Interview: Henry Herz Helped Create B’Nai Mitvah Book To Increase Jewish Representation In KidLit

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Henry Herz is an author of many children’s books, middle grade, young adult, and adult short stories in multiple genres. And, he recently coedited an anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories, which debuts April 19. It includes writings from 13 Jewish authors, in hopes of providing a mirror for Jewish kids to see themselves. A portion of the proceeds will go to organizations that fight antisemitism.

Herz wrote a fictional entry for the book about a bar mitzvah on Planet Latke. The hilarious story includes a nod to the TV show Seinfeld. When I asked why he writes books, Herz said, “… because I love it.” Read more of the interview below!

Question: How did you get chosen to write for Coming of Age?

Answer: I’m friends with middle grade author Jonathan Rosen. He had the idea of doing an anthology because there seemed to be a lack of inclusion for Jewish-centric stories. It would be nice for Jewish kids to see themselves or others like them in print, he reasoned. So, the project was intended to increase Jewish representation in KidLit and to combat anti-Semitism. Jonathan and I brainstormed on social media and decided to co-edit the project. Of course, I wanted to contribute a story.

Q: I see you have degrees in engineering? What was the transition from studying engineering to becoming an author?

A: I think the most applicable term would be non sequitur. My engineering degrees were relevant to careers in web application development and process improvement consulting. I had never written fiction. When my sons were young, I wrote a story to get them interested in fantasy, my favorite genre. Little did I know that I would discover the joy of writing for kids by mistake as a middle-aged man. I kept honing my craft and eventually became traditionally published. Who knew?

Q: What inspired you to write your Coming of Age entry about a bar mitzvah on another planet?

A: I love science fiction and humor. The idea of having tentacled aliens experiencing the same ups and downs of a bar mitzvah on Earth struck me as having solid comedic potential. My story portrays Schlimazel, an alien on Planet Latke choosing a mitzvah project to impress his crush, and learning an important lesson in the process. I added some Yiddish terms and a few winks at the Seinfeld TV series for additional comic relief. It even has a STEM author’s note.

Q: What was your bar mitzvah experience like?

A: I had a pretty vanilla traditional Conservative bar mitzvah. I know, what a maverick! Although I was mortified at the thought of singing in public, it all worked out fine. Nothing like the b’nai mitzvahs in Coming of Age.

Q: How did you feel about your faith when you were a kid? How about now?

A: I’ve gone through three phases of religious observance throughout my life. As a kid, my religion was imposed by loving parents – attending religious school, preparing for my bar mitzvah, etc. When I hit college, I went through a logic-drivel agnostic phase. As an adult, I was drawn back to the wisdom of Jewish teachings and practices. My sons had b’nai mitzvah, and I hope their future kids will too.

Q: Why do you write books?

A: I write because I love it. I’ve always been an avid reader of fiction, particularly fantasy and sci-fi. I may be an engineer by education, but I’m also blessed with a vivid imagination. Coming up with weird creatures and surprising situations is great fun. And knowing my work will inspire kids to read, discover their own passions, and have a positive impact on their life is quite rewarding. Kids are like tiny seeds and books are water and fertilizer to help them grow.

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