Shalom. Welcome to Ofrah's Jewish Book Club, hosted by MyJewishBooks.com
Please browse my recommendations and selections, read a review, or add your own review by clicking an icon or bookcover. The orders are fulfilled by amazon.com; net proceeds are donated to tzedakah. If you want to recommend a charity, please send me an email at Admin@myjewishbooks.com
Ahhh.. if only it were true. No?
oFrah's JULY 2017 SELECTION
The Weight of Ink
by Rachel Kadish
An intellectual and emotional jigsaw puzzle of a novel for readers of A. S. Byatt’s Possession and Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book
Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history.
As the novel opens, Helen has been summoned by a former student to view a cache of seventeenth-century Jewish documents newly discovered in his home during a renovation. Enlisting the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and in a race with another fast-moving team of historians, Helen embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”
Electrifying and ambitious, sweeping in scope and intimate in tone, The Weight of Ink is a sophisticated work of historical fiction about women separated by centuries, and the choices and sacrifices they must make in order to reconcile the life of the heart and mind.
oFrah's JUNE 2017 SELECTION
by Jill Eisenstadt
Thirty years after “From Rockaway” ("A great first novel" --Harper's Bazaar), Jill Eisenstadt returns with a darkly funny new work of fiction that exposes a city and a family at their most vulnerable.
When Sue Glassman's family needs a new home, Sue relents, after years of resisting, and agrees to convert to Judaism. In return, Sue's father-in-law, Sy, buys the family--Sue, Dan, and their two daughters--a capacious but ramshackle beachfront house in Rockaway, Queens, a world away from the Glassmans' cramped Tribeca apartment.
The catch? Sy is moving in, too. And the house is haunted.
On the weekend of Sue's conversion party, ninety-year-old Rose, who (literally) got away with murder on the premises years earlier, shows up uninvited. Towing a suitcase-sized pocketbook, having escaped an assisted living facility in Forest Hills, Rose seems intent on moving back in. Enter neighbor Tim--formerly Timmy (see From Rockaway), a former lifeguard, former firefighter, and reformed alcoholic--who feels, for reasons even he can't explain, inordinately protective of the Glassmans.
The collective nervous breakdown occasioned by Rose's return SWELLS LIKE THE OCEAN’S RISING TIDE to operatic heights in a novel that charms and surprises on every page as it unflinchingly addresses the perils of living in a world rife with uncertainty.
oFrah's MAY 2017 SELECTION
City on a Hilltop:
American Jews and the
Israeli Settler Movement
by Sara Yael Hirschhorn
Harvard University Press
Since 1967, more than 60,000 Jewish-Americans have settled in the territories captured by the State of Israel during the Six Day War. Comprising 15 percent of the settler population today, these immigrants have established major communities, transformed domestic politics and international relations, and committed shocking acts of terrorism. They demand attention in both Israel and the United States, but little is known about who they are and why they chose to leave America to live at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In this deeply researched, engaging work, Sara Yael Hirschhorn unsettles stereotypes, showing that the 1960s generation who moved to the occupied territories were not messianic zealots or right-wing extremists but idealists engaged in liberal causes. They did not abandon their progressive heritage when they crossed the Green Line. Rather, they saw a historic opportunity to create new communities to serve as a beacon?a “city on a hilltop”?to Jews across the globe. This pioneering vision was realized in their ventures at Yamit in the Sinai and Efrat and Tekoa in the West Bank. Later, the movement mobilized the rhetoric of civil rights to rebrand itself, especially in the wake of the 1994 Hebron massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein, one of their own.
On the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 war, Hirschhorn illuminates the changing face of the settlements and the clash between liberal values and political realities at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
oFrah's APRIL 2017 SELECTION
What To Do About The Solomons
by Bethany Ball
Atlantic Monthly Press
From a remarkable new voice in fiction, Bethany Ball, comes a transporting debut; a hilarious multigenerational family saga set in Israel, New York, and Los Angeles that explores the secrets and gossip-filled lives of a kibbutz community near Jerusalem
Meet Marc Solomon, an Israeli ex-Navy commando now living in L.A., who is falsely accused of money laundering through his asset management firm. As the Solomons’ Santa Monica home is raided, Marc’s American wife, Carolyn—concealing her own dark past—makes hopeless attempts to hold their family of five together. But news of the scandal makes its way from America to the rest of the Solomon clan on the kibbutz in the Jordan River Valley. There we encounter various members of the family and the community—from Marc’s self-absorbed movie actress sister, Shira, and her forgotten son Joseph; to his rich and powerful construction magnate father, Yakov; to his former star-crossed love, Maya; and his brother-in-law Guy Gever, a local ranger turned “artist.” As the secrets and rumors of the kibbutz are revealed through various memories and tales, we witness the things that keep the Solomons together, and those that tear them apart.
Building Resilience and
by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
April 24, 2017
A book on grief and loss and recovery, complementing her website and non profit on the same OPTION B theme
From the Facebook COO and one of Wharton’s top-rated professor, the #1 New York Times best-selling authors of Lean In and Originals: a powerful, inspiring, and practical book about building resilience and moving forward after life’s inevitable setbacks.
In 2015 Sheryl Sandberg was on an adults-only vacation with her husband, Dave Goldberg, in Mexico. Their two young children were staying with the grandparents in California. She and Goldberg were friends for six years before dating. Goldberg had quipped that he had to wait nearly six years for Sheryl to realize she was dating jerks (including a former Navy SEAL who slept with a loaded gun) and finally date and marry him. Sheryl fell asleep at the pool, and Dave went to the gym. In a freak accident, he fell at the gym and bled; he died suddenly at the age of 48. Sandberg and her two young children were devastated, and she was certain that their lives would never have real joy or meaning again. Shiva was numbing, later that year, Sheryl needed her mother and sister’s help to make it through her daughter’s birthday party
Just weeks later, after shiva, Sandberg was talking with a friend about the first father-child activity without a father. They came up with a plan for someone to fill in. “But I want Dave,” she cried. She doubted herself and her own parenting skills. Her friend put his arm around her and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of Option B.”
Everyone experiences some form of Option B. We all deal with loss: jobs lost, loves lost, lives lost. The question is not whether these things will happen but how we face them when they do.
Thoughtful, honest, revealing and warm (with footnotes and interviews). For example footnotes referring to “Resilience to Loss and Chronic Grief” or “Family Structure and Children’s Success: A Comparison of Widowed and Divorced Single Mother Families”), Option B weaves Sandberg’s experiences coping with adversity with new findings from Adam Grant and other social scientists. The book features stories of people who recovered from personal and professional hardship, including illness, injury, divorce, job loss, sexual assault and imprisonment. These people did more than recover—many of them became stronger.
Option B offers compelling insights for dealing with hardships in our own lives and helping others in crisis. It turns out that post-traumatic growth is common—even after the most devastating experiences many people don’t just bounce back but actually bounce forward. And pre-traumatic growth is also possible: people can build resilience even if they have not experienced tragedy. Sandberg and Grant explore how we can raise strong children, create resilient communities and workplaces, and find meaning, love and joy in our lives.
Her rabbi in Redwood, CA counseled that friends be supportive and “Lean in to the suck,” don;t avoid grief. Encourage it. Mark Zuckerberg, her colleague, boss, and friend, gave her the room to grieve at work and was supportive, even if she would weep in a meeting. And added bereavement leave to Facebook's corproaate policy)
“Dave’s death changed me in very profound ways,” Sandberg writes. “I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss. But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface and breathe again.”
oFrah's FEBRUARY 2017 SELECTION
This Close to Happy:
A Reckoning with Depression
by Daphne Merkin
February 7, 2017
A New York Times Book Review Favorite Read of 2016. A gifted and audacious writer confronts her lifelong battle with depression and her search for release. This Close to Happy is the rare, vividly personal account of what it feels like to suffer from clinical depression, written from a woman’s perspective and informed by an acute understanding of the implications of this disease over a lifetime.
Taking off from essays on depression she has written for The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, Daphne Merkin casts her eye back to her beginnings to try to sort out the root causes of her affliction. She recounts the travails of growing up in a large, affluent Orthodox Jewish family on Manhattan’s Upper East Side where there was an extreme lack of love and of basics such as food and clothing despite the presence of a chauffeur and a cook. Her mother starved the kids, because she felt guilty that her Israeli relatives were living poor and underfed. Her mother hired an abusive nanny for the kids, so the kids would never love the nanny more than their mother. Merkin fantasized about killing both her parents.
Merkin goes on to recount her early hospitalization for depression in poignant detail, as well as more about her complex relationship with her mercurial, withholding mother. Along the way Merkin also discusses her early, redemptive love of reading and gradual emergence as a writer. She eventually marries, has a child, and suffers severe postpartum depression, for which she is again hospitalized. Merkin also discusses her visits to various therapists and psychopharmocologists, which enables her to probe the causes of depression and its various treatments. The book ends in the present, where the writer has learned how to navigate her depression, if not “cure” it, after a third hospitalization in the wake of her mother’s death.
oFrah's JANUARY 2017 SELECTION
A Really Good Day:
How Microdosing Made a Mega
Difference in My Mood,
My Marriage, and My Life
by Ayelet Waldman
January 24, 2017
A revealing, courageous, fascinating, and funny account of the author's experiment with microdoses of LSD in an effort to treat a debilitating mood disorder, of her quest to understand a misunderstood drug, and of her search for a really good day.
When a small vial arrives in her mailbox from "Lewis Carroll," Ayelet Waldman is at a low point. Her mood storms have become intolerably severe; she has tried nearly every medication possible; her husband and children are suffering with her. So she opens the vial, places two drops on her tongue, and joins the ranks of an underground but increasingly vocal group of scientists and civilians successfully using therapeutic microdoses of LSD. As Waldman charts her experience over the course of a month--bursts of productivity, sleepless nights, a newfound sense of equanimity--she also explores the history and mythology of LSD, the cutting-edge research into the drug, and the byzantine policies that control it. Drawing on her experience as a federal public defender, and as the mother of teenagers, and her research into the therapeutic value of psychedelics, Waldman has produced a book that is eye-opening, often hilarious, and utterly enthralling.
oFrah's NOVEMBER 2016 SELECTION
By Alice Hoffman
(author of The Marriage of Opposites)
November 1, 2016
Simon & Schuster
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.
Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.
What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.
Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.
Alice Hoffman’s “trademark alchemy” (USA TODAY) and her ability to write about the “delicate balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary” (WBUR) make this an unforgettable story. With beautifully crafted prose, Alice Hoffman spins hope from heartbreak in this profoundly moving novel.
oFrah's OCTOBER 2016 SELECTION
Where the Jews Aren't:
The Sad and Absurd Story of
Birobidzhan, Russia's Jewish
(Jewish Encounters Series)
by Masha Gessen
August 23, 2016
It was the place built for Jews, at the Biro and Bidzhan rivers, 4000 miles East of Moscow, near China, but then the waves of arrests came... and it is a place that the Jews are not.
The previously untold story of the Jews in twentieth-century Russia that reveals the complex, strange, and heart-wrenching truth behind the familiar narrative that begins with pogroms and ends with emigration.
In 1929, the Soviet Union declared the area of Birobidzhan a homeland for Jews. It was championed by a group of intellectuals who envisioned a place of post-oppression Jewish culture, and by the early 1930s, tens of thousands of Jews had moved there from the shtetls. The state-building ended quickly, in the late 1930s, with arrests and purges of the Communist Party and cultural elite. But by 1935, there were onlyt 14,000 Jews, or 23% of the small population of the area.
In the late 1940s, another wave of arrests swept through Birobidzhan, traumatizing the Jews into silence, and effectively making them invisible. Now Masha Gessen gives us a haunting account of the dream of Birobidzhan—and how it became the cracked and crooked mirror in which we can see the true story of the Jews in twentieth-century Russia.
oFrah's SEPTEMBER 2016 SELECTION
A debut novel
by Affinity Konar
A Lee Boudreaux Book
Little Brown and Company
Pearl is in charge of: the sad, the good, the past.
Stasha must care for: the funny, the future, the bad.
It's 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.
As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.
That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks--a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin--travel through Poland's devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it.
A superbly crafted story, told in a voice as exquisite as it is boundlessly original, MISCHLING defies every expectation, traversing one of the darkest moments in human history to show us the way toward ethereal beauty, moral reckoning, and soaring hope.
oFrah's AUGUST 2016 SELECTION
You'll Grow Out of It
by Jessi Klein
(head writer of Inside Amy Schumer)
Grand Central Publishing
Does the Victoria's Secret catalog make you feel diqualified from being a woman in America? Does the store make you feel like you are walking into someone else's vagina? Do you obsess over your wedding dress and feel that as a owman you must know how to use the ballet barre
YOU'LL GROW OUT OF IT hilariously, and candidly, explores the journey of the twenty-first century woman. As both a tomboy and a late bloomer, comedian Jessi Klein (who wrote for SNL) grew up feeling more like an outsider than a participant in the rites of modern femininity.
In YOU'LL GROW OUT OF IT, Klein offers-through an incisive collection of real-life stories-a relentlessly funny yet poignant take on a variety of topics she has experienced along her strange journey to womanhood and beyond. These include her "transformation from Pippi Longstocking-esque tomboy to are-you-a-lesbian-or-what tom man," attempting to find watchable porn, and identifying the difference between being called "ma'am" and "miss" ("Miss sounds like you weigh ninety-nine pounds").
Raw, relatable, and consistently hilarious, YOU'LL GROW OUT OF IT is a one-of-a-kind book by a singular and irresistible comic voice.
oFrah's JULY 2016 SELECTION
Portrait of a Photographer
by Arthur Lubow
The definitive biography of the beguiling Diane Arbus, one of the most influential and important photographers of the twentieth century, a brilliant and absorbing exposition that links the extraordinary arc of her life to her iconic photographs.
Diane Arbus brings to life the full story of one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth century, a visionary who revolutionized photography and altered the course of contemporary art with her striking, now iconic images. Arbus comes startlingly to life on these pages, a strong-minded child of unnerving originality who grew into a formidable artist and forged an intimacy with her subjects that has inspired generations of artists. Arresting, unsettling, and poignant, her photographs stick in our minds. Why did these people fascinate her? And what was it about her that captivated them?
It is impossible to understand the transfixing power of Arbus’s photographs without understanding her life story. Arthur Lubow draws on exclusive interviews with Arbus’s friends, lovers, and colleagues, on previously unknown letters, and on his own profound critical understanding of photography, to explore Arbus’s unique perspective. He deftly traces Arbus’s development from a wealthy, sexually precocious free spirit into first a successful New York fashion photographer, and then a singular artist who coaxed hidden truths from her subjects. Lubow reveals that Arbus’s profound need not only to see her subjects but to be seen by them drove her to forge unusually close bonds with these people, helping her discover the fantasies, pain, and heroism within each of them.
Diane Arbus is the definitive biography of this unique, hugely influential artist. This magnificently absorbing, sensitive treatment of a singular personality brushes aside the clichés that have long surrounded Arbus and her work to capture a brilliant portrait of this seminal artist whose work has immeasurably shaped art and modern culture.
Lubow’s Diane Arbus finally does justice to Arbus, and brings to life the story and art of one of the greatest American artists in history.
Diane Arbus includes a 16-page black-and-white photo insert.
by Simone Zelitch
June 21, 2016
An alternate history that makes sense
What if, in 1948, a Jewish state was created in Germany
The very place we faced our deaths is where we will build our lives
The flag is made from an Auscwitz striped uniform with a yellow Jewish star in the middle
What happens when you lose everything, but have to go on living, What will you become and do to live?
On April 4th, 1948 the sovereign state of Judenstaat was created in the territory of Saxony, bordering Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia .
Forty years later, Jewish historian Judit Klemmer is making a documentary portraying Judenstaat's history from the time of its founding to the present. She is haunted by the ghost of her dead husband, Hans, a Saxon, shot by a sniper as he conducted the National Symphony. With the grief always fresh, Judit lives a half-life, until confronted by a mysterious, flesh-and-blood ghost from her past who leaves her controversial footage on one of Judenstaat's founding fathers--and a note:
"They lied about the murder."
Judit's research into the footage, and what really happened to Hans, embroils her in controversy and conspiracy, collective memory and national amnesia, and answers far more horrific than she imagined.
The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem:
by Sarit Yishai-Levi
Translated from Hebrew by Anthony Berris
Thomas Dunne Books
Gabriela's mother Luna is the most beautiful woman in all of Jerusalem, though her famed beauty and charm seem to be reserved for everyone but her daughter. Ever since Gabriela can remember, she and Luna have struggled to connect. But when tragedy strikes, Gabriela senses there's more to her mother than painted nails and lips.
Desperate to understand their relationship, Gabriela pieces together the stories of her family's previous generations-from Great-Grandmother Mercada the renowned healer, to Grandma Rosa who cleaned houses for the English, to Luna who had the nicest legs in Jerusalem. But as she uncovers shocking secrets, forbidden romances, and the family curse that links the women together, Gabriela must face a past and present far more complex than she ever imagined.
Set against the Golden Age of Hollywood, the dark days of World War II, and the swinging '70s, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem follows generations of unforgettable women as they forge their own paths through times of dramatic change. With great humor and heart, Sarit Yishai-Levi has given us a powerful story of love and forgiveness-and the unexpected and enchanting places we find each.
oFrah's JUNE 2016 SELECTION
The Book of Esther
by Emily Barton
June 14, 2016
Tim Duggan Books
What if an empire of Jewish warriors that really existed in the Middle Ages had never fallen—and was the only thing standing between Hitler and his conquest of Russia?
Eastern Europe, August 1942. The Khazar kaganate, an isolated nation of Turkic warrior Jews, lies between the Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea) and the Khazar Sea (the Caspian). It also happens to lie between a belligerent nation to the west that the Khazars call Germania—and a city the rest of the world calls Stalingrad.
After years of Jewish refugees streaming across the border from Europa, fleeing the war, Germania launches its siege of Khazaria. Only Esther, the daughter of the nation’s chief policy adviser, sees the ominous implications of Germania's disregard for Jewish lives. Only she realizes that this isn’t just another war but an existential threat. After witnessing the enemy warplanes’ first foray into sovereign Khazar territory, Esther knows she must fight for her country. But as the elder daughter in a traditional home, her urgent question is how.
Before daybreak one fateful morning, she embarks on a perilous journey across the open steppe. She seeks a fabled village of Kabbalists who may hold the key to her destiny: their rumored ability to change her into a man so that she may convince her entire nation to join in the fight for its very existence against an enemy like none Khazaria has ever faced before.
The Book of Esther is a profound saga of war, technology, mysticism, power, and faith. This novel—simultaneously a steampunk Joan of Arc and a genre-bending tale of a counterfactual Jewish state by a writer who invents worlds “out of Calvino or Borges” (The New Yorker)—is a stunning achievement. Reminiscent of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, The Book of Esther reaffirms Barton’s place as one of her generation’s most gifted storytellers.
oFrah's MAY 2016 SELECTION
THE BRIDGE LADIES
by Betsy Lerner
A fifty-year-old Bridge game provides an unexpected way to cross the generational divide between a daughter and her mother. Betsy Lerner takes us on a powerfully personal literary journey, where we learn a little about Bridge and a lot about life.
After a lifetime defining herself in contrast to her mother’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” generation, Lerner finds herself back in her childhood home, not five miles from the mother she spent decades avoiding. When Roz needs help after surgery, it falls to Betsy to take care of her. She expected a week of tense civility; what she got instead were the Bridge Ladies. Impressed by their loyalty, she saw something her generation lacked. Facebook was great, but it wouldn’t deliver a pot roast.
Tentatively at first, Betsy becomes a regular at her mother’s Monday Bridge club. Through her friendships with the ladies, she is finally able to face years of misunderstandings and family tragedy, the Bridge table becoming the common ground she and Roz never had.
By turns darkly funny and deeply moving, The Bridge Ladies is the unforgettable story of a hard-won—but never-too-late—bond between mother and daughter.
The Beautiful Possible:
by Amy Gottlieb
This epic, enthralling debut novel—in the vein of Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love—follows a postwar love triangle between an American rabbi, his wife, and a German-Jewish refugee.
Spanning seventy years and several continents—from a refugee’s shattered dreams in 1938 Berlin, to a discontented American couple in the 1950s, to a young woman’s life in modern-day Jerusalem—this epic, enthralling novel tells the braided love story of three unforgettable characters. In 1946, Walter Westhaus, a German Jew who spent the war years at Tagore’s ashram in India, arrives at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he meets Sol Kerem, a promising rabbinical student. A brilliant nonbeliever, Walter is the perfect foil for Sol’s spiritual questions—and their extraordinary connection is too wonderful not to share with Sol’s free-spirited fiancée Rosalie.
Soon Walter and Rosalie are exchanging notes, sketches, and secrets, and begin a transcendent love affair in his attic room, a temple of dusty tomes and whispered poetry. Months later they shatter their impossible bond, retreating to opposite sides of the country—Walter to pursue an academic career in Berkeley and Rosalie and Sol to lead a congregation in suburban New York. A chance meeting years later reconnects Walter, Sol, and Rosalie—catching three hearts and minds in a complex web of desire, heartbreak, and redemption. With extraordinary empathy and virtuosic skill, The Beautiful Possible considers the hidden boundaries of marriage and faith, and the mysterious ways we negotiate our desires.
oFrah's APRIL 2016 SELECTION
The Dinner Party:
by Brenda Janowitz
St. Martin’s Griffin
This Passover Seder is not just any Passover Seder. Yes, there will be a quick service and then a festive meal afterwards, but this night is different from all other nights. This will be the night the Golds of Greenwich meet the Rothschilds of New York City.
The Rothschilds are the stuff of legends. They control banks, own vineyards in Napa, diamond mines in Africa, and even an organic farm somewhere in the Midwest that produces the most popular Romaine lettuce consumed in this country. And now, Sylvia Gold's daughter is dating one of them.
When Sylvia finds out that her youngest of three is going to bring her new boyfriend to the Seder, she's giddy. When she finds out that his parents are coming, too, she darn near faints. Making a good impression is all she thinks about. Well, almost. She still has to consider her other daughter, Sarah, who'll be coming with her less than appropriate beau and his overly dramatic Italian mother. But the drama won't stop there. Because despite the food and the wine, despite the new linen and the fresh flowers, the holidays are about family.
Long forgotten memories come to the surface.
Old grievances play out.
And Sylvia Gold has to learn how to let her family go.
oFrah's MARCH 2016 SELECTION
Creating a Family in a
Beautiful Broken World
by Rabbi Susan Silverman
Da Capo Press
On Purim, we recall the casting of lots to determine the date of destruction…
As a child, Susan Silverman was surrounded by a loving family in New Hampshire; although her parents weren't happily married, they were devoted to their kids. In a vibrant, funny, voice (think Anne Lamott meets Katrina Kenison), Rabbi Silverman tells of a family's evolution — from her parents' devastating loss of their infant son to raising bright and wildly unique daughters.
It's also the creation story of her own family — raising her own bright and wildly unique daughters and taking a journey to adopt two boys from Ethiopia.
It is a story of her road to the rabbinate (I mean how do you go to HUC in Jerusalem and not know Hebrew ?? hehe). It is meditation on identity, faith, and belonging, peppered with laugh-out-loud moments. It will make you laugh. It will make you mad at the Bet Din in DC. It will make you wonder about omens and plans (Was a child found in Adar on Purim?)
Casting Lots will resonate with anyone who has struggled to find their place in the world, to understand the significance of that place, and to sustain a family amid the world's chaos.
Note: You can see why her younger sister, Sarah Silverman, became a cutting edge comedian
oFrah's FEBRUARY 2016 SELECTION
Good on Paper
by Rachel Cantor
January 26, 2016
Melville House / Random House
The highly anticipated second novel from a writer Emily St. John Mandel calls “sharp, witty, and immensely entertaining”
Is a new life possible? Because Shira Greene’s life hasn’t quite turned out at planned. Shira is a permanent temp with a few short stories published in minor literary magazines and a PhD on Dante’s Vita Nuova that she abandoned halfway.
Her life has some happy certainties, though: she lives with her friend Ahmad, and her daughter, Andi, on MANHATTAN’S UPPER WEST SIDE. They’re an unconventional family, but a real one, with Friday night Shabbat dinner rituals, private jokes, and the shared joys and strains of any other family.
So when she gets the call from Romei, the winner of last year’s Nobel Prize and the irascible idol of grad students everywhere, and he tells her he wants HER to translate his new book, Shira is happy (since she was focusing on this before she gave up on her PHD)… but she is stunned.
Suddenly, Shira sees a new beckoning: academic glory, a career as a literary translator, and even love (with a part-time RABBI and owner of the neighborhood indie bookstore… what is better than that… to fall for a RABBI who also LOVES and SELLS BOOKS?). That is, until Romei starts sending her pages of the manuscript and she realizes that something odd is going on: his book may in fact be untranslatable.
A deft, funny, and big-hearted novel about second chances, Good on Paper is a grand novel of family, friendship, and possibility.
oFrah's JANUARY 2016 SELECTION
THE RAGING SKILLET
The True Life Story of Chef Rossi
November 10, 2015
Once I began to read this on the subway, I stayed for extra stops just so I could read more pages of it. It is too funny and engrossing.
When their high-school-aged, punk, runaway daughter is found hosting a Jersey Shore hotel party in Point PLeasant, Rossi's parents feel they have no other choice: they ship her off to live with a Hasidic rabbi in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Heck... even the Lubavitcher rebbe gives her some wine to drink.
Within the confines of this restrictive culture, Rossi's big city dreams take root. Once she makes her way to Manhattan, Rossi's passion for cooking, which first began as a revolt against her mother's microwave, becomes her life mission.
The Raging Skillet is one woman's story of cooking her way through some of the most unlikely kitchens in New York City—at a "beach" in Tribeca, an East Village supper club, and a makeshift grill at ground zero in the days immediately following 9/11. Forever writing her own rules, Rossi ends up becoming the owner of one of the most sought-after catering companies in the city. This heartfelt, gritty, and hilarious memoir shows us how the creativity of the kitchen allows us to give a nod to where we come from, while simultaneously expressing everything that we are. Includes unpretentious recipes for real people everywhere (lots of hot dog recipes).
Rossi is the owner and executive chef of The Raging Skillet, described as a "rebel anti-caterer" by the New York Times. Rossi has written for many publications, including Bust, the Daily News, the New York Post, the Huffington Post, Time Out New York, and McSweeney's. She is the host of a long-running radio show in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
KIRKUS WRITES: “Growing up as an overweight Orthodox Jew, Rossi’s first introduction to cooking came about as a means to survive after her mother started microwaving all of the family food instead of creating goulashes and stews that simmered on the stove all day. “Suddenly,” she writes, “that elusive sensation of being the only one who could provide what everyone wanted was in my grasp, wedged between the kitchen mitts and the platter of cheese ravioli.” From the pizza bagels that launched her career in the kitchen, Rossi wends her way through the ups and downs and side streets of her rise to cooking fame. With a good shot of humor, a splash of self-deprecation, and a smidgen or two of sadness and regret, she chronicles her introductions to bartending and cooking, her coming out as a lesbian and non–Orthodox Jew to her family, and her rocky relationship with her mother, who, like many good Jewish mothers, used guilt as her favorite spice. Rossi intertwines character descriptions of the chefs, cooks, and waiters she’s worked with and for over the years as she moves through the decades and the numerous positions she held before she launched her own catering service. There’s Big S, who was “stirring tomato sauce, wearing nothing but a black lace bra, matching panties, and an apron,” and the French chef who abhorred having women in the kitchen, let alone a gay Jewish woman. Each of the author’s stories is well-rounded, redolent of salty sweat, sweet love, and the joy of food. The inclusion of numerous recipes related to each narrative is an added garnish to an already satisfying meal. A humorous and witty chronicle of a woman’s pulling-herself-up-by-her-bootstraps rise through the culinary ranks.”
The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Dey Street Books
Irin Carmon: I heard you can do 20 pushups.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Yes, but we do ten at a time. And then I breathe for a bit and do the second set.
Nearly a half-century into being a feminist and legal pioneer, something funny happened to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: the octogenarian won the internet. Across America, people who weren’t even born when Ginsburg made her name are tattooing themselves with her face, setting her famously searing dissents to music, and making viral videos in tribute. In a class of its own, and much to Ginsburg’s own amusement, is the Notorious RBG Tumblr, which juxtaposes the diminutive but fierce Jewish grandmother with the 350-pound rapper featuring original artwork submitted from around the world.
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg offers a visually rich, intimate, unprecedented look at the Justice and how she changed the world. From Ginsburg’s refusal to let the slammed doors of sexism stop her to her innovative legal work, from her before-its-time feminist marriage to her perch on the nation’s highest court—with the fierce dissents to match—get to know RBG as never before. As the country struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stands as a testament to how far we can come with a little chutzpah.
oFrah's DECEMBER 2015 SELECTION
THEN COMES MARRIAGE
UNITED STATES v WINDSOR
AND THE DEFEAT OF DOMA
BY ATTY ROBERTA KAPLAN
with LISA DICKEY
Roberta Kaplan’s (Twitter @kaplanrobbie) gripping story of her defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) before the Supreme Court.
Attorney Roberta Kaplan (Partner, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison) knew it was the perfect case. Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer had stayed together for better or worse, for forty-four years-battling through society’s homophobia and Spyer’s paralysis from MS. The couple married in Canada in 2007, but when Spyer died two years later, the US government refused to recognize their marriage, forcing Windsor to pay a huge estate tax (over $360,000).
In this landmark work, Attorney Kaplan describes her strategy in the lower courts and her preparation and rehearsals before moot courts, and she shares insights into the dramatic oral argument before the Supreme Court justices. Then Comes Marriage is the story of the relationship behind the watershed case, Kaplan’s own difficult coming-out journey, and the fascinating unfolding of United States v. Windsor. Full of never-before-told details, this is the momentous account of a thrilling historic and political victory for gay rights.
Kaplan, known in legal circles as a powerhouse corporate litigator, is one of a handful of attorneys who over the past decade have decisively shaped and driven the legal fight for same-sex marriage nationally. She lost her first major case, a 2004 suit filed by 13 couples in New York State, including a woman awaiting a liver transplant who wanted to make sure her partner of 24 years could visit her in the hospital. But because the ruling said lawmakers should be the ones to decide if the laws should be changed, it paved the way for the 2011 vote in New York’s legislature legalizing same-sex marriages in the state.
Atty. Kaplan was raised in Cleveland and at her Bat Mitzvah, here parshah was Shoftim (Tzedek, Tzedek Shall You Pursue). She majored in Russian at Harvard. She spent time in Moscow and met Jewish Refuseniks. At Columbia Law School, she studied Talmud with famed scholar Rabbi Saul Berman. Kaplan and her wife, Rachel Lavine married in 2005 in Toronto
Client Windsor is a Temple University graduate from Philadelphia. Windsor met Spyer, who was born in Amsterdam but who fled the Holocaust with her family and eventually came to the United States as a refugee, at a Greenwich Village restaurant called Portofino in 1963, six years before the gay rights movement was born at the Stonewall Inn, a few blocks away. The pair danced all night and, in 1967, got engaged with a diamond brooch rather than a ring—a ruse to protect Windsor, a mathematics major and rising IBM executive, from having to answer questions at work about her fiance. They moved into an apartment in the Village, bought a place in the Hamptons, and kept dancing, even after the progression of Spyer’s illness, diagnosed in 1977, left her confined to a motorized wheelchair. They were among the first to register as domestic partners in New York City in 1993 and celebrated their 40th anniversary by getting married in Toronto—a marriage that was recognized by New York State because it was legal under Canadian law. Windsor was 77; Spyer was 75. The wedding was announced in the New York Times.
oFrah's NOVEMBER 2015 SELECTION
The Mystics of Mile End
by Sigal Samuel
Brother and sister Lev and Samara Meyer live in Montreal’s Mile End—a mashup of hipsters and Hasidic Jews. They have a fairly typical childhood, other than that around the corner Mr. Katz is trying to recreate the Biblical Tree of Knowledge out of plucked leaves, toilet paper rolls, and dental floss. When their father, a professor of Jewish mysticism, is diagnosed with an unusual heart murmur, he becomes convinced that his heart is whispering divine secrets. But when their father’s frenzied attempts to ascend the Tree of Life lead to tragedy, Samara and Lev set out (in separate and divisive ways) to finish what he’s started. It falls to next-door neighbor and Holocaust survivor Chaim Glassman to shatter the silence that divides the members of the Meyer family. But can he break through to them in time? A remarkable debut novel reminiscent of The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and Bee Season by Myla Goldberg.
By B.A. SHAPIRO
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill/Workman
“B. A. Shapiro once again pens the art world into vivid, sensual life. Set during World War II and the dawn of Abstract Expressionism, The Muralist is an intriguing story masterfully imagined about art, war, family, truth, and freedom. If you liked The Art Forger, you're going to love The Muralist!” —Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice
Alizée Benoit, an American painter working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), vanishes in New York City in 1940 amid personal and political turmoil. No one knows what happened to her. Not her Jewish family living in German-occupied France. Not her artistic patron and political compatriot, Eleanor Roosevelt. Not her close-knit group of friends, including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner. And, some seventy years later, not her great-niece, Danielle Abrams, who while working at an auction house uncovers enigmatic paintings hidden behind recently found works by those now famous Abstract Expressionist artists. Do they hold answers to the questions surrounding her missing aunt?
Entwining the lives of both historical and fictional characters, and moving between the past and the present, The Muralist plunges readers into the divisiveness of prewar politics and the largely forgotten plight of European refugees refused entrance to the United States. It captures both the inner workings of today’s New York art scene and the beginnings of the vibrant and quintessentially American school of Abstract Expressionism.
B. A. Shapiro is a master at telling a riveting story while exploring provocative themes. In Alizée and Danielle she has created two unforgettable women, artists both, who compel us to ask, What happens when luminous talent collides with inexorable historical forces? Does great art have the power to change the world? And to what lengths should a person go to thwart evil?
oFrah's OCTOBER 2015 SELECTION
HERE AND THERE:
KEEPING MY FAMILY
BY CHAYA DEITSCH
A heartfelt and inspiring personal account of a woman raised as a Lubavitcher Hasid who leaves that world without leaving the family that remains within it.
Even as a child, Chaya Deitsch felt that she didn’t belong in the Hasidic world into which she’d been born. She spent her teenage years outwardly conforming to but secretly rebelling against the rules that tell you what and when to eat, how to dress, whom you can befriend, and what you must believe. Loving her parents, grandparents, and extended family, Chaya struggled to fit in but instead felt angry, stifled, and frustrated. Upon receiving permission from her bewildered but supportive parents to attend Barnard College, she discovered a wider world in which she could establish an independent identity and fulfill her dream of an unconfined life that would be filled with the secular knowledge and culture that were largely foreign to her friends and relatives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As she gradually shed the physical and spiritual trappings of Hasidic life, Chaya found herself torn between her desire to be honest with her parents about who she now was and her need to maintain a loving relationship with the family that she still very much wanted to be part of.
Eventually, Chaya and her parents came to an understanding that was based on unqualified love and a hard-won but fragile form of acceptance. With honesty, sensitivity, and intelligence, Chaya Deitsch movingly shows us that lives lived differently do not have to be lives lived apart.
THE SECRET CHORD
BY GERALDINE BROOKS
A rich and utterly absorbing novel about the life of King David, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of People of the Book and March
With more than two million copies of her novels sold, New York Times bestselling author Geraldine Brooks has achieved both popular and critical acclaim. Now, Brooks takes on one of literature’s richest and most enigmatic figures: a man who shimmers between history and legend. Peeling away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage.
The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected. We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthrall her many fans.
oFrah's SEPTEMBER 2015 SELECTION
THE SENSUAL GOD
HOW THE SENSES MAKE
THE ALMIGHTY SENSELESS
BY AVIAD KLEINBERG
In the Old Testament, God wrestles with a man (and loses). In the Talmud, God wriggles his toes to make thunder and takes human form to shave the king of Assyria. In the New Testament, God is made flesh and dwells among humans. For religious thinkers trained in Greek philosophy and its deep distaste for matter, sacred scripture can be distressing. A philosophically respectable God should be untainted by sensuality, yet the God of sacred texts is often embarrassingly sensual.
Setting experts' minds at ease was neither easy nor simple, and often faith and logic were stretched to their limits. Focusing on examples from both Christian and Jewish sources, from the Bible to sources from the Late Middle Ages, Aviad Kleinberg examines the way Christian and Jewish philosophers, exegetes, and theologians attempted to reconcile God's supposed ineffability with numerous biblical and postbiblical accounts of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and even tasting the almighty. The conceptual entanglements ensnaring religious thinkers, and the strange, ingenious solutions they used to extricate themselves, tell us something profound about human needs and divine attributes, about faith, hope, and cognitive dissonance.
oFrah's JULY 2015 SELECTION
Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate
by Letty Cottin Pogrebin
The Feminist Press at CUNY
Feminist icon Letty Cottin Pogrebin's second novel follows Zach Levy, the left-leaning son of Holocaust survivors who promises his mother that he'll marry within the tribe. But when Zach falls for Cleo, an African American activist grappling with her own inherited trauma, he must reconcile the family he loves with the woman who might be his soul mate. A New York love story complicated by the legacies and modern tension of Jewish American and African American history, SJM Seeking explores what happens when the heart runs into the reality of politics, history, and the weight of family promises.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin is a leading figure in Jewish and feminist activism. She is a founding editor and writer for Ms. magazine, and the author of eleven books, including the memoir Getting Over Getting Older (1996), the novel Three Daughters (2003), and the groundbreaking How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick (2013). She is also the editor for the anthology Stories for Free Children (1982), and a co-creator of Free to Be . . . You and Me and Free to Be . . . A Family. Her articles, op-eds, and columns have been published frequently in a wide variety of magazines and publications, including the New York Times, Harper's Bazaar, and the Ladies Home Journal.
oFrah's JUNE 2015 SELECTION
IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT
BY JUDY BLUME
In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. It was 1951-1952 when three plane crashes ended in deaths.
Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, Judy Blume imagines and weaves together a haunting story of three generations of families, friends, and strangers, whose lives are profoundly changed by these disasters. She paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.
We learn of the events from several perspectives. Miri. Her single mother Rusty. Her uncle. Her grandmother. Her best friend Natalie. Christina, a Greek girl in a secret dating relationship with an Irish boy. Passengers on a plane.
In the Unlikely Event is a gripping novel with all the hallmarks of Judy Blume’s unparalleled storytelling.
Murder on Steep Street
by Heda Margolius Kovály (1919-2010)
Translated by Alex Zucker
June 2, 2015
Famed Holocaust memoirist Heda Margoulis Kovály (Under a Cruel Star) knits her own terrifying experiences in Soviet Prague into a powerful, Raymond Chandler-esque work of literary suspense.
1950s Prague is a city of numerous small terrors, of political tyranny, corruption and surveillance. There is no way of knowing whether one’s neighbor is spying for the government, or what one’s supposed friend will say under pressure to a State Security agent. A loyal Party member might be imprisoned or executed as quickly as a traitor; innocence means nothing for a person caught in a government trap.
But there are larger terrors, too. When a little boy is murdered at the cinema where his aunt works, the ensuing investigation sheds a little too much light on the personal lives of the cinema’s female ushers, each of whom is hiding a dark secret of her own.
Nearly lost to censorship, this rediscovered gem of Czech literature depicts a chilling moment in history, redolent with the stifling atmosphere of political and personal oppression of the early days of Communist Czechoslovakia.
oFrah's MAY 2015 SELECTION
The Odd Woman and the City:
by Vivian Gornick
MAY 19, 2015
Born in 1935 in the Bronx to Jewish left-wingers, Vivian Gornick grew up torn between the simplicity of radical politics and the complexity of literature. “One day,” she writes in her 2008 collection of critical essays, The Men in My Life, “It was exciting to say to myself, ‘the only reality is the system.’ The next, I’d pick up Anna Karenina, and the sole reality of the system would do a slow dissolve.” Over the course of her long career, she has managed to capture—in eleven books and countless essays and articles—both the grandness of political ideals with the complexities of inner life. As a reporter for the Village Voice in the 1970s, she chronicled the politics of the feminist movement through her own conversion to the cause. In her essays, she pushed herself to understand how her commitment to the movement had changed her daily life. Her 1987 account of her relationship with her mother, Fierce Attachments, brought analytic insight to bear on the struggle to assert oneself. Readers of the contemporary memoir boom may find many of its hallmarks—biting observation, bare and casual honesty—drawn from Gornick’s work. Recently, Gornick has turned her attention to the radicalism of others. Her two biographies, of Emma Goldman and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, both ask a question to which she has turned throughout her work: what does it mean to live a life informed by difficult ideas?
In this new book, a memoir, she creates a contentious, deeply moving ode to friendship, love, and urban life in the spirit of Fierce Attachments. A memoir of self-discovery and the dilemma of connection in our time, The Odd Woman and the City explores the rhythms, chance encounters, and ever-changing friendships of urban life that forge the sensibility of a fiercely independent woman who has lived out her conflicts, not her fantasies, in a city (New York) that has done the same.
Running steadily through the book is Vivian Gornick’s exchange of more than twenty years with Leonard, a gay man who is sophisticated about his own unhappiness, whose friendship has "shed more light on the mysterious nature of ordinary human relations than has any other intimacy" she has known. The exchange between Gornick and Leonard acts as a Greek chorus to the main action of the narrator’s continual engagement on the street with grocers, derelicts, and doormen; people on the bus, cross-dressers on the corner, and acquaintances by the handful. In Leonard she sees herself reflected plain; out on the street she makes sense of what she sees.
