General CCAR News Rabbis

Behind the Scenes of CCAR Press

With Biennial approaching, it’s time we get to know each other a little bit better. Most of us know each other by name (from emails), by voice (from calling) and perhaps maybe in person (CCAR convention and other meetings). However, even after working for over two years at the CCAR Press, I still feel like we don’t really know each other. I thought it’s about time to reveal more about how CCAR Press sees our mission as part of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. So welcome to “behind the scenes of CCAR Press”…

CCAR Press is a publishing house, and like every other publishing house, we aim to create and print books, and (hopefully) sell them. However, since we are a non-profit organization, part of a bigger non-profit, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, we have further responsibilities as well. And after over two years at the job, I feel that I have taken upon myself as a mission some of these responsibilities.

Growing up in Israel, I didn’t know the Reform Movement very well. Rabbi Person still laughs at me sometimes after a remark I make about the movement… She claims I still have the Israeli “stigma” about the Reform movement, but I’m certainly getting to know it better! When I moved to NYC over two years ago (I’m half Israeli and half American), I was looking for a job in my field, communications. I thought a publishing house would be a good fit. Little did I know what I was getting myself into… Not in a bad way of course, just different than what I expected. My position as Sales and Marketing Associate is first and foremost a “Community Outreach Coordinator”. We are here to serve a community. But who is our community?

cover_thesacredtableCCAR Press is launching our new Book Clubs and Adult Study Groups Catalog this month. The purpose of this new initiative is three fold (forgive me, that’s how things are usually divided in the IDF, old habits die hard): 1. Encouraging people to read and discuss our books, such as the Sacred Table: Creating  A Jewish Food Ethic. 2. Help congregations arrange book clubs and adult study groups to get the community more involved. 3. And yes, sell more books so that we can do more to support rabbis and the communities they serve.

CCAR Press is your source for the Jewish books that will guide, inspire, and challenge you.  Even though reading habits have changed, books are still critically important to our lives and the lives of our communities.  There are many stories about how books contributed to the identity of different communities, but I’m especially inspired by one special story about one special library managed by a very special woman: Rose.

Rose Ernestine was appointed the head of the 135th Street New York Public Library in Harlem in June of 1920. She saw her job as a mission. Being a white librarian in a black neighborhood was not a usual thing back then. Rose insisted on having a staff that consisted of white and black librarians working together, which was rare at the time. She did all she could to influence Harlem, her community. She respected the culture of the black population in Harlem, and she used the library to help the residents connect to their heritage. She ordered books about black culture and history (which eventually led to the purchasing of the famous Schomburg collection), she hosted events and lectures about black culture, she reached out to people at their homes and worked with kids after school to enhance their engagement with their culture. She gave materials and offered a stage at the library auditorium for young inspiring black writers to come and present their work. Rose and her library staff had contributed a lot to the blooming of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and the 1930s. She didn’t work alone. She had volunteers from the neighborhood that helped her reach out to the community. The auditorium at the library was a platform for political debates. Today, the 135th Street library in Harlem, also referred to as the “Schomburg Center”, is the largest source of black history and culture materials in the world.

Back to CCAR in 2013. Who is our community? Well, for one part it is our member Rabbis whom we serve, and who participate with us by serving on committees, working on projects, and attending events.  Another part of our community is the people, congregations, and organizations our rabbis serve.  We don’t have a physical auditorium like that of the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public library, but we do have this forum, RavBlog, to allow our members to come speak at this virtual podium. We can’t arrange our own book clubs and study groups, but we are striving to come up with books, discussion questions (and discounts) to make it easier for the congregations to serve their communities. Like Rose, I believe in the power of books to bring communities and people together.

By the way, Rose did not turn the 135th Street Library to a “colored library” back at the 1920s. It was a regular branch of the New York Public Library. Though focusing on black culture, she thought that it was important to get white people to know more about the black population. She served everybody, and so are we. I often  get phone calls from people wanting to order a book they happened to see at a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or another event, sometimes apologizing to me that they are not Jewish… As long as they are human and can read, everybody is welcome to explore the books of the CCAR Press.

I hope to see many of you at the URJ Biennial in San Diego next week. I’m looking forward to hearing from you how you plant “Roses” in your community gardens.

Ortal Bensky is the Sales and Marketing Associate of CCAR Press.

Books General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism

Fish Forks and Beer Mugs: Choosing the Right Technology for Publishing

The nature of the book has changed dramatically in recent years. From the old standard of signatures of paper, in multiples of 16, 24,or 32, bound between covers and filled with typeset text, we now have ebooks, and PDF’s, and audiobooks, and apps – and that’s just for starters.

There are so many choices about how to produce a book. And yet, the essence of a book in many ways remains unchanged. They remain transmitters of ideas, containers of human experience and expression.

As a publisher, I’m often asked about how we will use technology with any given project. My answer is very simple: In as many ways as possible. For while it’s true that the technology presents us, a publisher using Hebrew text, with real challenges, and while it’s also true that we also have real financial limitations, our goal is always to create as many different versions of a book as we can, taking into account what makes sense for that particular content. For even with all the options we have available today, publishing should not be driven by technology, but rather by content development.

Publishing is no longer focused on the physical manufacturing of objects. But just as has always been true in publishing, content has to be developed carefully, thoughtfully, and creatively. That is our central goal at the CCAR Press. First we need an idea that is right for our core market, an approach that aligns with our mission, and the right team of editors and/or writers. Each project has different specifications and uses, and so allows for different formats. There are technological options we can consider today that weren’t possible last year. Surely that will be the same next year as well, and so on. Some projects, like the Daily Blessing App, are not physical books at all. Some projects, like Mishkan T’filah, exist as a physical book, an App, and in Visual T’filah, and we will continue to develop other versions as technology and finances allow. Mishkan R’fuah: Where Healing Resides, is both a physical book and an ebook. And so on.

iT'filahThere’s a lot of talk in the publishing world about how people are choosing to read today. Publishers carefully study stats about how people are reading, and which demographic is doing what in which medium. But I’m not convinced it’s a competition between formats. Rather, it may be that the more formats, the more we can customize our personal reading experiences.

The other day I was listening to a book on Audible and the voice in my ear said, “In this audiobook you will learn…” which I found rather jarring. For me, the experience wasn’t about listening to an audiobook. I had simply chosen to listen to this specific book, rather than read it. I hadn’t shopped for an audiobook, I had shopped for this particular title. The fact that it was an audiobook was insignificant. The audiobook aspect of the experience was a doorway to step through, on the other side of which was the content of the book. What mattered ultimately was the content, not the format.

Growing up I learned that salad is eaten with one kind of fork, and the main course with another. Dessert might be eaten with yet another. Later I learned that fish has its own kind of fork, and even later was introduced to such specialty items as pickle forks and olive forks.  Think too about glasses – this kind for water, this kind for white wine, this kind for red, and a frosted mug for beer. Each was created to best serve the experience of imbibing that particular food or drink, but in the end, the purpose is all the same: to convey the food or the liquid to your mouth.

So too with different book formats in this age of multiple choice. As a reader, I find myself choosing different formats depending on the content and context. I prefer printed books for poetry, for Torah commentaries, and for cookbooks. Yet I read fiction almost entirely on my iPad. I listen to non-fiction business books on my phone. It’s not a competition between the formats, but rather a matter of which one I prefer for the particular content.

The questions about how to best use technology in publishing are challenging and enormous. Publishers of all shapes and sizes are required to constantly keep learning new skills, and consider new options. But the core of publishing is still about content. For publishers, technology is not the goal, it is merely the means.

Rabbi Hara Person is the Publisher of CCAR Press