I was saddened to learn that Rochelle Distelheim recently passed away. I met Rochelle two years ago this summer at Max and Benny’s. She gave me her book, Sadie in Love, which she called her labor of love. She had been working on it for a long time. Now at age 90, Rochelle was thrilled that it, her first novel, had been finally published.
Rochelle invited me to read the book and come to her upcoming presentation at The Book Stall, the wonderful independent bookstore in Winnetka. She mentioned that she would like to present at our book series at Max and Benny’s in the future, but she would like me “to see her in action” before I commit to that.
I read Sadie in Love, and absolutely loved it. Set on the Lower East Side of New York City in the early 1900s, the book captivated me. It was a bittersweet tale of a widow’s trials and tribulations, and her search for love.
The book was carefully crafted. And why shouldn’t it be? Rochelle had an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at the University of Illinois and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill. She had published short stories in journals and anthologies. She had taught Creative Writing at Mundelein College.
Rochelle’s event at the bookstore was packed. It turned out that she had been involved in several writers’ groups, over the years, on the North Shore. Many of her writer friends and colleagues came out to see and support her as she discussed her labor of love.
A few days after the event, I received a lovely handwritten note from Rochelle. She thanked me for attending and informed me that she sold 103 books that day at The Book Stall. Needless to say, I booked her for the first available opening at Max and Benny’s about six months later in February 2019.
The format for the Max and Benny’s event was a conversation between Rochelle and me. I became aware that the projection of Rochelle’s voice was not as strong as it was last August. Yet, Rochelle’s intelligence, charm and humor came through loud and clear, and the full house at the restaurant thoroughly enjoyed the lively conversation.
Right before the onset of the pandemic, I received another note from Rochelle indicating that her second novel, Jerusalem as a Second Language, was going to be published this fall. We confirmed a date for our next literary salon, a term that she preferred, in late October.
Well Rochelle, that literary salon will not take place. But your life was truly an inspiration to me and so many others. I am honored to have known you. You were, like your beloved Sadie, a lady of great character and substance. Your memory will always be a blessing.
There was quite a buzz at Max and Benny’s last evening. Cubs radio announcer Pat Hughes and the Score AM 670 radio baseball maven Bruce Levine were there to talk about the White Sox and Cubs. Back in the day this was called talking the Hot Stove League. The Iowa caucus fiasco happened the night before, and this was the evening of the State of the Union speech, but the 160 people who assembled at Max and Benny’s just wanted to talk baseball.
Will the Cubs really trade Kris Bryant? Will the Sox Luis Robert become the next Rickey Henderson? These were some of the burning questions that the Hot Stovers asked Pat and Bruce. I ran around the room with my mic chasing down the questions. I made sure that there was a nice balance of Sox and Cubs questions, as some of the Sox fans worried that Pat’s presence might result in a more favored status for the North Siders.
Although most of attendees, like myself, were from the Ernie Banks and Nellie Fox era, there were a couple of youngsters present who tossed out great questions. A young man answered a Cubs trivia question and won a pair of Cubs game tickets.
The ninety-minute program went by in a flash. Pat and Bruce, pros as they are, provided cogent insights and an impressive knowledge of the game. Nobody seemed to be rushing out early to see the end of the State of the Union speech.
All of us who were there last night left with the feeling that we experienced something very special. We walked out of the restaurant into the mid-winter cold heading to our cars with contented smiles, knowing that April is just around the corner.
In this modern age of ours, we are constantly dealing with the issue of digital device obsession with children. This is why Devorah Heitner’s book “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive)in Their Digital World” is timely, informative and helpful. Devorah, who has her doctorate in Media/Technology and Society from Northwestern University, stresses in her book that our kids need strong mentorship in this connected world we live in. Developing these mentorship strategies as parents, grandparents and teachers is key in helping young people to succeed and become engaged in families and society. Devorah is the featured speaker at Max and Benny’s on Monday evening, May 22. Her presentation begins at 7:00 pm. Her book is being sold by our friends from the Book Bin that evening. The event is free and open to the public.
Renee Rosen is one of my favorite contemporary authors writing novels based on Chicago social history. Her 2014 book, What the Lady Wants, brilliantly tells the story of Marshall Field, both as the great Chicago businessman, as well as a man deeply conflicted in his personal life. Renee’s recently published book, Windy City Blues, is a tale of an interracial love affair set in the context of Chicago’s iconic Chess Records and the Civil Rights movement. I will be facilitating two events with Renee this month. On Saturday morning, April 22, at 11:00 she will be discussing What the Lady Wants at the Cliff Dwellers book club at 200 S. Michigan Avenue downtown. Two days later, on the evening of April 24, at 7:00, Renee is the featured author at the Max and Benny’s book series where she will be presenting on Windy City Blues. Both of these events will be well attended, so if you plan to go to one or both, please contact me for further information on reserving a place at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the Comment section of this post.