Written as a narrative collage that includes meditative pieces on the making of a modern feminist, the role of the flaneur in urban literature, and the evolution of friendship over the past two centuries, The Odd Woman and the City beautifully bookends Gornick’s acclaimed Fierce Attachments, in which we first encountered her rich relationship with the ultimate metropolis.
oFrah's APRIL 2015 SELECTION
THE SOUND OF OUR STEPS
By Ronit Matalon,
Translated by Dalya Bilu
Gorgeously observed and emotionally powerful, The Sound of Our Steps is an inventive novel of immigration and exile from Ronit Matalon, a major voice in contemporary Israeli fiction
In the beginning there was Lucette, who is the mother to three children—Sammy, a gentle giant, almost blind, but a genius with locks; Corinne, a flighty beauty who cannot keep a job; and "the child," an afterthought, who strives to make sense of her fractured Egyptian-Jewish immigrant family. Lucette's children would like a kinder, warmer home, but what they have is a government-issued concrete box, out in the thorns and sand on the outskirts of Tel Aviv; and their mother, hard-worn and hardscrabble, who cleans homes by night and makes school lunches by day. Lucette quarrels with everybody, speaks only Arabic and French, is scared only of snakes, and is as likely to lock her children out as to take in a stray dog.
The child recounts her years in Lucette's house, where Israel's wars do not intrude and hold no interest. She puzzles at the mysteries of her home, why Maurice, her father, a bitter revolutionary, makes only rare appearances. And why her mother rebuffs the kind rabbi whose home she cleans in his desire to adopt her. Always watching, the child comes to fill the holes with conjecture and story.
In a masterful accumulation of short, dense scenes, by turns sensual, violent, and darkly humorous, The Sound of Our Steps questions the virtue of a family bound only by necessity, and suggests that displacement may not lead to a better life, but perhaps to art.
oFrah's MARCH 2015 SELECTION
The Truth About the Drugs You're Taking,
The Sleep You're Missing,
The Sex You're Not Having, and
What's Really Making You Crazy
by Dr. Julie Holland, MD
March 3, 2015
Dr. Holland is a Penn grad where she majored in BBB. So you know this book will be good. (plus she went to Temple Med). Ask her about malingering, MDMA/Ecstacy, PET scans and more. She is fascinating. You prolly recall her 2009 book, Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych ER
This is a groundbreaking guide for women of all ages that shows women’s inherent moodiness is a strength, not a weakness. Some say it is a milestone book and is the new Our Bodies Our Selves.
As women, we learn from an early age that our moods are a problem. Bitches are moody. To succeed in life, we are told, we must have it all under control. We have to tamp down our inherent shifts in favor of a more static way of being. But our bodies are wiser than we imagine. Moods are not an annoyance to be stuffed away. They are a finely-tuned feedback system that, if heeded, can tell us how best to manage our lives. Our changing moods let us know when our bodies are primed to tackle different challenges and when we should be alert to developing problems. They help us select the right tool for each of our many jobs. If we deny our emotionality, we deny the breadth of our talents. With the right care of our inherently dynamic bodies, we can master our moods to avail ourselves of this great natural strength.
Yet millions of American women are medicating away their emotions because our culture says that moodiness is a problem to be fixed. One in four of us takes a psychiatric drug. If you add sleeping pills to the mix, the statistics become considerably higher. Over-prescribed medications can have devastating consequences for women in many areas of our lives: sex, relationships, sleep, eating, focus, balance, and aging. And even if we don’t pop a pill, women everywhere are numbing their emotions with food, alcohol, and a host of addictive behaviors that deny the wisdom of our bodies and keep us from addressing the real issues that we face.
Dr. Julie Holland knows there is a better way. She’s been sharing her frank and funny wisdom with her patients for years, and in Moody Bitches Dr. Holland offers readers a guide to our bodies and our moodiness that includes insider information about the pros and cons of the drugs we’re being offered, the direct link between food and mood, an honest discussion about sex, practical exercise and sleep strategies, as well as some surprising and highly effective natural therapies that can help us press the reset button on our own bodies and minds.
In the tradition of Our Bodies, Our Selves, this groundbreaking guide for women of all ages will forge a much needed new path in women’s health—and offer women invaluable information on how to live better, and be more balanced, at every stage of life.
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oFrah's FEBRUARY 2015 SELECTION
THROUGH THE JEWISH MONTHS:
Building the Sacred through Challah
by Dahlia Abraham-Klein
with a foreword by Arthur Kurzweil
Spiritual Kneading though the Jewish Months is an evocative collection of challah recipes, Jewish spiritual insights, and Torah study as it relates to each Jewish month, called Rosh Chodesh.
Dahlia Abraham-Klein, pulls from Jewish texts a book that enhances women's spiritual growth via the tradition of challah baking while meditating upon the Jewish theme of the month. The book gives an extensive history of Rosh Chodesh and why it's traditionally been a woman's holiday. The book covers all twelve months of the Jewish year, with specific Torah text for each month as well as a specific challah that relates the Torah theme to that month. In essence Spiritual Kneading is palatable Torah.
Each Jewish month includes a meditation guided through the kneading of the challah dough. The kneading is an action meditation, best understood as the performance of commandments and rituals. The inner essence of the dough elucidates divines in the challah and becomes a springboard to reach God. This conversation in turn is kneaded into the dough and becomes part of the spiritual wisdom transmitted to your loved ones. When commandments are seen in this light, particularly baking challah, the challah takes on a greater spiritual significance. Each chapter then goes on to give sources, ideas, and questions to be discussed by the group while the challah dough is rising. The purpose of baking challah in this particular way is to develop ones own personal spiritual growth within the context of a Rosh Chodesh group.
Recipes and Shapes include:
TISHREI Spiral Challah with Apple and Silan
CHESHVAN Rainbow Shaped Challah
KISLEV Cheese Loaf
TEVET Star of David Challah
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oFrah's JANUARY 2015 SELECTION
THE GREAT JEWISH MIGRATIONS TO THE
NEW WORLD AND THE PEDDLERS WHO FORGED THE WAY
By Hasia Diner (NYU)
Yale University Press
Between the late 1700s and the 1920s, nearly one-third of the world’s Jews emigrated to new lands. Crossing borders and often oceans, they followed paths paved by intrepid peddlers who preceded them. This book is the first to tell the remarkable story of the Jewish men who put packs on their backs and traveled forth, house to house, farm to farm, mining camp to mining camp, to sell their goods to peoples across the world. Persistent and resourceful, these peddlers propelled a mass migration of Jewish families out of central and eastern Europe, north Africa, and the Ottoman Empire to destinations as far-flung as the United States, Great Britain, South Africa, and Latin America.
Hasia Diner tells the story of millions of discontented young Jewish men who sought opportunity abroad, leaving parents, wives, and sweethearts behind. Wherever they went, they learned unfamiliar languages and customs, endured loneliness, battled the elements, and proffered goods from the metropolis to people of the hinterlands. In the Irish Midlands, the Adirondacks of New York, the mining camps of New South Wales, and so many other places, these traveling men brought change—to themselves and the families who later followed, to the women whose homes and communities they entered, and ultimately to the geography of Jewish history.
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oFrah's DECEMBER 2014 SELECTION
The Boston Girl
by Anita Diamant
December 09, 2014
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.
Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents who were unprepared for and suspicious of America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine—a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love.
Eighty-five-year-old Addie tells the story of her life to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, who has asked her “How did you get to be the woman you are today.” She begins in 1915, the year she found her voice and made friends who would help shape the course of her life. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the naïve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor.
Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Anita Diamant’s previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world.
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SEARCHING FOR THE GIRL MY GRANDFATHER
BY SARAH WILDMAN
One woman’s journey to find the lost love her grandfather left behind when he fled pre-World War II Europe, and an exploration into family identity, myth, and memory.
Years after her grandfather’s death, journalist Sarah Wildman stumbled upon a cache of his letters in a file labeled “Correspondence: Patients A–G.” What she found inside weren’t dry medical histories; instead what was written opened a path into the destroyed world that was her family’s prewar Vienna. One woman’s letters stood out: those from Valy—Valerie Scheftel. Her grandfather’s lover who had remained behind when he fled Europe six months after the Nazis annexed Austria.
Valy’s name wasn’t unknown to her—Wildman had once asked her grandmother about a dark-haired young woman whose images she found in an old photo album. “She was your grandfather’s true love,” her grandmother said at the time, and refused any other questions. But now, with the help of the letters, Wildman started to piece together Valy’s story. They revealed a woman desparate to escape and clinging to the memory of a love that defined her years of freedom.
Obsessed with Valy’s story, Wildman began a quest that lasted years and spanned continents. She discovered, to her shock, an entire world of other people searching for the same woman. On in the course of discovering Valy’s ultimate fate, she was forced to reexamine the story of her grandfather’s triumphant escape and how this history fit within her own life and in the process, she rescues a life seemingly lost to history.
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The Lost Matriarch
Finding Leah in the Bible and Midrash
by Jerry Rabow Ph.D
University of Nebraska Press
The Lost Matriarch offers a unique response to the sparse and puzzling biblical treatment of the matriarch Leah. Although Leah is a major figure in the book of Genesis, the biblical text allows her only a single word of physical description and two lines of direct dialogue. The Bible tells us little about the effects of her lifelong struggles in an apparently loveless marriage to Jacob, the husband she shares with three other wives, including her beautiful younger sister, Rachel. Fortunately, two thousand years of traditional and modern commentators have produced many fascinating interpretations (midrash) that reveal the far richer story of Leah hidden within the text.
Through Jerry Rabow’s weaving of biblical text and midrash, readers learn the lessons of the remarkable Leah, who triumphed over adversity and hardship by living a life of moral heroism. The Lost Matriarch reveals Leah’s full story and invites readers into the delightful, provocative world of creative rabbinic and literary commentary. By experiencing these midrashic insights and techniques for reading “between the lines,” readers are introduced to what for many will be an exciting new method of personal Bible interpretation.
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oFrah's OCTOBER 2014 SELECTION
Not That Kind of Girl
A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned"
by Lena Dunham
I read it twice and did not find the passage on her Israel trip that people told me would be in the memoir,
Is Lena the voice of a generation. She is definitely A VOICE of it. I was mesmerized. I stood in line for four hours at her first book reading. (I mostly sat on the floor along with a dozen 24 year olds, and several hundred others) And even after a reading and signing hundreds of books, she was bright and hapy and giddy when my turn came.
It is a humorous, poignant, and extremely frank collection of personal essays. Even a date rape is written lightly
I listened to one of her essays in May 2014 from this book and it was so simple, yet so genius. She thought this book would be a mixture of very personal history, social commentary and cultural criticism, but her father said that one line about not liking “Mad Men” did not make the book a cultural criticism.
In the essay I heard before publication, a simple line about how at Oberlin she found a Helen Gurley Brown book in a thrift shop was actually very deep and philosophical. Helen wrote that women should have a lot of sex so they can deal with it in future relationships and always be blow job ready, but had a lot of less crazy ideas. Lena wrote that she shopped in the maternity section since those items fit her better...
“If I can take what I’ve learned in this life and make one treacherous relationship or degrading job easier for you, perhaps even prevent you from becoming temporarily vegan, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile. This book contains stories about wonderful nights with terrible boys and terrible days with wonderful friends, about ambition and the two existential crises I had before the age of twenty. About fashion and its many discontents. About publicly sharing your body, having to prove yourself in a meeting full of fifty-year-old men, and the health fears (tinnitus, lamp dust, infertility) that keep me up at night. I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you with this book, but also my future glory in having stopped you from trying an expensive juice cleanse or having the kind of sexual encounter where you keep your sneakers on. No, I am not a sexpert, a psychologist, or a registered dietician. I am not a married mother of three or the owner of a successful hosiery franchise. But I am a girl with a keen interest in self-actualization, sending hopeful dispatches from the front lines of that struggle.”
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oFrah's SEPTEMBER 2014 SELECTION
The Days Between
Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart
for the Jewish High Holiday Season
(HBI Series on Jewish Women)
by Marcia Falk
Brandeis University Press
The Jewish High Holidays—the ten days beginning with the New Year Festival of Rosh Hashanah and culminating with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement—constitute the most sacred period of the Jewish year. During this season, religious as well as nonaffiliated Jews attend synagogue services in unparalleled numbers. Yet much of what they find there can be unwelcoming in its patriarchal imagery, leaving many worshipers unsatisfied.
For those seeking to connect more deeply with their Judaism, and for all readers in search of a contemplative approach to the themes of the fall season, poet and scholar Marcia Falk re-creates the holidays’ key prayers and rituals from an inclusive perspective. Among the offerings in The Days Between are Hebrew and English blessings for festive meals, prayers for synagogue services, and poems and meditations for quiet reflection. Emphasizing introspection as well as relationship to others, Falk evokes her vision of the High Holidays as “ten days of striving to keep the heart open to change.”
Accessible and welcoming to modern readers, The Days Between is steeped in traditional sources and grounded in liturgical and biblical scholarship. It will serve as a meaningful alternative or supplement to the traditional liturgy for individuals, families, synagogues, and communities small and large—that is, for all who seek fresh meaning in the High Holidays.
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oFrah's AUGUST 2014 SELECTION
I Said Yes to Everything
by Lee Grant
Blue Rider Press
Born Lyova Haskell Rosenthal in New York City, actress Lee Grant spent her youth accumulating more experiences than most people have in a lifetime: from student at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse to member of the legendary Actors Studio; from celebrated Broadway star to Vogue “It Girl.” At age twenty-four, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Detective Story, and a year later found herself married and a mother for the first time, her career on the rise.
And then she lost it all. (One reason was her blacklisting)
The book opens with Rosenthal's parents. Her father was a graduate of Columbia and the beloved leader of the Jewish “Y” in the Bronx. Her mother came to the Y to teach ballet, fell off her chair during the interview with Rosenthal, and ended up marrying him after he lifted her up from the floor. Lee (Grant) was born and inherited her parents intellect and creativity.
Later, as an adult, when her name landed on the Hollywood blacklist, her offers for film and television roles ground to a halt; then her marriage fell apart (the Communism was due to her husband's involvement in the movement).
Finding reserves of strength she didn’t know she had, Grant took action against anti-Communist witch hunts in the arts. She threw herself into work, accepting every theater or teaching job that came her way. She met a man ten years her junior and began a wild, liberating fling that she never expected would last a lifetime.
After twelve years of fighting the blacklist, she was finally exonerated. With courage and style, Grant rebuilt her life on her own terms: first stop, a starring role on Peyton Place, and then leads in Valley of the Dolls, In the Heat of the Night, and Shampoo, for which she won her first Oscar.
Set amid the New York theater scene of the fifties and the star-studded parties of Malibu in the seventies, I Said Yes to Everything evokes a world of political passion and movie-star glamour. Grant tells endlessly delightful tales of costars and friends such as Warren Beatty, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Sidney Poitier, and writes with the verve and candor befitting such a seductive and beloved star.
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LENA FINKLE'S MAGIC BARREL
A Graphic Novel
By Anya Ulinich
Penguin Random House
A darkly funny graphic novel from the acclaimed author of Petropolis
Ulinich earned her literary stripes with her debut novel, Petropolis, and gained wide recognition for her “textured characters” (BUST Magazine) and “beautiful, far-ranging voice” (Gary Shteyngart). Ulinich’s long-awaited second work of fiction, the graphic novel Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, evokes Louis C.K.’s sensibilities and Amy Winehouse’s longing and anguish—often in the same frame—as Ulinich turns her sharp eye toward the strange, sometimes unmooring world of “grown-up” dating.
After fifteen years of marriage, thirty-seven-year-old Lena embarks on a string of online dates and receives a brutally eye-opening education in love, sex, and loss while raising her two teenage daughters.
With references to Bernard Malamud and Chekhov along the way, this is a smart, funny story told beautifully through Ulinich’s text and drawings.
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oFrah's JULY 2014 SELECTION
THE DECEMBER PROJECT
An ExtraOrdinary Rabbi and a
Skeptical Seeker Confront
Life’s Greatest Mystery
In the tradition of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Last Lecture, New York Times bestselling author Sara Davidson met every Friday with 89-year-old Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the iconic founder (or birth midwife) of the Jewish Renewal movement, to discuss what he calls The December Project.
"When you can feel in your cells that you're coming to the end of your tour of duty," he said, "what is the spiritual work of this time, and how do we prepare for the mystery?"
Davidson, who has a seeker's heart and a skeptic's mind, jumped at the chance to spend time with him. She'd long feared that death would be a complete annihilation, while Reb Zalman felt certain that "something continues." He said he didn't want to convince her of anything. "What I want is to loosen your mind." Through their talks, he wanted to help people "not freak out about dying," and enable them to have a more heightened and grateful life.
For two years, they met every week, and this is Davidson's memoir of what they learned and how they changed. Interspersed with their talks are sketches from Reb Zalman's extraordinary life. He barely escaped the Nazis, became an Orthodox rabbi in the US, was married four times and had eleven children, one from a sperm donation to a lesbian rabbi, and formed friendships with leaders of other faiths, such as Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama. Breaking with the Orthodox, he founded the Jewish Renewal Movement to encourage people to have a direct experience of God.
During their time together, Davidson was nearly killed by a suicide bomb, and Reb Zalman struggled with a steep decline in health. Together they created strategies to deal with pain and memory loss, and found tools to cultivate simplicity, fearlessness, and joy—at any age. Davidson includes twelve exercises so that readers may experience what she did—a sea change in facing what we all must face: mortality.
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oFrah's JUNE 2014 SELECTION
THE ICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD STREET
BY SUSAN JANE GILMAN
In 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street.
Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, "The Ice Cream Queen" -- doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality.
Lillian's rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone. And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake.
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oFrah's MAY 2014 SELECTION
Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?
A Memoir Hardcover
In Graphic Form
by Roz Chast
In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of her aging Jewish parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.
When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the “crazy closet”—with predictable results—the tools that had served Roz well through her parents’ seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed.
While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies — an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades — the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.
Her parents were one step below hoarders. Intellectuals, they were educators who had Roz late in their adult lives. They were unhappy with “The Place”, the senior living community in CT they moved to from Brooklyn when they could no longer live on their own.
An amazing portrait of two lives at their end and an only child coping as best she can, Can We Talk about Something More Pleasant will show the full range of Roz Chast’s talent as cartoonist and storyteller..
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oFrah's APRIL 2014 SELECTION
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman
by Eve Harris
Perhaps the most surprising and intriguing novel on the Man Booker Prize longlist, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman is a debut originally published by a small independent Scottish press that is already garnering significant attention worldwide.
London, 2008. Chani Kaufman is a nineteen-year-old woman, betrothed to Baruch Levy, a young man whom she has seen only four times before their wedding day. The novel begins with Chani standing “like a pillar of salt,” wearing a wedding dress that has been passed between members of her family and has the yellowed underarms and rows of alteration stitches to prove it. All of the cups of cold coffee and small talk with men referred to Chani’s parents have led up to this moment. But the happiness Chani and Baruch feel is more than counterbalanced by their anxiety: about the realities of married life; about whether they will be able to have fewer children than Chani’s mother, who has eight daughters; and, most frighteningly, about the unknown, unspeakable secrets of the wedding night. As the book moves back to tell the story of Chani and Baruch’s unusual courtship, it throws into focus a very different couple: Rabbi Chaim Zilberman and his wife, Rebbetzin Rivka Zilberman. As Chani and Baruch prepare for a shared lifetime, Chaim and Rivka struggle to keep their marriage alive—and all four, together with the rest of the community, face difficult decisions about the place of faith and family life in the contemporary.
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oFrah's MARCH 2014 SELECTION
THE LIVING MEMORIES PROJECT
LEGACIES THAT LAST
BY MERYL AIN, ARTHUR M. FISCHMAN, AND STEWART AIN
A collection of stories from Nick Clooney, Lynda Johnson Robb, Jack Klugman, and others who lost someone dear to them and how they keep their memories alive through memory quilts, the arts, scholarships, poetry, recipes, and many other ways to remember their loved ones.
Thre year the death of her mother< Meryl Ain still felt a major loss in her life. She knew there was no closure but discovered how some other people successfully overcame grief and integrated the loss into their lives.
Meryl enlisted the help of her husband, the award-winning Jewish journalist Stewart Ain, and her brother, Arthur Fischman, and began to interview people who had moved from mourning to meaningful action and remembrance.
The Project presents more than thirty interviews and their memorial projects. They include Arthur Kurzweill, Atty Leon Charney; Jack Klugman; Eileen Belmont, a quilt designer; Malachy McCourt, the actor and author, and brother of Frank; Robert Meeropol, who established a Fund in memory of his parents, Ethel and Julius Osenberg; Linda Ruth Tosetti, who made a film about her grandfather, athlete babe Ruth; Jen Chapin, daughter of the late Harry Chapin; Dr. Yeou-Cheng Ma, the sister of Yo-Yo Ma, who writes poetry and has a society in memory of their father; .
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THE UNLIKELY SETTLER
by Lipika Pelham
The Other Press
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seen by an outsider who craves to make sense of herself, her marriage, and the city she lives in – Jerusalem
The Unlikely Settler is none other than a young Bengali BBC World Service journalist who moves to Jerusalem with her English-Jewish husband and two children. He speaks Arabic and is an arch-believer in the peace process; she leaves her BBC career behind to follow his dream. Jerusalem propels Pelham into a world where freedom from tribal allegiance is a challenging prospect. From the school you choose for your children to the wine you buy, you take sides at every turn.
Pelham’s complicated relationship with her husband, Leo, is as emotive as the city she lives in, as full of energy, pain, and contradictions. As she tries to navigate the complexities and absurdities of daily life in Jerusalem, often with hilarious results, Pelham achieves deep insights into the respective woes and guilt of her Palestinian and Israeli friends. Her intelligent analysis suggests a very different approach to a potential resolution of the conflict.
Although the cover art is nice, I think this book would sell much better if they had a subtitle that mentioned that Lipika was born on the border of India and Bangladesh, was a prize winning filmmaker and journalist, and gave inkling into the contents of the book. You probably know Lipika from her award winning film, “Deadly Honour” about 9 Bedouin women killed in Israel in the past 7 years for showing skin, not being modest enough, or other honour killing issues. Pelham hints that Israeli authorities have failed to properly investigate the murders and lets Bedouins kill as they wish.
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oFrah's FEBRUARY 2014 SELECTION
Grace Paley wrote that you should not write about what you know, but write what you don’t know about what you know.
by MOLLY ANTOPOL (Stanford University)
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
The UnAmericans, a stunning exploration of characters shaped by the forces of history, is the debut work of fiction by Molly Antopol, a 2013 National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" Honoree.
The elderly look forward and not back. The young look back to understand the present
A dry cleaner in Manhattan meets a Ukranian customer/widow and starts to date her, and his adult daughter who married a Ba’al Tshuva and is now ultra religious is not too keen on this. An absentee father, a former dissident from communist-era Prague, needles his adult daughter for details about her newly commissioned play when he fears it will cast him in an unflattering light. An actor, imprisoned during the Red Scare for playing up his communist leanings to get a part with a leftist film director, is shamed by his act when he reunites with his precocious young son. An Israeli soldier, forced to defend a settlement filled with American religious families from Brooklyn, resents them and pines for a chance to discover the United States for himself.
A young Israeli journalist, left unemployed after America’s most recent economic crash, questions her life path when she begins dating a middle-aged widower still in mourning for his wife. And in the book’s final story, a tour de force spanning three continents and three generations of women, a young American and her Israeli husband are forced to reconsider their marriage after the death of her dissident art-collecting grandmother.
Again and again, Molly Antopol’s deeply sympathetic characters struggle for footing in an uncertain world, hounded by forces beyond their control. Their voices are intimate and powerful and they resonate with searing beauty. Antopol is a superb young talent, and The UnAmericans will long be remembered for its wit, humanity, and heart.
Her stories are inspired by her life and family; some were Communists, many were from Antopol in Belarus, and a few got dinners interrupted by visits from the FBI. She immiediately began writing this novel after she finished a book about Antopol that she received from an elderly woman she met at a party in Haifa who was from Antopol.
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oFrah's JANUARY 2014 SELECTION
Eating the Bible
Over 50 Delicious Recipes to Feed Your Body and Nourish Your Soul
by Rena Rossner (you know her from the Jerusalem Post)
Feed your body, challenge your mind, and nourish your soul
One weekend, a decade ago, author Rena Rossner was served a bowl of lentil soup at dinner. The portion of the Bible that had been discussed that week was the chapter in which Esau sells his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of red lentil soup. Rossner was struck by the ability to bring the Bible alive in such a tactile way and decided on the spot to see whether she could incorporate the Bible into a meal each week. And so she has. The result, Eating the Bible, is an innovative cookbook with original, easy-to-prepare recipes that will ignite table conversation while pleasing the stomach. Every meal will become both a tactile and intellectual experience as the recipes enrich both the soul of the cook and the palates of those at the table.
Every cook must glance at a recipe countless times before completing a dish. Often recipes involve five- to ten-minute periods during which one must wait for the water to boil, the soup to simmer, or the onions to sauté. It is Rossner’s goal to help enrich those moments with biblical verse and commentary, to enable cooks to feed their souls as they work to feed the members of the household and guests. From the zesty “Garden of Eden Salad” to the “Honey Coriander Manna Bread,” each recipe will delight the palate and spark the mind.
213 color photographs
Rena Rossner has written extensively for the Jerusalem Post and the Jerusalem Report. Her Jerusalem Post cooking column, “The Weekly Portion,” combined recipes with biblical verse. As a mom to five kids, she is always looking for ways to bring more meaning to her family’s meals, and she blogs about this process at eatingthebibleblog.wordpress.com. She holds an MA in history from McGill University and a BA in nonfiction writing from Johns Hopkins University’s Writing Seminars program. Her poetry and short stories have been published in various print and online magazines. Raised in Miami, she also lived in Canada and Ireland before making her home with her family in Jerusalem, but she still travels extensively to North America and the United Kingdom.
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MATING IN CAPTIVITY
UNLOCKING EROTIC INTELLIGENCE
BY ESTHER PEREL
Perel is a much sought after speaker on the topic of sex. Like Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Perel, 55, was born in Europe and affected by the Holocaust (her parents are survivors), studied in Israel, and has a sex and couples therapy focused career in America.
One of the world’s most respected voices on erotic intelligence, Esther Perel offers a bold, provocative new take on intimacy and sex. Mating in Captivity invites us to explore the paradoxical union of domesticity and sexual desire, and explains what it takes to bring lust home.
Drawing on more than twenty years of experience as a couples therapist, Perel examines the complexities of sustaining desire. Through case studies and lively discussion, Perel demonstrates how more exciting, playful, and even poetic sex is possible in long-term relationships. Wise, witty, and as revelatory as it is straightforward, Mating in Captivity is a sensational book that will transform the way you live and love
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oFrah's DECEMBER 2013 SELECTION
MARCHING TO ZION
BY MARY GLICKMAN
National Jewish Book Award Finalist
The forbidden, tempestuous, and tragic love story of a beautiful Jewish immigrant and a debonair black man in the South during the early twentieth century
Mags Preacher, a young black woman with a dream, arrives in St. Louis from the piney woods of her family home in 1916, hoping to learn the beauty trade. She knows nothing about Jews except that they killed the Lord Jesus Christ. Then she begins working for Mr. Fishbein, an Eastern European émigré who fled the pogroms that shattered his life to become the proprietor of Fishbein’s Funeral Home. By the time he saves Mags from certain death during the 1917 race riots in East St. Louis, all her perceptions have changed. But Mr. Fishbein’s daughter, the troubled redheaded beauty Minerva, is a different matter. There is something wrong with the girl, something dangerous, something fateful. And it is Magnus Bailey, Mags’s first friend in the city, who learns to what heights and depths the girl’s willful spirit can drive a man.
Marching to Zion is the tragic story of Minerva Fishbein and Magnus Bailey, a charismatic black man and the longtime business partner of Minerva’s father. From the brutal riots of East St. Louis to Memphis, Tennessee, during the 1920s and the Depression, Marching to Zion is a tale of passion, betrayal, and redemption during an era in America when interracial love could not go unpunished. Readers of Mary Glickman’s One More River will celebrate the return of Aurora Mae Stanton, who joins a cast of vibrant new characters in this tense and compelling Southern-Jewish novel that examines the price of love and the interventions of fate. .
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oFrah's NOVEMBER 2013 SELECTION
It is enjoyable to read books by people who have found their higher purpose in life.
Recipes for a Sacred Life
True Stories and a Few Miracles
by Rivvy Neshama
When Rivvy Neshama was 22 and about to get married, her mother gave her a book of handwritten recipes that taught her how to make a good roast -- but not much else. And no one gave her the recipe to make a good marriage or a good life. That took years of searching on a path with many turns.
Now, like a handwritten recipe book, Recipes for a Sacred Life is passing on the most meaningful and inspiring stories from the author's life. From dancing to forgiving to walking at dawn, from a rabbi from Vienna to Irish Rita from the Bronx, they feature people and experiences that taught the author how to live a good life -- one touched with sacredness.
Rivvy, despite an aversion to change, was a teacher and social worker in Harlem; a political campaign manager in Boulder CO; a college instructor in Queens, NY; and a founding director of the famed bike advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives.
And, thankfully, as it turned out, the best recipes came from her mom.
Written with heart and humor and steeped in ancient wisdom, these short, true tales reveal how ordinary encounters -- with friends, nature, family, and strangers -- can suddenly connect us with the sacred, adding love, joy, and purpose to our lives.
In the spirit of Anne Lamott, Mitch Albom, Sylvia Boorstein, and Rachel Naomi Remen, Recipes for a Sacred Life is luminous and uplifting -- a gift for all.
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BY SHEMI ZARHIN
Translated from Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan
October 13, 2013
New Vessel Press
On the shores of Israel’s Sea of Galilee lies the city of Tiberias, a place bursting with sexuality and longing for love. The air is saturated with smells of cooking and passion. Seven-year-old Shlomi, who develops a remarkable culinary talent, has fallen for Ella, the strange girl next door with suicidal tendencies; his little brother Hilik obsessively collects words in a notebook.
In the wild, selfish but magical grown-up world that swirls around them, a mother with a poet’s soul mourns the deaths of literary giants while her handsome, wayward husband cheats on her both at home and abroad.
Some Day is a gripping family saga, a sensual and emotional feast that plays out over decades. The characters find themselves caught in cycles of repetition, as if they were “rhymes in a poem, cursed with history.” They become victims of inspired recipes that bring joy and calamity to the cooks and diners. Mysterious curses cause people’s hair to fall out, their necks to swell and the elimination of rational thought amid capitulation to unhealthy urges.
This is an enchanting tale about tragic fates that disrupt families and break our hearts. Zarhin’s hypnotic writing renders a painfully delicious vision of individual lives behind Israel’s larger national story.
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah
by Paula J. Freedman
During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for "star") Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn't seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-O--who might also be her boyfriend--and her other best friend, Rebecca, who's getting a little too cozy with the snotty Sheila Rosenberg.
Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined.
Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.
With the cross-cultural charm of Bend It Like Beckham, this delightful debut novel is a classic coming-of-age story and young romance with universal appeal.
oFrah's OCTOBER 2013 SELECTION
WONDER OF WONDERS
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
BY ALISA SOLOMON
EVEN IF you only read the intro, the book is worth the purchase price
Since when did Tevye and Fiddler on the Roof, a 50-year-old musical based on 100 year old short stories come to represent the nostalgia and idea of shtetl Jewish life and Jewish life before the mass American immigration
This is a sparkling and eye-opening history of the Broadway musical that changed the world.
In the half-century since its premiere, Fiddler on the Roof has had an astonishing global impact. Beloved by audiences the world over, performed from rural high schools to grand state theaters, Fiddler is a supremely potent cultural landmark.
In a history as captivating as its subject, award-winning drama critic Alisa Solomon traces how and why the story of Tevye the milkman, the creation of the great Yiddish writer Sholem-Aleichem, was reborn as blockbuster entertainment and a cultural touchstone, not only for Jews and not only in America. It is a story of the theater, following Tevye from his humble appearance on the New York Yiddish stage, through his adoption by leftist dramatists as a symbol of oppression, to his Broadway debut in one of the last big book musicals, and his ultimate destination—a major Hollywood picture.
Solomon reveals how the show spoke to the deepest conflicts and desires of its time: the fraying of tradition, generational tension, the loss of roots. Audiences everywhere found in Fiddler immediate resonance and a usable past, whether in Warsaw, where it unlocked the taboo subject of Jewish history, or in Tokyo, where the producer asked how Americans could understand a story that is “so Japanese.”
Rich, entertaining, and original, Wonder of Wonders reveals the surprising and enduring legacy of a show about tradition that itself became a tradition.
MASTERING THE ART OF SOVIET COOKING
A MEMOIR OF FOOD AND LONGING
BY ANYA VON BREMZEN
A play on words... namely Julia Child's famed book on the art of French Cooking
Anya and her mother dream of food growing up in the Soviet Union. A maternal grandchild of the Frumkin's, she knew of scarcity, and even when she emigrated and landed in Philly in the 1970s, as a child, she craved the flavors of Soviet candy and meats, and worse, mayonnaise.
A James Beard Award-winning writer captures life under the Red socialist banner in this wildly inventive, tragicomic memoir of feasts, famines, and three generations
With startling beauty and sardonic wit, Anya von Bremzen tells an intimate yet epic story of life in that vanished empire known as the USSR—a place where every edible morsel was packed with emotional and political meaning.
Born in 1963, in an era of bread shortages, Anya grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen. She sang odes to Lenin, black-marketeered Juicy Fruit gum at school, watched her father brew moonshine, and, like most Soviet citizens, longed for a taste of the mythical West. It was a life by turns absurd, drab, naively joyous, melancholy—and ultimately intolerable to her anti-Soviet mother, Larisa. When Anya was ten, she and Larisa fled the political repression of Brezhnev-era Russia, arriving in Philadelphia with no winter coats and no right of return.
Now Anya occupies two parallel food universes: one where she writes about four-star restaurants, the other where a taste of humble kolbasa transports her back to her scarlet-blazed socialist past. To bring that past to life, in its full flavor, both bitter and sweet, Anya and Larisa, embark on a journey unlike any other: they decide to eat and cook their way through every decade of the Soviet experience—turning Larisa’s kitchen into a "time machine and an incubator of memories.” Together, mother and daughter re-create meals both modest and sumptuous, featuring a decadent fish pie from the pages of Chekhov, chanakhi (Stalin’s favorite Georgian stew), blini, and more.
Through these meals, Anya tells the gripping story of three Soviet generations—
masterfully capturing the strange mix of idealism, cynicism, longing, and terror that defined Soviet life. We meet her grandfather Naum, a glamorous intelligence chief under Stalin, and her grandmother Liza, who made a perilous odyssey to icy, blockaded Leningrad to find Naum during World War II. We meet Anya’s hard-drinking, sarcastic father, Sergei, who cruelly abandons his family shortly after Anya is born; and we are captivated by Larisa, the romantic dreamer who grew up dreading the black public loudspeakers trumpeting the glories of the Five-Year Plan. Their stories unfold against the vast panorama of Soviet history: Lenin’s bloody grain requisitioning, World War II hunger and survival, Stalin’s table manners, Khrushchev’s kitchen debates, Gorbachev’s disastrous anti-alcohol policies. And, ultimately, the collapse of the USSR. And all of it is bound together by Anya’s passionate nostalgia, sly humor, and piercing observations.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is that rare book that stirs our souls and our senses.
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oFrah's SEPTEMBER 2013 SELECTION
A Guide for the Perplexed
By Dara Horn
WW Norton and Company
Dara, a resident a NJ with her husband and four children is a winner of two, count them, two National Jewish Book Awards.
Dara Horn returns with a spellbinding novel of how technology changes memory and how memory shapes the soul.
Software prodigy Josie Ashkenazi has invented an application that records everything its users do. When an Egyptian library invites her to visit as a consultant, her jealous sister Judith persuades her to go. But in Egypt’s postrevolutionary chaos, Josie is abducted—leaving Judith free to take over Josie’s life at home, including her husband and daughter, while Josie’s talent for preserving memories becomes a surprising test of her empathy and her only means of escape.
A century earlier, another traveler arrives in Egypt: Solomon Schechter, a Cambridge professor hunting for a medieval archive hidden in a Cairo synagogue. Both he and Josie are haunted by the work of the medieval philosopher Moses Maimonides, a doctor and rationalist who sought to reconcile faith and science, destiny and free will. But what Schechter finds, as he tracks down the remnants of a thousand-year-old community’s once-vibrant life, will reveal the power and perils of what Josie’s ingenious work brings into being: a world where nothing is ever forgotten.
An engrossing adventure that intertwines stories from Genesis, medieval philosophy, and the digital frontier, A Guide for the Perplexed is a novel of profound inner meaning and astonishing imagination.
MONDAY MORNING COOKING CLUB
THE FOOD, THE STORIES, THE SISTERHOOD
By Merelyn Frank Chalmers, Natanya Eskin
Lauren Fink, Lisa Goldberg, Paula Horwitz
and Jaqui Israel
Photography by Alan Benson
Harper Collins Publishers
In 2006 a group of Sydney Jewish women came together to share recipes and talk about food. They cooked, ate, drank endless cups of tea and—often heatedly—discussed the merits of different recipes. After just a few weekly meetings, the Monday Morning Cooking Club was born and a legacy of food and recipes spanning many cultures and generations began to take shape. Five years and hundreds of dishes later, six members of the sisterhood have handpicked their favorite recipes for publication in their first book of the same name. More than 100 culturally diverse recipes from more than 60 cooks have been tried, tested, and refined for inclusion in the Monday Morning Cooking Club book. Each recipe begins with a short story of the cook and their history of the dish. These stories, interweaved with amazing recipes, narrate the rich and personal history of far-flung communities and families who find a deep connection through food and the memory of generations that have gone before.
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oFrah's June 2013 SELECTION
Secrets I'd Only Tell My Daughters
About Business and Life
By Karen Finerman
Finerman runs a fund with over $400 Million in assets. Her husband Lewis Golub) has a fund, she and her husband have two sets of twins, and her siblings are very successful economically as well. She is on the board of a hospital and a medical philanthropy. Here is some of her advice
Karen Finerman (pronounced like "Mighty Fine-rman") likes to tell people she was raised Calvinist. Or as her mother used to say, "I buy my girls Calvin Klein clothes. Then when they graduate from college they have to pay for them themselves." In order to keep herself in Calvin, Karen went to Wall Street.
As a woman working in an investment bank she noticed numerous ways that she and her colleagues sabotaged themselves both professionally and personally. Why were her friends unable to bring the same logic they applied at work to personal decisions? Why did they often let personal baggage undermine them at work in a way that her male colleagues never did? A classic illustration would be the way that women tend to Poll (Do I look good in these shoes?) rather than Decide, often giving too much weight to the input from a random stranger than their own gut.
Divided into three sections (Career, Money, Love), Finerman's Rules serves up unvarnished advice about how to get ahead, how to get the dysfunction out of your personal life and how to take control of your financial destiny. Or as Karen puts it, "You wouldn't let a man tell you where to live, how to vote, or what to wear. Then tell me why 80 percent of women have a man in charge of their money?"
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If you like the book, why not emulate a 2010 program that Finerman spoke at for JWI at Manhattan's JCC. A Mother-Daughter brunch on Life$avings® which grows out of JWI’s commitment to empower women and girls.
oFrah's May 2013 SELECTION
A Dual Inheritance
By Joanna Hershon
For readers of Rules of Civility and The Marriage Plot, Joanna Hershon’s A Dual Inheritance is an engrossing novel of passion, friendship, betrayal, and class—and their reverberations across generations.
Autumn 1962: Ed Cantowitz and Hugh Shipley meet in their final year at Harvard. Ed is far removed from Hugh’s privileged upbringing as a Boston Brahmin, yet his drive and ambition outpace Hugh’s ambivalence about his own life. These two young men form an unlikely friendship, bolstered by a fierce shared desire to transcend their circumstances. But in just a few short years, not only do their paths diverge—one rising on Wall Street, the other becoming a kind of global humanitarian—but their friendship ends abruptly, with only one of them understanding why.
Can a friendship define your view of the world? Spanning from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the present-day stock market collapse, with locations as diverse as Dar es Salaam, Boston, Shenzhen, and Fishers Island, A Dual Inheritance asks this question, as it follows not only these two men, but the complicated women in their vastly different lives. And as Ed and Hugh grow farther and farther apart, they remain uniquely—even surprisingly—connected.
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oFrah's April 2013 SELECTION
By Jennifer Gilmore
A taut, emotionally gripping novel about one couple’s passionate desire for a child and their heartrending journey through adoption—from a critically acclaimed writer whose “voice is at turns wise and barbed with sharp humor” (Vanity Fair).
Post-cancer Jesse (Jewish) and Ramon (Italian Spanish) are a happy, loving couple but after years trying to get pregnant they turn to adoption, relieved to think that once they navigate the bureaucratic path to parenthood they will finally be able to bring a child into their family. But nothing prepared them for the labyrinthine process—for the many training sessions and approvals, for the ocean of advice, for the birthmothers who would contact them but not choose them, for the women who would call claiming that they had chosen Jesse and Ramon but weren’t really pregnant. All the while, husband and wife grapple with notions of race, class, culture, and changing family dynamics as they navigate the difficult, absurd, and often heart-breaking terrain of domestic open adoption.
Poignant, raw, and wise, Jennifer Gilmore has written a powerful and unforgettable story of love and family.
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oFrah's March 2013 SELECTION
ONE HUNDRED PHILISTINE FORESKINS
BY TOVA REICH
One Hundred Philistine Foreskins centers on the life of Temima Ba'alatOv, known also as Ima Temima, or Mother Temima, a charismatic woman rabbi of extraordinary spiritual power and learning, and an utterly original interpreter of the Hebrew Bible. Temima is revered as a guru with prophetic, even messianic powers—one who dares to raise her woman’s “naked” voice even in the face of extreme hostility by the traditional establishment. Moving between two worlds—Temima as a child in Brooklyn and Temima as an adult in Jerusalem—the story reveals the forces that shaped her, including the early loss of her mother; her spiritual and intellectual awakening; her complex relationship with her father, a ritual slaughterer; her forced marriage; her “ascent” to Israel; and her intense romantic involvements with charismatic men who launch her toward her destiny as a renowned woman leader in Israel.
