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‘What if Anne Frank had lived?’ An anthology of alternate Jewish history explores the answers

Concordia grads team up to publish stories that slap back at fate
June 28, 2023
By David Silverberg

woman with long, curly hair and man with short, brown hair wearing black-rimmed glasses hold up a book. Andrea Lobel, PhD 15, and Mark Shainblum, BA 85, co-editors of Other Covenants: Alternate Histories of the Jewish People

A grown-up Anne Frank emigrates to Miami and endures flashbacks to her younger self hiding in an attic. In this story brimming with magic realism, the Holocaust survivor lives a full life in the United States, miles away from the trauma she once faced in a parallel universe.

The story, called “White Roses in Their Eyes”, is written by American author Matthew Kressel and is one of more than 30 contributions to a new anthology of speculative fiction on counterfactual Jewish history. And the book has a strong Concordia connection. Other Covenants: Alternate Histories of the Jewish People (Ben Yehuda Press, 2020) is edited by Mark Shainblum, BA 85, and Andrea Lobel, PhD 15, two native Montrealers who live in Ottawa and co-parent a child together.

The collection of stories and poems stretches the imagination to ponder how Jewish culture may have looked different if certain periods in history had had different outcomes. Contributors to the anthology include Robert Silverberg, award-winning American author and member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, along with a roster of writers from Canada, the United States, Israel, Australia and the United Kingdom.

“The point of alternate history is that reality isn’t fixed — things can happen that aren’t meant to happen, and it can be a slap in the face of destiny and fate,” says Shainblum.

Lobel echoes her co-editor: “What we see in the threads of Jewish history is a lot of darkness and persecution, and a longing for envisioning ‘what could have been’ at critical points in that history is part of our cultural imagination. Like, what if Anne Frank had lived?”

Mining history is nothing new for both Lobel and Shainblum. In 1998, Shainblum co-edited a book portraying similar alternate histories of Canada, and he cited Arrowdreams: An Anthology of Alternate Canadas (Signature Editions, 1997) as inspiration for Other Covenants.

A boost of confidence at Concordia

Book cover with illustration featuring Star of David A new anthology of speculative fiction on counterfactual Jewish history, edited by Mark Shainblum and Andrea Lobel.

Passionate about becoming a religious-studies scholar, Lobel enrolled at Concordia to earn her PhD in religion by studying the oft-overlooked field of the history of astronomy in Judaism. She is also an ordained rabbi who sits on the board of ALEPH Canada, which works to foster Jewish renewal across the country.

With a master’s in information studies from the University of Ottawa, Lobel is now employed as an academic librarian at the university.

She recalls how Concordia professors were flexible and empathetic during a challenging moment for her: After recovering from a c-section delivery, she appreciated the kindness of Ira Robinson, who visited her at her home to offer private tutorials so she wouldn’t miss out on her education.

“He was not just supportive but gave me a lot of confidence, too.” Another mentor, Lorenzo DiTommaso, professor or religions and cultures, was also supportive and encouraging, she adds.

Shainblum additionally has fond memories of his time at Concordia, where he earned a BA in creative writing. “I learned how writing as a lifestyle [was a possibility] and it also showed me the rigours of academic study,” he says.

Raised in the City of Côte Saint-Luc, Shainblum was “the prototypical science-fiction nerd” enamoured with comics, as he remembers. Throughout his life, those two themes have made their mark on his writing career.

A recipient of the Aurora Award for Canadian science fiction, Shaiblum wrote stories and also dove deep into writing comics, including the creation of Northguard, a post-modern Canadian superhero, with illustrator Gabriel Morrissette. Shainblum and Morrisette also came up with the idea for superhero Angloman, a satirical take on the intense politics happening in Quebec at the time of the referendum in 1995.

Shainblum additionally wrote a column for Montreal’s alt-weekly Hour and helped create SMS video games for an entertainment company making content spun out of popular shows and movies such as Jurassic Park and Six Feet Under.

Now a library technician at the Ottawa Public Library, this shift in his career isn’t much of a surprise for Shainblum. “It’s a bit strange to start a new career in my late 50s but I’ve noticed I tend to reinvent myself every 10 years or so.”

As for what future timelines might for the two writer-editors, an upcoming speculative fiction anthology and other creative projects are in development. “Stay tuned,” Lobel says.

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