The Schmooze

As Jewish as a Hillel Sandwich

Austin Ratner‘s first book, “The Jump Artist,” is the winner of the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:


When I learned about Philippe Halsman’s life-story and determined I would write a novel about him (“The Jump Artist,” 2011 winner of the Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature), I was struck by the contradictions he embodied. Here was a man whom history had ensnared in a frightful way — at the age of 22, he was falsely accused of murdering his father in anti-Semitic western Austria, and he served two years in prison, where he attempted suicide and almost died of tuberculosis. At the same time, here was a man who re-emerged in New York in the 1940s as a photographer — one whose work expressed the playfulness and optimism of post-war life in America on the covers of Life magazine. Halsman himself was by all accounts a secular Jew, but his story and his work are as Jewish as a Hillel sandwich, and represent almost as neatly the opposite poles of pain and joy that define the Jewish historical experience.

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As Jewish as a Hillel Sandwich

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