True to Reich’s voice as a satirist of humanity's darker inclinations, the story is rooted in contemporary times, revealing the extreme and ecstatic expressions of religion, as well as the power of religion and religious authorities to use and abuse the faithful, both spiritually and physically, with life-altering and crushing consequences. Cynthia Ozick said of Tova Reich that her “verbal blade is amazingly, ingeniously, startlingly, all-consumingly, all-encompassingly, deservedly, and brilliantly savage.” This has never been more true than in One Hundred Philistine Foreskins, a work of literature sure to be hailed as an immensely authoritative and fearlessly bold tour-de-force.
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oFrah's February 2013 SELECTION
THE PRETTY ONE
A NOVEL ABOUT SISTERS
BY LUCINDA ROSENFELD
February 2013, Little Brown
Perfect. Pretty. Political. For nearly forty years, The Hellinger sisters of Hastings-on-Hudson-namely, Imperia (Perri), Olympia (Pia), and Augusta (Gus)--have played the roles set down by their loving but domineering mother Carol. Perri, a mother of three, rules her four-bedroom palace in Westchester with a velvet fist, managing to fold even fitted sheets into immaculate rectangles. Pia, a gorgeous and fashionable Chelsea art gallery worker, still turns heads after becoming a single mother via sperm donation. And Gus, a fiercely independent lawyer and activist, doesn't let her break-up from her girlfriend stop her from attending New Year's Day protests on her way to family brunch.
But the Hellinger women aren't pulling off their roles the way they once did. Perri, increasingly filled with rage over the lack of appreciation from her recently unemployed husband Mike, is engaging in a steamy text flirtation with a college fling. Meanwhile Pia, desperate to find someone to share in the pain and joy of raising her three-year-old daughter Lola, can't stop fantasizing about Donor #6103. And Gus, heartbroken over the loss of her girlfriend, finds herself magnetically drawn to Jeff, Mike's frat boy of a little brother. Each woman is unable to believe that anyone, especially her sisters, could understand what it's like to be her. But when a freak accident lands their mother to the hospital, a chain of events is set in motion that will send each Hellinger sister rocketing out of her comfort zone, leaving her to wonder: was this the role she was truly born to play?
With The Pretty One, author Lucinda Rosenfeld does for siblings what she did for female friendship in I'm So Happy for You, turning her wickedly funny and sharply observant eye on the pleasures and punishments of lifelong sisterhood.
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oFrah's January 2013 SELECTION
The Imposter Bride
By Nancy Richler
St. Martin’s Press
An unforgettable novel about a mysterious mail-order bride in the wake of WWII, whose sudden decision ripples through time to deeply impact the daughter she never knew
The Imposter Bride blends gorgeous storytelling and generation-spanning intrigue in the story of Lily Azerov. A young, enigmatic woman, Lily arrives in post-WWII Montreal on her own, expecting to be married to Sol Kramer. But, upon seeing her at the train station, Sol turns her down. Out of pity, his brother Nathan decides to marry her instead, and pity turns into a deep—and doomed—love. But it is immediately clear that Lily is not who she claims to be. Her attempt to live out her life as Lily Azerov shatters when she disappears, leaving a new husband and a baby daughter with only a diary, a large uncut diamond—and a need to find the truth.
Who is Lily and what happened to the young woman whose identity she stole?
Why has she left and where did she go?
It's up to the daughter Lily abandoned to find the answers to these questions, as she searches for the mother she may never find or truly know.
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oFrah's DECEMBER 2012 SELECTION
YOU SAVED ME, TOO
What A Holocaust Survivor Taught Me About Living, Dying, Fighting, Loving, and Swearing in Yiddish
By Susan Kushner Resnick (Brown Univ)
October 2012, Skirt! Globe Pequot
Aron Lieb approached Sue Resnick at a Jewish Community Center fifteen years ago, and found a companion and soul mate who was steadfastly by his side for the rest of his life. You Saved Me, Too is the incredible story of how two people shared the hidden parts of themselves and created a bond that was complicated, challenging, but ultimately invaluable.
Sue was first attracted to Aron's warmth and wit, such a contrast to his tragic past and her recent battle with postpartum depression. Soon she would be dealing with his mental illness, fighting the mainstream Jewish community for help with his care, and questioning her faith. The dramatic tension builds when Sue promises not to let Aron die alone. This book chronicles their remarkable friendship, which began with weekly coffee dates and flourished into much more. With beautiful prose, it alternates between his history, their developing friendship, and a current health crisis that may force them to part.
“In well-executed, second-person prose, Resnick speaks directly to the elderly Aron Lieb—a virtually family-less Holocaust survivor whom she befriends—as he lies on his deathbed in a nursing home. Short vignettes skip back and forth through time, covering the history of their relationship: Resnick’s struggle with Jewish identity (“I figured as long as I stayed ambivalent about being Jewish, I might not get killed by the Nazis the next time they came”) and Aron’s own history before, during, and after the war. The writing is sentimental and emotional (culminating in “Who saved whom?”) as much as it is honest and informative; in telling Aron’s story, Resnick unapologetically criticizes both the incompetence of elder-care facilities as well as the failure of Jewish communal organizations to help a person who, after a life of hardship, deserves a break. This painful memoir is not easy to read: Resnick displays her artistic skill as she attempts to make sense of Aron’s life in light of her own (“I own the book of your life, but I can’t read it”). The telling of Aron’s story, a true labor of love, is a reminder of both the individuality of each survivor and the reality that their generation is dying and must be remembered.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
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oFrah's NOVEMBER 2012 SELECTION
The People of Forever Are Not Afraid
By Shani Boianjiu
September 2012, Hogarth (Crown)
Shani Boianjiu's stunning debut gives us a world where girls in the Israeli Defense Forces wait, endlessly--for womanhood, orders, war, peace. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view.
They drill, constantly, for a moment that may never come.
They live inside that single, intense second just before danger erupts. And they find that their dreams have stranger repercussions than they have been trained to imagine.
"Shani Boianjiu has found a way to expose the effects of war and national doctrine on the lives of young Israelis. So her subject is serious, but lest I make her work sound in any way heavy let me point out how funny she is, how disarming and full of life. Even when she is writing about death, Boianjiu is more full of life than any young writer I've come across in a long time." – Nicole Krauss
Shani Boianjiu was born in Jerusalem in 1987, from an Iraqi and Romanian background. She was raised in a small town on the Lebanese border. At the age of 18, she entered the Israeli Defense Forces and served for two years. The People of Forever Are Not Afraid is her first book. The author lives in Israel.
The book contains a sandwich shop called WE DON’T JUDGE, where you can get anything you want and they don’t judge. She came up with this idea after living in Tokyo, where you really can’t order anything unqique without being judged. In Israel, she says, there are shops where you can order items and they will accommodate your most miniscule request.
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A NEW BIOGRAPHY
BY NAOMI WOLF
September 2012, ecco
As the Jewish Women's Archive wrote, the vagina is the new black
An astonishing work of cutting-edge science and cultural history that radically reframes how we understand the vagina—and consequently, how we understand women—from one of our most respected cultural critics and thinkers, Naomi Wolf, author of the modern classic The Beauty Myth.
When an unexpected medical crisis sends Naomi Wolf on a deeply personal journey to tease out the intersections between sexuality and creativity, she discovers, much to her own astonishment, an increasing body of scientific evidence that suggests that the vagina is not merely flesh, but an intrinsic component of the female brain—and thus has a fundamental connection to female consciousness itself. Without her vagina power, she was unable to create.
Utterly enthralling and totally fascinating, Vagina: A New Biography draws on this set of insights about "the mind-vagina connection" to reveal new information about what women really need, and considers what a sexual relationship—and a relationship to the self—transformed by these insights could look like.
Exhilarating and groundbreaking, Vagina: A New Biography combines rigorous science, explained for lay readers, with cultural history and deeply personal considerations of the role of female desire in female identity, creativity, and confidence, from interviewees of all walks of life. Heralded by Publishers Weekly as one of the best science books of the year, it is a provocative and deeply engaging book that elucidates the ties between a woman's experience of her vagina and her sense of self; her impulses, dreams, and courage; and her role in love and in society in completely new and revelatory ways sure to provoke impassioned conversation.
A brilliant and nuanced synthesis of physiology, history, and cultural criticism, Vagina: A New Biography explores the physical, political, and spiritual implications of this startling series of new scientific breakthroughs for women and for society as a whole, from a writer whose conviction and keen intelligence have propelled her works to the tops of bestseller lists, and firmly into the realms of modern classics.
See also the essay on Why Nice Jewish Girls Have Vibrators at http://jezebel.com/5926836/even-nice-jewish-girls-have-vibrators
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oFrah's OCTOBER 2012 SELECTION
BY JAMI ATTENBERG
October 2012, Grand Central Publishing
For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago. But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie's enormous girth. She's obsessed with food--thinking about it, eating it--and if she doesn't stop, she won't have much longer to live.
When Richard abandons his wife, it is up to the next generation to take control. Robin, their schoolteacher daughter, is determined that her father pay for leaving Edie. Benny, an easy-going, pot-smoking family man, just wants to smooth things over. And Rachelle-- a whippet thin perfectionist-- is intent on saving her mother-in-law's life, but this task proves even bigger than planning her twin children's spectacular b'nai mitzvot party. Through it all, they wonder: do Edie's devastating choices rest on her shoulders alone, or are others at fault, too?
With pitch-perfect prose, huge compassion, and sly humor, Jami Attenberg has given us an epic story of marriage, family, and obsession. The Middlesteins explores the hopes and heartbreaks of new and old love, the yearnings of Midwestern America, and our devastating, fascinating preoccupation with food.
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On a lighter note… Are you a fan of MAD MEN, the AMC series that was created and written Matthew Weiner? Read what the characters read. In Season One, Don was reading EXODUS by Leon Uris. In Season Two, he read MEDITATIONS IN AN EMERGENCY By Frank O’Hara. In Season Four, Don read THE CHRYSANTHEMUM AND THE SWORD By Ruth Benedic.
Three other suggested reads are:
The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men — By Janie Bryant with Monica Corcoran Harel .
Analyzing Mad Men: Critical Essays on the Television Series — ed. Scott F. Stoddart
The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin.
How can MyJewishBooks.com ride the LINtastic JEREMY LIN tidal wave in 2012? Well, he is number 17 and a devout Christian. The Harvard graduate might one day be a pastor. We wish him well. As you may know, “17” in Hebrew gematria is “TOV,” or GOOD; and Kabbalists would add +1 to TOV, to become CHAI, or Life; “17” also mean to be “on fire.” Also, “17” is a special number in Beresheet/Genesis. Joseph lived with Jacob for 17 years before being sold, and Jacob lived with Joseph for 17 years at the end of his life. We plan to send the following book to Mister LIN as a gift:
The Jewish Annotated New Testament
Edited By Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Z. Brettler
November 2011, Oxford
Although major New Testament figures--Jesus and Paul, Peter and James, Jesus' mother Mary and Mary Magdalene--were Jews, living in a culture steeped in Jewish history, beliefs, and practices, there has never been an edition of the New Testament that addresses its Jewish background and the culture from which it grew--until now.
In The Jewish Annotated New Testament, eminent experts under the general editorship of Amy-Jill Levine (Vanderbilt) and Marc Z. Brettler (Brandeis) put these writings back into the context of their original authors and audiences. And they explain how these writings have affected the relations of Jews and Christians over the past two thousand years.
An international team of scholars introduces and annotates the Gospels, Acts, Letters, and Revelation from Jewish perspectives, in the New Revised Standard Version translation. They show how Jewish practices and writings, particularly the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, influenced the New Testament writers. From this perspective, readers gain new insight into the New Testament's meaning and significance. In addition, thirty essays on historical and religious topics--Divine Beings, Jesus in Jewish thought, Parables and Midrash, Mysticism, Jewish Family Life, Messianic Movements, Dead Sea Scrolls, questions of the New Testament and anti-Judaism, and others--bring the Jewish context of the New Testament to the fore, enabling all readers to see these writings both in their original contexts and in the history of interpretation. For readers unfamiliar with Christian language and customs, there are explanations of such matters as the Eucharist, the significance of baptism, and "original sin."
For non-Jewish readers interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity and for Jewish readers who want a New Testament that neither proselytizes for Christianity nor denigrates Judaism, The Jewish Annotated New Testament is an essential volume that places these writings in a context that will enlighten students, professionals, and general readers.
A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments
By Alex Witchel
September 2012, Riverhead
A daughter’s longing love letter to a mother who has slipped beyond reach.
Just past seventy, Alex Witchel’s smart, adoring, ultra-capable mother – a university professor - began to exhibit undeniable signs of dementia. Her smart, adoring, ultra-capable daughter reacted as she’d been raised: If something was broken, they would fix it. But as medical reality undid that hope, and her mother continued the torturous process of disappearing in plain sight, Witchel retreated to the kitchen, trying to reclaim her mother at the stove by cooking the comforting foods of her childhood: “Is there any contract tighter than a family recipe?”
Reproducing the perfect meat loaf was no panacea (uses tomato soup, beef and veal), but it helped Witchel come to terms with her predicament, the growing phenomenon of “ambiguous loss ”— loss of a beloved one who lives on. Gradually she developed a deeper appreciation for all the ways the parent she was losing lived on in her, starting with the daily commandment “Tell me everything that happened today” that started a future reporter and writer on her way.
And she was inspired to turn her experience into this frank, bittersweet, and surprisingly funny account that offers true balm for an increasingly familiar form of heartbreak.
Includes her recipe for kreplach (via Passaic and Scarsdale) and meatloaf
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oFrah's SEPTEMBER 2012 SELECTION
When We Argued All Night
By Alice Mattison
Two young men are swimming naked in an Adirondack lake when they hear a motor, a car appears, and two women get out, one with an orange scarf around her head. It's 1936: New York is suffering through the Great Depression, frightening things are happening in Europe, and Artie Saltzman and Harold Abramovitz, friends since their Brooklyn childhood, are unsure about everything—jobs, lefty politics, women. After this time in the mountains, nothing will be quite the same.
From World War II to the McCarthy-era witch hunts, through work, marriages, and life with children, Artie and Harold turn to each other, whether for solace or another good argument. And when Artie's daughter Brenda comes of age during the 1960s, her struggles with jobs, love, and friendship in yet another period of political turmoil recall Artie and Harold's youth.
A sweeping yet intimate novel about people who never stop loving one another despite everything life throws at them, When We Argued All Night illuminates a friendship over more than sixty-five years, as the twentieth century gives way to the changed yet recognizable times in which we live.
oFrah's AUGUST 2012 SELECTION
The Forgetting River
A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition
By Doreen Carvajal
August 2012, Riverhead
Raised a Catholic in California, New York Times journalist Doreen Carvajal is shocked when she discovers that her background may actually be connected to conversos in Inquisition-era Spain , Jews who were forced to renounce their faith and convert to Christianity or face torture and death. With vivid childhood memories of Sunday sermons, catechism, and the rosary, Carvajal travels to the south of Spain, to the centuries-old Andalucian town of Arcos de la Frontera, to investigate her lineage and recover her family’s original religious heritage.
In Arcos, Carvajal is struck by the white pueblo's ancient beauty and the difficulty she encounters in probing the town's own secret history of the Inquisition. She comes to realize that fear remains a legacy of the Inquisition along with the cryptic messages left by its victims. Back at her childhood home in California, Carvajal uncovers papers documenting a family of Carvajals who were burned at the stake in the 16th-century territory of Mexico. Could the author’s family history be linked to the hidden history of Arcos? And could the unfortunate Carvajals have been her ancestors?
As she strives to find proof that her family had been forced to convert to Christianity six-hundred years ago, Carvajal comes to understand that the past flows like a river through time –and that while the truth might be submerged, it is never truly lost.
oFrah's JULY 2012 SELECTION
By Francesca Segal
A smart and slyly funny tale of love, temptation, confusion, and commitment; a triumphant and beautifully executed recasting of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Newly engaged and unthinkingly self-satisfied, twenty-eight-year-old Adam Newman is the prize catch of Temple Fortune, a small, tight-knit Jewish suburb of London. He has been dating Rachel Gilbert since they were both sixteen and now, to the relief and happiness of the entire Gilbert family, they are finally to marry. To Adam, Rachel embodies the highest values of Temple Fortune; she is innocent, conventional, and entirely secure in her community—a place in which everyone still knows the whereabouts of their nursery school classmates. Marrying Rachel will cement Adam’s role in a warm, inclusive family he loves.
But as the vast machinery of the wedding gathers momentum, Adam feels the first faint touches of claustrophobia, and when Rachel’s younger cousin Ellie Schneider moves home from New York, she unsettles Adam more than he’d care to admit. Ellie—beautiful, vulnerable, and fiercely independent—offers a liberation that he hadn’t known existed: a freedom from the loving interference and frustrating parochialism of North West London. Adam finds himself questioning everything, suddenly torn between security and exhilaration, tradition and independence. What might he be missing by staying close to home?
Francesca Segal was born in London and studied at Oxford and Harvard University before becoming a journalist and critic. Her work has appeared in Granta, The Guardian, and The Observer, among other publications. For three years she wrote the Debut Fiction column in The Observer and was, until recently, a features writer at Tatler. She lives in London.
oFrah's JUNE 2012 SELECTION
Arab and Jewish Women in Kentucky
Stories of Accommodation and Audacity
(Kentucky Remembered: An Oral History Series)
By Nora Rose Moosnick
University of Kentucky Press
Outwardly it would appear that Arab and Jewish immigrants comprise two distinct groups with differing cultural backgrounds and an adversarial relationship. Yet, as immigrants who have settled in communities at a distance from metropolitan areas, both must negotiate complex identities. Growing up in Kentucky as the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, Nora Rose Moosnick observed this traditionally mismatched pairing firsthand, finding that, Arab and Jewish immigrants have been brought together by their shared otherness and shared fears. Even more intriguing to Moosnick was the key role played by immigrant women of both cultures in family businesses -- a similarity which brings the two groups close together as they try to balance the demands of integration into American society.
In Arab and Jewish Women in Kentucky: Stories of Audacity and Accomodation, Moosnick reveals how Jewish and Arab women have navigated the intersection of tradition, assimilation, and Kentucky's cultural landscape. The stories of ten women's experiences as immigrants or the children of immigrants join around common themes of public service to their communities, intergenerational relationships, running small businesses, and the difficulties of juggling family and work. Together, their compelling narratives challenge misconceptions and overcome the invisibility of Arabs and Jews in out of the way places in America.
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oFrah's MAY 2012 SELECTION
I AM FORBIDDEN
By Anouk Markovits
May 8, 2012
A family saga set among a group of Satmar Hasidic Jews, spanning seven decades from pre-WWII Transylvania to Paris in the 1960s and contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Tradition, love, commitment, and Torah law collide.
Josef Lichtenstein, 5, survives the murders of his family at the hand of the Romanian Iron Guard in 1939. He had bumped his head on the table and they didn’t see him under it when they murdered his mother and sister. He is saved by the Florina, the family’s non-Jewish maid. He is taken and raised by her as a Catholic. Five year’s later, in the fields at age 10, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila Heller, after her parents are killed while running to the Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum, who is aboard the Kasztner train. Josef helps Mila reach the home of Zalman Stern, a community leader and scholar, where Mila is taken in and raised like a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. (By the way, we first meet Zalman Stern as he struggles with an erotic wet dream... fundamentalists have to overcome their body and their sub conscious thoughts)
After WWII, Zalman, Mila, and Atara flee to Paris, and Josef is sent to America to the newly planted Satmar community. As you would expect, Mila moves to Brooklyn to marry Josef, while Atara seeks independence. Alas, after a decade of marriage, Mila and Josef are childless and Mila, who is fervently pious, must try to get pregnant using another method. They must replace their families that were killed by the Nazis; Mila can live with her choices, but can Josef?) Hopefully her choice will remain a secret. (Did I mention that it is 1968, and Paris is aflame with student protests and the movement for personal freedom) This is just a taste, an appetizer of chopped liver, to the saga. The author, Anouk, is one of 15 children borne to a Hasidic Jewish family in France. She fled an arranged marriage and moved to NYC where she received a degree from Columbia, and then graduate degrees from Harvard and Cornell. Her first novel was in French, and this is her first novel in English
oFrah's APRIL 2012 SELECTION
Women from the Ankle Down
The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us
By Rachelle Bergstein
What is it about a pair of shoes that so enchants women of all ages, demographics, political affiliations, and style tribes? Part social history, part fashion record, part pop-culture celebration, Women from the Ankle Down seeks to answer that question as it unfolds the story of shoes in the twentieth century.
The tale begins in the rural village of Bonito, Italy, with a visionary young shoemaker named Salvatore Ferragamo and ends in New York City with a fictional socialite and trendsetter named Carrie Bradshaw. Along the way it stops in Hollywood, where Judy Garland first slipped on her ruby slippers; New Jersey, where Nancy Sinatra heard something special in a song about boots; and the streets of Manhattan, where a transit-worker strike propelled women to step into cutting-edge athletic shoes. Fashion aficionado Rachelle Bergstein shares the stories behind these historical moments, interweaving the design innovations and social changes that gave each one its lasting significance and appeal.
Bergstein shows how the story of shoes is the story of women, told from the ankle down. Beginning with the well-heeled suffragettes in the 1910s, women have fought for greater freedom and mobility, a struggle that exploded in the 1960s with the women's liberation movement and culminated in the new millennium with our devotion to personal choice. Featuring interviews with designers, historians, and cultural experts, and a cast of real-life characters, from Marilyn Monroe to Jane Fonda, from Gwen Stefani to Manolo Blahnik, Women from the Ankle Down is a lively, compelling look at the evolution of modern women and the fashion that reflects—and has shaped—their changing lives.
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Bergstein is a graduate of Vassar and former waitress at Spice in Manhattan. A literary agent who resides in Williamsburg Brooklyn, she is moving to Manhattan soon. Here is a copy of her Latka recipe
oFrah's MARCH 2012 SELECTION
How the Bible embraces those with Special Needs
By Ora Horn Prouser, PhD
January 1, 2012, Ben Yehuda Press
A fresh look at Biblical characters through the lens of disability. Ora Horn Prouser of the Academy of Jewish Religion in Riverdale, The Bronx, NY, shows how the symptoms of ADHD, depression, mental retardation, speech impediments, gifted learning, and physical disabilities appear in the Bible, and shows how the Bible teaches us how to respond with acceptance and compassion, but NOT give a blank check forgiveness of bad actions blamed on pathology
Did Esau have ADHD? What if you read the story of Esau through the lens of ADHD? What if I told you that Esau had Diabetes and needed to eat badly after his hunting, and that it was Jacob who was withholding food from his ill brother for the sake of the birthright? Did Jonah have a learning disability? Why was he unable, after repeated teachings, to learn what god was doing in the world? Dr. Pprouser presents a very serious analysis of biblical text, using a clear methodological reading. The readings are peshat, or contextual readings of the biblical text, but at the same time, the book provides a level of meaning and inspiration for those dealing with, or who think about, issues of special needs.
It takes a sensitivity to both the words of Torah and the lives of its major characters to describe familiar figures like Isaac and Joseph, Moses and Samson, in current clinical terms, as people with disabilities and personality disorders. That’s what Ora Horn Prouser does in “Esau’s Blessing: How the Bible Embraces Those with Special Needs” (Ben Yehuda Press). The executive vice president of The Academy for Jewish Religion in Riverdale, Prouser, who has served as an educational consultant on Bible curricula for more than 20 years, writes of attention disorders, mental retardation and depression in an ancient setting, descriptions that are certain to upset some readers of the Torah. Focusing on “individuals who somehow did not seem to fit the mold,” she explains the acts of the Torah’s major characters “through the lens of disability awareness.” – Steve Lipman, The NY Jewish Week
"Few books make one a significantly more sensitive reader of the Bible. Few books on the Bible make one a more sensitive person. Ora Horn Prouser's book does both, with the insight and grace of a scholar, a teacher, and a parent. Prouser's interpretations of Biblical stories and characters draw on what professionals have learned about special needs and challenges and provide new and humanizing perspectives on mostly familiar Biblical stories. Readers will be moved by the book and moved as they never were before by the Bible. They will never read the Bible-or anything else-the same way again. The book is essential reading for educators, parents, and students of Bible. -Edward L. Greenstein, director of the Institute for Jewish Biblical Interpretation of Bar-Ilan University
"There is infinite wisdom and abiding compassion in the Bible when approached with a wise heart. Ora Horn Prouser is that sage-resilient, loving, courageous. She opens our eyes to the special needs figures of old whom we come to know and love in the Bible, helping us to embrace and to see with clearer vision the special needs children and adults who deserve our respect and our attention today." - Bradley Shavit Artson, author, The Everyday Torah
"A well-researched, respectful, fresh perspective on disabilities in Biblical narratives." - Judith Z. Abrams, author, Judaism and Disability: Portrayals in Ancient Texts from the Tanach through the Bavli
Click the book cover to read more or to purchase the book
oFrah's FEBRUARY 2012 SELECTION
A HISTORY OF WOMEN AND INTERMARRIAGE IN AMERICA
BY KAREN R. McGINITY, Brandeis
2012, NYU Press
Now In Paperback
Over the last century, American Jews married outside their religion at increasing rates. By closely examining the intersection of intermarriage and gender across the twentieth century, Keren R. McGinity describes the lives of Jewish women who intermarried while placing their decisions in historical context. The first comprehensive history of these intermarried women, Still Jewish is a multigenerational study combining in-depth personal interviews and an astute analysis of how interfaith relationships and intermarriage were portrayed in the mass media, advice manuals, and religious community-generated literature.
Still Jewish dismantles assumptions that once a Jew intermarries, she becomes fully assimilated into the majority Christian population, religion, and culture. Rather than becoming "lost" to the Jewish community, women who intermarried later in the century were more likely to raise their children with strong ties to Judaism than women who intermarried earlier in the century. Bringing perennially controversial questions of Jewish identity, continuity, and survival to the forefront of the discussion, Still Jewish addresses topics of great resonance in the modern Jewish community and beyond.
oFrah's JANUARY 2012 SELECTION
A Convenient Hatred
The History of Antisemitism
By Phyllis Goldstein and Foreword by Sir Harold Evans
A Convenient Hatred chronicles a very particular hatred through powerful stories that allow readers to see themselves in the tarnished mirror of history. It raises important questions about the consequences of our assumptions and beliefs and the ways we, as individuals and as members of a society, make distinctions between "us" and "them," right and wrong, good and evil. These questions are both universal and particular.
She writes, “The history of antisemitism makes it clear that hatreds are not ideologies; they are not sets of beliefs but collections of often contradictory lies that play to our deepest fears and anxieties. And hatreds always evolve to reflect the times. When religion was the dominant force in society, antisemitism was almost always discussed in religious terms. By the late 1700s, many Europeans claimed they were living in a new age -- the Age of the Enlightenment. Philosopher Immanuel Kant described the leaders of this new age as those who dared to "reject the authority of tradition, and to think and inquire." Modern science grew out of that daring. So did the idea that "all men are created equal…. The "enlightened" could exclude one group from another only by demonstrating a "natural difference." In other words, discrimination had to be justified by "scientific" evidence showing that human nature differs according to age, gender, and "race." Until the 1700s, the word race was widely used to refer to a people, a tribe, or a nation. By the end of the century, it described a distinct group of human beings with inherited physical traits and moral qualities that set them apart from other "races." Increasingly, opposition to Jews was linked to their "race."…. …History matters. Elie Wiesel once wrote that "Although we today are not responsible for the injustices of the past, we are responsible for the way we remember the past and what we do with that past." Only through the process of facing history and ourselves can we hope to stop the hatred and prevent further violence.”
oFrah's DECEMBER 2011 SELECTION
A Train in Winter
An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France
By Caroline Moorehead
November 2011 HarperCollins
Read the NYT review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/books/review/a-train-in-winter-by-caroline-moorehead-book-review.html
They were teachers, students, chemists, writers, and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a midwife, a dental surgeon. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, printed subversive newspapers, hid resisters, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. The youngest was a schoolgirl of fifteen who scrawled "V" for victory on the walls of her lycee; the eldest, a farmer's wife in her sixties who harbored escaped Allied airmen. Strangers to each other, hailing from villages and cities from across France, these brave women were united in hatred and defiance of their Nazi occupiers. Eventually, the Gestapo hunted down 230 of these women and imprisoned them in a fort outside Paris. Separated from home and loved ones, these disparate individuals turned to one another, their common experience conquering divisions of age, education, profession, and class, as they found solace and strength in their deep affection and camaraderie. In January 1943, they were sent to their final destination: Auschwitz. Only forty-nine would return to France.
A Train in Winter draws on interviews with these women and their families; German, French, and Polish archives; and documents held by World War II resistance organizations to uncover a dark chapter of history that offers an inspiring portrait of ordinary people, of bravery and survival—and of the remarkable, enduring
Read a British review here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/a-train-in-winter-by-caroline-moorehead-2355285.html
oFrah's NOVEMBER 2011 SELECTION
BY ALICE HOFFMAN
October 2011 Scribner
Over five years in the writing, Alice Hoffman’s most ambitious and mesmerizing novel ever, a triumph of imagination and research set in ancient Israel. It is her 23rd novel
The publisher writes that Hoffman delivers her most masterful work yet—one that draws on her passion for mythology, magic, and archaeology and her inimitable understanding of women.
In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic historical event, Hoffman weaves a tale of four extraordinary, bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. (figuratively, not literally. I assume they all walked up on the same snake path)
Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father never forgave her for that death.
Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness.
Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier.
Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.
The lives of these four women intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.
oFrah's OCTOBER 2011 SELECTION
Feed Me Bubbe
Recipes and Wisdom from America's Favorite Online Grandmother
Bubbe and Avrom Honig
September 2011 Running Press
Feed Me Bubbe is all about taking you into Bubbe's kitchen. Based upon the popular online and televised kosher cooking show seen all over the world this book includes all of Bubbe's classic recipes, insights, and stories that are sure to touch the heart. Her voice and wisdom come across each page through a format that makes cooking fun and comfortable for any skill level. Discover Bubbe's favorite Yiddish songs and create menus that will be sure to please any palate. This is a must purchase for any fan of Feed Me Bubbe and anyone interested in experiencing the feelings, memories, and tastes of being a part of Bubbe's kitchen. So pull up a chair, sit down, have some chicken soup, and as Bubbe says at the end of every episode "Ess gezunterhait!" Eat in good health.
Picture sitting around the dining room table while your Bubbe, your grandmother, is in the kitchen cooking your absolute favorite treat. Be it the smell of chicken soup with matzo balls, the sounds of the sizzling oil as latkes are being prepared.
And the smile on her face as she would bring in that meal to the table for all to enjoy. Those memories, feelings, and moments are what the highlights of our childhood was made of. Bubbe wants you to feel that connection, revealing only need to know information, making you feel like Bubbe is adopting you into her family. This is not your typical book, yes it includes recipes but this book has a "Yiddish Word of the Day", stories, words of encouragement amongst other surprises that makes any human soul want to know more. We worked very hard to get the results that we knew the fans expected to see at the end of the day. In addition we wanted to make this book accessible to those that may not have seen the show online or on TV through JLTV in which the book is based upon. If you have not seen the show for yourself take a closer look at Bubbe's incredible world up close and personal through this book in what our fans affectionately know of as Feed Me Bubbe.
Above is the official blurb. Now, for our site’s.
Avrom Honig is a nice Jewish grandson. A college graduate, he gives great nachas to his Worcester family. He wanted to get involved in the media business after college, and was trying to make a tape/dvd/reel to show his work to prospective employers. He wasn’t happy with his sample dvd, and his father, in a fit of angst, said, why don’t you video your bubbe. And that is how his octogenarian bubbe became a media star, and part of a PBS Frontline documentary. He taped her making homey meals and giving advice, and these became an online sensation, a cable TV show, annual Beyond Bubbe Cook-off at WGBH in Boston, and, now, a cookbook
The cookbook is filled with stories, recipes, and cooking advice. There are memories of growing up in New England, marrying, and raising a family. The recipes are kosher, basic, easy, and heimisch. Each page has a Yiddish word of the day. There are recipes for latkas, blintzes, bulkelach (cinnamon rolls), chopped chicken livers, mock faux chopped liver, chopped eggs and onions (she uses olive oil), salmon puffs, chopped herring, Israeli style herring (tomato paste and apples), and pickled salmon. There is a story about a neighbor’s first taste of nova lox, the Catskills, a Boston area snowstorm and its food requirements, balancing work (she worked) and family and a daily hot meal for her growing family. Oh, there is the story of a crock pot and a frankfurter sliced lengthwise. Then there are more recipes, such as ones for pickles, black radish salad, homemade horseradish (with a story), and lime laced fruit salad. Naturally there is a recipe for chicken soup, and a gogol mogol drink that can cure you. There is fish chowder (cuz she is in New England), yellow pea soup with frankfurters (or hot dogs), meatball stew, lots of soups, bubbe’s burgers, and lettuce and tomato and onion on toasted bread. There are old family pics from the album. These are the foods your bubbe would make for you. There is baked fish cakes, sole stuffed with salmon, roasted chicken, mock gefilte fish (made of… chicken!), turkey eggrolls, turkey cacciatore (which she once flew with on a jet to California to feed at least ten relatives, because that is what bubbes do). Her brisket is to LIVE for, as is her beef or vegetarian tzimis, pitcha, cholent, pepper steak, pot roast, spaghetti and meatballs, corned beef, beef tongue, as well as kugels and desserts.
oFrah's SEPTEMBER 2011 SELECTION
Dreamed Memories of Irene Nemirovsky by her Daughter
By Elisabeth Gille (1937-1996)
Translated by Marina Harss
September 2011. NY Review Books
When Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française was first published, the world discovered a new great writer. Even in France, however, Némirovsky had been more or less forgotten for years, until her youngest daughter Élisabeth Gille, only five years old when her mother died in Auschwitz, wrote a book to bring her back to life. In 1992 Gille published this fictionalized autobiography of her mother, who had led a sparkling life in Paris as one of the most successful and prolific European 1930s writers before being arrested as a Jew and led to her death in 1942.
In the first section of the book, Irène looks back from 1929, the year of her first triumph with David Golder, to her privileged upbringing in Kiev and Saint Petersburg, the precocious only child of a warm, generous father and a vicious, preening, and distant mother. The family escapes Revolutionary Russia to arrive in France, a country of “moderation, freedom, and generosity” that Irène will embrace as her own. In the book’s second half, the writer, her husband and two children have fled Paris for a small town in Burgundy, where they must wear the yellow Star of David, come to some accommodation with the occupying German troops, and plead in vain with Irène’s illustrious fair-weather champions to intercede on the family’s behalf. She now sees her earlier self as vain and credulous, blinded by her success to the horribly changing political situation, but it is too late. As fully and deeply imagined as Irène Némirovsky’s novels, Gille’s mémoires rêvées will also prove indispensable to devotees of the nearly forgotten author for the new light it sheds on her.
oFrah's AUGUST 2011 SELECTION
(Movie Tie-in paperback edition)
Tatiana de Rosnay
July 5, 2011, St Martin’s Griffin
PW Starred Review. De Rosnay's U.S. debut fictionalizes the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz. Forty-five-year-old Julia Jarmond, American by birth, moved to Paris when she was 20 and is married to the arrogant, unfaithful Bertrand Tézac, with whom she has an 11-year-old daughter. Julia writes for an American magazine and her editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vél' d'Hiv' roundups. Julia soon learns that the apartment she and Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand's family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers—especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive—the more she uncovers about Bertrand's family, about France and, finally, herself. Already translated into 15 languages, the novel is De Rosnay's 10th (but her first written in English, her first language). It beautifully conveys Julia's conflicting loyalties, and makes Sarah's trials so riveting, her innocence so absorbing, that the book is hard to put down.
Click the cover to read more, or to read an excerpt
oFrah's JULY 2011 SELECTION
FROM THE JEWISH HEARTland
Two Centuries of Midwest Foodways
By Ellen F. Steinberg, Jack H. Prost (A
June 2011 University of Illinois Press
JOAN NATHAN writes that this is “a fascinating overview of historic Jewish foodways throughout the Midwest, with many examples of recipes brought to the Midwest by Jewish immigrants. I know of no other work on Jewish American food with this concentration and breadth."
Listen to the author on WBEZ RADIO in CHICAGO at http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-04-19/exploring-200-years-jewish-food-midwest-85381
Ginger? Ginger is Jewish cooking?? Yes!
Have you been to Kaufman's bakery in Skokie?
Foodways is like Folkways. It isnt just the food, but the way you eat it, prepare it, store it, buy it, personal interactions, etc.
The German Jews and others tried to domesticate and Americanize the Eastern European Jews who arrived in the late Nineteenth century in the Midwest. They tried to change everything about the new Jews, change their spices, change their kashrut, assimilate them. But most of the new Jews did not change. Although the environment changed, they adapted to the Midwestern foods that were available.
Professor Steinberg scored a Midwestern Jewish cookbook on eBay. It was from St. Louis is 1910, from the B'nai Emunah shul. So begins this story
From the Jewish Heartland: Two Centuries of Midwest Foodways reveals the distinctive flavor of Jewish foods in the Midwest and tracks regional culinary changes through time. Exploring Jewish culinary innovation in America's heartland, Ellen F. Steinberg and Jack H. Prost examine recipes from numerous midwestern sources, both kosher and non-kosher, including Jewish homemakers' handwritten manuscripts and notebooks, published journals and newspaper columns, and interviews with Jewish cooks, bakers, and delicatessen owners. Settling into the cities, towns, and farm communities of Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota, Jewish immigrants incorporated local fruits, vegetables, and other comestibles into traditional recipes. Such incomparable gustatory delights include TZIZEL BAGELS and rye breads coated in Midwestern cornmeal, baklava studded with locally grown cranberries, tangy ketchup concocted from wild sour grapes, rich Chicago cheesecakes, and savory gefilte fish from Minnesota northern pike. Steinberg and Prost also consider the effect of improved preservation and transportation on rural and urban Jewish foodways and the efforts of social and culinary reformers to modify traditional Jewish food preparation and ingredients.
Includes dozens of sample recipes (but not really a recipe book).
NOTE: This Professor and author Ellen F. Steinberg is not the same person as sex educator Annie Sprinkle (nee Ellen F Steinberg)
Click the Book Cover for More Information
oFrah's JUNE 2011 SELECTION
SEASON TO TASTE
HOW I LOST MY SENSE OF SMELL AND FOUND MY WAY
BY MOLLY BIRNBAUM
June 2011 Ecco Harper
In college, Molly Birnbaum found that she enjoyed cookbooks, baking, and cooking more than other coursework. She prepared to become a chef. After graduation, Molly Birnbaum spent her nights savoring cookbooks and her days working at a Boston bistro. But shortly before starting at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA), she was hit by a car, an accident that fractured her skull, broke her pelvis, tore her knee to shreds, and destroyed her ability to smell — a sense essential to cooking... a sense essential to taste. Devastated, Birnbaum dropped her cooking school plans, quit her restaurant job, and sank into depression.
Season to Taste is the heartwarming story of what came next: how she picked herself up and set off on a grand quest to understand and overcome her condition. With irresistible charm and good cheer, Birnbaum explores the science of olfaction, pheromones, and Proust’s madeleine. She meets leading experts, including writer Oliver Sacks, scientist Stuart Firestein, and perfumer Christophe Laudamiel. And she visits a pioneering New Jersey flavor lab, eats at the legendary Chicago restaurant Alinea, and enrolls at a renowned perfume school in the South of France. Through Birnbaum we rediscover the joy of smell — from the pungency of cinnamon and cedarwood to the subtle beauty of fresh bagels and lavender — fall in love, and recapture a dream.
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JOURNEY TO HEAVEN
Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife
By Leila Leah Bronner
June 2011 URIM
I am always happy when URIM publishes a new title. Of the Jewish publishers I follow, I find the Urim management creative, friendly, professional and helpful. More than the others... that is for sure
Leila Leah Bronner has taught in South Africa, at Harvard, Bar Ilan, and elsewhere. It is easier to understand than other books, (Neil Gillman, hint hint) that I have read on a similar theme.
What is the idea of the afterlife in Judaism? Is there bodily resurrection? Immortality? Has the modern Holocaust affected Jewish thought on the issue? Is there reincarnation ? or transmigration?
Journey to Heaven invites readers to rediscover some of the basic tenets of Jewish belief concerning the hereafter: resurrection, immortality, judgment, messianism, and the World to Come. Starting with the Bible's references to Sheol and allusions to resurrection, this comprehensive survey explores immortality and bodily resurrection in Second Temple literature; the Mishnah's discussions of olam ha-ba, the World to Come, and how to merit entering it; and the Talmud's depictions of Gan Eden (paradise), Gehinnom (hell), and the soul's journey through these metaphysical landscapes. Bronner also explores the views of medieval scholars such as Maimonides and Nahmanides, Jewish mystical teachings about reincarnation, and modern views of faith and belief. A separate chapter is devoted to views of the Messiah over the course of Jewish history. Bronner demonstrates that the afterlife is indeed a vital part of Judaism, as she reveals how generations of Jews, from biblical times to the present, have grappled with its core ideas and beliefs about the hereafter.
oFrah's MAY 2011 SELECTION
No Biking in the House Without a Helmet
By Melissa Fay Greene
April 2011, FSG
From the author of “The Temple Bombing” and “There is no Me Without You.”
