On March 1, 2023, we had the honor of celebrating the 72nd National Jewish Book Award winners at Bohemian National Hall. Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing the remarks of the winners who spoke at this celebratory dinner. Ellen Frankel is the winner of the Mentorship Award in Honor of Carolyn Starman Hessel.
Mentoring is a reciprocal process, as much about receiving as giving. The Talmud teaches:Harbay lamaditi me’rabotai u‑m’haverai yotair m’rabotai, u‑m’talmidai yotair mekulam. “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my study companions, and from my students, most of all.”
In my eighteen years at the helm of The Jewish Publication Society, I had the privilege and joy of mentoring hundreds of writers, many of them first-time authors like Avivah Zornberg; dozens of staff, board trustees, JPS interns like Miri Pomerantz Dauber and Naomi Firestone-Teeter, professional colleagues, and scholarly advisors. And I learned from them all. Tonight I’d like to single out four of my own mentors.
Dr. Chaim Potok, z”l, occupied my chair as editor-in-chief twenty-five years before me. He taught me the rigors of responsible curation and the boldness of responsible risk-taking. Banker Betsy Cohen, board Trustee, extraordinary donor, and financial genius, taught me how to have a hard head, a soft voice, a strategic eye, and daring ambition in fundraising. Rabbi Gene Borowitz, z”l, taught me how to combine a generosity of spirit with uncompromising integrity, and also how to make space for younger scholars and authors. And Jane Isay, who is here with me tonight, a brilliant trade editor and publisher, and a wise friend, taught me the business. She also provided unstinting moral support when the going got tough.
When I started my job, I commission a calligraphed piece of art from an artist friend. It’s a quotation from Pirke Avot: Eizeh hu m’hubad? Ha‑m’habaid et ha-bri’ot. “Who is worthy of honor? The one who honors others.” I tried to practice this teaching with everyone I met. And lest I forget, the dour portrait of Henrietta Szold, JPS’s first editor, hung across from me on the wall, staring with rabbinic gravitas.
I want to thank the Jewish Book Council for this special honor, named after one of the great mentors in our field, Carolyn Starman Hessel. I am grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to mentor so many others in my publishing career. But to paraphrase the Rabbis: u‑m’talmidai yotair mekulam. From those I have mentored, I have learned most of all.
Ellen Frankel served for 18 years as Editor in Chief of JPS. She received a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Princeton She has published eleven books, most notably The Five Books of Miriam. She has also written librettos for chamber pieces and two operas. She has traveled widely as a Jewish storyteller. The Deadly Scrolls is her first mystery.