time past President of the Los Angeles County Board of Education. Leslie also is a member of Facing History and Ourselves, The Skirball Cultural Center, and the Johns Hopkins School of Education. Leslie spent a decade as an executive at NBC, during which she oversaw NBC Productions and the Comedy division, co-wrote television episodes, and co-founded an in-house production company, Lurie-Horwits productions. As a lawyer, Leslie worked at the law firm of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg and Tunney and served as a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Law Clerk. While at UCLA, she was the Student Regent, on the Board of Regents of the University of California.

about Bending Toward the Sun:

"This book is heartbreaking yet inspiring, a story told by three generations – the grandmother, who is a child survivor, the mother, a successful American professional, and the daughter, full of talent, promise and hope. At its core, this book is a study of how the Holocaust experience wraps itself around each woman – creating extreme fear of separation, setting off depression, filling mind and memory with haunting evil and indefinable ghosts. Yet it also tells us of hard won wisdom for living distilled from pain and loss, of life force driven by the will to overcome suffering, of Jewishness lost and Jewishness reborn, of unquenchable love – all passed on and shared between the generations through the filter of the Holocaust. Gripping, exhausting, exciting, devastating – this book is at times hard to read but always impossible to put down."

-- Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Founding President, Jewish Life Network; former Chairman of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


Peter Cole has been called “an inspired writer” (The Nation) and “one of the most vital poets of his generation (Harold Bloom). He is the author of four books of poetry, most recently The Invention of Influence and Things on Which I've Stumbled. Cole's many translations from Hebrew and Arabic include The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition and The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, c. 950-­1492, which received the National Jewish Book Award and the American Publishers Association's Award for Book of the Year. He has also translated So What: New & Selected Poems, 1971-­2005 by Taha Muhammad Ali and three volumes by Israeli poet Aharon Shabtai, including War & Love, Love & War. He has received numerous honors for his work, including a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, the PEN Translation Prize, and, in 2007, he was named a MacArthur fellow. Born in Paterson, New Jersey, Cole now divides his time between Jerusalem and New Haven.


Joining poet and performer Jake Marmer for an unforgettable performance will be jazz-klez luminaries Frank London on trumpet, Greg Wall on sax, Uri Sharlin on keys, and Eyal Maoz on guitar.

Jake Marmer is a poet and performer. His first record, “Hermeneutic Stomp” (Blue Thread Music, 2013) has featured jazz-klez luminaries Frank London, Greg Wall, Eyal Maoz, and Uri Sharlin, and brought together diverse poetic traditions, jazz, klezmer, new and ancient improvisation techniques. It was hailed as a “soulful narrative line in counterpoint to… language-drunk abstractions” (The Jewish Week), “experience of mystic pleasures… freshly contemporary” (Shofar), and a “thought provoking debut” (All About Jazz). His poetry collection, Jazz Talmud was published by Sheep Meadow Press in 2012. Currently a doctoral candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center, he lives in Palo Alto with his wife and two children. He frequently contributes to the Forward and Tablet Magazine, and is a co-founder of North America’s first Jewish Poetry retreat at KlezKanada Festival. For more information, see http://jakemarmer.wordpress.com.

Grammy-winning Trumpeter/composer Frank London is the founding member of the Klezmatics, Hasidic New Wave, and has performed with John Zorn, LL Cool J, Mel Torme, Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, LaMonte Young, They Might Be Giants, David Byrne, Jane Siberry, Ben Folds 5, Mark Ribot, Maurice El Medioni and Gal Costa, and is featured on over 100 cds. His own recordings include Invocations (cantorial music); Frank Londonπs Klezmer Brass Allstarsπ Di Shikere Kapelye and Brotherhood of Brass; Nigunim and The Zmiros Project (Jewish mystical songs, with Klezmatics vocalist Lorin Sklamberg); The Debt (film and theater music); The Shekhina Big Band; the soundtrack to The Shvitz; the soundtrack to Perl Gluck's The Divahn and four releases with the Hasidic New Wave.