From Publishers Weekly. Starred Review. With four children of their own, Atlanta journalist Greene (There Is No Me Without You) and her husband, a criminal defense attorney, gradually adopted five more—one from Bulgaria and four from Ethiopia—to create a roiling, largehearted family unit. In her whimsical, hilarious account, she pokes fun at her own initial cluelessness regarding the adoption process, which the couple began after Greene suffered a miscarriage in her mid-40s; they procured an "adoption doctor" to advise them on the risks of adopting institutionalized babies from Russian and Bulgarian orphanages (e.g., the baby's head measurements and appearance in videos might indicate developmental problems). After several trips to a rural Bulgarian orphanage, they brought home a four-year-old Roma boy they renamed Jesse; Greene writes frankly about her own moments of "post-adoption panic" and doubts about attachment. Subsequently, as her older children headed out to college, new ones arrived: the humanitarian HIV/AIDS crisis in Ethiopia resolved the couple to adopt healthy, five-year-old Helen, orphaned when her family was decimated by the disease; then nine-year-old Fisseha, and two brothers, Daniel and Yosef, whom Greene's older biological son Lee befriended while working at another Ethiopian orphanage. The family often felt like a "group home," as Greene depicts engagingly, yet despite periods of tension and strife, such as the discovery of living parents and sibling rivalry, Greene captures the family's triumphant shared delight in one another's differences.
By Dasa Drndic. Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac
April 2011, MacLehose
Haya Tedeschi sits alone in Gorizia, north-eastern Italy, surrounded by a basket of photographs and newspaper clippings. Now an old woman, she waits to be reunited after 62 years with her son, fathered by an S.S. officer and stolen from her by the German authorities during the War as part of Himmler's clandestine 'Lebensborn' project, which strove for a 'racially pure' Germany.
Haya's reflection on her Catholicized Jewish family's experiences deals unsparingly with the massacre of Italian Jews in the concentration camps of Trieste. Her obsessive search for her son leads her to photographs, maps and fragments of verse, to testimonies from the Nuremberg trials and interviews with second-generation Jews, as well as witness accounts of atrocities that took place on her doorstep. A broad collage of material is assembled, and the lesser-known horror of Nazi occupation in northern Italy is gradually unveiled. Written in immensely powerful language, and employing a range of astonishing conceptual devices, Trieste is a novel like no other. Dasa Drndic has produced a shattering contribution to the literature of our twentieth-century history.
Dasa Drndic is a distinguished Croatian novelist and playwright. She also translates and teaches at the Faculty of Philosophy in Rijeka.
oFrah's APRIL 2011 SELECTION
Make Me a Woman
A Graphic novel
By Vanessa Davis
2010, Drawn and Quarterly
From Publishers Weekly: These beautifully rendered watercolor and pencil collages capture confessional moments from bat mitzvah to the author taking her boyfriend home to West Palm Beach, Fla., to visit her mother. While treading in the autobiographical path of many cartoonists before her, Davis's sweet and well-observed sketch-diary entries and more structured pieces for such magazines as the Tablet deal with growing up as a Jewish woman. Some time is given to fashion and dating, but the focus is mostly on the daily humor of surviving a boring day job and squabbling family. What sets Davis apart, as least as she portrays herself, is her general sanity and good humor. The problems are more Family Circus than Fun Home: a sisterly blowup comes down to the disposition of a doughnut, and a relationship problem involves several half-eaten packages of cheese. An early strip deals with a trip to a fat farm, but even that ends with remarkably little self-loathing. What this collection does show is Davis's evolution from sometimes awkward swirls of penciled diary pages to constantly inventive and very accomplished painted art. It's hard not to find something to identify with or smile at in these pages
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oFrah's MARCH 2011 SELECTION
The Invisible Bridge
By Julie Orringer
Vintage reprint paperback
Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he promised to deliver. But when he falls into a complicated relationship with the letter's recipient, he becomes privy to a secret that will alter the course of his—and his family’s—history. From the small Hungarian town of Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the despair of Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in labor camps, The Invisible Bridge tells the story of a family shattered and remade in history’s darkest hour.
Named one of the best books of 2010
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THE HADASSAH EVERYDAY COOKBOOK
DAILY MEALS FOR THE CONTEMPORARY JEWISH KITCHEN
BY LEAH KOENIG, with LUCY SCHAEFFER AND JOAN NATHAN
March 2011, Universe
The Jewish love of eating extends far beyond the Shabbat and holiday tables to the every day. And while cholent and challah sate our appetites on Shabbat, and classics from brisket to latkes grace our holiday menus, what do we make for dinner on Monday night? Or prepare for Sunday brunch, or snack on in front of a movie? Here, America’s leading Jewish women’s organization, Hadassah, answers those culinary questions, sharing over 160 delicious, simple, kosher recipes that are destined to become family favorites. The recipes in this book span the culinary globe, combining iconic American and Jewish tastes with Mexican, Italian, French, Asian and Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine. They also celebrate the growing availability of fresh, seasonal produce and gourmet kosher ingredients, from artisanal cheese and chocolate to organic meat and poultry. Vegetarians and omnivores alike will be delighted to find a wide variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes (not to mention snacks and cocktails) that cater directly to them. Focusing on freshness, flavor and no-fuss technique, The Hadassah Every Day Cookbook brings the flavors of the world—and the farm—to the kitchen. BR>
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oFrah's FEBRUARY 2011 SELECTION
BY YAEL HEDAYA
Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen
November 2010, Metropolitan
From the head writer of the original In Treatment, an exquisite novel of the maturation of a girl, a family, and an entire community. Eden is no paradise: it is the stifling, rural community in which upscale urban escapees, Alona and Mark, drift apart and divorce under the resentful scrutiny of Roni, Mark's needy adolescent daughter. Against a rich panorama of Eden's oldtimers and newcomers, Mark, an emotionally detached architect, begins an involvement with his ex-wife's best friend, Dafna, who is desperately trying to conceive through the torments of technology, while sixteen-year-old Roni pursues the attention of older men by readily dispensing sexual favors. Over the course of one month, Roni's self-dramatizing turns to tragedy, her parents are jolted out of their absorbing concerns, and a new family structure begins to form out of an unlikely set of characters. Through a portrait of family entanglements, disappearing countryside, and disappointed expectations, Yael Hedaya, a determinedly plainspoken novelist, has brilliantly mapped the social and emotional ecology of midlife and achieved miracles of insight and understanding.
Yael Hedaya is the head writer for In Treatment, the acclaimed Israeli TV series adapted for HBO. The author of Housebroken and Accidents, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in 2006, Hedaya teaches creative writing at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
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oFrah's JANUARY 2011 SELECTION
QUICHES, KUGELS, AND COUSCOUS
MY SEARCH FOR JEWISH COOKING IN FRANCE
BY JOAN NATHAN
November 2010, Knopf
What is Jewish cooking in France? In a journey that was a labor of love, Joan Nathan traveled the country to discover the answer and, along the way, unearthed a treasure trove of recipes and the often moving stories behind them. Nathan takes us into kitchens in Paris, Alsace, and the Loire Valley; she visits the bustling Belleville market in Little Tunis in Paris; she breaks bread with Jewish families around the observation of the Sabbath and the celebration of special holidays. All across France, she finds that Jewish cooking is more alive than ever: traditional dishes are honored, yet have acquired a certain French finesse. And completing the circle of influences: following Algerian independence, there has been a huge wave of Jewish immigrants from North Africa, whose stuffed brik and couscous, eggplant dishes and tagines—as well as their hot flavors and Sephardic elegance—have infiltrated contemporary French cooking. All that Joan Nathan has tasted and absorbed is here in this extraordinary book, rich in a history that dates back 2,000 years and alive with the personal stories of Jewish people in France today.
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oFrah's DECEMBER 2010 SELECTION
BY CYNTHIA OZICK
November 1, 2010, Houghton Mifflin
From Booklist *Starred Review* Ozick’s heady fiction springs from her deep critical involvement in literature, especially her fascination with Henry James, which emboldened her to lift the plot of his masterpiece, The Ambassadors, and recast it in a taut and flaying novel that is utterly her own. It’s 1952, and Bea has lived alone for decades after a fleeting marriage, teaching English to street-tough Bronx boys she much admires even as she covers their compositions with red ink. Haunted by her ex, a composer who decamped to Hollywood and made a fortune writing movie scores, Bea is also long estranged from her wealthy brother, Marvin. Yet he asks her to fly to Paris to search for his missing son, Julian, whom he surmises is besotted with the city’s fabled charms. Instead, Julian’s Paris is a dark and merciless place of lost souls because he is in love with a Romanian refugee whose family perished in the Holocaust. Operating in a fugue state brought on by the sudden eruption of deeply buried pain and rage, Bea manages to make bad situations truly disastrous. Ozick’s dramatic inquiry into the malignance of betrayal; exile literal and emotional; the many tentacles of anti-Semitism; and the balm and aberrance of artistic obsession is brilliantly nuanced and profoundly disquieting.
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A young adult novel
BY EISHES CHAYIL
September 14, 2010, Bloomsbury USA Walker Yong Adult
Inside the closed community of Borough Park, where most Chassidim live, the rules of life are very clear, determined by an ancient script written thousands of years before down to the last detail—and abuse has never been a part of it. But when thirteen-year-old Gittel learns of the abuse her best friend has suffered at the hands of her own family member, the adults in her community try to persuade Gittel, and themselves, that nothing happened. Forced to remain silent, Gittel begins to question everything she was raised to believe. A richly detailed and nuanced book, one of both humor and depth, understanding and horror, this story explains a complex world that remains an echo of its past, and illuminates the conflict between yesterday's traditions and today's reality.
Obviously, due to the theme of this story and the nature of the Boro Park community, EISHES CHAYIL is a nom de plume and pseudonym for the actual author. She was raised in a world of Chassidic schools, synagogues, and summer camps and is a direct descendant of the major founders and leaders in the Chassidic world. She holds a masters degree in creative writing and has worked as a journalist for several Orthodox Jewish newspapers.
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oFrah's NOVEMBER 2010 SELECTION
How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer
By Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker and Joni Rodgers
September 2010, Broadway
Suzy and Nancy Newman Goodman were more than sisters. They were best friends, confidantes, and partners in the grand adventure of life. For three decades, nothing could separate them. Not college (UIUC), not marriage (Leitstein, Koman), not miles. Then Suzy got sick. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977; three agonizing years later, at thirty-six, she died.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Goodman girls were raised in postwar Peoria, Illinois, by parents who believed that small acts of charity could change the world. Suzy was the big sister—the homecoming queen with an infectious enthusiasm and a generous heart. Nancy was the little sister—the tomboy with an outsized sense of justice who wanted to right all wrongs. The sisters shared makeup tips, dating secrets, plans for glamorous fantasy careers. They spent one memorable summer in Europe discovering a big world far from Peoria. They imagined a long life together—one in which they’d grow old together surrounded by children and grandchildren.
Suzy’s diagnosis shattered that dream.
In 1977, breast cancer was still shrouded in stigma and shame. Nobody talked about early detection and mammograms. Nobody could even say the words “breast” and “cancer” together in polite company, let alone on television news broadcasts. With Nancy at her side, Suzy endured the many indignities of cancer treatment, from the grim, soul-killing waiting rooms to the mistakes of well-meaning but misinformed doctors. That’s when Suzy began to ask Nancy to promise. To promise to end the silence. To promise to raise money for scientific research. To promise to one day cure breast cancer for good. Big, shoot-for-the-moon promises that Nancy never dreamed she could fulfill. But she promised because this was her beloved sister.
I promise, Suzy. . . . Even if it takes the rest of my life.
Suzy’s death—both shocking and senseless—created a deep pain in Nancy that never fully went away. But she soon found a useful outlet for her grief and outrage. Armed only with a shoebox filled with the names of potential donors, Nancy put her formidable fund-raising talents to work and quickly discovered a groundswell of grassroots support. She was aided in her mission by the loving tutelage of her husband, restaurant magnate Norman Brinker (Brinker International), whose dynamic approach to entrepreneurship became Nancy’s model for running her foundation. Her account of how she and Norman met, fell in love, and managed to achieve the elusive “true marriage of equals” is one of the great grown-up love stories among recent memoirs.
Nancy’s mission to change the way the world talked about and treated breast cancer took on added urgency when she was herself diagnosed with the disease in 1984, a terrifying chapter in her life that she had long feared. Unlike her sister, Nancy survived and went on to make Susan G. Komen for the Cure into the most influential health charity in the country and arguably the world. A pioneering force in cause-related marketing, SGK turned the pink ribbon into a symbol of hope everywhere. Each year, millions of people worldwide take part in SGK Race for the Cure events. And thanks to the more than $1.5 billion spent by SGK for cutting-edge research and community programs, a breast cancer diagnosis today is no longer a death sentence. In fact, in the time since Suzy’s death, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer has risen from 74 percent to 98 percent.
Promise Me is a deeply moving story of family and sisterhood, the dramatic “30,000-foot view” of the democratization of a disease, and a soaring affirmative to the question: Can one person truly make a difference?
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oFrah's OCTOBER 2010 SELECTION
BY NICOLE KRAUSS
October 2010, WW Norton
A powerful, soaring novel about a stolen desk that contains the secrets, and becomes the obsession, of the lives it passes through. For twenty-five years, a solitary American novelist has been writing at the desk she inherited from a young poet who disappeared at the hands of Pinochet's secret police; one day a girl claiming to be his daughter arrives to take it away, sending her life reeling. Across the ocean in London, a man discovers a terrifying secret about his wife of almost fifty years. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer is slowly reassembling his father's Budapest study, plundered by the Nazis in 1944. These worlds are anchored by a desk of enormous dimension and many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away. In the minds of those it has belonged to, the desk comes to stand for all that has disappeared in the chaos of the world-children, parents, whole peoples and civilizations. Nicole Krauss has written a hauntingly powerful novel about memory struggling to create a meaningful permanence in the face of inevitable loss
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oFrah's SEPTEMBER 2010 SELECTION
BY SHARON POMERANTZ
August 2010, Twelve
Ten years in the making, Rich Boy is a well crafted novel of desire, money, grace, love, and class. It spans 4 decades, from the Sixties to the Nineties in the life of a young man, Robert Vishniak, who wants to escape his past. It is a story of rich and poor, and rich and wealthy.
Booklist writes: “*Starred Review* Pomerantz’s compelling, finely crafted debut novel chronicles one man’s journey from the blue-collar suburbs of 1950s Philadelphia to the high-society of 1980s New York. Robert Vishniak grows up in a working-class Jewish neighborhood, often at odds with his frugal, distant mother. Blessed with good looks and possessing an uncompromising ambition, Robert learns at an early age to use his physical appearance to his advantage. Eager to leave behind his humble upbringing, Robert is accepted to Tufts University, where he quickly falls in with a group of privileged students led by the enigmatic Tracey, Robert’s roommate and subsequent lifelong friend. Moving forward in time, Pomerantz chronicles Robert’s varied adventures as he copes with the panoramic complexities and rewards of rebellion, self-renewal, and heartache. Over the course of four decades, Robert becomes entrenched in the upper echelon of Manhattan’s elite, ultimately succeeding as a real-estate lawyer and marrying into a family of old money. He is finally enjoying the success he so desired as a young man, until a random encounter with a woman from his hometown begins to erode Robert’s carefully crafted persona. Pomerantz’s sweeping tale captures the intimate truths and hypocrisies of class, identity, and one man’s quintessential American experience.
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oFrah's AUGUST 2010 SELECTION
WHEREVER YOU GO
BY JOAN LEEGANT
July 2010, Norton
A debut novel by a writer who brings “matter and spirit together . . . with unsuspected, unquantifiable meaning.”—New York Times Book Review This powerful, emotionally wrenching story opens in Jerusalem one steamy September when three Americans, unknown to each other, seek personal salvation in a foreign land. Yona Stern longs to make amends with her estranged sister who lives in a radical Jewish settlement. Mark Greenglass, a Talmud teacher, has inexplicably lost his once fierce devotion to Orthodox Judaism and now wonders if he’s done with God. Enter Aaron Blinder, an unstable college dropout whose famous father endlessly—some say obsessively—mines the Holocaust for his best-selling, melodramatic novels. In a sweeping, beautifully written story of the lengths to which we will go in search of spiritual fulfillment, Joan Leegant weaves together the stories of three lives in the grip of a volatile, demanding faith, and ultimately bound together by a tragic act of violence. Haunting and wise, Wherever You Go is a gripping and prescient debut novel.
Joan Leegant, author of An Hour in Paradise, won the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for the best book of Jewish-American fiction and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award.
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THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR
BY ALLEGRA GOODMAN
July 2010, Dial Press
From Publishers Weekly. Starred Review. If any contemporary author deserves to wear the mantel of Jane Austen, it's Goodman, whose subtle, astute social comedies perfectly capture the quirks of human nature. This dazzling novel is Austen updated for the dot-com era, played out between 1999 and 2001 among a group of brilliant risk takers and truth seekers. Still in her 20s, Emily Bach is the CEO of Veritech, a Web-based data-storage startup in trendy Berkeley. Her boyfriend, charismatic Jonathan Tilghman, is in a race to catch up at his data-security company, ISIS, in Cambridge, Mass. Emily is low-key, pragmatic, kind, serene—the polar opposite of her beloved younger sister, Jess, a crazed postgrad who works at an antiquarian bookstore owned by a retired Microsoft millionaire. When Emily confides her company's new secret project to Jonathan as a proof of her love, the stage is set for issues of loyalty and trust, greed, and the allure of power. What is actually valuable, Goodman's characters ponder: a company's stock, a person's promise, a forest of redwoods, a collection of rare cookbooks? Goodman creates a bubble of suspense as both Veritech and ISIS issue IPOs, career paths collide, social values clash, ironies multiply, and misjudgments threaten to destroy romantic desire. Enjoyable and satisfying, this is Goodman's (Intuition) most robust, fully realized and trenchantly meaningful work yet.
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oFrah's JULY 2010 SELECTION
EVERY HOUSE NEEDS A BALCONY
BY RINA FRANK
TRANSLATED FROM HEBREW BY ORA CUMMINGS
June 2010, HArPER
Hailed as the "Israeli Kite Runner" (The Bookseller), this international bestseller and publishing phenomenon is the bittersweet story of one family, one home, and the surprising arc of one woman's life, from the poverty of her youth to the glowing love and painful losses of her adult years. Braiding together past and present, Every House Needs a Balcony tells the story of a young Jewish girl—a child of Romanian immigrants—who lives with her family in the poverty-stricken heart of 1950s Haifa, Israel (WADI SALIB neighborhood). Eight-year-old Rina, her older sister, Josefa,(to whom the book is dedicated), and their parents inhabit a cramped apartment with a narrow balcony that becomes an intimate shared stage on which the joys and dramas of the building's daily life are played out. It is also a vantage point from which Rina witnesses the emergence of a strange new country, born from the ashes of World War II. Later, after years of living abroad with her wealthy Spanish husband in Barcelona, Rina, longing for the simple life she has missed, returns to the Haifa of her boisterous youth, a move that soothes her soul but ultimately endangers her marriage.
Beautifully told, rich with questions of identity, love, and survival, Every House Needs a Balcony is an unforgettable social and historical portrait of a neighborhood and a nation. Steeped in the colors and smells, laughter and tears, of Rina Frank's own childhood memories, it is a heartbreaking tale about the deepest meanings of home.
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Mr. ROSENBLUM DREAMS IN ENGLISH
BY NATASHA SOLOMONS
June 2010, Reagan
Dr. Solomons based this novel on the lives of her grandparents. It is a bittersweet love story and the film rights were already sold. Solomons spent her English summers in a cottage that her grandparents purchased with restitution money from Germany. And the recipes in the book are from her grandmother’s book.
The novel: It was at the outset of WWII that Sadie and jack Rosenblum and their infant daughter escaped Berlin. They land in London, where they receive a pamphlet on how to act English. Jack follows it closely. His suits are from Saville Row, he watches the BBC, he drives a Bentley (they are prosperous). But what he cannot do is join a gold club. In post-war England, no club will admit a Rosenblum. He therefore decides to build his own club in the Dorset countryside. As he goes off on this comical project, Sadie mourns the life they lost in Germany. Whose dream will be pursued?
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oFrah's JUNE 2010 SELECTION
Keep Your Wives Away from Them
Orthodox Women, Unorthodox Desires
Edited by Miryam Kabakov
May 11, 2010, North Atlantic Mifflin
Reconciling queerness with religion has always been an enormous challenge. When the religion is Orthodox Judaism, the task is even more daunting. This anthology takes on that challenge by giving voice to gender queer Jewish women who were once silenced—and effectively rendered invisible—by their faith. Keep Your Wives Away from Them tells the story of those who have come out, who are still closeted, living double lives, or struggling to maintain an integrated "single life" in relationship to traditional Judaism—personal stories that are both enlightening and edifying. While a number of films and books have explored the lives of queer people in Orthodox and observant Judaism, only this one explores in depth what happens after the struggle, when the real work of building integrated lives begins. The candor of these insightful stories in Keep Your Wives Away from Them makes the book appealing to a general audience and students of women’s, gender, and LGBTQ studies, as well as for anyone struggling personally with the same issue.
Contributors include musician and writer Temim Fruchter, Professor Joy Ladin, writer Leah Lax, nurse Tamar Prager, and the pseudonymous Ex-Yeshiva Girl.
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oFrah's MAY 2010 SELECTION
OUR TRUE STORY OF GOOD FRIENDS, BAD ODDS, CRUSHING HEARTBREAK, AND ONE LITTLE THING THAT INSPIRED A LOT OF HAPPINESS
BY CAREY GOLDBERG, BETH JONES, AND PAMELA FERDINAND
April 2010, LittleBrown
When I started reading the first chapter, and the second and the third, I was introduced to Carey, then Beth, and next Pam. Their stories were engrossing; the book was put down only because my subway rides were over. Each woman was nearing forty, single or soon to be single, and childless. The book opens with Carey. She was a successful journalist, a graduate of Yale and Harvard, a Moscow reporter and at the time of the writing of the book, the Boston bureau chief for The New York Times. She was amazingly cute, smart, probably an avid fan of Israeli Ahava products, Jewish, and outdoorsy. When her boyfriend accidentally called her on his cell phone (you know.. butt calling) and Carey overheard him bashing her to his psychotherapist, she knew their hot cold hot cold relationship was over. Afterwards, she purchased some sperm from a reputable sperm bank, after much research, and thought she would just have a child as a single parent. But they day the sperm arrived was same day she finally met a guy who was tall and interesting and similar to the sperm sample, and she started to date him on and off. Next, we meet Beth. She was 35 when she came home from a vacation to Jamaica with her parents. Her husband was busy starting an internet firm. He met her at their doorway (they were married long enough that they were past the period when he would pick her up at the airport). He announced that he wanted a divorce. All Beth’s plans were trashed. She would not be getting pregnant by 35 and starting a family. The story takes us down the path of her divorce and search for motherhood. Then there is Pam, a successful reporter for The Washington Post; she is a pure romantic and believed in love and romance, and she, too, was single and not dating.
As the book continues, we learn more about these loving and successful women, and watch as Carey’s relationship develops and she decides to pass her purchased sperm onto Beth, who then, also, finds a new man to love, and she, too passes the semen to Pamela, who…
What a great read.
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oFrah's APRIL 2010 SELECTION
THE SABBATH WORLD
GLIMPSES OF A DIFFERENT ORDER OF TIME
BY JUDITH SHULEVITZ
March 2010, Random House
Perhaps not since Heschel's The Sabbath, has an author presented a simple deeply informative narrative on the meaning of rest and the Sabbath.
The book open with her recalling how she moved from Detroit, as a child, to Puerto Rico, from a large house to a small apartment, On Saturdays whe would curl up in a corner near the freezer that they had to store kosher meat that was flown in from the USA. This solitude and space was her Sabbath, this space in time and this space in the kitchen. Her mother, on the other hand, loved the conservative synagogue in San Juan. What about it mitigated her lonliness? Ten year‘s ago the author became obsessed with the Sabbath. She read Heschel fables, but slung to Eiatar Zerubavel‘s “The Seven Day Cycle“ more. She wanted to understand her week, its shape, its values. It was then that she wanted to write a book. This is it. She is no longer ambivalent towards the seventh day.
The Sabbath is not just the holy day of rest. It’s also a utopian idea about a less pressured, more sociable, purer world. Where did this notion come from? Is there value in withdrawing from the world one day in seven, despite its obvious inconvenience in an age of convenience? And what will be lost if the Sabbath goes away?
In this erudite, elegantly written book, critic Judith Shulevitz weaves together histories of the Jewish and Christian sabbaths, speculations on the nature of time, and a rueful account of her personal struggle with the day. Shulevitz has found insights into the Sabbath in both cultural and contemporary sources—the Torah, the Gospels, the Talmud, and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, as well as in the poetry of William Wordsworth, the life of Sigmund Freud, and the science of neuropsychology. She tells stories of martyrdom by Jews who died en masse rather than fight on the Sabbath and describes the feverish Sabbatarianism of the American Puritans. And she counterposes the tyranny of religious law with the equally oppressive tyranny of the clock. Can we really flourish under the yoke of communal
discipline, as preachers and rabbis like to tell us? What about being free to live as we please? Can we preserve what the Sabbath gives us—a time outside time—without following its rules?
Whatever our faith or lack thereof, this rich and resonant meditation on the day of rest will remind us of the danger of letting time drive us heedlessly forward without ever stopping to reflect. Shulevitz writes for Slate and the NYT, The New Yorker and New Republic. She is the spouse of Nicholas Lemann.
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IF YOU KNEW SUZY
A MOTHER, A DAUGHTER, A REPORTER‘S NOTEBOOK
BY KATHERINE ROSMAN
April 2010, Harper
Perhaps you recall the story in the WSJ about the author’s mother, in a hospital being treated for cancer, struggling to draw a breath, only to ask her daughters to make sure to safeguard her eBay bidding reputation (she would bid on Venetian, Steuben and Depression art glass, fragile but resilient)
Former freelancer and Brill’s Content writer, and current WSJ culture reporter, Katherine Barnett Rosman, longed to find answers to the questions that we all grapple with after losing someone we love. So she did what she does best: she opened her notebook and started asking questions. Faced with the loss of her mother, Suzanne Rosin (daughter of Leo Goldberg the Kitt Peak astronomer), to cancer at only 60 in June 2005, Rosman spent a year investigating the life of a woman she only knew as a parent. Along the way, Rosman discovered another side to her mother—a woman whose life was intricately connected to a host of characters her daughter hardly knew. Embarking on a cross-country odyssey that would take her into the heart of some quirky, colorful communities, Rosman interviewed friends and acquaintances of her mother, as well as people whose relationships were more complex though no less potent–a former golf caddie, a legendary Pilates instructor (her mother was Pilates instructor who would give free instruction to teenagers with scoliosis, overweight people who couldn't afford regular lessons or anyone else whose "energy" she liked), an eBay glass collector and an immigrant doctor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, among them. As Rosman attempted to fill in the blank spaces that might explain her mother’s motivations and philosophies in building a life and in facing death, she came to understand this woman as she never imagined she could. Blending humor, honesty and old-fashioned reporting, Rosman’s grapples with the bittersweet reality that sometimes we can’t truly know someone until after she is gone. At once comforting, candid and very funny, If You Knew Suzy is a heartfelt memoir against which readers can consider themselves and the lives of all those they love.
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PS: Sa (infinity) Ta (life) Na (death) Ma (rebirth)
oFrah's MARCH 2010 SELECTION
BY DANI SHAPIRO
February 2010, Harper. DaniShapiro.Com
How many women write a memoir? And how many live enough to write two memoirs before they are 50? Dani Shapiro is one of these writers. She grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family. But it was more about tradition than belief, and she felt an emptiness that she filled with many things… That was her first memoir. Now she is breaking forty, and she has a marriage and a child and is in Litchfield CT. This is not the burbs, but the country. She lives a few hours from Manhattan, but it might as well be a five hour flight. She settles into being a Mommy (and perhaps a mom), a wife, and a daughter and a neighbor. She is finally coming of age. This book is her reckoning of what she has learned the hard way and what she believes. WHAT DOES SHE BELIEVE? This keeps her awake at night. Is there a plan, an order, some wisdom? Is it chaos? Is life just a jumble of events? This book took two years of introspection to create. Click the book cover to read more.
oFrah's FEBRUARY 2010 SELECTION
The Three Weissmanns of Westport
The Three Weissmans of Westport
By Cathleen Schine
February 2010, FS&G
Jane Austen’s beloved “Sense and Sensibility” has moved to Westport, Connecticut, in this enchanting modern-day homage to the classic novel. “When Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy eight years old and she was seventy-five . . . He said the words “Irreconcilable differences,” and saw real confusion in his wife’s eyes. “Irreconcilable differences?” she said. “Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce?” “
Thus begins The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a sparkling contemporary adaptation of Sense and Sensibility from the always winning Cathleen Schine, who has already been crowned “a modern-day Jewish Jane Austen” by People’s Leah Rozen.
In Schine’s story, sisters Miranda, an impulsive but successful literary agent, and Annie, a pragmatic library director, quite unexpectedly find themselves the middle-aged products of a broken home. Dumped by her husband of nearly fifty years and then exiled from their elegant New York apartment by his mistress, Betty is forced to move to a small, run-down Westport, Connecticut, beach cottage. Joining her are Miranda and Annie, who dutifully comes along to keep an eye on her capricious mother and sister. As the sisters mingle with the suburban aristocracy, love starts to blossom for both of them, and they find themselves struggling with the dueling demands of reason and romance.
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OFRAH'S JANUARY 2010 SELECTION
When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win
Reflections on Looking in the Mirror
by Carol Leifer
January 2010, now in paperback Villard
Booklist writes: Leifer uses her background in stand-up comedy to good effect in her collection of easy-to-read, column-length pieces that range from her finding her lesbian sexual identity at 40 ("If I don't sleep with a woman soon, I think I'll kill myself") to her childhood disappointment at her dad's "bargain" gift of a cheap Babblin' Barbara doll instead of the A-list Chatty Cathy she yearned for. Babblin' Babs was "a train wreck reeking of cheap Taiwanese sweatshop child-labor plastic . . . a speech-impaired whore . . . you didn't want to play with as much as rush her to the emergency room." Along the way she offers breezy observations on Jews celebrating Gentile holidays à la Jews for Jesus-"like vegans for Burger King"-and her heartfelt conversion to animal adoption that led to her current household of seven dogs, all rescues that have changed everything: "My life without loving animals is unimaginable to me now. It's like living without air, without music." All in all, Leifer presents a charming mix of outrageous fun shot through with poignant affirmation.
"These essays have stirred in me a foreign, disgusting and heretofore dormant urge to hug someone, in this case the author. If I become human as a result of reading this, so help me God I will sue her for every dollar she makes from this profound, insightful, and hilarious book."-Larry David
"I discovered Carol Leifer at an open mike night in the late 70's on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It didn't take me two seconds to realize how special her talent is. (Two seconds, that's how good I am, by the way). But she really has one of the most uniquely hilarious minds of anyone I've ever met. We have worked together on countless projects. If you have never heard how she thinks, this book is the perfect introduction."-Jerry Seinfeld
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My Before and After Life
by Risa Miller
January 2010, St. Martin's Press
Miller (Welcome to Heavenly Heights) focuses on an unrelentingly introspective attorney and her struggle with spirituality in the wake of her father's sudden religious awakening. Honey Black and her sister, Susan, travel to Israel with the intention of bringing back their father, newly inducted into Orthodox Judaism, whose extended vacation they believe has plunged him into "temporary madness." After they return home, without their father, Honey continues to brood over her time in Israel, specifically her experience praying in the caves of the countryside. Meanwhile, she's taken on a case defending her predominantly Jewish (not necessarily Orthodox) neighborhood against the expansion of the Orthodox Brookline Hebrew Day School, bringing to light questions of spirituality as well as community division and religious prejudice. Though Honey is a satisfyingly complex character, her father, husband and sister never quite come to life. Still, Miller is extremely skilled in her exploration of religion as a personal decision, a profound experience and a source of surprise and wonder.
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OFRAH'S DECEMBER 2009 SELECTION
Can I Have a Cell Phone For Hanukkah?
The Essential Scoop on Raising Modern Jewish Kids
By Sharon Duke Estroff
How do you help your child choose between mandatory baseball practice and Hebrew school? How can you plan a birthday party (not to mention bar or bat mitzvah party!) for your child without sacrificing your values, sanity, and pocketbook? How can you keep peace on the homework homefront? And how do you deal with Santa envy-let alone the entire month of December? What if your child is invited a party on Shabbat? How do handle Santa envy? As any modern Jewish parent knows, balancing family traditions and the realities of contemporary culture can be incredibly challenging. Answering questions both old and new, Jewish and secular, internationally syndicated parenting columnist and award-winning Jewish educator and mother of four, Sharon Duke Estroff illuminates the ways that Jewish tradition can be used to form a lasting, emotional safety net for modern families. Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? is an instant classic.
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Women and Judaism
New Insights and Scholarship
Jewish Studies in the 21st Century
Edited by Frederick Greenspahn
2009, NYU Press
Although women constitute half of the Jewish population and have always played essential roles in ensuring Jewish continuity and the preservation of Jewish beliefs and values, only recently have their contributions and achievements received sustained scholarly attention. Scholars have begun to investigate Jewish women's domestic, economic, intellectual, spiritual, and creative roles in Jewish life from biblical times to the present. Yet little of this important work has filtered down beyond specialists in their respective academic fields. Women and Judaism brings the broad new insights they have uncovered to the world. Women and Judaism communicates this research to a wider public of students and educated readers outside of the academy by presenting accessible and engaging chapters written by key senior scholars that introduce the reader to different aspects of women and Judaism. The contributors discuss feminist approaches to Jewish law and Torah study, the spirituality of Eastern European Jewish women, Jewish women in American literature, and many other issues. Contributors: Nehama Aschkenasy, Judith R. Baskin, Sylvia Barack Fishman, Harriet Pass Freidenreich, Esther Fuchs, Judith Hauptman, Sara R. Horowitz, Renée Levine, Pamela S. Nadell, and Dvora Weisberg
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OFRAH'S NOVEMBER 2009 SELECTION
The Fetus in Rabbinic Narratives
(Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion)
by Gwynn Kessler
2009, University of PENNsylvania PRESS
In Conceiving Israel, Gwynn Kessler examines the peculiar fascination of the rabbis of late antiquity with fetuses-their generation, development, nurturance, and even prenatal study habits-as expressed in narrative texts preserved in the Palestinian Talmud and those portions of the Babylonian Talmud attributed to Palestinian sages. For Kessler, this rabbinic speculation on the fetus served to articulate new understandings of Jewishness, gender, and God. Drawing on biblical, Christian, and Greco-Roman traditions, she argues, the rabbis developed views distinctive to late ancient Judaism.
Kessler shows how the rabbis of the third through sixth centuries turned to non-Jewish writings on embryology and procreation to explicate the biblical insistence on the primacy of God's role in procreation at the expense of the biological parents (and of the mother in particular). She examines rabbinic views regarding God's care of the fetus, as well as God's part in determining fetal sex. Turning to the fetus as a site for the construction of Jewish identity, she explicates the rabbis' reading of "famous fetuses," or biblical heroes-to-be. If, as they argue, these males were born already circumcised, Jewishness and the covenantal relation of Israel to its God begin in the womb, and the womb becomes the site of the ongoing reenactment of divine creation, exodus, and deliverance. Rabbinic Jewish identity is thus vividly internalized by an emphasis on the prenatal inscription of Jewishness; it is not, and can never be, merely a matter of external practice.
Gwynn Kessler received her Ph.D. in Rabbinics, with a specialization in Midrash from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2001. Her thesis concerned "The God Of Small Things: The Fetus and Its Development in Palestinian Aggadic Literature" She teaches at the University of Florida and her current research uses feminist and queer theories to interpret (and critique) rabbinic constructions of gender and the body. She also teaches a course on GLBTQ Jews and Judaism and a course on biblical and rabbinic constructions of God's gender.
Read excerpts here: http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/toc/14611.html
Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S SEPTEMBER 2009 SELECTION
DAY AFTER NIGHT
BY ANITA DIAMANT
September 2009, Scribner
From the author of
THE RED TENT, a new novel. PW: "Diamant's bestseller, The Red Tent, explored the lives of biblical women ignored by the male-centric narrative. In her compulsively readable latest, she sketches the intertwined fates of several young women refugees at Atlit, a British-run internment camp set up in Palestine after WWII. There's Tedi, a Dutch girl who hid in a barn for years before being turned in and narrowly escaping Bergen-Belsen; Leonie, a beautiful French girl whose wartime years in Paris are cloaked with shame; Shayndel, a heroine of the Polish partisan movement whose cheerful facade hides a tortured soul; and Zorah, a concentration camp survivor who is filled with an understandable nihilism. The dynamic of suffering and renewed hope through friendship is the book's primary draw, but an eventual escape attempt adds a dash of suspense to the astutely imagined story of life at the camp: the wary relationship between the Palestinian Jews and the survivors, the intense flirtation between the young people that marks a return to life. Diamant opens a window into a time of sadness, confusion and optimism that has resonance for so much that's both triumphant and troubling in modern Jewish history." Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S AUGUST 2009 SELECTION
The secrets of women
The secrets of life
The secrets of love
And of purity...
THE HOUSE OF SECRETS
THE HIDDEN WORLD OF THE MIKVEH
BY VARDA POLAK-SAHM
August 2009, Beacon Press
Varda is a seventh generation Jerusalemite and a recognized author of folklore.
Immersion in the mikveh - the ritual bath based on Jewish laws of purity - is the cornerstone of Orthodox family life. Jewish women are commanded by their religion to immerse in the mikveh before marriage, and to do so every month after their menstrual cycle before sexual relations with their husbands may resume.
Varda Polak-Sahm considers herself a secular person. She viewed the mikveh as an intrusion of the religious establishment into the private domain. Yet she respected the traditions of her Sephardic family, who passionately believed in the sanctity and importance of the immersion ceremony before one's wedding. So on the eve of her second marriage, she reluctantly returned to the same mikveh she had entered as a young bride years before. Initially she feared that her pre-marital pregnancy would be revealed . She clung to her robe as her mother, aunts, female cousins and future female in-lawd stoof behind her at the mikveh. They were impatient. She was astonished by an immersion experience that felt hauntingly intimate and profound, like death and rebirth. The wtaers did not go ploop ploop ploop and announce that she was in her first tri-mester and not a virgin.
The revelatory nature of her experience, so at odds with her deep reservations about Judaism's purity laws, spurred Polak-Sahm to pursue a searching and wide-ranging investigation into what the mikveh is all about. As she discovered, despite the strict Orthodox roots of the practice, many women from all streams of Judaism use the mikveh, often for personal reasons that have more to do with faith than religion. The resultant narrative provides a richly nuanced, uncensored look at an experience that is for some holy and for others coercive. The House of Secrets gives voice to women from all branches of Judaism as they open up about what immersion means to them; how it fits in with their attitudes toward religion; its effect on their marriages and families as well as on their sexual, physical, and spiritual self-perception and on their relationship with God. Already widely praised in Israel, this English translation provides a firsthand account of the power of ritual immersion for the growing numbers of women reclaiming this practice.
The Jerusalem Post called it a "fascinating book."
Blu Greenberg said, "This work is totally honest and full of surprises.... Refreshingly, this writing is neither a Pollyanna version of the laws of family purity not a cheap shot at them."
Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S JULY 2009 SELECTION
THE SCENIC ROUTE
By Binnie Kirschenbaum
May 2009, Ecco Harper Perennial
It takes skill and assurance to pull off this beguiling narrative-by-digression, a love story-cum-family history-cum-confession of sins, and Kirshenbaum (An Almost Perfect Moment) has both in plentiful supply. A romantic affair begins in Fiesole when narrator Sylvia Landsman, an out-of-work, 42-year-old New York divorcée, meets debonair Henry Stafford, a Southern-born expatriate with expensive tastes and a good nose for wine. At the outset, Henry reveals that he is married to a rich woman who permits his lavish expenditures, and yet Sylvia-cynical, wry and imbued with Jewish guilt-dares to hope that Henry will be the man who changes her life. While the lovers enact a contemporary Two for the Road in his green Peugeot, Sylvia entertains Henry with stories about her eccentric family, meanwhile disclosing her own foibles and hang-ups-including some portents about betraying her best friend, Ruby. Sylvia segues from comedic quips to sad aperçus, and from cultural markers to historical vignettes, finally confessing the sin of omission that ended her friendship with Ruby. What's crushing isn't Sylvia's secret-it's how knowledge hasn't made her wiser. There are no happy endings here; instead, Kirshenbaum delivers capital-T truths. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S JUNE 2009 SELECTION
First a note on the new Supreme Court nominee in the USA. Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director of the National Council of Jewish Women, called the nomination of Judge Sotomayor, "thrilling." The ADL of Bnai Brith wrote, "We applaud President Obama for having selected this noted jurist to be the Court's first Hispanic and third woman Justice... If confirmed, she will undoubtedly bring an important new perspective to the work of the Court." The OU spoke positively about the nomination. The Jerusalem Post called her a "poster child" for American Jewish-Hispanic relations. In 1986, she joined a AJC's Project Interchange, and toured Israel with other Jewish and Hispanic leaders. She even toured Israel again in 1996, since she loved the culture so much. Judge Sotomayor has been involved in over 3,000 judicial decisions in her 18 years on the bench. On one case, in 1993, the Judge upheld the constitutional right of a rabbi to display a menorah in a municipal park. In two other cases, Sotomayor upheld the rights of incarcerated prisoners to practice religious beliefs that did not conform to majority beliefs.
AND NOW FOR OUR BOOK PICK FOR JUNE 2009
SHALOM INDIA HOUSING SOCIETY
(JEWISH WOMEN WRITERS)
BY ESTHER DAVID
April 2009, Feminist Press
Over two thousand years ago, remnants of one of the lost tribes of Israel appeared on the shores of India. They became known in India as the Bene Israel and nothing has been the same since. After religious riots break out in modern Ahmedabad, a handful of the tribe's descendants band together to live in a communal housing complex: the Shalom India Housing Society. Nestled amidst their Hindu and Muslim neighbors, the residents of these charming apartments find ways to laugh (the laughing club meets every morning on the lawn) and love, whether it is a crush next door or an Internet date with a distant Israeli. Writing with wit and an artist's eye for detail, Esther David vividly portrays a resilient group who share a fondness for the liquor-loving Prophet Elijah and costume parties. These true-to-life stories depict the joys and conflicts of a people continually choosing between the Indian traditions of their homeland and their Jewish heritage. Esther David was born into a Bene Israel Jewish family in Ahmedabad, India, and she grew up in a zoo created by her father. She is the author of six novels and is also a sculptor, art critic, and columnist for The Times of India. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S MAY 2009 SELECTION
A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace
By Ayelet Waldman.
