For the past three years, Eve and Larry Yudelson have used their Teaneck home as a base for Ben Yehuda Press, a family-owned publishing company that now boasts 13 titles.
But it’s only on Labor Day that "we get to use our backyard for a change," said Larry Yudelson. On Sept. 3, the couple will build a stage, set up a sound system, and host a "literary hootenanny" to kick off its fall season.
"Just as a hootenanny throws voices together bringing together the folk songs and the music of America the Ben Yehuda Press Literary Hootenanny brings forth the song of American Jewish creativity," said Yudelson.
It was on Labor Day ‘005 that Ben Yehuda Press released its first title, "Torah & Company," by Rabbi Judith Abrams. At this year’s event, selected authors will present excerpts from their published and forthcoming books and the Yudelsons will unveil their full collection, "from fiction to poetry, to Torah study, Jewish scholarship, memoir, and biography, and with authors including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist rabbis, as well as socialists, Yiddishists, Kabbalists, agnostics, and atheists."
"We don’t really have a niche," said Yudelson. "We think of ourselves as an old-fashioned press," he added, citing the example of Shulsinger Bros., an independent publishing house that set up shop in the early decades of the ‘0th century, beginning with one linotype machine. "We’re not a ‘one-denominational’ list," said Yudelson, noting that he doesn’t know of any other Jewish publishing company that prints both secular works and biblical text studies.
Yudelson said that his wife, Eve, brings editorial skills to the company, while he contributes technical expertise. He pointed out that all manuscripts need to be read several times a task the couple share, and for which they "draft" some of their five children, who range in age from 5 to 18.
"We enjoy having books the family can read at the Shabbat table," he said.
Among those at this year’s Labor Day event will be Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, professor of midrash at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who will be reading from his first novel, "A Delightful Compendium of Consolation: A Fabulous Tale of Romance, Adventure and Faith in the Medieval Mediterranean." In addition, Teaneck resident Barry Lichtenberg will be on hand to read from the work of his wife, journalist Rifka Rosenwein, who died in ‘003 at the age of 4’. Yudelson, who worked with Rosenwein, said he is especially pleased to have an opportunity to make Rivka "look good in print," the way she did for him when she edited his work at JTA.
Also reading will be Lawrence Bush, editor of Jewish Currents, who will offer selections from "Waiting for God: The Spiritual Reflections of a Reluctant Atheist"; Isidore Century, author of "Poems From the Coffee House of Jewish Dreamers"; Yori Yanover, reading from "The Cabalist’s Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption"; and Rabbi DovBer Pinson, who will read from his forthcoming work, "3′ Paths: A Concise Guide to Awakening through Kabbalah." According to Yudelson, Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, chair of the departments of Bible and Jewish Thought at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, may also attend to read from the YCT "Tanakh Companion to the Book of Samuel."
Yudelson pointed out that while last year’s celebration included author readings, not all publications had been available. This year, he hopes to have all books on hand for authors to sign. In addition, guests will have an opportunity to ask questions of each author.
Yudelson said he is gratified by the response to his publications. Not only has the YCT Tanakh Companion been doing extremely well, he said, but "Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land," by Rabbi Shefa Gold, was named by Beliefnet as one of the best Jewish books of ‘006.
The publisher pointed out that the company’s books span a wide range of interests. Among the voices to be "channeled" through the readings, he said, are "the voice of a teenage girl in medieval Cairo, the voice of a young woman fighting for the poor in NYC during the Great Depression, and the voice of one of our neighbors here in Teaneck, wrestling with the shadows of the Holocaust, 9/11, and her own cancer."
The hootenanny will take place at the Ben Yehuda Press home office, 430 Kensington Road, Teaneck, at ‘ p.m. The event is free and open to the general public.