May 4, 2021

Introduction In the course of my research for my historical fiction book Alina: A Song for the Telling, I happened upon the poetry of Yehuda Halevi, a poet from the 11th century, and felt as if I had come upon a pot of gold. Halevi was a Renaissance man of his time—a renowned philosopher and…

April 2, 2021

Benjamin of Tudela Introduction “Jerusalem […] is a small city, fortified by three walls. It is full of people whom the Mohammedans call Jacobites, Syrians, Greeks, Georgians, and Franks, and people of all tongues. It contains a dying-house, for which the Jews pay a small rent annually to the king, on condition that besides the…

January 30, 2021

Whoever cleans himself in this bath Unites with God And cleanses in one bath His body and soul, as he should. Thomas Murner, Badenfahrt 1514 Whenever I return home from a long trip, one of my first pleasures is to take a shower, appreciative all over again of the luxury of a bathroom that is…

December 19, 2020

The following Christmas tale comes to you from a people who know what it is to live through hard times—and who have managed to retain their dignity and their love and generosity throughout it all. Traditionally in Ukraine the house is cleaned from top to bottom for Christmas, but any spider discovered in the house…

November 8, 2020

Have you ever stumbled over a historical figure and were overcome with the urge to bring that figure to life? That was the case for me when I first encountered Stephen de Sancerre, more properly known Stephen I, the first Count de Sancerre (1133–1190). He became one of the principal characters in my historical fiction…

September 2, 2020

The act of performing with an instrument or on a stage provides a space within which to give voice to thoughts and emotions that might otherwise not be expressed. Many famous actors are shy in real life. Trobairitz, the female counterpart of the troubadours of the 12th and 13th century, may have been familiar with…

July 2, 2020

I have had the great good fortune to fall in love—no, not with a person, though that has happened to me as well. I fell in love with an entire population—community gardeners all over New York City. This love emerged out of a research project about people rehabilitating abandoned buildings through sweat equity labor. As…

June 27, 2020

  Throughout history, Ukraine has been at the crossroads of various powers including Polish-Lithuania, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia. This has been particularly and painfully apparent during the 1930s and 1940s. In the early 1930s, Ukrainian suffered through the Holodomor, a devastating man-made famine created by the Soviets, and resulting in the deaths of…

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