May 2009, Broadway
Having aroused the ire of righteous mothers with her confession to loving her husband more than her children, Waldman (Love and Other Impossible Pursuits) offers similar boldface opinions in 18 rather defensive essays. The mother of four, living in Berkeley and married for 15 years to an ideal partner who told her on their first date that he wanted to be a stay-at-home husband and father (he also happens to be novelist Michael Chabon), Waldman was a Jewish girl who grew up in 1970s suburban New Jersey, where her mother introduced her to Free to Be You and Me and instilled in her the importance of becoming a working mother. With her supportive husband to manage the domestic drudgery, Waldman did pursue a law career, until she quit to be with her growing family. As a champion of "bad mothering," that is, dropping the metaphorical ball-making mistakes and forgiving yourself for it-Waldman writes in these well-fashioned essays how a mother's best intentions frequently go awry: she really meant to breastfeed, until one of her children was bottle-fed because of a palate abnormality; she denounced the playing of dodge ball in her children's school, out of her own memories of schoolyard humiliations; and she confesses to aborting a fetus who suffered a genetic defect. Her determinedly frank revelations are chatty and sure to delight the online groups she frequents. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S APRIL 2009 SELECTION
First, congratulations to Elisheva Baumgarten on receiving the Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in Gender Studies:
MOTHERS AND CHILDREN
JEWISH FAMILY LIFE IN MEDIEVAL EUROPE
BY ELISHEVA BAUMGARTEN
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
A captivating and lucid+ chronicle of Jewish family life in the Middle Ages. Will make for great seder table conversations. You will definitely rethink the role of women in Jewish history and life and learn about a time that is rarely or never discussed in Jewish history. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S MARCH 2009 SELECTION
First, a quick chuckle. I was reading an interview with the editor of Time Out India, about best selling books in India. There is no authoritative Best Sellers list in India, but if you want to know the real best sellers, you just need to look at which titles are being sold on street corners in pirated editions. Top sellers include the reissues "Q&A" which is now known worldwide at "Slumdog Millionaire," as well as "White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga and Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City." And then the delightful swipe, she takes at "spiritual nonsense books, such as those by Deepak Chopra" Haha
My pick for March 2009 is:
LIES WILL TAKE YOU SOMEWHERE
BY SHEILA SCHWARTZ
March 2009, Etruscan Paperback
In a voice reminiscent of Cynthia Ozick, this Jewish/Gothic novel renders the fracture and healing of the Rosen family. Jane Rosen leaves her three daughters and husband Saul, a rabbi, to care for her mother in Florida. In Jane's absence, Saul cares for the daughters, especially Malkah, who is troubled, and Saul discovers-through the deathbed confession of a man in his congregation-that his wife had an affair ten years earlier. Enraged, he ostracizes Jane from the family and strands her in Florida with her grief. At the same time, Jane is discovering more about her mother which was never known. As Malkah falls into depression, and Saul festers with anger, Jane gets deeper in a trap of problems and lies with the gardener.
Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S FEBRUARY 2009 SELECTION
Sima's Undergarmets for Women
by Ilana Stranger-Ross
February 2009, Overlook
There is a bra shop in an Orthodox Jewish area of Brooklyn. It is located below street level, underground. A 40 year secret is about to be revealed. It is here were women get together, quietly, in every shape and belief, to share their desires for a bra that does not leave marks, as well as their experiences with loss, love, and laughter. They search for a perfect fit, if not a perfect life. Sima Goldner teaches the women to appreciate their bodies. But then an Israeli seamstress arrives at the store. Timna is young and buxom. Sima finds herself awakened to love and possibilities.
* Stranger-Ross, a Barnard and Temple grad, is studying to be a midwife. Her work has appeared in Lilith, The Globe and Mail, and many other places. Click the book cover to read more.
Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes
by Tamar Yellin
FALL 2008, Toby
From Publishers Weekly: In Yellin's 10 serenely crafted stories, the plight of the wandering Jew is manifested in various outsiders, adventurers or those who are simply restless and homesick. Each brief tale is named for one of Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, exiled in Assyria and scattered across the globe according to the Old Testament. The peripatetic narrator's first encounter with wanderlust is her world-traveling Uncle Edras, a swashbuckling version of her bookish father who claims his brother is a bum. While her father is content with his armchair search for the Lost Tribes' fate, the girl is smitten by travel. As she grows up and makes her way in the world, she meets memorable kindred spirits: Professor G., a polyglot whose longing for his lost language eventually renders him mute; an old lady who fled her family home to sail abroad 40 years ago, but never got farther than the port; or the narrator's sickly 12-year-old pupil, Jacky Mendoza, who does not feel he inhabits his own body. Each mournful, startling portrait proves that award-winning Yellin (Kafka in Brontëland and Other Stories) is a stylist to watch. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S JANUARY 2009 SELECTION
Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce
by Sarah Abrevaya Stein
December 2008, Yale
Professor Stein holds the Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies, Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles, and she received the Salo Wittmayer Baron Prize for Best First Book in Jewish Studies in 2003. This book is based on an award winning article "Falling into Feathers: Jews and the Trans-Atlantic Ostrich Feather Trade", which she published in the Journal of Modern History. Plumes is about the bustling trade in ostrich feathers from the 1880s until the First World War, and the role of Jewish garment workers, ranchers, traders, and business people in the trade. Feathers had to be grown (by Yiddish speaking Litvak ostrich ranchers in South Africa and their Sephardic competitors in North Africa), plucked (or harvested), sorted, graded, shipped, imported, stored, sold, designed, manufactured (by Jewish immigrant women), and retailed. At its height a pound of feathers was as valuable as an equal weight of diamond carats. Ostrich feather for women's hats, gowns, capes, gloves and shoes peaked from 1905 to 1914. In just a few decades, feathers grew from a nascent business to a worldwide explosive bubble, only to come crashing down when the war, the growth of bird protection societies, and the advent of car travel changed women's fashions and attitudes. The book is a story of a forgotten Jewish trade, a trade that was swept under the community's carpet after so many lost their fortunes and livelihoods. Jewish traders, who people valued for their wise business practices and worldwide contacts, were re-cast as vulgar speculators and promoters of fashion in the face of wartime austerity. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S NOVEMBER 2008 SELECTION
KOSHER BY DESIGN LIGHTENS UP
Fabulous food for a healthier lifestyle
by Susie Fishbein (Author)
November 17, 2008, Mesorah
This sixth volume in Susie Fishbein's celebrated Kosher by Design cookbook series was crafted with your good health in mind! Kosher by Design Lightens Up is a gorgeous culinary guide, bursting with easy-to-do ideas for eating and feeling better. This cookbook teaches healthy cooking and food combining techniques, with special commentary by certified nutritional expert Bonnie Taub-Dix, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Assn. Susie says, These nutritious recipes are easy to integrate into your everyday menus. Anyone looking to migrate into a better way of eating and living will find delicious options here. Over 145 brand new recipes, Over 160 full color photos, Creative entertaining ideas, including oil olive tasting, a party spritzer station and more! Simple, healthy approaches to: cooking oils, sweeteners, whole grains, superfoods, smarter shopping, and more efficient kitchen gadgets. And Comprehensive cross-reference index .
While traditional kosher cooking invokes images of heavy, fatty Eastern European fare, Fishbein's cookbooks are a cosmopolitan tour-de-force. Lightens Up showcases international influences that are varied and inspired, including: Argentinean Bison Steak, Korean Beef Kim Chee Skewers, Merquez Sausage on Whole Wheat Couscous, Chicken Tikka Masala, Lebanese Salad, Mexican Citrus Salad, Thai Chicken Soup, Moroccan Spiced Vegetables, a Greek Frittata Ring, and Tangy Mediterranean Vegetables. With 21 different desserts, such as Baklava Bites and a Frozen Pumpkin Pie, Lightens Up proves that sweet and healthy can be complementary adjectives. Fishbein advises, "Most people find that if eating healthier involves a drastic change - the dreaded diet syndrome - they will not stick with it long-term. My concept is simple. Take small steps." Her own positive experience comes through in Lightens Up as she admits, "I have noticed that as I eat more whole grains and cut back on fats, sugars, and oils, I've developed new taste buds! The new flavors are refreshingly pure and satisfying." Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S OCTOBER 2008 SELECTION
Surprised by God
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion
by Danya Ruttenberg
August 2008, Beacon
A combat-booted religious awakening and a look at what it takes to develop a spiritual practice. At thirteen, Danya Ruttenberg decided that she was an atheist. Watching the sea of adults standing up and sitting down at Rosh Hashanah services, and apparently giving credence to the patently absurd truth-claims of the prayer book, she came to a conclusion: Marx was right. But as a young adult immersed in the rhinestone-bedazzled wonderland of late-1990s San Francisco, she found herself yearning for something she would eventually call God. And taking that yearning seriously, she came to find, would require much of her. Surprised by God is the memoir of a young woman's spiritual awakening and eventual path to the rabbinate. It's a post-dotcom, third-wave, punk-rock Seven Storey Mountain-the story of integrating life on the edge of the twenty-first century into the discipline of traditional Judaism without sacrificing either. It's also a map through the hostile territory of the inner life, an unflinchingly honest guide to the kind of work that goes into developing a spiritual practice in today's world-and why, perhaps, doing this in today's world requires more work than it ever has. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S SEPTEMBER 2008 SELECTION
Two pics as we enter the late Summer and early Fall. The first is a photo collection by Rachel Papo (Rachelpapo.com) of Israeli women as soldiers. I really found it interesting. The other is an exploration of sudden widowhood.
Serial No. 3817131
by Rachel Papo (Photographer)
Spring 2008, powerHouse Books
Brooklyn based photographer Rachel Papo gets to shoot for Israeli papers and others and has covered the top Israelis when they visit the USA, An SVA graduate she was a finalist for the Santa Fe Prize for Photography and a 2006 NYFA Fellowship. In this book of photos, we see Israeli women at age 18, At an age when sexual, educational, and family values are at their highest exploration point, the lives of Israeli teenage girls are interrupted. Trained to become soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, a rigorous institution where individuality comes second to nationalism, these new recruits pledge, "I solemnly swear...to devote all of my strength and to sacrifice my life to protect the land and the liberty of Israel." They then enter a two-year period in which they will change from girls to women, from adolescents to adults under a militaristic, masculine environment engaged in daily war and conflict.
Photographer Rachel Papo, who was Serial No. 3817131 during her service in the Israeli Air Force from 1988-1990, reveals these young girls caught in transient moments of self-reflection and uncertainty, as if stuck in a state of contradiction. Rather than portraying the soldier as heroic, confident, or proud, Papo's photographs reveal the soldier and the teenage girl in constant negotiation, caught between two extremes: a soldier lives on an army base surrounded by hundreds just like her, but underneath her uniform, there is an individual who wishes to be noticed. Serial No. 3817131, Papo's first book, explores the personal, complex, and delicate spectrum of emotions inherent in all adolescents, showing the vulnerable side of the righteous soldier.
Click the book cover to read more.
BY ANNE ROIPHE
August 2008, Harper Collins
From the author of 1185 Park Avenue and Up The Sandbox, 13 other books, as well as all the great pieces in The Jerusalem Report comes a post widowhood memoir after 40 years of marriage. Will she ever know another man so well as she did her husband? Will she ever hold hands at a movie or feel an arm across her back? Will she remain untouched? Should she take a bottle of wine to her dinner date, a bottle that was purchased by her late husband? Why is she growing irritated by her self-absorbed friends? "Grief is in two parts," she writes. "First is loss. Then second is the remaking of life... This is a book about the second." Weaving between heartbreaking memories of her marriage and the pressing needs of her new day-to-day routine, Roiphe constructs an elegant literary pastiche, not of grief but of renewal. She begins her memoir just as the shock of her husband's death has begun to wear off and writes her way into the then unknown world of life after love. In beautifully wrought vignettes, Roiphe captures the infinite number of 'firsts' that lie ahead, from hailing a cab to locking and unlocking the door at night, to answering responses to a "singles ad" placed by her daughter.
An interesting book with some boring parts, irritating parts and sublime parts. But that is the way life is, isn't it? Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S AUGUST 2008 SELECTION
Although this book came out in March, I am recommending it for August. I found it to be quite interesting and perfect for the August vacation season. When a friend of Hershon's mentioned that his family were Jewish cowboys, and one Jewish ancestor was a ghost in a hotel, her ears perked up, and she decided to research Jewish identity and the German Jews of the American Southwest in the 19th Century. What results is a story of a strong Jewish woman in the Southwest . Of course, you can just empathize with Eva, who travels from Germany to the pioneer wilds of the Southwest. (Let alone survives the trip there, after seeing an Indian massacre, and not catching cholera).
THE GERMAN BRIDE
BY JOANNA HERSHON
How do you create a kosher kitchen in a primitive mud hut?
Berlin, 1865. Eva Frank, the daughter of a benevolent Jewish banker, and her sister, Henriette, are having their portrait painted-which leads to a secret affair between young Eva and the mercurial artist. This indiscretion has far-reaching consequences, more devastating than Eva or her family could have imagined. How could she marry Heinrich and give up her Jewish life and identity> Distraught and desperate to escape her painful situation, Eva hastily marries Abraham Shein, an ambitious merchant who has returned home to Germany for the first time in a decade since establishing himself in the American West. The eighteen-year-old bride leaves Berlin and its ghosts for an unfamiliar life halfway across the world, traversing the icy waters of the Atlantic and the rugged, sweeping terrain of the Santa Fe Trail.
Though Eva's existence in the rough and burgeoning community of Sante Fe, New Mexico, is a far cry from her life as a daughter of privilege, she soon begins to settle into the mystifying town, determined to create a home. But this new setting cannot keep at bay the overwhelming memories of her former life, nor can it protect her from an increasing threat to her own safety that will force Eva to make a fateful decision. Plus she gets to marry a lying, gambling, hard drinking, womanizing, abusive yet appealing, Jewish man.
Joanna Hershon's novel is a gripping and gritty portrayal of urban European immigrants struggling with New World frontier life in the mid-nineteenth century. Vivid and emotionally compelling, The German Bride is also a beautiful narrative on how far one must travel to make peace with the past. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S JULY 2008 SELECTION
The Girl from Foreign
A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Lost Loves, and Forgotten Histories
by Sadia Shepard
July 31, 2008, Penguin
In this beautifully crafted memoir, a young Muslim-Christian woman travels to an insular Jewish community in India to unlock her family's secret history. Sadia Shepard grew up in a happily complicated family just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, her father a white Protestant from Colorado and her mother a Muslim from Pakistan. It was always a joyful home, full of stories and storytellers, where the cultures and religions of both her parents were celebrated and cherished with equal enthusiasm throughout her childhood. But Sadia's cultural legacy grew more complex when she discovered that there was one story she had never been told. Her beloved maternal grandmother was not the Muslim woman, Rahat Quraeshi, Sadia had always known her to be, but in fact was born Rachel Jacobs, a descendant of the Bene Israel, a tiny Jewish community whose members believe they are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, shipwrecked in India two thousand years ago.
What was complicated had become downright confusing; Sadia was now intimately linked to the faiths of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity and the customs of Pakistan, India, and the United States. At her grandmother's deathbed, Sadia promised to begin the process of filling in the missing pieces of her family's fractured mosaic, and with the help of a Fulbright scholarship, she set off for Bombay. Sadia's search to connect with the Bene Israel community led her to discover more about India's tumultuous history and the haunting legacy of Partition, and she was forced to examine what it means to lose one's place, one's homelands, and one's history.
Weaving together humorous tales from her crosscultural childhood with an evocative account of a small Jewish community in transition, The Girl from Foreign is Sadia's poetic and touching attempt to reconcile with her past and help determine her future-when offered the choice, will she be able to decide between the religious and cultural identities that have shaped her? It is the stunningly written and unforgettably evocative story of family secrets, forgotten roots, forbidden love, and, above all, eye-opening self-discovery. Sadia
Sadia Shepard is a documentary filmmaker whose work on the Bene Israel community of Western India includes a photo-essay and documentary film, made possible by a Fulbright Scholarship and grants from the Jeremiah Kaplan Foundation and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S JUNE 2008 SELECTION
by Elinor Burkett
May 2008, HarperCollins
The first female head of state in the Western world and one of the most influential women in modern history, Golda Meir was a member of the tiny coterie of founders of the State of Israel, the architect of its socialist infrastructure, and its most tenacious international defender. Her uncompromising devotion to shaping and defending a Jewish homeland against dogged enemies and skittish allies stunned political contemporaries skeptical about the stamina of an elderly leader, and transformed Middle Eastern politics for decades to follow.
A blend of Emma Goldman and Martin Luther King Jr. in the guise of a cookie-serving grandmother, Meir was a tough-as-nails politician who issued the first prescient warnings about the rise of international terrorism, out-maneuvered Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger at their own game of realpolitik, and led Israel through a bloody war even as she eloquently pleaded for peace. A prodigious fundraiser and persuasive international voice, Golda carried the nation through its most perilous hours while she herself battled cancer.
In this masterful biography, critically acclaimed author and Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Elinor Burkett looks beyond Meir's well-known accomplishments to the complex motivations and ideals, personal victories and disappointments, of her charismatic public persona. Beginning with Meir's childhood in virulently anti-Semitic Russia and her family's subsequent relocation to the United States, Burkett places Meir within the framework of the American immigrant experience, the Holocaust, and the single-mindedness of a generation that carved a nation out of its own nightmares and dreams. She paints a vivid portrait of a legendary woman defined by contradictions: an iron resolve coupled with magnetic charm, an utter ordinariness of appearance matched to extraordinary achievements, a kindly demeanor that disguised a stunning hard-heartedness, and a complete dedication to her country that often overwhelmed her personal relationships.
To produce this definitive account of Meir's life, Burkett mined historical records never before examined by any researcher, and interviewed members of Meir's inner circle, many going on record for the first time. The result is an astounding portrait of one of the most commanding political presences of the twentieth century-a woman whose uncompromising commitment to the creation and preservation of a Jewish state fueled and framed the ideological conflicts that still define Middle Eastern relations today.
Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S MAY 2008 SELECTION
From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene
by Masha Gessen
April 2008, Harcourt
In 2004 genetic testing revealed that Masha Gessen had a mutation that predisposed her to ovarian and breast cancer. The discovery initiated Gessen into a club of sorts: the small (but exponentially expanding) group of people in possession of a new and different way of knowing themselves through what is inscribed in the strands of their DNA. As she wrestled with a wrenching personal decision-what to do with such knowledge-Gessen explored the landscape of this brave new world, speaking with others like her and with experts including medical researchers, historians, and religious thinkers. Blood Matters is a much-needed field guide to this unfamiliar and unsettling territory. It explores the way genetic information is shaping the decisions we make, not only about our physical and emotional health but about whom we marry, the children we bear, even the personality traits we long to have. And it helps us come to terms with the radical transformation that genetic information is engineering in our most basic sense of who we are and what we might become.
From Publishers Weekly: This energetic but unfocused account awkwardly merges several strands: the author's experience with the threat of breast cancer, discussions of genetic inheritance in Jewish families and a look at how the ability to test for genetic predispositions to various diseases is changing lives. With a family history of breast cancer, journalist Gessen (Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia After Communism) was not surprised to learn she had inherited a deleterious mutation in the BRCA1 gene, one of two genes known to be linked to breast and ovarian cancer. The BRCA1 mutation was first discovered in Jewish women, a compact population with a higher-than-average breast cancer rate. Gessen describes her narrow options, with nondirective counseling steering her toward prophylactic removal of her breasts and ovaries. Then she jumps the track to talk about Dr. Henry Lynch, who, in 1966, first suggested that predisposition to cancer might be hereditary. Gessen also covers Huntington's disease, maple syrup disease among Old Order Mennonites, eugenics and how a genetic testing program is affecting marital choices for some Orthodox Jews. Gessen covers a fair amount of ground, but in a haphazard fashion. The book's strongest parts are on genetics and heredity in the Jewish community. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S APRIL 2008 SELECTION
BY JENNIFER WEINER
April 2008. Atria
From Publishers Weekly: "...Weiner turns in a hilarious sequel to her 2001 bestselling first novel, Good in Bed, revisiting the memorable and feisty Candace Cannie Shapiro. Flashing forward 13 years, the novel follows Cannie as she navigates the adolescent rebellion of her about-to-be bat mitzvahed daughter, Joy, and juggles her writing career; her relationship with her physician husband, Peter Krushelevansky; her ongoing weight struggles; and the occasional impasse with Joy's biological father, Bruce Guberman. Joy, whose premature birth resulted in her wearing hearing aids, has her own amusing take on her mother's overinvolvement in her life as the novel, with some contrivance, alternates perspectives. As her bat mitzvah approaches, Joy tries to make contact with her long absent maternal grandfather and seeks more time with Bruce. In addition, unbeknownst to Joy, Peter has expressed a desire to have a baby with Cannie, which means looking for a surrogate mother. Throughout, Weiner offers her signature snappy observations: (good looks function as a get-out-of-everything-free card) and spot-on insights into human nature, with a few twists thrown in for good measure. She expends some energy getting readers up to speed on Good, but readers already involved with Cannie will enjoy this, despite Joy's equally strong voice..."
OFRAH'S MARCH 2008 SELECTION
The Book of Dahlia
by Elisa Albert
March 2008. Free Press
When Dahlia Finger-a 29-year-old, pot-smoking, chronically underachieving Jewish-American princess-learns that she has brain cancer, the results are hilarious and heartbreaking in Albert's superb first novel (following the story collection How This Night Is Different). Opening in the Venice, Calif., cottage to which Dahlia has retreated, at her father's expense, after unsuccessfully trying to forge a life in New York, chapter one begins with the omniscient narrator's scathingly Edith Wharton-worthy catalogue of Dahlia's symptoms and ends with her first grand mal seizure. As Dahlia endures blistering radiation, sits numbly through her support group, smokes medical marijuana (with her crisis-reunited divorced parents) and carries a condescending book called It's Up to You: Your Cancer To-Do List, Albert masterfully interweaves Dahlia's battle with flashbacks, most tellingly involving her complexly overbearing Israeli mother, Margalit ("who unceremoniously imploded the family decades earlier"), and contemptuous older brother, against whom Dahlia has never learned to defend herself. Throughout, Albert delivers Dahlia's laissez-faire attitude toward other people (men especially) and lack of ambition with such exactness as to strip them of cliché and make them grimly vivid. Her brilliant style makes the novel's central question-should we mourn a wasted life?-shockingly poignant as Dahlia hurtles toward death.
Click the book cover to read more.
March 17, 2008 Powell's Books Portland, OR 7:30pm
March 19, 2008 Elliott Bay Books Seattle, WA 7:30pm
March 20, 2008 Book Passage San Francisco, CA 6pm
March 24, 2008 Dutton's Brentwood Los Angeles, CA 7pm
March 25, 2008 Skylight Books Los Angeles, CA 7:30pm
March 27, 2008 Books & Books Miami, FL 8pm
March 30, 2008 Newtonville Books Boston, MA 2pm
April 01, 2008 Brandeis University Pearlman Lounge 5 pm
April 03, 2008 Barnes and Noble Tribeca NYC 7pm
April 06, 2008 KGB Bar, East 4th St. NYC 7pm
NOW IN PAPERBACK!!
How This Night Is Different
by Elisa Albert
February 2008, Free Press
PW: Titled to reflect the customary question asked at Passover, these 10 stories by debut writer Albert explore traditional Jewish rituals with youthful, irreverent exuberance as her characters transition into marriage and child-rearing. In "Everything But," dutiful daughter Erin finds herself, after her mother's death, disturbed by the lovelessness of her marriage. In "So Long," Rachel has become "born again" as an Orthodox Jew and resolved to have her head shaved before her marriage, as per custom; the narrator, Rachel's maid of honor, struggles to suppress her sarcastic disbelief. "The Mother Is Always Upset" plays on the familial chaos of ritual circumcision (the bris): tearful mother Beth cowers in the bedroom, while exhausted new father Mark takes his cue from the sanguine mohel. And Albert, writing as nice Jewish girl Elisa Albert, becomes a cocksure writer determined to have the last word in the hilariously vulgar postmodern final story, "Etta or Bessie or Dora or Rose"-an unabashed autobiographical fan letter to Philip Roth, "the father of us all."
Click the book cover for more reviews or to purchase the book
OFRAH'S FEBRUARY 2008 SELECTION
Please Excuse My Daughter
By Julie Klam
March 2008, Riverhead
A woman's hilarious, bittersweet account of growing up in a family of career-shunning, dependence-seeking women and her journey to a state of twenty-first-century self-reliance. Julie Klam was raised as the only daughter of a Jewish family in the exclusive WASP stronghold of Bedford, New York. Her mother was sharp, glamorous, and funny, but did not think that work was a woman's responsibility. Her father was fully supportive, not just of his wife's staying at home, but also of her extravagant lifestyle. Her mother's offbeat parenting style-taking Julie out of school to go to lunch at Bloomingdale's, for example-made her feel well-cared-for (and well-dressed) but left her unprepared for graduating and entering the real world. She had been brought up to look pretty and wait for a rich man to sweep her off her feet. But what happened if he never showed up? When Julie gets married to a hardworking but not wealthy man-one who expects her to be part of a modern couple and contribute financially to the marriage-she realizes how ambivalent and ill-equipped she is for life. Once she gives birth to a daughter, she knows she must grow up, get to work, and teach her child the self-reliance that she never learned. Delivered in an uproariously funny, sweet, self-effacing, and utterly memorable voice, Please Excuse My Daughter is a bighearted memoir from an irresistible new writer. Click the book cover for more reviews or to purchase the book
OFRAH'S JANUARY 2008 SELECTION
It gets dark so early. I am more cognizant of it this year. It is just good time to curl up with a book... or a bible...
People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks
January 2008. Viking
In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-she begins to unlock the book's mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book's journey from its salvation back to its creation. In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city's rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah's extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna's investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love. Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is at once a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity, an ambitious, electrifying work by an acclaimed and beloved author. Click the book cover to read more.
A Women's Commentary
by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi
December 2007. URJ Press
With More than 10,000 pre-ordered, The Torah: A Women's Commentary is on track to become the most popular Torah Commentary of 2008. This Highly anticipated work is finally here after 14 years of planning, research, and fundraising. At the 39th Women of Reform Judaism Assembly in San Francisco, Cantor Sarah Sager challenged Women of Reform Judaism delegates to "imagine women feeling permitted, for the first time, feeling able, feeling legitimate in their study of Torah." WRJ accepted that challenge. The Torah: A Women's Commentary debuts at the Union for Reform Judaism 69th Biennial Convention in San Diego in December 2007. WRJ has commissioned the work of the world's leading Jewish female Bible scholars, rabbis, historians, philosophers and archaeologists. Their collective efforts will result in the first comprehensive commentary, authored only by women, on the Five Books of Moses, including individual Torah portions as well as the Hebrew and English translation.
"The Torah: A Women's Commentary" presents five forms of commentary for each Torah portion. The Central Commentary contains the Hebrew text and a gender-accurate English translation, along with a verse-by-verse explanation of the biblical text, highlighting female characters and issues involving women. A shorter, "Another View" essay focuses on a specific element in the parsha in a way that complements, supplements or sometimes challenges the Central Commentary. The Post-Biblical Interpretations section gathers teachings from rabbinic writings and classical Jewish commentaries, showing how traditional Jewish sources responded to texts pertaining to women.
Take one brief example from Naomi Steinberg's Central Commentary in the parsha Vayigash. Steinberg observes that the story of the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers "presents a study in the human capacity for lasting change" and the importance of forgiveness. How can we explain the transformation we witness in Judah? Steinberg answers this question by speculating on the effect of Judah's earlier encounter with his daughter-in-law Tamar, who deceived Judah in order to become pregnant. Steinberg writes: "While not mentioned in this parashah, Tamar has been a pivotal figure in Judah's own growth. Their encounter in Genesis 38 best accounts for Judah's new capacity to sympathize with his father."
In another parsha, the five daughters of Zelophehad in the Book of Numbers approach Moses, the leaders of the people, and the entire community. They draw near because they see a problem that needs a solution: they have not been given an inheritance that they believe is due to them. They refuse to be left out and demand their rightful share. And so they dare speak to Moses, the priest Eleazar, all the other leaders, and the entire edah (congregation or formally constituted assembly). They say: 'Give us a holding among our father's kin. Give us a share of our heritage, why should we be left out?' They get what they want a share, a large share I should add. Moreover, as a result of their courage, a new Torah law is created, one that intends to benefit future generations long after them. Their story is the story of the WRJ's The Torah: A Women's Commentary. The Women of Reform Judaism said: 'Give us a share among our brothers. We are no longer willing to be left out.' Instead of land, WRJ asks for something even more enduring - 'Give us a share of our Torah.' The result is a Torah commentary that we trust will benefit all of us. With this commentary we will continue as sisters to empower the women - and men - who come after us for generations to come."
Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S DECEMBER 2007 SELECTION
by Gina B. Nahai
October 2007. MacAdam
From Publishers Weekly: In her stirring fourth novel, Nahai explores the struggles of an Iranian family in the tenuous decade before the Islamic revolution. Twelve-year-old Yaas narrates her family's story, beginning before her birth at her parents' unlikely meeting. Her mother, Bahar, lives in the Jewish slums with her less-than-respectable family-among them, a seamstress who can't sew, a cantor who can't sing, a Muslim convert and a ghost. Bahar's fortuitous encounter with Omid Arbab, the son of wealthy Iranian Jews, results in a marriage that quickly disintegrates, due to class pressures and Bahar's desire for a measure of independence. Yaas then embarks on what is, at times, an overly lyrical account of her difficult and lonely childhood. She senses that she is an unwelcome disappointment to her mother, whose behavior toward her daughter ranges from inattentive to cruel. When Omid becomes involved in a public affair with the wealthy and beautiful Niyaz and Yaas begins going deaf, the Arbab family spirals out of control. Despite a clunky subplot involving Bahar's ghost brother and a too-easy resolution, the novel is a poignant tale of a damaged family. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S NOVEMBER 2007 SELECTION
By now, you have read or heard about MAXIM MAGAZINE's readers poll on the ugliest women. And of their bottom five... probably 3 or 4 have Jewish conections. But seriously, what mindless idiots read MAXIM and other laddy mags (okay, Larry used to subscribe, but he would throw it out before even opening the package after realizing that the writing was 3rd grade level and the humor was third rate). Who did they diss? Sarah Jessica Parker (partly Jewish married to a partly Jewish guy), Amy Winehouse, Sandra Oh (plays a half Jewish physician on Grey's Anatomy); Madonna (took a Jewish name), oh and also Britney Spears (hmmm.. maybe her lawyer is Jewish). To me, they are all beautiful sisters. Speaking of a beautiful sister, here is a book filled with problems:
THE RABBI'S DAUGHTER
BY REVA MANN
November 2007. BantamAndDell.com Random House
Reva Mann is the daughter of a highly respected London rabbi rabbi and the granddaughter of the head of an Israeli Rabbbinic Council. She grew up on the fence between self-destruction and revelation and her teen years were filled with drugs and sex. After an epiphany, she enrolled in a yeshiva in Israel and she married a Torah scholar and had three children. But she struggled to find a life that suited her desires. This is her chronicle of a life of pleasure and piety, struggle, sensuality, spirit, and success. And yes.. for those who are wondering, page 162 discusses her sex life during pregnancy and the lack of multiple orgasms; and page Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S OCTOBER 2007 SELECTION
READ BOTH AND LET ME KNOW IF U CAN COMPARE AND CONTRAST THEM:
BOOK II: MIRIAM
A NOVEL OF LOVE AND THE TALMUD IN MEDIEVAL FRANCE
BY MAGGIE ANTON
September 2007. PLUME
Book 1 focused on Yocheved. In this second novel of the trilogy, we meet the second daughter. In is Troyes France in 1078. Shlomo ben Yitzhak (RaSHI) teaches his middle daughter the Talmud and she pushes the boundaries. She is mourning for her fiance. She wants to be a mohel as well as a midwife. When a new suitor arrives in Troyes, she must decide on her career path and family. See www.RashisDaughters.com .
Click the book cover to read more.
Feminism Encounters Traditional Judaism
Resistance and Accommodation
by Tova Hartman
September 2007. Brandeis
University professor and social activist Tova Hartman, discouraged by failed attempts to make her modern Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem more inclusive of women, together with other worshippers, set about creating their own own, Shira Hadasha ("a new song"). Since it opened in 2002, this new synagogue's mission--to develop a religious community that embraces halakhah (Jewish law), tefillah (prayer), and feminism--has drawn thousands to services. The courageous act of creating the synagogue--against amazing odds--is testimony to Hartman's own deeply felt commitment to both feminism and modern Orthodox Judaism. The story of the creation and ongoing development of similar "partnership minyans" in Jerusalem and elsewhere anchors and ties together this book's five essays, each of which explores a vital contact point between contemporary feminist thought and aspects of Jewish tradition. Hartman discusses three feminist analyses of Freudian psychology for reading Jewish texts; modesty and the religious male gaze; the backlash against feminism by traditional rabbis; the male imagery in liturgy; and Orthodox women and purity rituals. Throughout, Hartman emphasizes the importance of reinterpretation, asking her readers to view as "creative tensions" what seem like obvious and insurmountable contradictions between traditional and modern beliefs. Such tensions can offer unexpected connections as well as painful compromises. The conclusion revisits the construction of the synagogue as well as discusses its impediments and actualizing these types of social and religious changes. Hartman's book will speak directly to scholars and students of gender, religion, and psychology, as well as anyone interested in the negotiation of feminism and tradition. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S SEPTEMBER 2007 SELECTION
I am drowning in books. It is a pleasure but sort of a burden. But my favorite pleasure so far has been:
The Zookeeper's Wife
A War Story
by Diane Ackerman
September 2007. WW Norton
Do you remember how in THE TIN DRUM, the main character stopped growing during the Nazi period? In this book, Antonina Zabinski, the zookeeper's courageous wife, contemplates whether the Nazi occupation of Poland is a hibernation of the Polish and human spirit. Unfortunately, after the war, the hibernation continued with the Communist takeover of Poland. Mrs. Zabinski died in 1971, before Poland was reborn, but through her diaries and her actions, we learn about a modern day NOAH.. who saved Jews in her ark.
From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses) tells the remarkable WWII story of Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo, and his wife, Antonina, who, with courage and coolheaded ingenuity, sheltered 300 Jews as well as Polish resisters in their villa and in animal cages and sheds. Using Antonina's diaries, other contemporary sources and her own research in Poland, Ackerman takes us into the Warsaw ghetto and the 1943 Jewish uprising and also describes the Poles' revolt against the Nazi occupiers in 1944. She introduces us to such varied figures as Lutz Heck, the duplicitous head of the Berlin zoo; Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, spiritual head of the ghetto; and the leaders of Zegota, the Polish organization that rescued Jews. Ackerman reveals other rescuers, like Dr. Mada Walter, who helped many Jews pass, giving lessons on how to appear Aryan and not attract notice. Ackerman's writing is viscerally evocative, as in her description of the effects of the German bombing of the zoo area: ...the sky broke open and whistling fire hurtled down, cages exploded, moats rained upward, iron bars squealed as they wrenched apart. This suspenseful beautifully crafted story deserves a wide readership.
Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S AUGUST 2007 SELECTION
When We Were Bad
by Charlotte Mendelson
August 2007. Houghton Mifflin
See www dot charlottemendelson dot com
She might have titled this book, "Fifty Ways To Leave Your Mother."
It is time for American Jews to meet their British Jewish cousins, and I am not just talking about "dress British and think Yiddish." To write this book, Mendelson interviewed four female rabbis, read Jewish cookbooks, studied the JOYS IF YIDDISH, and immersed herself in the world of synagogue newsletters. In England, clever is an insult and quiet is a virtue. Yet Jews are usually clever and not quiet. The opposite of British goals. But this novel explores Jewish sexiness, the hidden lives, the self deprecating jokes and sex and food, the fears of violence, and the peach hand towels. The reader will be introduced to British Jewish uniqueness, just as they learn about West Indians in the pages of Zedie Smith or the Bangledeshis when reading Monica Ali.
A rising British star makes her American debut with an excoriatingly funny yet deeply humane novel about a glamorous London family that happens to be falling apart. Everything is in order in the house of Rubin. This marvelous, dynastic Jewish family is getting ready to marry off their perfect eldest son, Leo. History, community, even gastronomy all unite the guests lucky enough to attend this joyous occasion. But when the groom--one minute before exchanging vows--bolts with the wrong woman, the myths that have defined this family start to take on darker overtones. Mendelson's satiric eye, which in her two earlier novels has won her comparisons to the writing of Evelyn Waugh, is on full display here. But in these pages, she is also describing a world rarely explored in British society: the complicated, singular world of English Jews who often wear their Jewishness uneasily amidst an Anglican culture. It is a story of how birth order defines lives, and how people secretly loves people they are not supposed to love. Families harbor myths about their members and set roles for people based on these myths. Some people spend their lives trying to escape or conform to these expectations and myths.
The Rubin family is doomed to happiness. Claudia Rubin is in her heyday. Wife, mother, flamboyantly sexy famous celebrity rabbi and sometime moral voice of the nation, it is she whom everyone wants to be with at her older son's glorious February wedding. Until Leo becomes a bolter and the heyday of the Rubin family begins to unravel . . . His calm, married, more mature sister, Frances, tries to hold the center together but the stresses, for Frances, force her to re-examine her own middle way and lead to a decision as shocking in its way as Leo's has been. Meanwhile, Claudia's husband Norman has, uncharacteristically, a secret to hide - a secret whose imminent unveiling he can do nothing about . . . A warm, poignant and true portrayal of a London family in crisis, in love, in denial and - ultimately - in luck. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S JULY 2007 SELECTION
The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit
My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World
by Lucette Lagnado
June 2007. HarperCollins
Read her piece in the WSJ on Yom Kippur:
A Memoir. Vassar graduate, Lucette Matalon Lagnado, the author of "Children of the Flames: Dr. Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz" recreates the glamour of growing up in Cairo between the World Wars, and life as a Jewish family. Her father, Leon, a textile broker, was a businessman who conducted business from the posh Nile Hilton. But when King Farouk was deposed by Nasser and the young Egyptian officers, and businesses were nationalized, Leon and his family lost their economic base. The streets were renamed, neighborhoods of their fellow Jews disbanded, and the city purged of all foreign influence. The Lagnados, too, planned their escape. With all of their belongings packed into 26 suitcases, their jewels and gold coins hidden in sealed tins of marmalade, Leon and his family depart for any land that will take them. The fled to Paris and then to New York, and moved from opulence to poverty, from ease to hardship. The poverty and hardships they encounter in their flight from Cairo to Paris to New York are strikingly juxtaposed against the beauty and comforts of the lives they left behind. A vivid and graceful story. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S JUNE 2007 SELECTION
Not a Happy Camper
by Mindy Schneider
JUNE 2007. Grove Press
Remember those long sultry summer days at camp, the sun setting over the lake as you sang Kumbaya? Well, Mindy Schneider remembers her summer at Camp Kin-A-Hurra in 1974 just a wee bit differently. Not a Happy Camper chronicles a young girl's adventures at a camp where the sun never shines, the breakfast cereal dates back to the summer of 1922, and many of the counselors speak no English. For eight eye-opening and unforgettable weeks, Mindy and her eccentric band of friends - including Autumn Evening Schwartz, the daughter of hippies who communicates with the dead, and the sleep-dancing, bibliophile Betty Gilbert - keep busy feuding in color wars, failing at sports, and uncovering the camp's hidden past. As she focuses on landing the perfect boyfriend and longs for her first kiss, Mindy unexpectedly stumbles across something infinitely grander: herself. Hilarious, charming, and glowing with nostalgia, Mindy Schneider's memoir is a must-read for anyone who's ever been to summer camp, or wishes they had. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S MAY 2007 SELECTION
If You Awaken Love
by Emuna Elon. Translated by David Hazony.
May 2007. Toby Press
From Publishers Weekly: A Tel Aviv interior designer specializing in closed rooms and clients' privacy, 40-year-old Shlomtzion Drore closed herself off emotionally after her childhood sweetheart, Yair, broke off their engagement when his rabbi refused them his blessing. A rebound marriage, pregnancy and divorce quickly followed, as did an abandonment of the religious nationalism at the center of her relationship with Yair. Now it's the eve of Rabin's assassination in 1995, and Shlomtzion is a secular leftist who supports the Oslo peace accords and the dismantling of the controversial West Bank settlements. But when her daughter, Maya, undergoes a religious awakening and becomes engaged to Yair's son, Shlomtzion is forced to confront her old flame at his West Bank settlement home, and her pentup venom threatens to poison their children's happiness. West Bank resident Elon limns a vivid and dignified portrait of the Israeli religious minority, although at times her characters spout political rhetoric and Shlomtzion's overwritten obsession with Yair and their children's coincidental romance fails to suspend disbelief.
*Kirkus Starred Review* - Beautifully lyrical, with philosophical reflections on love and fate, family and politics, culture and history. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S APRIL 2007 SELECTION
My Travels Through Asia as a Twenty-Year-Old Pseudo-Virgin
by Iris Bahr
March 2007. Bloomsbury
Take David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell and David Rackoff, roll them together, give them divorced parents and an American and Israeli childhood, send them to the Israeli Army, and then ship them off to Asia with a journal. Now you almost have Iris Bahr. Iris (pronounced Eeeee-ris) was fresh out of the Israeli Army, age 21, and ready to follow the footsteps of many other Israeli 20-somethings and trek and backpack through Asia. The stories that ensue are very funny, slightly insightful, totally soul-baring, and sort of like "travels through Asia in a bad and horny mood"
There are many who say that men think with their crotch and brain. Iris is the same. She is desperate to officially lose her virginity. It sort of almost happened as she ended her tour of Army duty near Tel Aviv, but it doesn't really count. And because Iris' crotch is in control, and because she is chock full of Jewish and other neuroses, she is not the most pleasant travel companion.
