A Steady Glow: Three Local Writers Shine with New Books


A Steady Glow: Three Local Writers Shine with New Books

Miriam Hendeles, Joan Ziff, and Kylie Ora Lobell

Best Foot Forward: How a Broken Bone Changed My Life Forever
Miriam Hendeles

Bubby and Zayde Talk
Joan Devorah Ziff

Jewish Just Like You
Kylie Ora Lobell, Illustrated by Barbara Mendes 

By Devorah Talia Gordon

In my work as a freelance writer, I have the privilege of encountering many inspiring people. While unique in their creative endeavors, these three women share a commitment to professional and personal growth, emitting a steady glow as they go forward, step by step, on their missions.

Miriam Hendeles has accomplished much in her life, including being a mother and a grandmother, a sought-after music therapist, a writer for various Jewish publications, and author of the book, Mazel Tov! It’s a Bubby! For a “doer,” like Miriam, it was a shock when she slipped on black ice and broke her ankle the day before her son’s wedding on February 16, 2014.

Miriam had never broken anything before; now she would be in a cast for the wedding. While that was hard enough, Miriam ran into complications and needed to be non-weight bearing for nine months, not the typical ten weeks. It took Miriam a full year to be back to herself and her new book, Best Foot Forward: How a Broken Bone Changed My Life Forever, is a chronicle of her journey back to health.

Crafted primarily the year after the fall, Miriam wrote of her challenges and victories; her interactions with family and friends, doctors, and physical therapists, in an attempt to deal with her pain and provide chizuk for those in similar situations. “The book is about how I kept up my spirits, the ups and downs…It does have a happy ending, I end up with the right doctor and the right shliach, but every case is different.” The universal messages Hendeles conveys apply to any medical issue that forces one to stop and be in bed, like accepting help, being OK with crying, and finding the silver lining.

While recovering (“I was in that room for nine months!” Miriam quips), writing kept her busy, along with fixing up her blog, learning needlepoint, and composing lyrics for five songs, which are up on her site. (miriam-hendeles.com). Sadly, Miriam’s father, Shalom Stern (Shalom Ben Shlomo Halevi), passed away in September of that year. Her father’s final months and their relationship contributes a rich subplot to her book; the book is dedicated to his memory.

Miriam’s writing is conversational, reflecting Miriam’s warmth and ease with people. Sometime after Pesach, she looks forward to an evening for LA women, where she would present and sign books, likely encompassing a fun music therapy activity.

Educational therapist, musician, and writer Joan Ziff – Joanie as she’s known to her friends — has many grandchildren, k’ah, the oldest of whom is fourteen. About three and a half years ago, Joanie took a writing class, and the teacher encouraged her students to write about things that were close to their hearts. “I started to write stories for my grandchildren,” Joanie said. “Each week I would bring a story, some of them happened and some were embellished. My grandchildren kept asking me when my stories would be finished!” During Covid, Joanie had the time and focus to finish the project and, since she had taken many art classes and always “dabbled in art” also created the whimsical illustrations.

Bubby and Zayde Talk is her first book, a compilation of short stories for the early reader. Ziff’s vast experience as an educational therapist informed her writing, making the stories readable with a slight, strategic challenge for the emerging reader. While the book is not Jewish, per se, it is highly informed by yiddishkeit; it is wholesome, demonstrating good middos and infused with Jewish values. While Joanie wrote for her grandchildren, she modeled the Bubby character after her own grandmother, with whom she was exceptionally close.

Joanie is also a musician; she started playing piano at five, cello at eight, and was involved in musicals, singing, dancing, and all sorts of arts. “Melodies transcend, taking tefillah to another level. Music can imbue a room with a feeling of kedusha. I strongly believe we need to include music as a serious subject of study in our children’s education.” In one of the stories, Bubby Rose plays her cello for her granddaughter, and explains the beauty of perek Shira as, “Every living thing has a song that sings to each of us.”

A couple of months ago, Joanie’s friends hosted a book release party for Joanie, on Zoom, who read from the book and played her cello. About twenty women attended, and of course, her grandchildren were there, too. Joanie’s second book about Bubby Rose is in the works.

While writing, copywriting and marketing are the bread-and-butter for Kylie Ora Lobell, her recent children’s book is not someone else’s story, but her own.

Originally from Baltimore, Kylie moved to New York for Journalism school and met her husband, comedian Daniel Lobell. Although Daniel had left Torah observance due to negative experiences in the Jewish community, one Friday night he asked Kylie to join him for Friday night dinner at the local Chabad. She was looking forward to the challah, chicken and kugel, but it was the warmth of the rabbi (with the very long beard!), his speech, and the others present that made the strongest impression on Kylie.

She knew she had to go back.

Thus began Kylie’s conversion process, enabled by Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum of the Greenpoint Shul in New York, where she took classes. Daniel began his journey back to observance, with an adult perspective and the freedom to shape his Judaism. Kylie’s conversion culminated in 2015 with a halachic conversion in Los Angeles, where the couple had settled in the Pico-Robertson area.

Soon after her conversion, Kylie discovered that there weren’t any books for the children of converts. Kylie jumped in to fill the gap and wrote Jewish Just like You. Rapper Zach Sherwin assisted in refining some of the language, and local artist Barbara Mendes illustrated the book. When Kylie began to shop it around, she either got deals that she didn’t like, or was asked to change something. Not willing to change her vision, Lobell self-published the book on Amazon, while local writer and calligrapher Rae Shagalov helped her design the cover and format the book.

Since the book’s publication several months ago, Lobell has spoken for synagogues, conversion programs and shuls (either on Zoom or outdoors). “My biggest nachas is when I can touch the hearts of those who converted or their spouses. Conversion can be lonely. Some people don’t want to talk about it. My book helps people start conversations around it and demystify it.” 

And soon, Kylie’s seventeen-month-old daughter, Tzofia, will be able to read the book that her mother wrote for children just like her.

The books are available at your local Jewish bookstore and on Amazon; Best Foot Forward is also sold through the publisher’s site israelbookshoppublications.com.