Greg Wall is a world-class saxophone and clarinet player, as well as a congregational rabbi. He has performed and recorded with Hasidic New Wave, Greg Wall Trio, The Wall/London Band, Neshama Carlebach, the Hi-Tops, Greg Wall's Unity Orchestra, and has made many session appearances for record dates and film scores.

Based in New York City, the Israeli born Eyal Maoz is a sought after composer, guitarist, and bandleader. He’s a Tzadik, Ayler, Out Now and Piadrum Records artist and a member of John Zorn’s Cobra and Abraxas ensembles. Eyal leads his own bands including Edom (Tzadik Records), 9 Volt with Tim Berne, the Maoz-Sirkis Duet, Hypercolor, and the Maoz-Masaoka Duet (with koto player Miya Masaoka).

Composer, accordionist and pianist Uri Sharlin performed collaborations with prominent artists among which are Antony and the Johnsons, Natalie Merchant, Rosy da Palma, Andres Levin, Avi Avital, Frank London, and Flight of the Conchords. Throughout his career, Uri has been strongly influenced by diverse musical genres. In his albums, Uri's jazz and classical background fuses with balkan Rhythms, Arabic modes and Brazilian harmonies. He is currently leading several groups in including the Cardamon Quartet and the DogCat Ensemble.

December 3, 2013: The Holocaust Experience in the Poetry of Paul Celan

Born in Strasbourg, France, Pierre Joris is a poet, translator and essayist.

Pierre Joris is the author of over 40 books. As one of the foremost translators of avant-garde poetry into both French and English, he frequently explores the lesser-known works of both major and obscure experimental poets. His translations include Exile is My Trade: A Habib Tengour Reader (Black Widow Press, 2012); Paul Celan: Selections (University of California Press, 2005); 4X1: Works by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour (Inconundrum Press, 2003); and Pppppp: Kurt Schwitters Poems, Performance, Pieces, Proses, Plays, Poetics (Temple University Press, 1994). Of his translations of Paul Celan, poet Michael Palmer said: "Joris has dwelled during the better part of his life in Celan's words and silences…he has journeyed through the work's intricacies like very few others."

Joris's own poetry, published extensively in chapbooks abroad, has been collected in two volumes, Poasis: Selected Poems 1986-1999 (Wesleyan University Press, 2001), and Breccia: Selected Poems 1972-1986 (Station Hill PR, 1987). He is also a celebrated essayist and editor. In the essay collection A Nomadic Poetics (Wesleyan, 2003), he explores the successes and failings of the avant-garde movement, a subject he surveyed in a two-volume anthology of 20th century avant-garde writings, Poems for the Millennium (University of California Press, 1998), co-edited with Jerome Rothenberg.

He collaborates frequently through dance, multimedia, and music with his wife, the performance artist Nicole Peyrafitte. Twice the recipient of PEN Awards for Translation, he was also the 2003 Berlin Prize fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.

Joris currently lives in New York, where he teaches poetry and poetics at the State University of New York, Albany.

October 15, 2013: Lunch With Holocaust Survivor Irving Roth

Irving Roth was born in Kosice, Czechoslovakia on September 2, 1929. He is a survivor of the Nazi death camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and he dedicates his life to Holocaust education. Mr. Roth is the Director of the Holocaust Resource Center – Temple Judea of Manhasset and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maine. He is a recognized speaker on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and is a frequent lecturer at colleges and universities in the United States, Canada and Europe. As a Holocaust survivor, he provides personal testimony on his experiences during WWII. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his work in Holocaust education and community service, including the Spirit of Anne Frank Outstanding Citizen Award from the Anne Frank Center USA for his brainchild, the Adopt a Survivor program. The program, which puts teens in touch with Holocaust survivors, has been instituted nationally and internationally in public and parochial high schools and colleges. He has written two books one of which, entitled Bondi's Brother, tells the story of his personal experiences before, during, and after the war.