Many of you may have seen the author in her one woman show, Dai (enough), or in her appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David (as the Orthodox woman in the chair lift with Larry).
As the book cover says, "Poignant, hilarious, and always original, Dork Whore is a remarkable mix of bawdy humor and heartbreaking moments, witty intelligence and touching personal discoveries."
Although I would never recommend traveling with her, I can heartily recommend reading this book or any of her journals. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S MARCH 2007 SELECTION
BY SUSAN ISAACS
February 2007, Scribner.
Isaacs's 11th novel has fewer sparks flying than nets dragging, but most fans won't mind a bit, given the amount of outside-the-bedroom adventure. Despite reinventing herself as the author of the novel Spy Guys and the creator of the resultant TV show, Katie Schottland remains wounded by her still-unexplained firing from the CIA, where she wrote intelligence briefs as the Cold War ended, 13 years earlier. When she gets a distress call from an old co-worker, Lisa Golding, who subsequently disappears, Katie plunges back into the notes she smuggled out of the office. She seeks help from an old flame and another ex-agent (now a log-cabin recluse) who helps her trace three of Lisa's former charges at the CIA, East German asylum seekers transported to America and given new names. When two of them turn up dead within weeks of each other, Katie decides to give chase to locate the third before the woman becomes the next casualty. And she still hopes she'll coerce her ex-employer to give up the truth about her termination. The operations stuff is well-done throughout. Katie's relationship with her sweet vet husband adds little, but TV show-based scenes are diverting, and her fixation on her last job is sharply funny and true-to-life
Click to read more
OFRAH'S FEBRUARY 2007 SELECTION
Off the King's Road
Lost and Found in London
by Phyllis Raphael
January 2007. Other Press
From Booklist: In this immensely appealing memoir, Raphael shares an engaging story of self-discovery in 1960s London. After leaving Los Angeles to join her film producer husband in England, Raphael is shocked to find her 12-year marriage over. Confounded by her spouse's revelation of an affair with an 18-year-old actress, Raphael navigates the world as an expatriated single mother of three, finding solace in London's dazzling mazelike streets and libertine society. An "island of friends" (painters, writers, and lyricists) and distinctive menagerie of characters, including her "anti-psychiatry psychiatrist," encourage her to strip away the sacrosanct: "Experience will save you. Break out. The nuclear family is over. Try something new." Heeding their call, Raphael, the dutiful Jewish daughter (whose family owned a Brooklyn-based spice business), former off-Broadway actress, and self-described "person of small ambitions," finds herself swinging, developing her writing talents, and coming into her own. Ms. Raphael is a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award winner, a Pushcart Prize nominee and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Columbia University. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S JANUARY 2007 SELECTION
In honor of her receipt of the Hadassah RIBALOW PRIZE in December 2006, kudos to the following paperback:
The Genizah At The House Of Shepher
by Tamar Yellin
2005. Toby Press
This is one of those books that winds the reader in gauzy layers of ancient and recent history, woven into confusing patterns but somehow not losing sight of each other. The protagonist, an independent and single biblical scholar named Shula, is deeply connected to her family's history but not especially interested in either her own present or future. Tracing her genealogy through four generations to her great-grandfather Shepher, she learns of his purported journey to unknown lands to seek the lost tribes of Israel. More than 100 years later, a codex--a very early copy of the five books of Moses--is found in the Shepher family home outside Jerusalem shortly before the building is slated for demolition. Shula returns to the house, site of family vacations throughout her childhood, to find the remaining family in tumult, unsure of what to do with this archaeological treasure. When a strange man arrives to beg Shula to give him the codex, she is torn between her disconnection from her living family and her desire to honor its ancient past, however improbable it might sound. Although Shula's personal life and inner struggles do not truly resolve themselves, the story of the codex and the Shepher family history are more than enough to pull this novel through with beauty, deep love, and a timelessness that will likely make it a classic. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S DECEMBER 2006 SELECTION
I was drawn to this book not only for its story and the letters, but how the author came to write the story of her mother's life.
My Mother's Holocaust Story
by Ann Kirschner, PhD (Dean, CUNY)
November 2006, Free Press
See also: http://letterstosala.org/
"In rare moments of retrospection, my mother would tell us about her arrival in the United States.... But even as a child, I was unconvinced. My mother was substituting a happy ending for an untold story."
For nearly fifty years, Sala Kirschner kept a secret: she had spent five years in seven Nazi work camps. It was not until 1991 that she showed her daughter a priceless collection of more than 350 gripping and poignant letters and a diary that revealed the astonishing story of her survival in Hitler's Germany. After volunteering to take her delicate, older sister's (Raizel) place for what she thought was a six week stay in one of the first Nazi work camps in 1940, Ann Kirschner's mother left her parents and a large extended family of siblings, nieces, nephews, and in-laws, to take a train away from the Polish city of Sosnowiec (the same town in which the book MAUS by Art Spiegelman took place) that had been her entire world. Little did she know that the six weeks would stretch into five years of slavery. She survived thanks to extraordinary luck, and help, and by the war's end only she and two sisters remained alive. Sala Kirschner's odyssey, documented in precious letters, photographs, and keepsakes, lay hidden in a cardboard box as she built a new life in America. Only when faced with heart bypass surgery at the age of 67 did she make a gift to her daughter: of letters, of memories, and of an identity whose rediscovery has challenged and deepened their relationship in surprising ways. There are letters to and from more than 80 people that were preserved. Sala was actually saved from emotional collapse by Ala Gertner, another young woman, who was later killed in the final days of the war at Auschwitz for organizing an armed uprising there. One of the last great survivor narratives, Sala's Gift is as moving and unforgettable as The Diary of Anne Frank. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S NOVEMBER 2006 SELECTION
Fall has descended on us, the leave are ablaze with muted and bright colors. But a stillness has also descended on the store, since our inspiration, the mother of our founder, passed away suddenly on 29 Tishrei. We wish the family well and extend our condolences.
by Esther Schor
FALL 2006. A Schocken Nextbooks Jewish Encounters title
Booklist writes: From Booklist
Writing with great enthusiasm, Schor confirms that the author of "The New Colossus," the sonnet ensconced in the base of the Statue of Liberty, was no one-hit wonder. Until the 1930s, "The Banner of the Jew," a rallying song for establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, was her best-known composition. Lazarus (1849-87) was also controversially famous for the prose "Epistle to the Hebrews," expounding her ideas about Jewish identity as well as Palestine. Spurred by the crisis of the pogroms following Czar Alexander II's 1881 assassination, Lazarus set aside the gentility of her wealthy upbringing to advocate for the thousands of Jews whose flight for life left them destitute in New York. Her encounters with shtetl refugees and her trust in American freedom confirmed her belief that Judaism should be secular and universal, committed to justice, freedom, and revolution. She anticipated Zionism and, as a radical who didn't embrace socialism, much of non-Marxist Jewish politics. Moreover, Schor argues with engrossing persuasiveness, she "invented the role of the American Jewish writer." Click the book cover to read more.
Last Days in Babylon
The History of a Family, the Story of a Nation
by Marina Benjamin
October 2006. Free Press
From Publishers Weekly: "Through the events of her late maternal grandmother's life, British journalist Benjamin tells the saga of the Iraqi Jews, who arrived during the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles from Judea in the eighth and sixth centuries B.C. and were once Iraq's largest and wealthiest ethnic minority. Born in 1905 in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, Regina Sehayek is a compelling character who lived in tumultuous times, witnessing as a child the British takeover of Baghdad and, as an adult, Arab nationalism and revolution. A moneychanger's bright and opinionated daughter, Regina was married off (and deflowered semipublicly as tradition dictated) to a virtual stranger, a prosperous merchant 30 years her senior whose ancestor was the Persian Jewish doctor for an 18th-century shah. Although indifferent to Zionism, Regina and her kin were victims of the rabid anti-Semitism that began to pervade Iraq in the 1930s. By 1950, the Jews' desperate situation forced a widowed Regina to thwart police and petty bureaucrats and flee, eventually settling her children in London. Benjamin (Rocket Dreams) honors her family by vivifying a once-thriving community that has dispersed worldwide, leaving only 12 souls struggling for survival in present-day war-torn Baghdad".
Marina Benjamin grew up in London feeling estranged from her family's exotic Middle Eastern ways. She refused to speak the Arabic her mother and grandmother spoke at home. She rejected the peculiar food they ate in favor of hamburgers and beer. But when Benjamin had her own child a few years ago, she realized that she was losing her link to the past. ... In Last Days in Babylon, Benjamin delves into the story of her family's life among the Jews of Iraq in the first half of the twentieth century. Click the book cover to read more or to read an excerpt.
OFRAH'S OCTOBER 2006 SELECTION
Hello from Washington DC. The words of Kohelet ring true in my ears this month. All is vanity. We don't know the future. There is a time for so many things, and life and health are precarious. For those of you who missed the book reading for the book below at the DCJCC, I invite you to read this fascinating book:
Behind Enemy Lines
The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany
by Marthe Cohn with Wendy Holden
2006. Three Rivers Press paperback edition. Originally published in 2002
Marthe Cohn was a beautiful young Jewish woman living just across the German border in France when Hitler rose to power. Her family sheltered Jews fleeing the Nazis, including Jewish children sent away by their terrified parents. But soon her homeland was also under Nazi rule. As the Nazi occupation escalated, Marthe's sister was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. The rest of her family was forced to flee to the south of France. Always a fighter, Marthe joined the French Army. As a member of the intelligence service of the French First Army, Marthe fought valiantly to retrieve needed inside information about Nazi troop movements by slipping behind enemy lines, utilizing her perfect German accent and blond hair to pose as a young German nurse who was desperately trying to obtain word of a fictional fiancé. By traveling throughout the countryside and approaching troops sympathetic to her plight, risking death every time she did so, she learned where they were going next and was able to alert Allied commanders. After the war, she held a high levfel intelligence position, so high, that the US Army spied on her. Later she returned to France to raise a family. She never told her husband or children of her heroic life. When, at the age of eighty, Marthe Cohn was awarded France's highest military honor, the Médaille Militaire, not even her children knew to what extent this modest woman had faced death daily while helping defeat the Nazi empire. When her brother became ill, she approached the Spieldberg Archives for help in writing her memoirs. They did not help. But when her neighbor recommended that she speak with a relative who made docs for pbs, a bond was formed and the book was written. At its heart, this remarkable memoir is the tale of an ordinary human being who, under extraordinary circumstances, became the hero her country needed her to be.
OFRAH'S SEPTEMBER 2006 SELECTION
By now, many of you know that the Uri Grossman, a Staff Sergeant, the son of author and novelist David Grossman, was killed battling Hezbullah in Southern Lebanon by an anti-tank missile. The death occurred three days David Grossman appealed to the Israeli PM to end the war.
Elul is here. The Holidays are approaching. And a story by Elicia Brown resonates with me. She wrote of Unetanah Tokef prayer,... "Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?", ... and the recovery of a young Manhattan rabbi (Rabbi Yael Ridberg) from cancer, who wrote, "Our job is to live our lives connected to each other - doing teshuva, making amends toward each other. And to improve our connection between ourselves and God... We cannot know the day of our death... We can only think about how in anticipation of that day we will live and love and learn how to make a difference in the lives of people we care about..."
And on that note, may I wish you and your loved ones a happy and fruitful and abundant and healthy new year, new return, new change
As for a book for September, I suggest:
I Feel Bad About My Neck
And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
by Nora Ephron
AUGUST 2006. KNOPF
With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in I Feel Bad About My Neck, a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself. The woman who brought us When Harry Met Sally . . . , Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, and Bewitched, and the author of best sellers Heartburn, Scribble Scribble, and Crazy Salad, discusses everything-from how much she hates her purse to how much time she spends attempting to stop the clock: the hair dye, the treadmill, the lotions and creams that promise to slow the aging process but never do. Oh, and she can't stand the way her neck looks. But her dermatologist tells her there's no quick fix for that. Ephron chronicles her life as an obsessed cook, passionate city dweller, and hapless parent. She recounts her anything-but-glamorous days as a White House intern during the JFK years ("I am probably the only young woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House that the President did not make a pass at") and shares how she fell in and out of love with Bill Clinton-from a distance, of course. But mostly she speaks frankly and uproariously about life as a woman of a certain age. Utterly courageous, wickedly funny, and unexpectedly moving in its truth telling, I Feel Bad About My Neck is a book of wisdom, advice, and laugh-out-loud moments, a scrumptious, irresistible treat.
There's a lot of interesting advice in a chapter called "What I Wish I'd Known." She tells us that "the last four years of psychoanalysis are a waste of money," but she doesn't say how you know when the last four years begin. I like "If the shoe doesn't fit in the shoe store, it's never going to fit": So many things could be substituted for shoes in exactly the same sense. She tells us that "The plane is not going to crash," but later she notes "Overinsure everything." The essay's last words: "There are no secrets." "The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less" is a marvelous compilation of high and low points and moments of great clarity and learning. Under "What my mother said," there is "Everything is copy." This is a lesson the daughter learned well, as her ex-husbands would agree. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S AUGUST 2006 SELECTION
As the war in the Middle East continues, I have busied myself with reading The Times and Haaretz online and in print. I even read the WSJ's "red State Jews" piece by Thane Rosenbaum, and the Foreign Policy Research Institutes's pieces by H. Sicherman.
I have also sent $$ to the UJA, New Israel Fund, and Hadassah, and I suggest you do the same. Although I see many groups are taking full page ads in Jewish papers to solicit funds, I have flown to quality and am sticking with the three trusted charity funds that I am most familiar with.
As for a book for August, I suggest:
A Woman in Jerusalem
by A. B. Yehoshua, with Hillel Halkin (Translator)
AUGUST 2006. Harcourt.
A woman in her forties is a victim of a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem market. Her body lies nameless in a hospital morgue. She had apparently worked as a cleaning woman at a bakery, but there is no record of her employment. When a Jerusalem daily accuses the bakery of "gross negligence and inhumanity toward an employee," the bakery's owner, overwhelmed by guilt, entrusts the task of identifying and burying the victim to a human resources man. This man is at first reluctant to take on the job, but as the facts of the woman's life take shape-she was an engineer from the former Soviet Union, a non-Jew on a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and, judging by an early photograph, beautiful-he yields to feelings of regret, atonement, and even love. At once profoundly serious and highly entertaining, A. B. Yehoshua astonishes us with his masterly, often unexpected turns in the story and with his ability to get under the skin and into the soul of Israel today. Click the book cover to read more. You can read an excerpt by clicking the book cover above.
OFRAH'S JULY 2006 SELECTION
Hopefully, MyJewishBooks.com will air condition its office, or I will lilt like old lettuce when I come for work. Speaking of lilting, did I tell you that we all went to hear Rami Kleinstein in June, and sat next to Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Sadly, the man behind us decided to whistle to each song. So we decided to drop some cool cash on a full concert a week later in NYC. Once again though, the woman sitting in front of us decided to not only sing each song (and her voice was definitely not lovely), but she got us and danced to each song. So we moved back a few rows. Unfortunately, an usher came up to her, and informed her that she was in the wrong row.. Yes, Yes.. her new seat was now in front of our new seats. Hehe.. We know you will have better luck with my July book pick. At least better luck than Larry had. He chatted up some woman at the concert, who recommended several Hebrew CD's to him. He ended up buying about seven or eight. Did he get her number? Ummm.. no. her bf showed up after 20 minutes.
A Woman of Uncertain Character
The Amorous and Radical Adventures of My Mother Jennie
(Who Always Wanted to Be a Respectable Jewish Mom)
by Her Bastard Son
by Clancy Sigal
APRIL 2006. Carroll and Graf.
What took Sigal, age 70, so many years to publish this memoir? Maybe because he has a 10 year old son and is thinking about what sort of parenting style he will follow. This memoir is about Clancy Sigal's intense attachment to his fast-talking, redhaired, sexy, unwed mother Jennie, a firebrand union organizer, and his roaring Oedipal rivalry with his mostly absent father Leo who carries a gun to social occasions. She led her first union demonstration by age 13. She hung out with Emma Goldman. During the Depresssion in Chicago (Lawndale, the Greater VEST Side), where the mob and gangs were powerful, Jennie even hung out with Clarence Darrow. Jennie, in her Cuban heels, red hair and flaming lipstick, was a single mother at age 31, living on welfare trying to raise a wild rebellious son in a twilight world between law and lawlessness. She is defiant, vulnerable, sexually alive, high stepping, man-loving, woman-friendly, wisecracking - fearlessly facing down hostile scabs armed with shotguns and clubs. Along with the portrait of Jennie, this book tells a rollicking, profane, and gritty tale of bottom-feeding street life, race riots, riding the rails, and what happens when a gang boy is mistakenly sent to an all-girls' high school.
Click to read more.
OFRAH'S JUNE 2006 SELECTION
Is it summer already? Oy. So many books, so little time. In honor of the retirement of the first American female graduate of an American rabbinical school (Rabbi Sally J. Preisand on Tinton Falls, NJ), I am selecting for my June book:
HONEST ANSWERS TO YOUR CHILD'S JEWISH QUESTIONS
By Rabbi Sharon Forman
April 2006. Union of Reform Judaism Press.
What do you say when your five-year-old asks, "What does God look like?" or "Why am I Jewish?" By middle school, the questions are tougher: "Is the Torah true?" "Why do I have to learn Hebrew?" This helpful new book suggests successful response to these questions and many more, summarizing liberal Jewish thought in an accessible, easy-to-use format. The author, a rabbi and a mother, covers a broad array of topics, including God, holidays, ethics, history, Israel, prayer, Jewish diversity, practices, and identity. This is a must-have for Jewish educators and parents. Rabbi Sharon Forman is the religious school principal at Temple Shaaray Tefila The Rabbi Harvey M. Tattelbaum School of Judaism, New York, New York.
Click to read more.
THE LEMON TREE
An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East
by Mr. Sandy Tolan
May 2006. Bloomsbury USA.
In 1967, not long after the Six-Day War, three young Arab men ventured into the town of Ramle, in what is now Israel. They were cousins, on a pilgrimage to see their childhood homes; their families had been driven out of Palestine nearly twenty years earlier. One cousin had a door slammed in his face, and another found his old house had been converted into a school. But the third, Bashir Al-Khairi, was met at the door by a young woman called Dalia, who invited them in. This act of faith in the face of many years of animosity is the starting point for a true story of a remarkable relationship between two families, one Arab, one Jewish, amid the fraught modern history of the region. In his childhood home, in the lemon tree his father planted in the backyard, Bashir sees dispossession and occupation; Dalia, who arrived as an infant in 1948 with her family from Bulgaria, sees hope for a people devastated by the Holocaust. As both are swept up in the fates of their people, and Bashir is jailed for his alleged part in a supermarket bombing, the friends do not speak for years. They finally reconcile and convert the house in Ramle into a day-care center for Arab children of Israel, and a center for dialogue between Arabs and Jews. The lemon tree died in 1998. Bashir was jailed again. The Lemon Tree grew out of a forty-three minute radio documentary that Sandy Tolan produced for NPR's Fresh Air. The Lemon Tree is a reminder of all that is at stake, and of all that is still possible. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S MAY 2006 SELECTION
Only in America. Only in America can a 22 year old Jewish guy from Texas, the son of a Bush fundraiser, graduate from Texas Christian University, where he was President of the student body, and be named, upon graduation, as Bush's White House Liaison to the U.S. Jewish Community, Bush's fifth since 2001. Sounds like a nice gig for a Republican. Mazel Tov to Jay Zeidman. Jay. Do you like older Jewish women?
Speaking of gigs...
Take note: In 2005, the top 10 fiction books sold 11.1 million copies. This is down from 17.9 million in 2004, and 19.4 million in 2003. In 2005, the top 10 non-fiction books sold 13.8 million copies. This is down from 21 million in 2004, and 25.3 million in 2003. Children's hard and softcovers however, are up about 20%. Ouch, that hurts my biological time clock.
Jane Austen in Scarsdale
Or Love, Death, and the SATs
by Paula Marantz Cohen
MAY 2006, St Martins Press.
From Booklist: Following her send-up of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen in Boca (2002), Cohen tackles Austen's final novel, Persuasion, about first love getting a second chance. At age 21, Anne Ehr-lich was persuaded by her family to break up with her poverty-stricken boyfriend, Ben Cutler. Thirteen years later, Anne is working as a guidance counselor at a competitive high school when Ben, now the well-known founder of a travel guide series, walks back into her life.
His nephew, Jonathan, is transferring to the school Anne works at, and Ben is determined to get him into Columbia, the university Anne herself attended. Anne finds her feelings about Ben haven't changed one bit, but Ben is engaged to another and doesn't seem inclined to forgive Anne for caving in to her family's wishes all those years ago. Cohen's novel is part witty satire on the college application process and part love story, guaranteeing Austenites and lovers of romantic comedy in general will cotton to this charming modernization of one of Austen's best novels. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S APRIL 2006 SELECTION
Is Spring here yet? It must be, since I just blew $300 on Pesach and Seder groceries. But I also wisely spent $100 on a new CD and a ticket to the Idan Raichel concert at NYC's Apollo Theater. Truly a tour de force. I so wanted to jump on stage with the band. But since I was in the balcony, I decided the jump would not be wise. Speaking of jumping, Larry told me the story about Dreamworks SKG (soon to be Paramount). When you work at Dreamworks, you get a free breakfast and lunch. Their chef wanted to make a Passover dish, and decided on blintzes. BLINTZES? Hello. That is not normally Kosher for Passover. When Larry heard about this, he sent Dreamworks a free copy of the New York Times Passover Cookbook. Did they kvell? Yes. Larry tells me he already got two emails from their chef thanking MyJewishBooks.com, and asking for additional advice. He needs to make 2,000 matzoh balls. I (oFrah) recommended he place a call to honorary LA Jew, Wolfgang Puck, who can make 1,000 for his seder. But, The Dreamworks chef wrote to say that he invented a new matzoh ball... you boil it, and then you bake it. A baked matzoh ball? It is brown but tasty. Actually he tested 12 types, some with seltzer, some without. I wish him a B'tay Avon. And speaking of Dreamworks Spielberg (Katzenberg and Geffen), Spielberg will have a reality show this Fall in which aspiring directors make films and get voted off the show each week. Perhaps I will apply, but I digress. On the book front, I want to recommend:
by Allegra Goodman
Dial, February 2006
In another quiet but powerful novel from Goodman, a struggling Boston cancer lab becomes the stage for its researchers' personalities and passions, and for the slippery definitions of freedom and responsibility in grant-driven American science. When the once-discredited R-7 virus, the project of playboy postdoc Cliff, seems to reduce cancerous tumors in mice, lab director Sandy Glass insists on publishing the preliminary results immediately, against the advice of his more cautious codirector, Marion Mendelssohn. The research team sees a glorious future ahead, but Robin, Cliff's resentful ex-girlfriend and co-researcher, suspects that the findings are too good to be true and attempts to prove Cliff's results are in error. The resulting inquiry spins out of control. With subtle but uncanny effectiveness, Goodman illuminates the inner lives of each character, depicting events from one point of view until another section suddenly throws that perspective into doubt. Click to read more reviews.
OFRAH'S MARCH 2006 SELECTION
The bout of cold weather is making me feel academic...
THE RABBI'S WIFE
THE REBBITZIN IN AMERICAN JEWISH LIFE
By SHULY RuBIN SCHWARTZ (List College JTS, Dean)
January 2006, NYU PRESS
In 1973, Professor Schwartz, the daughter of a rabbi and rebbitzin, married a rabbi. It was the cusp of Jewish feminism. Marrying a rabbi, prior to the ordination of women, gave many women a congregation to teach and counsel and lead. Schwartz gives a much needed history of the role of these women in American Jewish culture and history, with special light on their roles in the period of The Great Depression. Being a rebbitzin "... gave them status, a respectable career, a place of authority in the Jewish community." Many pre-war rebbetzin were helpmates, supporting their husbands, entertaining, hostessing. "Several worked as a team with their husbands, strengthening American Jewish life all over the country,"
The book focuses on three powerful women prior and during the Great U.S. Depression. Long the object of curiosity, admiration, and gossip, rabbis' wives have rarely been viewed seriously as American Jewish religious and communal leaders. We know a great deal about the important role played by rabbis in building American Jewish life in this country, but not much about the role that their wives played. The Rabbi's Wife redresses that imbalance by highlighting the unique contributions of rebbetzins to the development of American Jewry. Tracing the careers of rebbetzins from the beginning of the twentieth century until the present, Shuly Rubin Schwartz chronicles the evolution of the role from a few individual rabbis' wives who emerged as leaders to a cohort who worked together on behalf of American Judaism. The Rabbi's Wife reveals the ways these women succeeded in both building crucial leadership roles for themselves and becoming and important force in shaping Jewish life in America. Click the book cover above to read more.
THE WOMEN'S MINYAN
BY NAOMI RAGEN
March 2006, Toby Press.
Her many fans will welcome the publication of Naomi Ragen's first play, which premiered in July 2002 at Habima National Theater in Tel Aviv. It is based on a true story: a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) woman, wife of a rabbi, mother of 12, leaves her home and stays with a friend. The community's "modesty squad" tries in vain to force her to go back. Her friend is physically attacked, her arm and leg broken. The rabbi's wife is punished: she is cut off from her children, against her will. Novelist Ragen learned of this tragic story several years ago from a newspaper article. "We've been together ever since then," she says. "They simply crushed this wonderful woman who never committed any crime. It's not a melodrama. It's a story of social truth, like Ibsen's A Doll's House. "I tried to write a play about the status of the Jewish woman in the strictly Orthodox world," continues Ragen. "The religious woman does not have any public place in which she can express her opinions in a natural fashion. Conversely, every man can say whatever he wants from the platform of the synagogue, on any subject, including current events; religious women have never had access to it. In synagogue, we pray upstairs in the women's section, while the men get up and say what they want to the entire congregation. Why shouldn't the woman have the same right? Is she less intelligent? Does she have fewer interesting things to say?" .... Click to read more.
OFRAH'S FEBRUARY 2006 SELECTION
Well, Oprah chose a universal Jewish book by Elie Wiesel. Is she trying to hog into my territory? Hey. Stay in Chicagoland, honey. My selectionf for February is below. Enjoy.
The World to Come
by Dara Horn
January 2006, WW Norton
In 2005, a million-dollar painting, a sketch for "Over Vitebsk" by Marc Chagall, is stolen from a museum - during a singles' cocktail hour. The unlikely thief is Benjamin Ziskind, a lonely former child-prodigy who writes questions for quiz shows, and who believes the painting belongs to his family. Ben tries to evade the police while he seeks out the truth of how the painting got to the museum - whether the "original" is really a forgery - and whether his twin sister, an artist, can create a successful forgery to take its place. As the story unfolds - with the delicacy and complexity of origami - we are brought back to the 1920s in Soviet Russia, where Marc Chagall taught art to orphaned Jewish boys. There, Chagall befriended the great Yiddish novelist known by the pseudonym "Der Nister," the Hidden One. And there the story of the painting begins, carrying with it not only a hidden fable by the Hidden One, but also the story of the Ziskind family - from Russia to New Jersey and Vietnam. Dara Horn interweaves mystery, romance, folklore, theology, history, and scripture into a spellbinding modern tale. She brings us on a breathtaking collision course of past, present, and future - revealing both the ordinariness and the beauty of "the world to come." Nestling stories within stories, this is a novel of remarkable clarity and deep inner meaning. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S DECEMBER 2005 SELECTION
Stars of David
Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish
by Abigail Pogrebin
broadway, OCTOBER 2005
Sixty-one of the most accomplished Jews in America speak intimately-most for the first time-about how they feel about being Jewish, the influence of their heritage, the weight and pride of their history, the burdens and pleasures of observance, the moments they've felt most Jewish (or not). In unusually candid interviews conducted by former 60 Minutes producer Abigail Pogrebin over the course of eighteen months, celebrities ranging from Sarah Jessica Parker to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from Larry King to Mike Nichols, reveal how being Jewish fits into their public and most private lives. This book of vivid, personal portraits reveals how the experience of being Jewish is amplified by fame and also how the author's evolving Jewish identity was changed by what she heard. Dustin Hoffman, Gene Wilder, Joan Rivers, and Leonard Nimoy talk about their most startling encounters with anti-Semitism. The challenges of intermarriage are explored by Kenneth Cole, Steven Spielberg, Eliot Spitzer, and Ronald Perelman.
Attitudes toward Israel range from unquestioned loyalty to complicated ambivalence in the musings of Mike Wallace, Richard Dreyfuss, Natalie Portman, and Ruth Reichl. William Kristol scoffs at the notion that Jewish values are incompatible with Conservative politics. Alan Dershowitz talks about why, despite his Orthodox upbringing, he gave up morning prayer. Shawn Green, baseball's Jewish star, describes the burden of that label. Tony Kushner finds parallels in being Jewish and being gay. Leon Wieseltier throws down the gauntlet to Jews who haven't taken the trouble to study Judaism. These are just a few snapshots from many poignant, often hilarious conversations -- with public figures whom many of us felt we already knew. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S NOVEMBER 2005 SELECTION
Sure.. I was going to select Mrs. Freud, but, you know me, I want to be risque
Bodies and Souls
The Tragic Plight of Three Jewish Women
Forced into Prostitution in the Americas
by Isabel Vincent
William Morrow. November 2005
The acclaimed journalist and author of Hitler's Silent Partners reveals for the first time one of the most shameful and secret chapters in history -- the forced slavery and prostitution of thousands of young Jewish women from the 1860s to the beginning of World War II. Sophia Chamys, Rachel Liberman, Rebecca Freedman. Young and poor, these Jewish women and thousands of others like them were sold or duped into slavery, forced to become prostitutes by the Zwi Migdal, a notorious criminal gang comprised entirely of Jewish mobsters. From the late 1860s until the beginning of World War II in 1939, the women left behind the grinding poverty and anti-Semitism of Eastern Europe's teeming urban ghettos and rural shtetls to find themselves working in brothels in South America, Latin America, South Africa, India, and New York. Though these women were forced into this terrible life, the Jewish community deemed them unclean and refused to accept them. Barred from synagogues and shunned by their coreligionists, they were also forbidden from partaking in the sacred Jewish burial ritual. Eventually they formed The Society of Truth, a religious order of love, honor to God, and faith in one another that established women-only synagogues, kosher kitchens, and cemeteries. Culled from archival documents, academic studies, and interviews, Bodies and Souls illuminates the tragic plight of these long-forgotten women and elevates them to their rightful place in history.
From Publishers Weekly: One of the saddest and most shameful stories in Jewish history has been suppressed for generations: between 1860 and 1939, thousands of poor young women from Eastern European shtetls were sold into sexual slavery by the Jewish-run Zwi Migdal crime syndicate, which controlled brothels on several continents. Focusing on three women, Vincent reconstructs the miserable lives of many of these women. One, sent to New York, saw 273 men in a two-week period. Many, unable to find support in the Jewish community-which ostracized them-committed suicide. And one, Sally Knopf, whose own uncle was a trafficker, escaped by disguising herself as a man. There is some triumph here: the Jewish prostitutes of Rio de Janeiro purchased their own cemetery in 1916 and ran their own burial society. By the time they bought their own synagogue in 1942, they had seen the demise of the Zwi Migdal gang. Unanswered questions, many raised by Vincent herself, abound. Clearly, poverty and lack of opportunity in Europe drove women into the trade, but why did they stay? Canadian journalist Vincent (Hitler's Silent Partners: Swiss Banks, Nazi Gold and the Pursuit of Justice) demonstrates her strength as a writer and storyteller, which enables her to at least partially retrieve this all-but-lost world. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S OCTOBER 2005 SELECTION
Oy. What is up in Israel? First, friends tell me about the Friday night gatherings at Ahava v'Ahva shul in Bat Yam. It is next to the Abarbanel asylum. Who are the crazies? It is a wild midnight service known for it miracles (or hookups?) for new age young Israelis. Then there is news of the BACHELOR show, a take off on the BACHELORETTE SHOW in ISRAEL. In Israel it is called TAKE ME SHARON. Do you want to see the Israeli men, all Jewish, who were vying for a relationship with SHARON? Take a look at the URL below:
Sure, Mister Gonzalez (Jewish) isn't bad, but I will stick with webmaster, Larry here in the States.
As for the BACHELOR show... ARI GOLDMAN, an Israeli American in NYC, who resides on Manhattan's Upper East Side and works at a hedge fund, is the star of FROM ALL THE GIRLS IN THE WORLD (Mikol Habanot B'Olam). He will choose from Gali, Galit, Orit, Etty, Neta, Ofira.... BUT NOT OFRAH.. mind you. Which is okay with me. He is definitely not my type, and as for the Great Neck based in-laws... ahh... I don't think so. Hagai Lapid created the show with Elad Kuperman in their Ramat Hehayal offices for Israel Channel 3. (they also did TAKE ME SHARON, and THE AMBASSADOR) The budget is around $2 million. The Yeshiva educated Goldman does not speak Hebrew, so why they picked him for an Israeli tv show... I have NO IDEA. Maybe it is some Zionist concept of enticing New yorkers to Israel for the sex. Oh, by the way. I heard he has a gf in NYC already. I bet that is the surprise ending. He will ignore the 17 other contestants at the end and choose his current gf. Oh that would be grand. Israel gets rejected for the diaspora girl.
A Novel (Hardcover)
by Jennifer Weiner
Atria (September 20, 2005)
From the book jacket: For Kate Klein, a semi-accidental mother of three, suburbia's been full of unpleasant surprises. Her once-loving husband is hardly ever home. The supermommies on the playground routinely snub her. Her days are spent carpooling and enduring endless games of Candy Land, and at night, most of her orgasms are of the do-it-yourself variety. When a fellow mother is murdered, Kate finds that the unsolved mystery is one of the most interesting things to happen in Upchurch since her neighbors broke ground for a guesthouse and cracked their septic tank. Even though Kate's husband and the police chief warn her that crime-fighting's a job best left to professionals, she can't let it go. So Kate launches an unofficial investigation -- from 8:45 to 11:30 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, when her kids are in nursery school -- with the help of her hilarious best friend, carpet heiress Janie Segal, and Evan McKenna, a former flame she thought she'd left behind in New York City. As the search for the killer progresses, Kate is drawn deeper into the murdered woman's double life. She discovers the secrets and lies behind Upchurch's placid picket-fence facade -- and the choices and compromises all modern women make as they navigate between independence and obligation, small towns and big cities, being a mother and having a life of one's own. Engrossing, suspenseful, and laugh-out-loud funny, Goodnight Nobody is another unputdownable, timely tale; an insightful mystery with a great heart and a narrator you'll never forget.
OFRAH'S SEPTEMBER 2005 SELECTION
The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt
by Ruth Andrew Ellenson
Dutton Adult (August 18, 2005)
A hilarious and provocative collection of original essays by some of today's top Jewish women writers-including Aimee Bender, Daphne Merkin, and Rebecca Walker-exploring all the things that their rabbis warned them never to discuss in public.
Have you ever heard a grandmother's biological clock tick?
Are you certain that a piano is about to fall on your head, simply because too many good things have happened to you lately?
Would your own mother out you as a lesbian at her Yiddish club?
Do you substitute davening with sessions with a shrink?
Did your great grandparents suvive pogroms so that you can eat a bacon cheeseburger and shrimp cocktail?
How does cultural heritage shape who we are?
Is dating non Jewish men better than dating members of the tribe
How could you divorce the perfect Jewish man, and not produce enough children and become a baby factory for the Jewish people
The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt is a laugh-out-loud funny pull-no-punches collection of original essays on topics that aren't usually talked about-much like the recent bestselling anthology The Bitch in the House. Molly Jong-Fast, author of Normal Girl and daughter of Erica Jong, writes about displeasing her therapist in "Tell Me About Your Mother." In "Great, My Daughter Is Marrying a Nazi," editor and author Jenna Kalinsky takes readers inside her experience of falling in love with a German, marrying him and moving to Germany, only to feel like an exotic among the locals. Ayelet Waldman's "Land of My Father" tells of the author's return to her Israeli homeland after living for years in the United States. But then she realizes.. is she doing this for her father, or for herself. Whose dream is she living? Tova Mirvis, author of the bestselling novel The Ladies Auxiliary, writes about the pressure to be perfect in "What Will They Think?" In "Mercy" by novelist and USC professor Gina Nahai, we enter a powerful story of the author's childhood in Iran. Lori Gottlieb, author of the bestselling memoir Stick Figure, writes about trying to outwit her mother using caller ID in "Conversations with My Mother." There is a funny trip in one story to meeting Jewish men via JDate.com. There is the story the contains the game: Spot the Jew. Also includes pieces by: Jennifer Bleyer Pearl Gluck Rebecca Goldstein Lauren Grodstein Dara Horn Rachel Kadish Cynthia Kaplan Binnie Kirschenbaum Ellen Miller Katie Rophie Laurie Gwen Shapiro Susan Shapiro Ayelet Waldman, and many more. Click the book cover above to read more.
Bernadette Murphy, writing in the LA TIMES stated: ..."covers and titles can be deceptive. Rather than being just about "girls" and "guilt," the book is really a collection of strong and moving stories about what it means - culturally, spiritually and emotionally - to be a Jewish woman in today's world."
OFRAH'S late AUGUST 2005 SELECTION
by Laurie Gunst (Harvard, Phd)
Soho Press (August 15, 2005)
Laurie Gunst is the youngest child of a well-to-do southern family of German-Jewish descent. Her primary source of care and love is Rhoda, a woman who had been her grandmother's maid. Summoned from New York City to Richmond, Virginia, childless Rhoda had taken charge of the new baby and raised her. The intimate relationship between caregiver and child is strong. So is Laurie's shame at aspects of her family's racially intolerant past: An ancestor fought for the South in the Civil War and another cooperated with the Ku Klux Klan in fomenting a race riot. As a vulnerable child, she witnesses firsthand the unfairness of segregation that consigns the woman who cares for her to a lesser status. Laurie's outrage at racial discrimination sets her apart from other white southerners, even her father. Love for Rhoda marks Laurie indelibly. Their relationship enables her to see the person and not just the color of her skin. Ultimately, she acknowledges Rhoda as a spiritual mother who shaped her life as much as her biological mother.
Laurie who got her PhD at Harvard is the author of Born Fi' Dead: A Journey Through the Jamaican Posse Underworld. She now teaches a course Race Relations at The New School in New York City. If you are at UW in August 2005, check out her seminar on Tuesday, August 30, "The Agony and Ecstasy of Writing a Memoir about Race in America." Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S early AUGUST 2005 SELECTION
RAYMOND AND HANNAH
By STEPHEN MARCHE
This is a short postmodern novel of short sentences and fragments, but larger ideas.
Raymond is..... not a Jew.
Toronto is a city of multiculturalism, and Jerusalem is a city of... well.... Let's see
Marta Segal writing in Booklist: "A week before leaving for an intense course of study in Israel [at an egalitarian Orthodox institute,] the Jewish Hannah picks up the Gentile Raymond [at a party in Toronto.] What is meant to be a one-night stand turns into an intense, weeklong affair. The assimilated Hannah is going to Israel to try to discover her roots and herself. Raymond is trying to avoid writing his dissertation on Robert Burton [on the topic of melancholy and depression.] They decide to continue the affair via e-mail and phone calls. This lyrical first novel is written in brief passages, each with its own subtitle. At first this might seem like an Internet-age or postmodern writing gimmick, but the technique suits the subject matter well. The intellectual journeys of both protagonists are perhaps a little overexplained, since what is compelling here is their relationship with each other. The characters are likable and believable, and their romantic dilemma will resonate with many readers."
... As Hannah get deeper and deeper in her study of Judaism in Jerusalem, and the enclaves of Jerusalem and their unique entitlements, her relationship with Raymond becomes more and more threatened. And their love affair becomes more and more about what they think than about what they actually physically do. Is it any wonder that they retreat to Jerusalem, a city of differences? Hehe. Click the bookcover to read more
OFRAH'S JULY 2005 SELECTION
It is already July, and I am so far behind on reading. I have at least 40 books that I must plow through, but at the same time, try to enjoy. I am especially enjoying my rereading of Tova Mirvis' novel (now in paperback), THE OUTSIDE WORLD. She makes writing seem so effortless. And tell me please, why do kosher pizza restaurants all feel the need to sell kosher sushi? (or is that Jew-shi). Speaking of Chai Maintenance, below is quite an interesting find:
THE jGirl's Guide
A Young Jewish Woman's Handbook for Coming of Age
By Penina Adelman, Ali Feldman, and Shula Reinharz
June 2005, Jewish Lights
What does it mean to become a Jewish woman? Did you ever think that Judaism had any advice on how to deal with pressure from your friends? Arguing with your parents? Feeling stressed out? Well, this book shows you that Judaism can help you deal with all these things-and a whole lot more. The JGirl's Guide is a first-of-its-kind book of practical, real-world advice using Judaism as a compass for the journey through adolescence. A fun survival guide for coming of age, it explores the wisdom and experiences of rabbis, athletes, writers, scholars, musicians, and great Jewish thinkers, as well as lots of girls just like you-girls who share your worries and concerns, and your joys. Here's a place to turn to for honest, helpful discussion about the things that really matter to you: Friendship / Eating / Health / Sexuality / Getting involved / Dealing with authority / Coping with stress / Self-esteem / Communication / Jewish Identity. Now's the time when you are thinking: Who am I? What do I believe in? Who will I become? The JGirl's Guide provides Jewish writings, traditions, and advice that can help. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S JUNE 2005 SELECTION
I must tell you... I was at the Book Expo America in June 2005, when someone told me about Oyprah, the Jewish talk show host.. OYYYYYY!!!! I hope she doesn't have an Oyprah's Jewish Book Club, or Oyprah's Book Club selection. Gee, don't you like the sound of that? Oyprah's Book Club, or Oy Magazine, for short. Oh well.. something to ponder for the Summer, but I better stick with my own name, Ofrah.
