''The King of Shabbos'' reveals all
Submitted to: Books 
Posted: March 08 2007


March 8 2007 (Jewswire.com) - Jewish writer pens spiritual collection of short stories

The tale of how a successful and creative Florida businessman rediscovered his Jewish faith, grew a beard, and became a great provider of joy through

his writing is now in a book.

You might wonder: What leads a man who has gone from Wall Street and being a successful real estate investor, to sit down, grow a beard, and write more than 100 short stories about what it means to be Jewish? In a word, faith.

That's what happened to Stuart Silver, as he

found himself smack dab in the middle of a reconnection with a Judaism that he had only half-understood in his youth and almost completely

neglected as an adult. Faith returned him to his religious roots, and faith drove him to write stories. For Silver — writing under the pen name

Zalman Velvel in his new book ''The King of Shabbos and Other Stories of Return'' (Square One Publishers) — faith remains the strongest foundation of a good life that any of us can find.

In a recent question-and-answer session, the author explained the origins of his writing name, the stories behind his stories, and the

reason he stops to smile at least once a day:

Q. You were born in New York with the name Stuart Silver, but you

write under the name of Zalman Velvel. Why did you change your name,

and what religious significance (if any) is there to the name that you


A. I write under my Jewish name to remind me of who is ultimately

looking down and judging. Also, one of the interesting things about

Judaism is our names — they tell us stories about our families. "Velvel"

comes from my paternal great-grandfather, Rabbi Velvel. He left Russia

in the mid-1800s because his congregation was receiving too much

education. By day, he pounded wisdom into their heads; by night, the

Cossacks did the same—only with clubs. So that's the story of the

tuchus (or "rear end") in my name. As for "Zalman" (the poopic or

"front side" of my name), that comes from my mother's father. He was

known for his lousy jokes and liking food too much. I inherited

strongly from that side of the family, too!

Q. In your stories, and now even in this interview, you use Yiddish

words. Do you find that most Jewish people still have a knowledge of

these words? If not, are you making a conscious effort to re-introduce

these words into Jewish culture again for the next generation?

A. I like using Yiddish words because they sound just like what they

mean—and the jokes just sound funnier with them than without them.

Even if someone doesn't understand Yiddish, they can figure out the

words just from the context and the sound. Tuchus and poopic—can you

think of better words to use?

Q. When did you first start to write? What were the things that moved

you to create stories?

A. I started writing in 1980 in the dusty attic of our first home on a

Xerox word processor that cost $500 a month to rent (a lot of money in

those days). Unfortunately, only Xerox made money on my writing back

then. I started by writing novels, then turned to plays a few years

later, and then turned to short stories around 1995—I guess my writing

has gotten shorter as it's gotten better. Most of my stories start

with a challenging situation that I have experienced, or someone close

to me has experienced. I especially like stories where your heart is

at odds with your head and there is no easy answer. You know, now that

you asked me how I started writing, I just realized my path was the

reverse of Hemingway. He started out short, with stories, and then

went longer by writing novels. As you can see, I have always been

lousy at following good examples.

Q. Speaking of Hemingway, who are some of your favorite fiction

writers? And for that matter, what are some of your favorite stories

from the Old Testament?

A. Sholom Aleichem, William Goldman, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway

are some of my favorite fiction writers. I especially like what

Hemingway had to say about the process of writing, more even than most

of his short stories. My favorite non-fiction writer is God and his

scribe, Moses. I love all the stories in the Old Testament, but some

of my favorites are: Abraham hondeling with God over the requested

sacrifice of his son Isaac's life (this puzzling story of faith is

known as the "Akaydah"); the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the

struggle of the brothers Jacob and Esau; and the mini-novella about

Jacob's eleventh son, Joseph. I especially love the stories in the

Bible that are puzzling and stark—they really give your faith a


Q. What was it in your life that led you to start writing all these

new stories?

A. I think the real question is: Why does anyone sit down and write at

all? When I first started, it was to leave something behind: to say to

the world Zalman Velvel was here and lived. Then it evolved. Now I

have to write. If I go too long without creating a new story, I get

irritable. The act of creation has become important to me. I like

putting words on paper that will enter someone else's heart and make

both of us feel not so alone, even while we revel in our own


Q. In reading your stories, one gets the feeling that your characters

could actually be real people. Are any of your stories based on

real-life people or situations?

A. The vast majority of my stories are based upon real people and

real-life situations. Of course, I mix and match personality traits,

and take license with the events to give the stories a stronger shape

and flow. I believe that a great portion of life does not make sense,

and we seek out fiction to make sense out of it somehow—to help us

feel something consistent. I especially like to make people laugh,

which I seemed to have stopped doing in this interview because you got

me talking seriously about writing—so please stop it! [laughs]

Q. OK, so what's the story behind your beard? It's real, right?

A. Yes, and thanks for getting me back on track. Yes, there's a funny

story behind the beard, and I put that story in the book. It's called

"The Care and Feeding of a Beard." You know, a few years back I

co-wrote and acted in several comedy routines called "Dear Rabbi."

They were performed here in Florida on a local cable show along with

David Saye, a professional comedian. I was the straight man with the

real beard, and he played the Rabbi, with a dimestore Santa Claus

beard. It was probably some of the best fun I've ever had while

writing. David taught me about comedy, and I taught him about

investing in real estate . . . and real beards!

Q. What is it about life that makes you happiest?

A. What makes me happiest are the times when I feel a sense of

fulfillment. It happens maybe once a day, for some precious moments,

when I look around me, at my family and friends and career and I say

to myself, "The guy who lives here is a very lucky guy." I am by no

means a smiling fool, and I tend towards the serious side (perhaps too

much). But that once-a-day moment has remained a good friend.

Q. If the people who read your stories walk away with only one

message, what would you like that message to be?

A. I like when people tell me they have laughed (or cried) because of

one of my stories. That means we have connected, heart-to-heart, and

that's the real message of my work. Faith and emotion—that's what it's

all about . . .

If you would like to interview the author for your publication,

please feel free to contact Anthony Pomes either by phone

(516-535-2010 x 105),

fax (516-535-2014),

or email



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