Mr. Roth received a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn and currently resides in Nassau County, NY.

February 9, 2012: Jewish Writers You Wish You Knew About

CURF Summer Intern Alexa Bryn put together a program of seven students and faculty members, who each discussed a Jewish writer you've probably never heard of that they think you should know more about. Andrew Zitcer, Adriel Koschitzsky, Sam Apple, Sarah Gracombe, Al Filreis, Kate Herzlin and Max Apple each had approximately seven minutes to speak. Each of these presenters gave background on their respective writers, and then shared some of their work with the audience. Topics and reactions spanned across a wide spectrum, from audience members singing along to Avrom Goldfaden's lullaby "Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen" to Al Filreis giving a heartfelt analysis of Primo Levi's The Periodic Table, a core book in his Holocaust class and one of his favorite books of all time. Such an inspiring evening of Jewish writers could only be rivaled by the reception, which featured a spread of some favorite Jewish foods!

November 7, 2011: Alan Rosen

What does it mean to say, "I did not interview the dead?" What do you gain or lose in listening to an audio recording of a holocaust testimony, versus watching a video and listening at the same time? Eminent Holocaust scholar Alan Rosen came to the Writers House and posed these difficult questions, inspired by the work of David Boder, to the audience. Boder was one of the first people to conduct and record interviews with survivors, and is the subject of much of Rosen's research. He shared some of these audio recordings – made immediately in the years following World War II – with the audience, as can be heard in this video. Rosen provided respectful and thought-provoking commentary on Boder's intentions and discoveries throughout the process of conducting the interviews. Both the insightful conversation between Alan Rosen and moderator Al Filreis and the challenging discussions with the audience made this an important, emotional event not to be missed.

October 3, 2011: Peter Filkins

Peter Filkins, award-winning poet and translator, visited the Writers House to speak about the literature and experiences of H.G. Adler, whose work Filkins has translated. Adler, a Holocaust survivor, wrote Panorama, a novel in which the protagonist, Joseph, traverses similar obstacles to those Adler faced. Filkins discussed his belief that Adler was one of the first to write about the sociological effects of the Holocaust. In his discussions, Filkins shared his extensive knowledge of Adler's childhood, family, and life during, before and after his time in concentration camps. Filkins also talked about Adler's desire to bear witness to the events in his own writing, and to make his characters more than just victims. When asked about the challenges of translating Adler's works from German to English, Filkins answered honestly and thoughtfully. As he so eloquently put it, "translation is an art of compromise."

April 21, 2011: Sam Munson

Fiction writer Sam Munson joined us for a reading of his novel, The November Criminals, a story of a high school drug dealer who investigates the troubling, mysterious murder of his classmate, Kevin Broadus. The reading from his novel explored risky topics of race, public schools and their rituals, mourning practices, marijuana, and to the audience's amusement, the necessity of sex. As we learned in a witty introduction by Michelle Taransky, Munson's novel is set to be made into a movie; audience members had the opportunity to ask questions about this and other topics generated from his reading. Following this discussion was a creative food reception with references to the novels' cigarettes (candy cigarettes available to munch on), fried chicken (bucket and all provided), and eggs (served as gummy candy).

February 24, 2011: Shahar Bram, Jessica Greenbaum, Bob Perelman, and Rivka Fogel

Shahar Bram is a poet, scholar, and translator. He teaches Hebrew & Comparative Literature at the University of Haifa, specializing in theory and American literature. He is the author of The Ambassadors of Death: The Sister Arts, Western Canon and the Silent Lines of a Hebrew Survivor (translated by Batya Stein), A Backward Look: The Long Poem in the Writings of Israel Pincas, Harold Schimmel and Aharon Shabtay (The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2005), and Charles Olson and Alfred North Whitehead: An Essay on Poetry (translated by Batya Stein, Bucknell University Press, 2004), among other works. His books of poetry include: Walls (Nahar Books, 2008), The Blooming of Memory (Am-Oved, 2005) and City of Love (Carmel Publishers, 1999). His essays, articles and translations have been published in literary journals such as Word & Image, Partial Answers, Connotations, and Salamander.