It is so hot.. I need some cool reading.. some light reading.. so for June, I select
Who We Are
On Being (and Not Being)
a Jewish American Writer
Edited by DEREK RUBIN
Schocken, May 2005
Professor Rubin taught Jewish American Lit at SUNY and now teaches at Utrecht in the Netherlands. In his book, 29 major Jewish writers are evaluated. The question of identity is examined, from E. I. Doctorow, who wrote against the idea of the Jewish American writer, to Allegra Goodman, who embraces this notion. Thane Rosenbaum writes that as a child of Holocaust survivors, his writing imagines new outcomes. Dara Horn writes for a more creative way to tell the Jewish story, one that doesn't focus on anti-Semitism. Rubin also looks at the early years of famous writers, including the late Saul Bellow, the late Chaim Potok, and my fave, the poet Grace Paley. Picking up this book is a pleasure, and it includes references to Art Spiegelman, Erica Jong, Tova Mirvis, Jonathan Rosen, Cynthia Ozick, Pearl Abraham, Alan Lelchuk, Nessa Rapoport, Rebecca Goldstein, Lev Raphael, M. J. Bukiet, Binnie Kirshenbaum, Rachel Kadish, Yael Goldstein, Steve Stern, Jonathan Wilson, and others. Spanning three generations of Jewish writing in America, these essays--by turns nostalgic, comic, poignant, and provocative--give fascinating insights into the thinking and the work of some of America's most important contemporary writers. Click on the cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S MAY 2005 SELECTION
First, I want to congratulate MTV News, Alexandra Zapruder, and Lauren Lazin on a great job commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII with their MTV broadcasted film, I'M STILL HERE, based on the writing of teens who perished in the Shoah. For more information, see:
Narrators include Zach Braff, Elijah Wood, Ryan Gosling, Kate Hudson, Oliver Hudson, Brittany Murphy, Amber Tamblyn, and Joaquin Phoenix. Music is by Moby. Let's home this film does not just preach to the converted but exposes a wider audience to the idea of genocide.
THE HISTORY OF LOVE
by NICOLE KRAUSS
May 2005, Norton
The hottest book of May and June; a PW starred review
The story of a long-lost book that mysteriously reappears and connects an 80 year old Polish Jewish locksmith, Leo Gursky, searching for his son with a girl (Alma Singer) seeking a cure for her mother's loneliness (Charlotte Singer). Leo is invisible, no one notices this old Jewish man in New York. He has a novel that he wrote and is now lost (little does he know that another man published it in Chile under another author's name); he has a lost son who doesn't know Leo is his father, and he has a lost love. Alma was named for the heroine in Leo's lost novel. When Alma is hired to translate the "lost" novel from Chilean Spanish into English, bedlam occurs.
Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S APRIL 2005 SELECTION
April 2005... twenty years since Amy Eilberg was the first woman ordained by JTS. In the past 20 years, over 150 women have graduated from the rabbinical program at JTS. Happy anniversary to all passionate and vibrant rabbis, whether they are men or women.
Speaking of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, my choice this month is a book that was most likely written within a few blocks of JTS.
Who She Was
My Search for My Mother's Life
by Samuel G. Freedman
Simon & Schuster (April 4, 2005)
When Samuel G. Freedman was nearing fifty, the same age at which his mother died of breast cancer, he realized that he did not know who she was. Of course, he knew that Eleanor had been his mother, a mother he kept at an emotional distance both in life and after death. He had never thought about the entire life she lived before him, a life of her own dreams and disappointments. And now, that ignorance haunted him. So Freedman set out to discover the past, and Who She Was is the story of what he found. It is the story of a young woman's ambitions and yearnings, of the struggles of her impoverished immigrant parents, and of the ravages of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Holocaust.
It is also the story of a middle-aged son wracked with regret over the disregard he had shown as a teenage boy for a terminally ill mother, and as an adult incapable for decades of visiting her grave. It is the story of how he healed that wound by asking all the questions he had not asked when his mother was alive. Whom did she love? Who broke her heart? What lifted her spirits? What crushed her hopes? What did she long to become? And did she get to become that woman in her brief time on earth? Who She Was brings a compassionate yet unflinching eye to the American Jewish experience. It recaptures the working-class borough of the Bronx with its tenements and pushcarts, its union halls and storefront synagogues and rooftop-tar beaches. It remembers a time when husbands searched hundreds of miles for steady work and wives sent packages and prayers to their European relatives in the desperate hope they might survive the Nazis. In such a world, Eleanor Hatkin came of age, striving for education, for love, for a way out. Researched as a history, written like a novel, Who She Was stands in the tradition of such classics as Call It Sleep and The Assistant. In bringing to life his mother, Samuel G. Freedman has given all readers a memorable heroine. Click on the cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S March 2005 SELECTION
March is here, and soon it will be Spring and Purim, and then can Passover be far behind. Maybe, please maybe, I can drop some pounds by Passover. The book below combines eroticism and Rabbi Nahman. It reminded me of The Mad Dancers by Yehuda Hyman. It is my recommendation for March. Enjoy.
THE SEVENTH BEGGAR
Feb 2005, Riverhead
Set in the Chasidic world of Monsey, New York, a brilliantly original, provocative novel about storytelling and the limits of creation. The Seventh Beggar begins with a contemporary young man's obsession with the legendary nineteenth-century Chasidic master, Nachman of Bratslav-kabbalist, storyteller, and charismatic whose cult following persists to this day. The legends and life of Nachman inform the novel, in particular Nachman's famously unfinished "Tales of the Seven Beggars," which serves as the inspiration for Pearl Abraham's own bold and probing story about the glories and pitfalls of originality. A translation of Nachman's tales from the original Yiddish is included in full in the novel itself. Abraham staked her literary claim in the groundbreaking novel The Romance Reader, which took readers for the first time into the Chasidic world through the eyes of a woman. Now she returns to that world, with an even more ambitious work that upends the conventions of storytelling, thwarts expectations, and yet all the while compels us with its lovable characters, its narrative momentum, and its creation of a familiar yet dreamlike landscape, in which imagination simultaneously triumphs and destroys.
Click the book cover above to read more.
Judaism For Two
Partnering As A Spiritual Journey
by Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener, and Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer
Jewish Lights, March 2005
Rabbi Wiener (HUC-JIR) and Rabbi Fuchs-Kreimer (RRC) are respected teachers, leaders, and authors. Rabbi Wiener is one of America's top teachers of pastoral counseling. Rabbi Fuchs-Kreimer is a leader at RRC and also a Director for the Jewish Family Service in Philly. In this book, the collaboratively assert that Jewish teachings can strengthen relationships, both gay and straight. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S February 2005 SELECTION
February already? So the calendar says. Hi from Park City UTAH, where I came with Larry for Sundance and Slamdance and SchmoozeDance. We ran into a few celebs, like Keanu (rhymes with Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazalnu), and Leonard Maltin and his nice daughter, and even Roger Ebert. Another hottie was Danny K from The Apprentice, that Donald Trump hagio-broadcast on NBC. Since Danny K(astner) (jew or not a jew?, I know but I am not telling) is a friend of Larry's, we hung out with him as part of his entourage and ate a few meals with him. What a fun and creative guy. Too bad he got fired off that show, but he is much too creative for the Trump Organization. Speaking of brilliantly original... let me segue into my book selection for this short month:
HISTORY ON TRIAL
My Day in Court with David Irving
by Deborah E. Lipstadt (Emory University)
February 2005, Ecco
In 1993, Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish Studies at Emory University, published the first comprehensive history of the Holocaust denial movement. In this critically acclaimed account, Lipstadt called David Irving -- a prolific, respected, and well-known writer on World War II who had, over the years, made controversial statements about Hitler and the Jews -- one of the most dangerous spokespersons of the denial movement.
A year later, when Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin UK, for libel in a London courtroom, the media spotlight fell on Deborah Lipstadt and, by extension, on the historiography of the Holocaust. Five years later, when David Irving lost his case after an intense ten-week trial, Lipstadt's resounding victory was proclaimed on front pages of newspapers worldwide. The implications of the trial, however, were far from over.
History on Trial is Deborah Lipstadt's personal, riveting chronicle of the legal battle with Irving, in which she went from a relatively quiet existence as a professor at an American university to being a defendant in a sensational libel case. This blow-by-blow account reveals how Lipstadt fund-raised $1.5 million for her defense, which included a first-rate team of solicitors, historians, and experts, among them Anthony Julius, a literary scholar who is better known as the late Princess Diana's divorce lawyer. Lipstadt describes how in forced silence she endured Irving's relentless provocations, including his claims that more people died in Senator Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, that survivors tattooed numbers on their arms to make money, and that nonwhite people are a different "species." She also reveals how her lawyers gained access to Irving's personal papers, which exposed his association with neo-Nazi extremists in Germany, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and the National Alliance, which wants to transform America into an "Aryan society." In the course of the trial, Lipstadt's legal team stripped away Irving's mask of respectability through exposing the prejudice, extremism, and distortion of history that defined his work, even his once highly regarded account of the Dresden bombing.
OFRAH'S January 2005 SELECTION
Did you have a nice Hanukkah and New Year's Eve? For Erev Xmas, I made my way to NYC's Cutting Room night spot for a show by Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad. Wow. What talent and beauty. What kvetching. And that was just the
line to get in. I even saw Michael Musto there, and what seemed to be his older, huskier, Jewish brother or doppelganger. It was a night of comedy, music, hoola hoops, a Jewish camp songstress (Michelle Citrin, who looked a little like the kid from Bookdocks; but sounded better than Aimee Mann), and burlesque, told by the women who learned to smoke at Hebrew School, got drunk at their Bat-Mitzvahs, were more likely to pick up the Hispanic waiter at a J-date event than a Jewish doctor, were more likely to hang at the Bindlestiff Cirkus than Lincoln Center, and would rather have more schtuppa than the chupah. It was nice to see some Jewish female comedy. It was great, and if I were a guy, I would probably stalk a few of them. Check out GoddessPerlman.com or MichelleCitrin.com
In honor of these Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad, I offer your these two recommendations below:
THE WHITE ROSE
By Jean Hanff Korelitz
Miramax; (January 2005)
From Publishers Weekly
Korelitz, known for her intelligent thrillers (The Sabbathday River, etc.), strikes off in a new direction with this mordant story of aging, love and self-discovery, a re-imagining of the Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier set in upper-class Jewish New York City. Marian Kahn, gracefully aging at 48, is a respected history professor at Columbia, author of a bestselling book of popular history and solidly ensconced in a satisfactory if not brilliant marriage when suddenly she's swept away by the wild but dangerous joy of an affair with the son of her oldest friend. Twenty-six-year-old Oliver, owner of a flower shop called the White Rose, is truly in love, but when he meets graduate student and heiress Sophie Klein, the fiancée of Marian's pompous cousin, Barton Ochstein, he's blindsided and must question his still strong love for Marian. Sophie is swept away, too, by the knowledge that she may want something more out of life than the academic satisfaction she derives from the study of her own White Rose, a group of German dissidents who agitated against the Nazis. The belief that love always involves sacrifice and is worth the sacrifice it demands drives this warm, worldly novel. Even when their own comfort is at stake, Korelitz's characters succumb to generous impulses, making this a satisfying, emotionally rich read. From the West Village to the Upper East Side, from the Hamptons to Millbrook, The White Rose is at once a nuanced and affectionate reimagining of Strauss' beloved opera, Der Rosenkavalier, and a mesmerizing novel of our own time and place. Click the book cover above to read more.
Jewish Girls Coming Of Age In America, 1860-1920
by Melissa R. Klapper
January 2005. NYU PRESS.
Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920 draws on a wealth of archival material, much of which has never been published-or even read-to illuminate the ways in which Jewish girls' adolescent experiences reflected larger issues relating to gender, ethnicity, religion, and education. Klapper explores the dual roles girls played as agents of acculturation and guardians of tradition. Their search for an identity as American girls that would not require the abandonment of Jewish tradition and culture mirrored the struggle of their families and communities for integration into American society. While focusing on their lives as girls, not the adults they would later become, Klapper draws on the papers of such figures as Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah; Edna Ferber, author of Showboat; and Marie Syrkin, whose book Blessed Is the Match: The Story of Jewish Resistance is believed to be the first work in English about Jewish resistance under the Nazis. Klapper analyzes the diaries, memoirs, and letters of hundreds of other girls whose later lives and experiences have been lost to history. Told in an engaging style and filled with colorful quotes, the book brings to life a neglected group of fascinating historical figures during a pivotal moment in the development of gender roles, adolescence, and the modern American Jewish community. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S DECeMBER 2004 SELECTION
Where has the secular year gone? How can it be December already? It feels like a dream that the election is already over and already forgotten by so many. And let me just rant a second... What is up with the Jewish men in the popular media these days. This Andy Litinsky guy, 23, was seen on NBC's The Apprentice, prior to getting fired, and how does he motivate his skilled staff? With $100 bills. I think he should have read Maslow and not skipped out on his last semester at
Harvard so fast. Maslow would have served him better than Quant M. 34. Then in Season 1, Sam Solovey, a PR hound, was close to being clinically psycho. Untrained Psychologist? Baby, he needed a trained one badly. Give me Larry David over these guys. Is it cuz they make for good theatrical television? Are they self selected yahoos, and the good guys know to stay away and remain discreet? Perhaps. But for the time being... I will stick with books instead of television.
By the way.. Happy Xanukkah to my readers.
(Did you know that the international phonetic standard for the guttural "ch" sound in Chanukkah is an "x", is in the Espanol for Mexico (MEH hi co). So happy hanukkah hanukah hanuka Chanukkah Chanukah Chanuka Khanukkah Khanukah and Khanuka.
For my December selection, let me first mention the winners of The Hadassah Ribalow Book Prize, and then the winner of the National Jewish Book Award.
Portrait of My Mother
Who Posed Nude in Wartime
by Marjorie Sandor
FABULOUS SMALL JEWS
by Joseph Epstein
Ester and Ruzya
How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace
by MASHA GESSEN
Dial; (November 2004).
From Booklist: One of Gessen's grandmothers was from Bialystok, Poland, and eventually worked as a translator for the NKVD; the other one was an intellectual who became a censor under Stalin's regime and, later, a translator. At the end of World War II, they met in Moscow. Ester's son and Ruzya's daughter married and had two children, one of them being the author. Her memoir begins with an account of Polish Jewish life in the mid- to late 1930s, when pogroms were coming in waves. And this is also the story of Jakub, Ester's father, who lived in a ghetto in Nazi-occupied Bialystok, where he was a member of the Judenrat presidium, in charge of rationing. Gessen grew up in Moscow, later came to the U.S., and returned to visit the Soviet Union in 1991; later, she finally decided to stay. For most of the last 10 years she has been a foreign journalist in Moscow. This astonishing and deeply moving story is related with a masterful eye for the human detail that makes history come alive. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S OCToBER 2004 SELECTION
MY OLD MAN
BY AMY SOHN
Simon & Schuster; (September 8, 2004)
Rachel Block is from Brooklyn, now Newark. She is 26 and a rabbinical school drop out. When a sick man dies under her counseling, she realizes she's not cut out for the pastoral side of the rabbinate. So she takes a job as a bartender in my old neighborhhod, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Rachel stops dating nice Jewish boys. Now she's fending off come-ons from sleazy guys and trying to remember the ingredients in a Metropolitan. Liz Kaminsky, he upstairs neighbor, makes so much noise having sex at night, that Rachel can barely sleep. Along comes Hank Powell, an iconoclastic screenwriter twice her age. Now she is moaning all night with her Christian lover. Suddenly she's reassessing her values, her surroundings, and everything she's ever believed about the "right" kind of relationship. She begins dressing up in outrageous outfits for midday trysts, while hiding the dirty details from a newly modest Liz. Meanwhile, her interactions with her father, with whom she's always been close, have become increasingly strange. Is he distraught that she's dropped out of school? Is he having his own (midlife) crisis? Or is he upset over her mother's newfound independence, now that she's entered menopause and discovered the joys of a book group? Something's up...and Rachel's increasingly convinced it might be her father's libido. HEY RACHEL... GET THEE TO A FREUDIAN THERAPIST.. YOU ARE WORRYING ABOUT YOUR FATHER AND SEX TOO MUCH. With Rachel's own relationship getting wilder and weirder and her parents acting like teenagers, it seems that everyone in Cobble Hill is going crazy. Click the book cover above to read more.
Journey from the Land of No
A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran
by ROYA HAKAKIAN
Simon & Schuster; (Summer 2004)
Political upheavals like the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism may be analyzed endlessly by scholars, but eyewitness accounts like Hakakian's help us understand what it was like to experience such a revolution firsthand. The documentary filmmaker and poet was born to a prominent Tehran Jewish family in 1966, two years after the Shah had exiled Islamic fundamentalist leader Ayatollah Khomeini. As Jews in a largely Muslim world, the family knew how to live respectfully with their neighbors. With powerful illustrations, Hakakian relates how, in 1979, when the Shah fled and Khomeini returned triumphant, she joined the cheering crowds. Khomeini's revolution seemed liberating, but before long, the grip of the Islamic extremists tightened. Women were put under strict surveillance; books and speech were censored. Anti-Jewish graffiti appeared. As the targeting became more visible-being made to use separate toilets and drinking fountains, being required to identify their businesses as non-Muslim-many Jews emigrated. After Hakakian describes the teacher who risked her job to give her high marks on a "subversive" paper or grips readers with the tale of how she and her teen buddies barely evaded the morality police, readers just want her to leave, too, which her family did, in 1984. Hakakian's story-so reminiscent of the experiences of Jews in Nazi Germany-is haunting. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S SEPTeMBER 2004 SELECTION
THE QUOTABLE JEWISH WOMAN
WISDOM, INSPIRATION, AND HUMOR FROM THE MIND AND HEART
Edited by Elaine Bernstein Partnow
August 2004. Jewish Lights.
The words of Jewish women to inspire, enlighten, and enrich your life.
The Quotable Jewish Woman is the definitive collection of ideas, reflections, humor, and wit by Jewish women. Compiler Elaine Bernstein Partnow (The Quotable Woman) brings together the voices of over 300 (317) women-including women of the Bible, actors, poets, humorists, scientists, and literary and political figures-whose ideas, activism, service, talent, and labor have touched the world. Quoted women include: Bella Abzug, Hannah Arendt, Lauren Bacall, Aviel Barclay, Judy Blume, Susan Brownmiller, Judy Chicago, Jennifer Connelly, Gerty Theresa Cori, Deborah Anita Diamant Phyllis Diller(she's Jewish?) Delia Ephron, Marcia Falk, Dianne Feinstein, Anne Frank, Rosalind Franklin (miss dna), Anna Freud, Betty Friedan, Carol Gilligan, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Rebecca Gratz, Blu Greenberg, Erica Jong, Frida Kahlo, Donna Karan, Faye Kellerman (mysterious), Carole King (good beat and u can dance to it), Ann Landers, Estée Lauder, Emma Lazarus, Rosa Luxemburg Golda Meir Bette Midler, Miriam, Bess Myerson, Cynthia Ozick, Dorothy Parker (who knew?), Belva Plain, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Ayn Rand, Gilda Radner, Adrienne Rich, Joan Rivers, Ethel Rosenberg, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Hannah Senesh, Fanchon Shur, Raven Snook, Gertrude Stein, Barbra Streisand, Kerri Strug, Henrietta Szold, Barbara Tuchman, Barbara Walters, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Naomi Wolf, Rosalyn Yalow, and many more including Winona Ryder (can I pick something up for you?)
"Until we are all free, we are none of us free," wrote Emma Lazarus in American Hebrew toward the end of the nineteenth century. "Toughness doesn't have to come in a pinstripe suit," commented Senator Dianne Feinstein in Time magazine a century later. "God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me," states Sarah in the Book of Genesis. Humorist Dorothy Parker, in her poem "Inventory," also knows the power of laughter: "Four be the things I am wiser to know: / Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe. / Four be the things I'd be better without: / Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt." The book is organized into categories that address both timeless and timely topics, including: Age & Aging; Beauty & Appearance; Celebrations & Holidays; Children Death & Grief; Faith, Religion, the Bible & Spirituality; Feminism & Women's Liberation; Friendship , Humor & Comedy; Jews & Judaism;
Love & Desire; Mothers & Motherhood; Politics, Politicians & Leadership; Success, Dreams & Achievement; and
Work & Working. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S AUGUST 2004 SELECTION
Look for Me
by Edeet Ravel
August 2004. Perennial .
In a love story framed by the vivid realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Edeet Ravel tenderly explores the complicated ways people connect when violence touches every aspect of their lives. Dana Hillman is a young Israeli woman whose humanity and passion for justice are obvious to all who meet her. On peace missions, she and other activists act as human shields in situations where the Israeli army tries to displace Palestinians. A gifted photographer, she documents the protests, and the faces of women and children caught in the seemingly endless struggle. To make a living, though, she churns out junky historical romances, well aware of the irony of her situation. Her own love story has turned into a heartbreaking mystery: why did her husband, Daniel, suddenly disappear and where has he been for the last eleven years? Every year Dana publishes a full-page ad addressed to her lost husband that says, ?I will never ever ever ever . . . stop waiting for you,? with that ?ever? multiplied to fill the whole page. Dana's hope and constancy fill the novel in the way that forever fills up the page, as she holds fast to trust, love and a vision for the future that seems magical in this fractured place. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S JULY 2004 SELECTION
Our Mothers' War
American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II
by Emily Yellin
Spring 2004. The Free Press
WOMEN's HISTORY is not written down.. it is passed down. Luckily Yellin has written these stories down. Yellin, motivated by the discovery of a journal her mother kept while serving in the Red Cross in Saipan during World War II, began researching the experiences of a wide cross section of women during the war years. Women from a variety of social, financial, religious, and cultural backgrounds answered the call to serve their families and their country in heretofore unthinkable ways. In the Maerican mind, the three most famous women of WWII are Betty Grable, Betty Crocker, and Wonder Woman. But Yellin writes the stories of the real women during WWII. Proving themselves to be equal partners in the fellowship of the "greatest generation," these wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends forged new identities for themselves while breaking down significant gender barriers for subsequent generations of women. Drawn from letters, diaries, and interviews, these first-person accounts and reminiscences are woven together and placed into historical context by Yellin's unobtrusive narrative. Allowing her subjects' eloquent voices to speak for themselves, she provides a fascinating slice of social history. In PART THREE of the book, YELLIN explores the DARK SIDE of the 1940's. The chapters are titled The "Wrong Kind" of Woman; Prostitutes, Unwed Mothers, and Lesbians; A War Within the War; Right-Wing, Anti-Semitic Mothers' Groups (who were Nazi Sympathizers who tried to get war widows and mothers of dead soldiers to lobby the government to end the war; Jewish-American Women during WWII; Inside the Secret City; and Wives and WACs in Los Alamos. In her moving epilogue, "Their Legacy," Yellin quotes from a speech her mother gave to a church group, "The Humanization of Emily: Some Thoughts on Women's Liberation and My Daughter." She describes a moment when she is driving a car pool, thinking about all the things that she has to do, when something Emily and her friends are saying catches her attention, so she asks her daughter to explain: "Well you know, we play the land of opposites at school. And there is this boy there who keeps saying, 'son of a gun, son of a gun.' So we just say, 'daughter of a first aid kit.' "Well, I thought . . . here is the descendant of all the women in my family, the ongoing continuum. Here is this young female person. Maybe she will get the chance. Maybe she will know a day when the daughter of the first-aid-kit will be as valued in our society and our culture as the son of a gun." Click the book cover above to read more.
What Women's Hair Tells Us About Women's Lives
by Rose Weitz, Professor, Arizona State
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004
Did a teacher ever try to do your hair? Did an adult ever say, Do something about your hair, when you were a child? Did you redesign the hair of a doll as a girl? Does a bad hair day affect your mood? Did you know that women with better hair do better in school and work? Explores the role of hair in women's lives and what it reveals about their identities, intimate relationships, and work lives. Hair is one of the first things other people notice about us--and is one of the primary ways we declare our identity to others. Both in our personal relationships and in relationships with the larger world, hair sends an immediate signal that conveys messages about our gender, age, social class, and more. In Rapunzel's Daughters, Rose Weitz first surveys the history of women's hair, from the covered hair of the Middle Ages to the two-foot-high, wildly ornamented styles of pre-Revolutionary France to the purple dyes worn by some modern teens. In the remainder of the book, Weitz, a prominent sociologist, explores--through interviews with dozens of girls and women across the country--what hair means today, both to young girls and to women; what part it plays in adolescent (and adult) struggles with identity; how it can create conflicts in the workplace; and how women face the changes in their hair that illness and aging can bring. Rapunzel's Daughters is a work of deep scholarship as well as an eye-opening and personal look at a surprisingly complex-and fascinating-subject By the way, Professor Weitz, in her 50's, tenured, and married, currently has short salt and pepper hair, spiked with gel. (Which works well in the hot weather of Arizona) Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S JUNE 2004 SELECTION
We will donate a portion of June proceeds to the Nick Berg fund (nickberg.org, the young man beheaded in Iraq) and the American Jewish World Service (where he once volunteered). For June, may I recommend:
by ADAM LANGER
June 3, 2004. Riverhead Books.
Crossing California is a novel about two generations of family and friendship in Chicago from November 1979 through January 1981. In 1979 California Avenue, in Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood, separates the upper-middle-class Jewish families from the mostly middle-class Jewish residents on the east of the divide. This by turns funny and heartbreaking first novel tells the story of three families and their teenage children living on either side of California, following their loves, heartaches, and friendships during a memorable moment of American history. Langer's captivating portraits, his uncanny and extraordinarily vivid re-creation of a not-so-past time and place, and his pitch-perfect dialogue all make Crossing California certain to evoke memories and longing in its readers-as well as laughter and anxiety. PW WRITES "Langer's brilliant debut uses that divide as a metaphor for the changes that occur in the lives of three neighborhood families: the Rovners, the Wasserstroms and the Wills. There are two macro-stories-the courtship of Charlie Wasserstrom and Gail Shiffler-Bass, and the alienation of Jill Wasserstrom from her best friend, Muley Wills-but what really counts here is the exuberance of overlapping subplots. One pole of the book is represented by Ellen Rovner, a therapist whose marriage to Michael dissolves over the course of the book (much to Ellen's relief: she's so distrustful of Michael that she fakes not having an orgasm when they make love). If Ellen embodies cool, intelligent disenchantment, her son, Larry, represents the opposite pole of pure self-centeredness. As Larry sees it, his choice is between becoming a rock star with his band, Rovner!, and getting a lot of sex-or going to Brandeis, becoming successful and getting a lot of sex. The east side Wasserstrom girls exist between these poles: Michelle, the eldest, is rather slutty, flighty and egotistical, but somehow raises her schemes (remaining the high school drama club queen, for instance) to a higher level, while Jill, a seventh-grade contrarian who shocks her Hebrew School teachers with defenses of Ayatollah Khomeini and quotes Nkrumah at her bat mitvah, is still emotionally dazed from her mother's death." Click the book cover above to read more.
THE ARAB MIND
by RAPHAEL PATAI
Why the heck am I adding this book from 1983, a book that I think many of you will find gross? Because it is THE book that is used by the U.S. army war colleges.. and it is THE book which "influenced" what is happening at Iraqi prisons, it is an important books for us to skim. This analysis purports to unlock the mysteries of Arab society to help us better understand a complex culture. The Arab Mind discusses the upbringing of a typical Arab boy or girl, the intense concern with honor and courage, the Arabs' tendency toward extremes of behavior, and their ambivalent attitudes toward the West. Chapters are devoted to the influence of Islam, sexual mores, Arab language and Arab art, Bedouin values, Arab nationalism, and the pervasive influence of Westernization. With a new foreword by Norvell B. DeAtkine, Director of Middle East Studies at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Fort Bragg, N.C., this book unravels the complexities of Arab traditions and provides authentic revelations of Arab mind and character. This is why prisoners were stripped naked and made to touch other men. Personally, I think Patai's analysis is moronic and has no basis in fact or psychological theory, but since the Army believes it - read it.. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S MAY 2004 SELECTION
What a month... first of all, do you smell like Whitney McNally? I hope not. Second of all... did you hear that I was invited to Mel Gibson's seder?? I didn't know what to bring? Manischevitz? Some kugels? Maybe a box of Streit's matzot (as seen in The Passion of the Christ). New York City has gotten sunny and warm, and it is getting harder to find time to read, so if you have time for one book, may I recommend:
Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan
May 2004. St Martin's
Paula Marantz Cohen's triumphant first novel, Jane Austen in Boca, was an inspired blend of classic English literature and modern American manners. Her new novel heads north to the seemingly quiet suburban town of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for a comedy that even Shakespeare couldn't have imagined. Carla Goodman is worried. Her husband, a gastroenterologist in private practice, is coming home frazzled because medicine isn't what it used to be. Her son's teachers want to put him on Ritalin to stop him from wreaking havoc on the fifth grade. And her cranky twelve-year-old daughter has a bas mitzvah coming up. But it's Carla's sweet, widowed mother, Jessie Kaplan, who really has her baffled. Jessie has suddenly "remembered" that she was Shakespeare's girlfriend---the Dark Lady of the sonnets---in a previous life. Can even the famed Dr. Leonard Samuels, psychiatrist and author of the self-help book How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love My Mother-in-Law, help with problems like these? Witty, engaging, and wickedly observant, Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan is an unpredictable tale of love, loss, and family rites of passage. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S APRIL 2004 SELECTION
So ... nu... did you hear? Liev Schreiber, who optioned the film rights to EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer,
will direct the film project of this book.. And who will play the hero? Who will play Master Foer? None other than that hobbit, Elijah Wood. He makes for a good Princeton Jew, no? The Warner Independent Pictures movie starts shooting June 14, 2004, in Prague.
Hey Liev, Elijah, and Jonathan... I'll meet you in that bar near the Altneuschul. First round is on me. I'm even willing to overlook that you smoke your cigarettes from between your 2nd and 3rd finger. Maybe I can play the dog? Is it true that Mr. Foer likes his women like he likes his matza? Covered in cream cheese?? Well, we will send his friend some applications to Accounting school
By the way.. did you hear that Mel Gibson is thinking of making his next film about The Maccabees? The rabbis played down the battles and played up the miracles... maybe Mel will do the reverse.
I asked Larry the other day to snap a picture of Tova Mirvis at her recent New York City reading for the webpage. He did. It was a good one. Then he spied a better pic opportunity of her signing her book with a line of secular, knit kippah, Modern Orthodox, and even a black hatter, bearded reader. He snapped it, but was then briefly harangued by an employee who said pictures are not allowed, unless permission is granted. So we trashed the pic. Actually my Israeli temper took over and I said, "Let's trash the pic and take the book off the site and replace it with another selection." But Larry swiftly squashed my nefarious idea. And guess what?? Tova sent us an email saying we can use the pic.. well we don't have the one we deleted, but another one is below.
And thus our APRIL selections are the following:
THE OUTSIDE WORLD
by Tova Mirvis
March 30, 2004. Knopf
From the best-selling author of The Ladies Auxiliary, a new novel about two Orthodox Jewish families brought together by the marriage of their children. Tzippy Goldman, or more so, her mother, have been planning Tzippy's wedding since before she was born. Tzippy and her sisters have idealized views of marriage, having prepared for it since birth. Tzippy's four younger sisters want her to marry the crown prince of Boro Park, a scholar and cute young man. But Tzippy is 22. In her frum community, she is an over the hill spinster. Her friends already have kids. She CANNOT STAND another date at the lobby of the Brooklyn Marriott (why should the boy pay for dinner if it isn't going to work out, so let's meet in the lobby to chat first). Tzippy is hungry for experience and longs to escape the suffocating expectations of religious stricture and romantic obligation. But Tzippy's mother secretly grew up in Rochester in a non-frum household. If she can make a good shidduch, she can prove to herself that she really BELONGS. Across the Hudson River, Bryan Miller's family lives in a liberal New Jersey community. Like modern-Orthodox Jews anywhere in the world, they spend Saturdays in shul, but Sundays at Little League. But to Bryan, this middle road looks more and more like hypocrisy. He longs for conviction, for the relief of absolutes, for authenticity. He longs for the black-hat over the knit kippah and Yankees cap. He returns from a year in Israel, won't hug his younger sister, and he trashes his photos of him with girls, his high school yearbook, his holy sacred Columbia sweatshirt (but not his Yankees cap), and his regular and swimsuit issues of Sports Illustrated. He implores his family to call him Baruch, not Bryan. His mother, Naomi, understand the matriarch Rebecca who brithed two nations: Esau and Yakov. Bryan/Baruch moves to Brooklyn. You get the idea... Bryan and Tzippy meet. In the courtship of Bryan and Tzippy, and in the progress of their highly freighted love affair and marriage, Tova Mirvis illuminates these worlds providing insight and humor. Click the book cover above to read more.
THE FLYING CAMEL
Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage (Live Girls Series)
by Loolwa Khazoom
November 2003. Seal Press
Loolwa is my kind of sister. Check her out at www.Loolwa.com
Loolwa brings to the public eye a world often hidden from view. Anthology contributors bridge divisions between Arab and Jew, East and West, and they are impacted directly by tensions between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Contributors possess the refreshing lens of those on the edge, insiders and outsiders to many different worlds. Pushed and pulled by the strong currents of today's identity politics, they remain steadfast and refuse to be defined as "other" or "less than" by any of the communities to which they belong. As such, their stories sweep readers into a surprising journey of discovery. Each essay unveils the rich, multi-colored texture of identities commonly portrayed as one-dimensional or black & white. Seventeen women share the joys and struggles of stepping forth from the shadows, demanding to be heard. Vivid, gripping narratives include the daring of a young Libyan woman who single-handedly rescued her family from assassination and the sexual rebellion of a traditional Iranian woman who grew up wearing a veil. Farideh Dayanim-Goldin (Feathers and Hair) writes about women plucking chickens for a wedding feast. Little did she know that in the room adjacent to the kitchen, the bandandaz was plucking the bride's body hair; Ruth Knafo-Setton (The Life and Times of Ruth of the Jungle) tells how her family lived and fled Morocco, posing as Christians; Gina Bublil-Waldman (Souvenir From Libya) writes how at 19, she and her family boarded an empty bus to the airport, in a desperate attempt to flee Libya. (their bus driver tried to kill them on the way. Julie Iny (Ashkenazi Eyes) tells about her mother from Missouri and her father from Iraq/India, and how her eye color allowed her to pass as smart Ashkenazi and not a "violent, racist, and greedy" Mizrahi Jew. Bahareh Mobasseri-Rinsler (Vashti) challenges the Esther-Vashti dichotomy as the classic virgin-whore split and explores the ways in which Iranian Jewish girls are brought up in the cult of Esther. Yael Arami (A Synagogue of One's Own) defies her family by teaching older Yemeni women to read. She, but the way, is the first modern Yemenite woman to receive rabbinical training. Rachel Wahba (Benign Ignorance or Persistent Resistance?) is the daughter of an Egyptian Jewish refugee father and an Iraqi Jewish refugee mother. She was born in India and grew up stateless in Japan. She identified as a Jew, but when she arrives in the USA, she writes about how she found herself rejected by the very community to which she clung. Standing tall as an Arab Jewish lesbian, Rachel demands recognition and inclusion on all fronts. Ella Shohat, Tikva Levy, Mira Eliezer (Mizrahi Women in Israel) write about Mizrahi women, feminism and issues with Ashkenazi feminists. Mojgan Moghadam-Rahbar (Secrets) tells the story of the women who take herbs to conceive a son. But When an overdose killed one of the potential mothers, the secret formula was put to rest. But over a century later, Mojgan knows that times have not changed, and there is still pressure to have sons and not daughters. Other pieces include Kyla Wazana Tompkins (Home is Where You Make It); Hanriette Dahan Kalev (Illusion in Assimilation); Homa Sarshar (In Exile at Home); Caroline Smadja (The Search to Belong) Ella Shohat (Reflections of an Arab Jew); Lital Levy (The Flying Camel), in which in a story of self-re-member-ment, Lital Levy spent her 26th birthday at an academic conference addressing unity between Arabs and Jews. The featured film, The Flying Camel, portrayed Mizrahi's as dark, stupid, and violent, and Loolwa Khazzoom (We Are Here, and This Is Ours) Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S MARCH 2004 SELECTION
WOMEN OF THE WALL
Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism's Holy Site
Edited by Phyllis Chesler and Rivka Haut
January 2004. Jewish Lights Pub
Includes 27 pictures, including the one in which a make worshipper throws a chair at the women.
This passionate book documents the legendary grassroots and legal struggle of a determined group of Jewish women from Israel, the United States, and other parts of the world--known as the Women of the Wall--to win the right to pray out loud together as a group, according to Jewish law; wear ritual objects; and read from Torah scrolls at the Western Wall. Eyewitness accounts of physical violence and intimidation, inspiring personal stories, and interpretations of legal and classical Jewish (halakhic) texts bring to life the historic and ongoing struggle that the Women of the Wall face in their everyday fight for religious and gender equality. Marcia Welsh wrote: "On the morning of December 1, 1988, an international, multidenominational group of Jewish women approached the Kotel (formerly known as the Wailing, or Western, Wall) in Jerusalem to conduct a women's prayer service. The women-including editors Chesler (a psychotherapist and author of Women and Madness) and Haut (coeditor of Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue)-were jeered at, cursed, threatened, and assaulted: "proper" Jewish women do not pray aloud in public, carry or read from the Scroll, or wear ritual objects. WOW-Women of the Wall-was born. For the next 14 years, they fought for their right to continue prayers at the Kotel in this way, which is not prohibited by Jewish law but was banned by Israeli law because it caused such a riot. This is the story of WOW's continuing struggle. Divided into four sections, it contains thoughtful personal accounts by participants, keen legal and political analysis, various denominational views, and discussion of halakhic theory and ritual objects. This is the first book-length treatment of this landmark case in Jewish women's spirituality, feminism vs. Orthodox tradition, pluralism in Israeli society, and basic human rights." Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S JANUARY 2004 SELECTION
Beautiful as the Moon, Radiant as the Stars
Jewish Women in Yiddish Stories
by Sandra Bark
November 2003. For fans of Jonathan Safran Foer, Nathan Englander, Cynthia Ozick, and Anita Diamant comes one of the first collections of stories about Yiddish women writers. Written by both male and female writers, the stories in this anthology focus on the female Ashkenazic experience during the 19th and 20th centuries. The women in these fascinating, often shocking, stories range from rebellious daughters and reluctant brides to cunning businesswomen and vengeful midwives. The issues they face, while particular to their place in history, will still resonate with modern readers. Assimilation and anti-Semitism are hot-button debate topics; themes of love, family, and loss are universal. This extensive collection contains the original stories that inspired Fiddler on the Roof and Yentl; an early Yiddish story by Dvora Baron, the first modern Hebrew writer; a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer and one by his sister, Esther Singer Kreitman. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S DECEMBER 2003 SELECTION
Sins of Omission
The Jewish Community's Reaction to Domestic Violence
by Carol Goodman Kaufman
September 30, 2003. Westview
Published a few days prior to Yom Kippur 5764, this is a unique and compelling investigation of the Jewish community's reaction - or non-reaction - to domestic violence.
Concerned with the sins of the community more than the sins of the abuser, Carol Goodman Kaufman finds that the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis and community leaders are not doing enough and are not informed enough to help the abused women in their congregations get the support, protection, and guidance they need.
Covering the subject from sociological, religious and legal viewpoints, supplemented by an exhaustive analysis of interviews with survivors, rabbis and lay leaders in the Boston area, Goodman Kaufman argues that many abused women see their rabbis as unapproachable on the subject. Some rabbis have even invoked the Jewish ideal of shalom bayit, of maintaining peace in the home, as justification for sending a woman back to her abuser. The author notes that while a few organizations, such as Hadassah, have responded to this problem on a national level by, say, supporting the Violence Against Women Act, there is little action at the community level. Kaufman suggests that organizations work together to forcefully attack this problem by offering premarital education, encouraging rabbis to speak out and providing Jewish safe houses. The author takes a hard look at the Jewish community, its rules, regulations, and followers, and discovers the ways in which it helps and hinders victims of abuse. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S NOVEMBER 2003 SELECTION
Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers
An Intimate Journey Among Hasidic Girls
by Stephanie Wellen Levine (Tufts University), Carol Gilligan
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Do young women in a Lubavitch community have a free voice? Is their vibrancy in a strict religious upbringing? Are unfinished souls (prior to marriage) filled with energy? Are Lubavitch women meek baby makers, downtrodden, and subservient to their dark garbed husbands and sons? If adolescence is a time to push one's limits, how do Hasidic teens behave and rebel? In gender-segregated schools, do teenage girls remain demure, or do some take the role of the loudmouthed, prank-pullers, a role that is usually associated with teenage boys. Are single sex experiences helpful? Just in time for Jewish Book Month, this absorbing book arrives. Much of the research was done by Levine while she was doing her field research for a PhD from Harvard, under the guidance of the esteemed Carol Gilligan. From the ardently religious young woman who longs for the life of a male scholar to the young rebel who visits a strip club, smokes pot, and agonizes over her loss of faith to the proud Lubavitcher with a desire for a high-powered career, Dr. Stephanie Wellen Levine provides a rare glimpse into the inner worlds and daily lives of these Hasidic girls. She enlightens us to this misunderstood world of long skirts and covered hair. She tells us how these girls rebel (from socks instead of stockings, and tighter skirts than normal, to the bitterness of outright rejection of belief, or doubt, or a desire to not marry and raise kids), and the ramifications of their rebellions. Levine spent a year living in the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, as a participant observer, participating in the rhythms of Hasidic girlhood. Drawing on many intimate hours among Hasidim and over 30 in-depth interviews, Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers offers rich portraits of individual Hasidic young women and how they deal with the conflicts between the regimented society in which they live and the pull of mainstream American life. Perhaps counter-intuitively for those who envision meek, religious girls confined within very structured roles, Levine finds that on the whole, these young Hasidic women seem more confident and have a greater sense of self than many of their mainstream peers. Levine explores why this might be the case, and what we can learn from their example for girls' positive development more generally. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S OCTOBER 2003 SELECTION
The Fire That Changed America
by David Von Drehle
September 2003. Atlantic Monthly Press
On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York's Greenwich Village. Firemen who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those trapped inside: their ladders simply weren't tall enough. Desperate workers jumped to their death. The final toll was 146 people -- 123 of them women. The book follows the waves of Jewish and Italian immigration that inundated New York in the early years of the century, filling its slums and supplying its garment factories with cheap, mostly female labor. It portrays the Dickensian work conditions that led to a massive waist-worker's strike in which an unlikely coalition of socialists, socialites, and suffragettes took on bosses, police, and magistrates. Von Drehle shows how popular revulsion at the Triangle catastrophe led to an unprecedented alliance between idealistic labor reformers and the supremely pragmatic politicians of the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine. Click the book cover above to read more.
