California Literary Review

Lisa Alcalay Klug: Releasing Your Inner Heebster

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September 15th, 2008 at 9:19 am

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Lisa Alcalay Klug

Lisa Alcalay Klug [Photo by Aron Korney]

Cool Jew by Lisa Alcalay Klug
Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe
by Lisa Alcalay Klug
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 238 pp.

To say that Lisa Alcalay Klug is incredibly busy right now would be an understatement. With the publication of her first book: Cool Jew – The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe, Klug is suddenly caught up in a whirlwind of sneak preview parties, book launches, readings, and, of course, press interviews.

Born into what she says, “In the old days they referred to as a ‘mixed marriage’” (“My mother’s Sephardi, my father’s Ashkenazi”), Klug, whose father is a Holocaust survivor, says her parents are “incredibly proud Jews,” who raised their children in a traditional Jewish home.

She also has an impressive Jewish heritage, with her mother being a descendant of Sephardic Jews from the Balkans, including the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Sarajevo – Yehuda Alcalay, who was credited with influencing many of Theodore Herzl’s ideas regarding the establishment of the Jewish State.

Right now, her parents are “naturally kvelling” (swelling with pride) at the release of Klug’s first book. “I think my mom is single-handedly making the book a bestseller on Amazon and my father is buying a stack for his poker buddies,” she says, laughing.

The veteran San Francisco-based journalist who has written for both mainstream and Jewish press has definitely been bitten by the book writing bug and says she already has several new ideas for books under her belt. Quoting her father, Klug says writing a book is like eating a kosher pickle: “You can’t stop at one.”

But for now, there is only one book and it’s a book that’s all about shouting loudly and proudly that it’s great to be a Jew. The idea for her book came about following an article she wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2005. “I was writing a feature about how cool it is to be a Jew in San Francisco and I profiled local ‘Heebsters’ as I now call them,” she says. Those Heebsters included Jeremy Cowan, who created He’brew Beer, Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain who made The Tribe and Sarah Lefton’s apparel company famed for creating clothing that included “Yo Semite” and “A great miracle happened here” on underwear.

“These were all San Francisco based people and I realized that this trend [of being proud about your Jewishness] was bigger than New York and Los Angeles, it was taking place everywhere,” says Klug. “It showed a common love of Jewish culture, pride in being Jewish, lots of schmaltz and what you could call reverent irreverence. That’s when I came up with the idea of a Heebster Handbook, which fueled my book.”

Indeed three years and 238 pages later Cool Jew was launched. Offering up everything in bite-sized morsels on blue and white pages and in Hebrew-style font, here’s a book where you can discover “A minyan ways you know you are a Heebster”, “Who are Jew”, how to “Recycle, Reuse, Reshmooze,” and the “Top Seven Reasons Jews and Rappers are related.”

“I love where Jewish culture intersects with pop culture,” Klug reveals, confessing she has collected a lot of Jewish tchachkes over the years that somehow made their way into the book (including a Curious George dreidl). “I wanted to showcase what’s happening in contemporary Jewish pop culture and show the breadth and depths of Jewish artists and the diversity of the Jewish people…and to create a multi-cultural voice” she says. To this end, not only does she include her own musings and stories – including the “Headwear Decoder” (or “What the lid says about the yid”), delineating the different forms of headdress worn by different members of the tribe, but she also includes and highlights the work of many Heebsters, including Los-Angeles based “Rabbi’s Daughters” who provide a clothing and accessories line with Yiddish sayings.

As a journalist, Klug says writing a full length book was the equivalent of trying to write 300,000 briefs. “But it was really fun in that it allowed me to use a certain voice that I had developed over the years as a journalist.”

This book covers everything from A-Z (or as it is broken down in the book with the first and last letters of the Hebrew Alphabet: Aleph and Tav): from Jewish holidays to the ubiquitous Kabbalah (or as Klug calls it Kaba lah, lah, lah). There’s so much stuffed into this tome that it can be a little daunting. “You could call me a research-a-holic,” Klug confesses, adding that she stopped writing only when she hit her deadline. Her enthusiasm and drive to help fuel the cool-Jew movement, though is probably rooted in the lessons she has learned from her father.

“My father was so close to death,” she says (he was liberated from Buchenwald buy US troops). “He has so much strength and throughout my childhood he taught me to never be ashamed to be a Jew. One of the coolest things is feeling that I inherited something so beautiful, so fun and meaningful and deep and expansive and ‘meshuggy’”.

And it’s all those things Klug hopes to instill in readers of her book, which she says is for readers of all ages. “I hope it will make people laugh and feel good and identify strongly as Jews,” she says. “And I hope it will give people a sense of strength about who they are. If it leads people to go out and explore their Jewish involvement and identity in new ways and commitment, then this book will be a great success.”

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