Jessica Greenbaum was born in Brooklyn where she lives, finally. A graduate of Barnard College and an initiating graduate of the University of Houston's Writing Program, she has worked as a business reporter for Forbes Magazine, a researcher for The Anti-Defamation League's Civil Rights Division, an English Dept adjunct, and as an editor for a magazine-on-tape for people who are visually impaired. She is presently the chief domestic scientist for a family of husband and two teenage girls, and poetry editor of the Massachusetts based annual, upstreet. Her first book, Inventing Difficulty, won the Gerald Cable Prize, and poems from her second manuscript have appeared or are forthcoming in The New Yorker, Poetry, Harvard Review, Ploughshares, The Torah: A Woman's Commentary, CCAR Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly, Nextbook and . . . ZEEK. She is the founder of Foot Traffic Presents, which sells home-made muffins to passersby for charities benefiting girls and women in the third world (mostly), and which raised $1,500 in its first eleven weeks. Last year she was a runner-up to be Brooklyn's Poet Laureate, and that's a good thing because it sounds like it would have been the hardest of all her non-paying jobs to date.

Bob Perelman teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published 19 books of poems, including: IFLIFE (2006, N.Y: Roof); Playing Bodies, in collaboration with painter Francie Shaw (2004, N.Y.: Granary); and Ten to One: Selected Poems (1999, Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press). His critical books are The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History (1996, Princeton University) and The Trouble with Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein, and Zukofsky (1994, University of California). His work can be accessed on Penn Sound.

Rivka Fogel is finishing up her last semester at Penn, where she is the Behrman scholar at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. Her work has been published in various journals including Peregrine and The Brighton Post, and has been featured in Institute of Contemporary Art publications and Arts in the City Crawl. She has poetry forthcoming in The Penn Review and in ZEEK, for which she is also a contributing editor. A past features writer for The Jewish Week, Rivka writes on contemporary art for Art Observed, and was the editor-in-chief of The Kedma Journal, Penn's journal on Israel and Jewish culture. She focuses much of her own research on religion in postwar language theory, and was awarded grants from the Penn English Department and the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships to travel to Jerusalem, where she studied language theory in Orthodox Judaism. Her most recent project, LOL_face, is a web index of identity.

November 16, 2010: Susan Bee

Artist, editor, and designer, Susan Bee, joined us for the Brodsky Gallery opening featuring her pieces. After an introduction by Trisha Low, Bee went on to discuss feminism and Judaism as themes throughout her work. A child of immigrant artists, some of Bee's art centers around her take on American culture, looking at it from what she describes as an "oblique angle". Her unique perspective on womens issues is clear as she simultaneously addresses and wrestles with both the culture surrounding women and expectations of the feminist community. She discussed her extensive work with poets; M/E/A/N/I/N/G, the journal she co-edited which featured writing by artists; and so much more on religion, audience and artist, and feminism in art. As Low says of Bee, her work is "strikingly vocal and always political".

November 1, 2010: Joseph Skibell

Novelist Joseph Skibell visited the Writers House to read from his newest novel, A Curable Romantic, which Max Apple, after providing some information on the plot, hailed as the following: "when you add irony, and comedy, and perfection of language, the result is a great novel". After this introduction from Apple, the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship winner Skibell read from this newest of his three books. Skibell, the director of the Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature at Emory University, has filled the book with such strange and rich illusions as Freud, dybbuks, and Jewish mysticism. The audience was delighted to hear Skibell's own summary of his writing to the tune of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, complete with his own mini-guitar for accompaniment. Indeed, Joseph Skibell is the very model of a Modern Major Novelist.