What motivated a nice Jewish young man from Northbrook to move to Japan for fifteen years and become a debt collector there? Well Steven Gan has just written his tell all first book, “Making It & Breaking It in Japan” relating his commercial adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun. Some of these adventures were indeed perilous as Gan confronted the Japanese Mafia. He even wound up in the clink in Tokyo. But now Gan is back in Northbrook, safe and sound, and he will tell his story at Max and Benny’s on Monday evening, March 27, starting at 7:00 p.m. Come early to get a good seat and eat before the presentation.
There have been many Jewish authors series over the years in the Chicago area at synagogues,community centers and public libraries. Some have been successful; others have not. So when I proposed to my cousins Lester and Ben Schlan five and half years ago, that I start a Jewish authors series at Max and Benny’s, the iconic restaurant/deli that they own in Northbrook, I thought that they might be a bit hesitant, given that people will be eating and the kitchen would be bustling with its attendant noises while the author is speaking. Yet they enthusiastically gave me the green light to get the series going.
I asked my friend, the distinguished author Marlene Targ Brill to kick it off with her recently published book on teen-age labor activist Annie Shapiro.That appearance was a success, the noise level and other obstacles were tolerable, and since then the series has continued to grow. At first, we did maybe four or five presentations a year; now we do one monthly. Before this year ends, our 2016 series attendance will exceed a thousand.
I’m even considering approaching Lester and Ben with the idea of special sandwich items named after some of our finest authors, past and present. How about the Philip Roth, a pastrami on challah bread, a sandwich that even Portnoy wouldn’t complain about?
Our next featured speaker is Barry ZeVan. who will be discussing his memoir My Life Among the Giants, on September 19. The presentation starts at 7:00 p.m. and most people come early to get good seats and eat before the program begins.
Richard Cahan is the featured speaker at the Jewish Authors Series at Max and Benny’s on Monday evening, June 20. The program starts at 7:00 pm. Cahan will discuss his latest book, Richard Nickel: Dangerous Years—What He Saw and What He Wrote, which he co-authored with Michael Williams. The book relates the amazing story of Richard Nickel, the architectural photographer who many consider to be the founder of Chicago’s historic preservation movement. Max and Benny’s is located at 461 Waukegan Road in Northbrook. Please email me at email@example.com if you plan on attending.
The Incidental Spy is another fascinating historical thriller by Libby Fischer Hellmann who is the next featured speaker on the evening of November 23rd at the Chicago Jewish Authors Literary Series at Max and Benny’s. The event is free and the presentation starts at 7:00 pm. The Incidental Spy tells the story of young Lena Bentheim who flees Nazi Germany for Chicago in 1935, leaving her family and boyfriend behind. After learning English, she eventually meets and marries another German refugee scientist and has a child. Then tragedy strikes, and Lens is forced to spy on the nuclear fission experiments at the University of Chicago. Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington D.C. and moved to Chicago thirty-five years ago. She now has written twelve novels and twenty short stories, and has established herself as one of Chicago’s premier crime/mystery/espionage authors. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need more information or if you wish to rsvp for the event.
The lineup is now set for the next five presenters at the Chicago Jewish Authors Series at Max and Benny’s. And an amazingly talented and diverse group of authors it is. The authors and the featured books are:
October 19-Dina Elenbogen, author of Drawn from Water: An American Poet, an Ethiopian Family, an Israeli Story
November 23-Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of The Incidental Spy
January 25-Ronald Balson, author of Saving Sophie
February 22-Karen Kaplan, author of Rajgrod: Learning to Forgive
March 28-Ina Pinkney, author of Ina’s Kitchen: Memories and Recipes from the Breakfast Queen
We anticipate big turnouts for all authors. Preregistration for all events is required. An email announcing the event will be sent out through a Max and Benny’s email. If you are not on the Max and Benny’s email list, please contact me at email@example.com and I will add you to the list.
Lisa Barr will be speaking at the Chicago Jewish Authors Series at Max and Benny’s on Monday evening, April 20th, at 7 pm. Lisa’s amazing novel, Fugitive Colors, relates the unlikely journey of a young Orthodox Jewish man from Chicago’s West Side to the art salons of Paris and Berlin in the turbulent days leading up to the Second World War. Booklist calls Fugitive Colors “masterfully conceived and crafted. Barr’s dazzling debut novel has it all: passion and jealousy, intrigue and danger.” Lisa Barr has been a journalist for more than 20 years. She has served as an editor for the Jerusalem Post and later became managing editor of Moment magazine and a staff reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. Please rsvp for the event by contacting me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 847-542-4624.