OFRAH'S SEPTEMBER 2003 SELECTION
AN HOUR IN PARADISE
by Joan Leegant (Harvard)
August 2003. WW NORTON.
A wonderful new voice combining the offbeat sensibility of Nathan Englander and the compassionate eye of Allegra Goodman. In settings from Jerusalem to Queens, from Hollywood's outskirts to Sarasota, Florida, the characters in this mesmerizing debut collection are drawn to the seductions of religion, soldiering on in search of divine and human connection. A former drug dealer turned yeshiva student faces his past with a dying AIDS patient. A disaffected American in the ancient city of Safed ventures into Kabbalist mysticism and gets more than he bargained for. A rabbi whose dying morning minyan is visited by a pair of conjoined twins considers the possibility that his guests are not mere mortals (do they count as one or two in a minyan?). An aging Jerusalemite chronicles his country's changes during the biblical year of rest. A rabbi has three daughters who reject his lifestyle and pursue their more unorthodox ones. In "Accounting" we learn that it is not the sins of the father that weighs down the sons, but it is the errors of the son that brings down the father. In "Henny's Wedding", a bride's sister learns the consequences of desire, shame, and passion. By turns poignant and comic, unflinching and compassionate-with a dose of fabulist daring-An Hour in Paradise explores the dangers and unforeseen rewards of our most fundamental longings. The book has recently been selected by Barnes & Noble for their Discover Great New Writers program for this fall. You may recall her winning pieces in Moment Magazine. "The Lament of the Rabbi's Daughters" and "Seekers in the Holy Land", as well as her writings in Shma (Shma.com) Click to read more.
OFRAH'S AUGUST 2003 SELECTION
SEVEN BLESSINGS (Sheva Brachot)
by Ruchama King
August 2003. St Martins Press.
This is going to be the Jewish blockbuster of 2003. At least that is what I think. It already has blurbs from Stephen Dubner, Naomi Ragen, Thane Rosenbaum, and Alice Elliott Dark. The author lived in the yeshivish world of Jerusalem and resided with matchmakers. After her dates, she would debrief with them. Using this as experience, she has set out to write a transformative novel, a novel about searching for a bashert in life, in romance, and in the spiritual realm. Two matchmakers strive busily to marry off their neighbors in contemporary Jerusalem. Tsippi's own marriage is rocky, yet she keeps an eye out for single customers at her husband's makolet grocery store. Lately, she has been stocking spices for her new Mizrahi and Sephardic customers. Judy, a glamorous mother of six, fits in her matchmaking around her studies at a yeshiva for women, where she is taking Torah classes, looking for deeper meaning in life. Beth is a 39 year old American virgin, an independent Orthodox woman from Pittsburgh. Having dated everyone in NYC, she has come to Jerusalem. She lives among Mizrahi Jews, yet doesn't eat over their homes for fear that their standards of kashrut are not hers. She volunteers to help schizophrenics who believe they are biblical characters; and she has dropped out of her own bible study classes due to her anguish over the laws of sacrifice and other uncomfortable practices. Judy and Tsippi see Beth (or Bet, they pronounce it like "house") as a challenge. When Tsippi sends her on a date with Akiva, a house painter and student of the Torah, Beth is hopeful, but Akiva is afflicted by a disconcerting twitch. Judy sets her up with Binyamin, a handsome American artist, a Ba'al Teshuva filled with arrogance. King tracks the dating fates of Beth, Akiva and Binyamin, but pays equal attention to the sociology of Orthodox people in Jerusalem and the spiritual searching of each of the characters.
Click to read more.
OFRAH'S JULY 2003 SELECTION
Hello from Los Angeles, where I am attending the Book Expo America as well as the Israel Film Festival. I am loading up on books for the Summer and Fall and will let you in on who I meet when I return. I can't wait to tell you all about the Book Expo. You cannot shake a lulav without hitting a Jewish Book Fair representative. They are everywhere. I ran into the head of jbooks.com, and Lev Raphael, and Carolyn Hessel. I met reps from the Jewish JCC Book Fairs of Indy, LA, St Louis, Rockville, and places in between. There were booths from JPS, Jewish Lights, Gefen Publishing, the Mosaic-Press.com, Merkos Publications, Devorah Publishing, Pitsopany Press, and even the Kabbalah Center. I met lots of authors, and Steve Bochco (LA Law, Hill St Blues) met me and said, "This is MY Jewish book," while signing his newest novel. When I met Joel Siegal of ABC TV, he reiterated that he actually did invent German Chocolate Cake Ice Cream at Baskin Robbins. I also learned about a cool Jewish magazine called ZEEK.net by Matthue Roth. Very hip!
Hot titles for the Fall include a new Jewish Study Bible from the Oxford University Press. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, it uses the JPS Tanakh translation, and is going to be heavily promoted. The Seal Press was hawking The Flying Camel, forthcoming essays on Jewish identity by Mizrahi women, edited by Loolwa Khazzoom. Kathleen Sharp made an appearance for Mr and Mrs Hollywood, a bio on Lew and Edie Wasserman. Rothstein by David Pietrusza will come out in October and tell the real story of Arnold Rothstein and the 1919 World Series. The Stanford University Press was highlighting it's two volume Pritzker Edition of The Zohar, translated by Daniel C. Matt (Fall 2003).
Jewish Lights had a dozen very interesting Fall releases. Among them is a new book of Commentary from Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, this one is a Women's Haftarah Commentary, a companion to the Women's Torah Commentary. They will also release a collection of personal essays, based on Danny Pearl's last words, "I Am Jewish." Red Rock had two forthcoming books by Marvin Korman about the Jewish Bronx. Gefen has "50 Jewish Messiahs" and a book on the Israel astronaut, Ialn Ramon, titled, "Journey of Hope." Among the Fall books displayed by Stewart, Tabori & Chang was, The Lights of Hanukkah," a coffee table book of menorahs. Barbara Fradkin will publish her third Jewish mystery book in the Inspector Green series, this Fall.
Jennifer Kushell was signing a very interesting book, The Secrets of the Young and Successful." She portrays many teens and their various successes. A Jewish book? "Sure," she told me, many of those portrayed are Jewish. Many? More like a significant portion! Speaking of success, Professor Sherry Ortner (Columbia) will publish her study of class in America, using as her base of study her 304 classmates of a Newark High School (Class of 1958), classmates who were overwhelmingly Jewish. The Book is titled, "New Jersey Dreaming."
Lauren F. Winner, who wrote a book (Girl Meets God) on converting to Orthodox Judaism at Columbia University and then finding Jesus, and becoming Christian, was hawking a new book titled "Mudhouse Sabbath: Twelve Spiritual Practices I Learned from Judaism." Six years after becoming a big-time Christian, it is about the 12 things she misses about Jewish Sabbaths, weddings, burials, kashrut, and holidays, and why she thinks these practices can enrich her Christian life.
Other highlights of the Book Expo were; Harvard University Press' "Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical" by Andrea Most (Univ Toronto); "Hana's Suitcase" by Karen Levine; "The House of Klein" by Lisa Marsh; "Musically Speaking: A Life Through Song" by Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer (U of P Press... they served bagels at her signing); "Wedding Song: Memoirs of an Iranian Jewish Woman" by Farideh Goldin (Brandeis); "The Case for Israel" by Alan Dershowitz (Wiley); "Values Propsperity and the Talmud - Business Lessons of the Ancient Rabbis" by Larry Kahaner (Wiley); "Joining the Sisterhood: Young Jewish Women Write Their Lives" by Tobin Belzer and Julie Pelc (Suny); and a very very peculiar book: "The Secrets of the Jews" by Roger Sabbah.
For July, I recommend:
A PALESTINE AFFAIR
By Jonathan Wilson
May 20, 2003. This swift and sensual novel of passion and politics transports us to British mandate Palestine, where the Arabs, Jews and Brits mingle. It is 1924, and Mark Bloomberg, a disillusioned London painter, arrives in Jerusalem to take up a propaganda commission for the government. When he and his American wife, Joyce, accidentally witness the murder of a prominent red haired Orthodox Jew near their cottage, they become embroiled in an investigation that will test their marriage and their characters. The contradictory man, Jacob De Groot (modeled after Jacob Israel de Haan??), dies in Bloomberg's arms, when Bloomberg goes outside, post coitus, naked, to investigate the noises he hears. Is the murderer his teenage Arab lover? Joyce, a non Jew is a dilettante and ardent Zionist, is pulled into an affair with Robert Kirsch, the British policeman investigating the case, while Bloomberg, transfixed by the glare of the Middle Eastern sun and desert light, attempts to capture on canvas the complex, shifting truths of the region. He is an artist, and therefore does not commit. Like Kirsch, whose brother was killed in France in 1918, all of the characters here have come to Palestine to escape the grief of the First World War, and are forced to confront their principles and their hearts in the midst of a culture in the throes of painful emergence. Writing in the Washington Post, Gershom Gorenberg wrote, "For both Kirsh and Bloomberg, not belonging is apparently the heart of Jewishness, and the passins of Palestine threaten that identity. Or perhaps I am judging them only as an impatient Israeli is inclined to judge present-day visitors. Like the best historial fiction, Wilson's story is placed in an imagined past, but it is really happening right now." Click to read more.
OFRAH'S JUNE 2003 SELECTION
For June, I am recommending two books, two books about parenting, but they are by men. Then will make you laugh and make you cry. Yes, this is a cliché, but it is honest. I especially enjoyed Wong, when he said honestly that at times, it was all about me me me.. not about his child, but about him. Here they are, enjoy.
(the electronic adventures of The Chestnut Man)
by B.D. Wong
May 2003. HarperEntertainment. The author Robert Lipsyte wrote that when you are sick, you go to the Country of Illness, a place where time and actions differ, your priorities change, your career takes a back seat, the kindness of strangers is realized, the lives of health care workers are suddenly noticed. It is to this country that the author and his family traveled on Memorial Day Sunday, May 28, 2000 (23 Iyar, 38 L'Omer). It is on this evening that the actor/singer B.D. Wong and his talent agent partner, Richard Jackson, became fathers in Modesto, CA. Their twin sons were born woefully, dangerously, nearly 3 months premature. Over the next several months, Wong kept his friends informed of the roller coaster progress, ups and downs, through a series of emails. These introspective, mesmerizing, hopeful, honest emails got passed around, and have been compiled to create this book. At times it elicits chuckles, sometimes you will thank god for unsung heroic healthcare workers, and at other times your eyes will well with tears. The book is an adventurous journey into fatherhood, Jewish and Chinese American families, medical miracles, social work, gynecology, as well as sprinkling asides into life in television and film acting. The words are presented in a variety of fonts and styles to add drama to the reading. Graphics from the Milton Bradley games of Operation and Ka-boom also drive home some messages. Wong also includes some of the songs he wrote, such as his ode to Poop.
The book is impossible to put down, as you hunger to learn whether first-born Boaz Dov Wong (Boaz: the swift, strong, giving biblical character who rescues Ruth and fathers the ancestors of King David; Dov: the quiet strength of a peaceful bear) and younger Jackson Foo Wong (Jackson/Yohanan: for his father's surname, graciousness of god; Foo: wealth, for his grandfather) will survive and thrive. For readers who need linear stories, start with Update 8; all other can begin with the Preface. Click to read more.
LESSONS FOR DYLAN:
FROM FATHER TO SON ON MY LIFE AND YOURS
By Joel Siegel
May 2003. Publicaffairs. Nothing makes you more devout than a bout with cancer. Siegel, an entertainment critic for ABC's GMA, faced a terminal illness, and has created this story of his 58 years of life. At the age of 54, movie critic Joel Siegel became a father for the first time and learned that he had cancer. Now, in Lessons for Dylan, Siegel shares all the things he wants his son to know--in case he's not around to tell him--about his family history and Jewish heritage, life's pleasures and sorrows, the challenges of growing up (at any age), and, most important, who his father is and what he values. Threaded throughout are stories from Siegel's extraordinary life: he was born in East LA in 1943; his path from an immigrant neighborhood to national television; his work in the civil rights movement, and his career as a critic. Siegel's grandmother survived the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911. Joel, in 1965, delivered a bag containing $800 in cash to a minister named Martin Luther King. He ended up working for King that Summer. Siegel says he invented several Baskin Robbins flavors, including German Chocolate Cake (my favorite) and Pralines and Cream. He was also nominated for a Tony for his musical about Jackie Robinson. Siegel landed a gig writing for Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and witnessed Kennedy's assassination in Los Angeles. Siegel candidly addresses the more difficult passages of his life, including the end of his marriage (his third) to Dylan's mother and the experience of having cancer. Jerry Della Femina bought pot for Siegel during his chemotherapy. But he also shares great stories from show biz (featuring Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, Paul Newman, Brad Pitt, Stevie Wonder, all four Beatles, and many more); lays out the History of the Jewish People in Four Jokes; and offers fatherly advice on sex ("ask your mother"), work, and what to cook for Rosh Hashanah (recipes included). Full of humor and wisdom, common sense and self-revelation, Lessons for Dylan offers lessons for all of us about what really matters in life. He is co-founder (with Gene Wilder) and president of Gilda's Club, a non-profit support facility for cancer patients.
One day you might remember--maybe triggered by a photograph, or a sense memory of a texture or a color--the soft, grey cashmere sweater I bought for you for your second birthday. As an adult you may wonder, "What kind of schmuck buys a cashmere sweater for a two year-old boy?"
The answer is: A schmuck who tempts fate. I knew a cashmere sweater was a stupid thing to buy a two year-old, but I was feeling so good that if the call about the MRI results had come when I was walking down Park Avenue in front of the Mercedes place, I would've walked in and bought Dylan a car. The next day a CT-scan showed a small, black spot on the lower lobe of my left lung...
Click to read more.
OFRAH'S MAY 2003 SELECTION
The Dark Lady of DNA
by Brenda Maddox
Harper Collins. Fall 2002. Remember high school Biology class, and the double helix and Watson & Crick? What we never learned is that Watson & Crick actually borrowed a lot of their Nobel winning work from Rosalind Franklin and Linus Pauling, but mostly from Rosalind. History is written by the victors, and especially not by Jewish women when they are insulting to shamefully anti-Semitic Anglo scientists. Franklin was the daughter of an affluent British Jewish family; she was a focused, caustic, female genius who was renowned for her study of virus structures. Her photographs of DNA were called "among the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken." But Rosalind Franklin never received due credit for the crucial role these played in the discovery of DNA's structure. She died from cancer before learning that Watson & Crick had actually seen and stolen her research. In this biography, Maddox argues that sexism, egotism and anti-Semitism conspired to marginalize a brilliant and uncompromising young scientist who, though disliked by some colleagues, was a warm and admired friend to many. After beginning her research career in postwar Paris she moved to Kings College, London, where her famous photographs of DNA were made. These were shown without her knowledge to James Watson, who recognized that they indicated the shape of a double helix and rushed to publish the discovery; with colleagues Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, he won the Nobel Prize in 1962. Deeply unhappy at Kings, Rosalind left in 1953 for another lab, where she did important research on viruses, including polio. Her career was cut short when she died of ovarian cancer at age 37 (maybe due to all her x-rays). Drawing on interviews, published records, and a trove of personal letters to and from Rosalind, Maddox takes pains to illuminate her subject as a gifted scientist and a darkly complex woman.
OFRAH'S APRIL 2003 SELECTION
The Women's Passover Companion:
Women's Reflections on the Festival of Freedom
by Sharon Cohen Anisfeld (Editor), Tara Mohr (Editor), Catherine Spector (Editor)
Jewish Lights. February 2003. A powerful--and empowering--gathering of women's voices transmitting Judaism's Passover legacy to the next generation. The Women's Passover Companion offers an in-depth examination of women's relationships to Passover as well as the roots and meanings of women's seders. This groundbreaking collection captures the voices of Jewish women--rabbis, scholars, activists, political leaders, and artists--who engage in a provocative conversation about the themes of the Exodus and exile, oppression and liberation, history and memory, as they relate to contemporary women's lives. Whether seeking new insights into the text and tradtions of Passover or learning about women's seders for the first time, both women and men will find this collection an inspiring introduction to the Passover season and an eye-opening exploration of questions central to Jewish women, to Passover, and to Judaism itself. Contributors include: Martha Ackelsberg Judith R. Baskin Ruth Behar Esther Broner Kim Chernin Phyllis Chesler Judith Clark Tamara Cohen Dianne Cohler-Esses Ophira Edut Leora Eisenstadt Merle Feld Lynn Gottlieb Leah Haber Bonna Devora Haberman Susannah Heschel Norma Baumel Joseph
Chavi Karkowsky Janna Kaplan Ruth Kaplan Erika Katske Sharon Kleinbaum Lori Lefkovitz Haviva Ner-David Carol Ochs Vanessa L. Ochs Judith Plaskow, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Lilly Rivlin, Judith Rosenbaum, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Leah Shakdiel, Ela Their, Judith Wachs, Margaret Moers, Wenig, Jenya Zolot-Gassko, and Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
OFRAH'S MARCH 2003 SELECTION
I am waiting to get my hands on "Sham Yesh Shoshanim" (There are Roses There), an Israeli anthology from Alpha Press which includes essays by 23 Israeli women on the characterization of the female erotica experience in Israel today. The title is taken from the poem "Sham Yesh" by the late Yona Wallach. Hagar Yanai is the editor. The book includes work by Savyon Liebrecht, Yehudit Katzir, Mira Magen, Shulamit Hareven, Suzan Adam, Leah Eini, Shoham Smitg, Ilana Bernstein, Noa Manheim, Natalie Wieseltier, and Vered Tuchterman.
HIDE AND SEEK
JEWISH WOMEN AND HAIR COVERING
Edited By Lynne Meredith Schreiber
FEBRUARY 2003. Urim
Includes contributions by Rivkah Lambert Adler, Miriam Apt, Ruth Ben-Ammi, Chaya Devora Bleich, Erica Brown, Khaya Eisenberg, Tehilla Goldman, Joseph J. Greenberg, Mirjam Gunz-Schwarcz, Viva Hammer, Julie Hauser, Devorah Israeli, Rachel (Karlin) Kuhr, Batya Medad, Esther Marianne Posner, Barbara Roberts, Fagie Rosen, Lynne Meredith Schreiber, Leah Shein, Rivkah Slonim, Shaine Spolter, Susan Tawil, Yael Weil, Susan Rubin Weintrob, and Aviva (Stareshefsky) Zacks. Some are haredi, others are BT's and FFB's. Some took on the practice to increase their feelings of religious observance, others never gave it a second thought. Traditional Judaism considers the hair of a married woman erotic. As a result, married Jewish women are generally EXPECTED by their communities to cover their hair, except in front of their husbands, and sometimes in the company of other women. For most of Jewish history this practice was NOT DISPUTED - mainly because society at large also considered it immodest for women to let their hair down in its city streets. However, as the general definition of modesty has changed in the last two centuries, Jewish women have followed suit, debating the necessity of covering their hair in a world that remains "uncovered." Today, many observant, married Jewish women cover their hair in some way (sometimes spending thousand of dollars on wigs that are more erotic than their natural hair) although a vocal minority declines to do so at all. Hair covering has, therefore, become the bellwether for religiosity, turning practice into politics. Sources dispute the when, why, and how of hair covering, but nearly all agree on one thing: among the traditional Jews, it is the obligation of married Jewish women to cover their hair in some manner. This collection of essays explains the law (briefly), considers the customs, and includes the voices of women from around the world who are very much moved by the nature of this challenging observance. Essentially it is an "anecdotal"collection, and not a scholarly cultural anthropology on the practice. Among the personal reflections are the stories of the bride who realizes that covering her hair with a at is a royal pain; another woman loses her identity by losing her signature hairstyle. In other stories, one woman can no longer jog on the beach with the wind in her uncovered hair; another puts on her hat in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, lest a male guest see her in the hall with uncovered hair. The traditional Jewish community has long been silent on the very personal, yet also public, matter of married women covering their hair with hats, scarves, and even wigs. Hide and Seek is the first book to discuss this topic. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S FEBRUARY 2003 SELECTION
The year is going fast, and I am behind in my reading. Rather than focusing on a book, I spent the last month reading THE MICHIGAN QUARTERLY REVIEW's Special Issues on "JEWISH IN AMERICA." The standout book that I recommend for February is Rabbi Tirzah Firestone's latest, The Receiving.
RECLAIMING JEWISH WOMEN'S WISDOM
By Rabbi Tirzah Firestone
FEBRUARY 4, 2003. Harper San Francisco
For those of you who read her earlier autobiography, With Roots in Heaven, you know the Rabbi Firestone is a teacher, author and Jungian therapist in Boulder. She is a leader in the Jewish renewal movement. She was raised in an Orthodox home in St. Louis, Missouri. Determined to find freedom, Rabbi Firestone forcefully rejected her Jewish upbringing and embarked upon a journey that took her around the world and into the very heart of counterculture spirituality: from Kundalini ashrams to Hindu cults to radical New Age philosophies. After years of seeking, she settled in Boulder, Colorado, first as a student, then as a psychotherapist. She then found her path back to Judaism and the rabbinate, receiving smicha from Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi, Rabbi Gershon Winkler, Rabbi Shoshana Leibowitz and Rabbi Akiva Mann in 1992. I am still amazed by her skill at massage in which one can find an emotional release through touch. In this, her third book, Rabbi Firestone, focuses on "Receiving." Receiving is the literal translation of the word Kabbalah, the body of Jewish mysticism that has been passed down from men to men for centuries. Ironically, the art of receiving, that is, opening to the divine spirit as it manifests in the here and now, is one of the undocumented mysteries of women's spirituality. In what might be called an act of spiritual archaeology, Firestone searches for the traces of the divine feminine in the Jewish tradition in order to answer the question, "What is a woman's way to God?" Drawing on the remarkable stories of seven historical holy women--who, despite tremendous obstacles, found ways to embrace the sacred feminine in their lives--Firestone teaches us the mysteries of Jewish Kabbalah from a woman's vantage point. The women are Hannah Rachel of Ludomir (1815-1905); Beruriah (2nd Century); Malkah of Belz (c 1780-1850); Asnat Barzani (1590-1670); Dulcie of Worms (c 1170 - 1196); Leah Shar'abi (1919-1978); and Francesca Sarah (16th Century). My favorite is the story of Beruriah's "other sister." This book empowers women to reclaim their connection to the mystical lineage within Judaism. This is a provocative work of scholarship and passion that restores the forgotten voices of Jewish women mystics, using their remarkable journeys as a springboard into the feminine mysteries that have been hidden from women's use for millennia. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S JANUARY 2003 SELECTION
Hmm... I didn't select a January book yet.. but I have several February ones lined up. Check back in a few days
OFRAH'S DECEMBER 2002 SELECTION
JANE AUSTEN IN BOCA
A novel by Paula Cohen
November 5, 2002. St Martins Press
I'll wash the Viagra down with a decaf Sanka please. In the 1990's, Drexel Professor Paula Marantz Cohen, 47, visited her mother in law in Boca Raton from her home in South Jersey. She met upscale, elderly, retired Loehmann's shoppers dressed in pink, gold and turquoise. She came back with the idea for a book, Pride and Prejudice set not in the closed English countryside, but in the closed world of a Jewish retirement community. The Bennett daughters of Pride and Prejudice are recast as elderly Jewish widows in Boca. May Newman, a sweet woman in her 70s, is happily settled at the Boca Festa retirement community in Boca Raton, Florida. She enjoys the companionship of her best friends, Lila Katz, a pragmatic redhead in search of a well-off husband, and Flo Kliman, a sharp-tongued retired librarian. May Newman's pleasant daily routine is disrupted when her matchmaking New Jersey daughter-in-law, Carol Newman, visits and introduces May to recently widowed Norman Grafstein, a particularly eligible, wealthy senior. Despite herself, May finds she enjoys Norman's company, but Flo takes an instant dislike to Norman's best friend, cranky English professor emeritus Stan Jacobs. Then Flo's great niece, Amy, arrives on the scene. Amy is a film student at NYU Tisch, and she is determined to capture everything on celluloid (see JewishFilm.com)... Like Jane Austen, Cohen has a flair for observations and dry humor. Carol, who is a force of nature, is seen by May as "the incarnation of a good fairy in the guise of a suburban yenta." On noticing another friend's "unusually extensive cleavage," Flo thinks, "breasts, beyond the age of forty-five, she took to be assets best kept under cover. Flo was distinctly in the minority among her peers in Boca Raton, however, where cleavage was as common as Bermuda shorts and often worn with them." You may be old and retired, but the rules of love never change. The Austen parallels are cleverly drawn and culminate in a class on Pride and Prejudice offered by Stan, who discovers that the Boca Festa women identify with the meddling Mrs. Bennett rather than heroine Elizabeth. But you will have read the book to find out whether May and Norman find happiness. Or if Flo will succumb to the charms of the suavely cosmopolitan Mel Shirmer (Elizabeth and Darcy) ? And what about Amy? Will her film win at the NYU student film competition?
OFRAH'S NOVEMBER 2002 SELECTION
Burnt Bread and Chutney:
Memoirs of an Indian Jewish Girl
by Carmit Delman (agent=Jennifer Rudolph Walsh)
September 2002. Carmit Delman, 27, is descended from the Bene Israel, an ancient community of Indian Jews. American-born, raised in Cleveland, she studied at a Jewish day school, Brandeis University and Emerson College. In the politics of skin color, Carmit Delman is an ambassador from a world of which few are even aware. Her mother is a direct descendant of the Bene Israel of Western India. Her father is an American-born Jewish man of Ashkenazi descent. It was bagel and chutney. They met while working the land of a nascent Israeli state. Bound by love for each other and that newborn country, they hardly took notice of the interracial aspect of their union. But their daughter, Carmit, growing up in America, was well aware of her uncommon heritage. She was a dark Jew among "White Jews." Carmit Delman's memories of the sometimes painful, sometimes pleasurable, often awkward moments of her adolescence juxtapose strikingly with mythic tales of her female ancestors living in the Indian-Jewish community. As rites and traditions, smells and textures intertwine, Carmit's unique cultural identity evolves. There is a point in the book when Carmit and her grandmother (Nana-bai) burn a chapati bread on the stove. Nana-bai reprimands Carmit. Carmit wanted to throw away the burnt chapatti. Nana-bai said it was still edible, even if the men would not eat it. Nana-bai scraped the carbon off the bread, spreads it with homemade mango chutney and ate it with Carmit. "I want you to always remember how it tastes," she told her. Nana-bai's secret was to appreciate the unexpected nature of pleasures. It is coming of age in Jewish summer camps, materialistic synagogues, and at KISS concerts - and the inevitable combination of old and new: ancient customs, conformity, and modern attitudes, Jewish, Indian, and American. When she moved to Israel, she found that it is even worse when it comes to racial strictures. Her reflections on Nana-bai (based on a diary her grandmother kept), an unloved second wife, will make this a must read for most Jewish reading groups. Carmit Delman's journey through religious traditions, family tensions, and social tribulations to a healthy sense of wholeness and self is rendered with grace and an acute sense of depth. Burnt Bread and Chutney is a rich and innovative book that opens wide a previously unseen world. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S OCTOBER 2002 SELECTION
Hello from Hong Kong! The editor and I are traveling through Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand), and I am getting some good reading done. My recommendation for the month is from the author of White Teeth:
The Autograph Man:
by Zadie Smith
October 1, 2002. Random House. Alex-Li Tandem, a half-Chinese/half-Jewish autograph trader, sells autographs. He is a 27 year old on a quest, but a small blip in a huge worldwide network of desire. His business is to hunt for names on paper, collect them, sell them, and occasionally fake them-all to give the people what they want: a little piece of Fame. He has issues with intimacy. But what does Alex want? Only the return of his dead father, the reinstatement of some kind of all-powerful, benevolent God-type figure, the end of religion, something for his headache, three different girls (including girlfriend Esther), infinite grace, and the rare autograph of 1950's movie actress Kitty Alexander. Kitty is sacred to Alex-Li. The Autograph Man is a deeply funny existential tour around the hollow things of modernity: celebrity, cinema, and the ugly triumph of symbol over experience. Through London and then New York, searching for the only autograph that has ever mattered to him, Alex follows the paper trail while resisting the mystical lure of Kabbalah (is Adam's pot filled search for the shards and godhead similar to Alex-Li's search for the elusive autograph?) and Zen, and avoiding all collectors, con men, and interfering rabbis who would put themselves in his path. Pushing against the tide of his generation, Alex-Li is on his way to finding enlightenment, otherwise known as some part of himself that cannot be signed, celebrated, or sold. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S SEPTEMBER 2002 SELECTION
Hi readers. How can the Summer season be over so soon. I haven't done anything, I still have forty books to read! And now it is Labor Day, and the Holidays, and soon I will be jetting off to China for Sukkot. There are so so so many books this September, how can I select just one? I can't, but let me ask you to at least start with this one:
TALKING TO GOD
Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration
by Rabbi NAOMI LEVY
This book provides simple, direct and intimate prose prayers; it's as if you are chatting with a loved one, namely God (or G-d or G!d).
Many of the prayers are preceded by a poignant story from Rabbi Levy's life. The prayers are sectioned as follows: In Part 1, there are Daily Prayers for Morning, Driving, Difficult Days, Food on Our Table, Seeking the Ability to Pray, Finding mentors in the least likely places (learning from others humbly), nighttime, and a prayer for the parent to say to a child at night. Her prayer for Bad Days is preceded by the story of the day she moved homes, had a car accident, had to bid farewell to a dying congregant, and found the tallis given to her by her dean being used as a drop cloth by painters. Part 2 contains prayers for love and marriage, including prayers for finding love, sexuality, rekindling passion, breakups, marriage, troubles, anniversaries, guidance after unfaithfulness, healing from divorce, preparing for the wedding ceremony, and the second marriage. The prayer for fighting sexual temptation is preceded by a hilarious story about how the rabbi's phone number became confused with that of an internet prostitute. She decides to call back one of the men who leaves her a message, who turns out to be a Jewish studio exec seeking some post-partum sexual release. God works in mysterious ways, and she counsels him to greater fidelity (or so she thinks, but let's get serious, he works in Hollywood).
In Part 3 are prayers for Pregnancy and Childbirth, including prayers for conception, pregnancy and strength, and birth.
In Part 4, there are prayers for parenthood and adoption, and a story about how the rabbi learns to face the challenges of parenting a special needs child. In Part 5, there are prayers for healing, healers, overcoming illnesses and addictions, overcoming breast cancer, surgery, and living with disabilities. Part 6 contains prayers for work and employment unemployment, career changes, interviews, and the incumbent challenges.
Part 7 contains prayers for comfort and strength in difficult times, embracing silence, and being resilient. A prayer to be said after losing a pet is preceded by a story about Martin Buber and pets.
In Part 8, there are prayers for special occasions, new homes, birthdays, rests, and brushes with death. In Part 9, there are prayers for Aging, including retirement, menopause, the fear of retirement, the fear of becoming dependent or a burden to others, and a prayer for the child who must care for an aging parent. In Part 10, there are prayers of Death and Mourning, including prayers for those who succumb to violence and prayers for those murdered on 9/11/2001.
Part 11 contains prayers for Living Up to the Best in Our Souls, including a prayer to abstain from gossip, overcoming jealousy, prayers for wrongdoing and repair, healing troubled relationships, and for guidance and wisdom. The final chapter, Part 12, has prayers for Peace, Tolerance, our Country and the World. After each chapter, there are a couple of pages in which to joy down your own words and prayers for yourself and posterity. :-) Click for more information. (note, this review was co-written by Ofrah and Larry)
OFRAH'S AUGUST 2002 SELECTION
THE ASCENT OF ELI ISRAEL: And Other Stories
by Jon Papernick
July 2002. You could not ask for a better timed book. It is surreally dark in nature. Papernick, a Toronto journalist in Israel (a Canadian who now lives in Brooklyn), offers unique insights into Israeli life through his collection of stories (nearly as manic as the works of Etgar Keret). In "The Art of Correcting" a rabbi gets converted by a chiropractor. In "The King of The King of Falafel," there is a competition between Jerusalem falafel shops o King George Street, but then the kids of an unsuccessful shop owner take matters into their own hands. In "an Unwelcome Guest".. well let's just say, it is an awful nightmare about Yossi Bar-Yosef, living on the West Bank, having moved from America with his wife Devorah, who wakes in the middle of the night and finds some unwanted visitors (one named Youssif), while his wife is asleep in the bedroom. He must enter into an intense backgammon game with the man in his kitchen as the number of unwelcome guests grow. In "Lucky Eighteen", a photographer photographs the grisly remains of a murderous bus bombing. In "The Ascent of Eli Israel", a soldier, speaking to Eli Haller, a West Bank settler, remarks, "Why is it that all the scum of the world [read Brooklyn] comes to Israel?" Click to read more.
By Fran Drescher
May 2002. Comedian Fran Drescher (THE NANNY) relates her bout with uterine cancer, and how after two years of visiting doctors, she finally got the proper diagnosis, dealt with fatigue, had the hysterectomy, and survived and healed with the help of her family, friends, dog, and post-divorce, young'in boyfriend. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S JULY 2002 SELECTION
I couldn't decide, so I am left with two books to recommend for July are:
by HORTENSE CALISHER (STILL WRITING AT AGE 90!!)
May 2002. NOVEL. At the center of this novel is a Jewish family with the surname of DUFFY. Professor Peter Duffy, a retired university teacher of philosophy, is collapsing mentally. His wife, Zipporah Gold Duffy, the mother of their 5 children whisks him off to Italy to hide his degeneration. An Israeli nurse, Deborah Cohen, mysteriously appears to help care for Peter. In the second part of this masterful novel, Zipporah is a widow who inherits a lot of money from her neighbor and friend, Norman. A grandmother, she takes a lover, Foxy Mendenhall. In the final portion of the novel, we focus on ZIpporah's relationship with her favorite grandson, Bertram, a rabbi without a pulpit, who tracks down Debra Cohen and her mystery. The beach read of the Summer.
THE WOMAN WHO DEFIED KINGS
The Life and Times of Doña Gracia Nasi
A Jewish Leader During the Renaissance
by Andree Aelion Brooks
June 2002. This is the first biography of Doña Gracia Nasi to be based upon original 16th century documents. The other books on her have either been fiction or based upon secondary sources. Her main efforts were to save the lives of thousands of victims of the Inquisition by supporting an escape network. Doña Gracia Nasi (Beatrice de Luna Mendes), a Jewish woman (1510-1569) in the 16th Century, fled from the Inquisition (to Lisbon to Antwerp to Venice to Ferrara to Venice to Constantinople) and became one of the top businesspeople of the period. She loaned to the Church and monarchs, and set up an Underground railroad for escaping converso Jews.
OFRAH'S JUNE 2002 SELECTION
Move over BEE SEASON and THE RED TENT, for there is a new book in town, that should be read by every book reading club.
EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED
by Jonathan Safran Foer
April 16, 2002. Houghton Mifflin.
I took some time off from masticating, and bought this highly touted, super buzzed novel. We were drawn to this novel since it spoke to us; we connected with it. It felt so real, there was a feeling of recognition, as if we had lived parts of it. For, we, too, did the solo heritage roots tour, and took a trip to Eastern Europe, and hired a translator, but at least our trip was a tiny bit better planned. Our grandfather didn't have a dead arm, and we never used the F word, even when "arrested" in Poland.
Is everything illuminated? Or is nothing illuminated? Do we ever really hear each other, even with the best translator? Are we like seeing eye dogs, who see for the un-blind and bark gibberish? Can astronauts from space see a spark of love from 150 years ago, or do they just see that we are products of our ancestors, no matter how good or bad they were? This book is so good, so funny, so sad, so true. It is filled with fun insights, like Eskimos having 400 words for snow and Jews have as many for schmuck and putz.
Reviewers have said: passionate, perverse, and moving. "Exuberant and wise, hysterically funny and deeply moving, Everything Is Illuminated is an astonishing debut novel.
In the summer after his junior year of college, a writer-also named Jonathan Safran Foer-journeys to the farmlands of Eastern Europe. Armed with only a yellowing photograph, he sets out to find Augustine, the woman who might or might not be a link to the grandfather he never knew-the woman who, he has been told, saved his grandfather from the Nazis (this really happened). Guided by the unforgettable Alex, his young Ukrainian translator, who writes in a sublimely, butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic search across a devastated landscape and back into an unexpected past. Braided into this story is the novel Jonathan is writing, a magical realist fable of his grandfather's village in Ukraine, Trachimbrod, a tapestry of startling symmetries that unite generations across time. In a counterpoint of voices blending high comedy and deep tragedy, the search moves back in time, the fantastical history moves forward, and they meet in a heart-stopping scene of extraordinary power. Passionate, wildly inventive, and marked by an indelible humanity, Everything Is Illuminated mines the black holes of history and is ultimately a story about searching: for people and places that no longer exist, for the hidden truths that haunt every family, and for the delicate but necessary tales that link past and future."
The big footed Princeton grad (Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides were his thesis advisors), Jonathan Safran Foer, 25, in an interview, said he did not intend to write a Jewish novel. He thought it would be a non fiction chronicle of his ill conceived, poorly planned five day trip to the Ukraine four years ago, at age 20. Foer wrote, "The novel's two voices - one "realistic," the other "folkloric" - and their movement toward each other, has to do with this problem of imagination. The Holocaust presents a real moral quandary for the artist. Is one allowed to be funny? Is one allowed to attempt verisimilitude? To forgo it? What are the moral implications of quaintness? Of wit? Of sentimentality? What, if anything, is untouchable? With the two very different voices, I attempted to show the rift that I experienced when trying to imagine the book. (It is the most explicit of many rifts in the book.) And with their development toward each other, I attempted to heal the rift, or wound." Foer said, "I was twenty when I made the trip - an unobservant Jew, with no felt connection to, or great interest in, my past. I kept an ironic distance from religion, and was skeptical of anything described as "Jewish.".... I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day. I think of myself as one of the least Jewish people I've ever met, unobservant. But very shortly, a lot of people are going to think I'm VERY Jewish."
The Jewish Book Council has already anointed him as the next Philip Roth. How can you dislike a young guy who owns a set of Encyclopedia Judaica? I personally cannot get the image out of my mind of a forest of trees each carved with love notes. So buy this book and have a laugh and a cry.
OFRAH'S MAY 2002 SELECTION
I am in the middle of reading EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer. (Whenever I see the name Safran, I am reminded of Nadav Safran from Harvard, but I digress). Of course, I recommend Everything is Illuminated. It is 35% better than the works of David Grossman. But until I finish Foer's book, I must settle by recommending the following book:
ELVIS IN JERUSALEM
Post Zionism and the Americanization of Israel
by Tom Segev, Haim Watzman (Translator)
May 2002. Holt. A very quick read
In Israel, collectivism is dead, Americanism is thriving. Private parties now supplant group celebrations. If Paul Newman were to reprise his role as Ari Ben Canaan from the 1961 film, Exodus, he might portray a capitalist in Ramat Aviv Gimmel, and not a committed Kibbutznik. More people pay homage to the Elvis statue at an Elvis Diner on the road to Jerusalem, than to a Herzl statue that stands outside of Herzliya, a bastion of prosperous capitalism. Tom Segev, a revisionist New Historian, and a master at challenging long held myths of Israel's history, offers a lively polemic against cherished and rigid notions of Israel's national unity and culture. Aside from the thesis, the book is worth reading if only for the bounty of tidbits of social history and the voices of Israel's scholars that are included. See the May 2002 page or click for more information.
ALEPH BET YOGA
By STEVEN A RAPP
March 2002. Jewish Lights Press. Hatha yoga meets the Jewish alphabet (aleph bet). Rap explains the 29 yoga forms that resemble Hebrew letters (22 letters plus final forms plus the vowels of kamatz and patach). The lamed... wow. He goes on to explain yoga and Jewish spirituality in the context of the letter. FLAT LAYING BINDING to help you when doing yoga. For each letter there is a Hebrew verse and English quote upon which to reflect. Includes a bibliography. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S APRIL 2002 SELECTION
How can anyone read given the events in Israel over Pesach? But you must continue and not despair. Did you hear the OPRAH is giving up on the book club?? Well, baby, OFRAH is still going strong! ... Which brings me to my selection for April. American seek justice, not revenge; but sometimes, a little revenge needs to be exacted:
Revenge: A Story of Hope
by Laura Blumenfeld
April 4, 2002. Simon and Schuster. In 1986, the father of Washington Post reporter, Laura Blumenfeld, was shot by a 25 year old Palestinian gunman in Israel, in the walled Old City of Jerusalem. The shooter was part of a PLO faction, and his family was part of the PFLP and sees suicide bombers as 'seeds of peace.' Laura was a student at Harvard, and Rabbi Blumenfeld's wife, Norma, was in Hawaii with her lover at the time of the shooting (Okay...). Anyway, Laura vowed revenge against the gunman, Omar al-Khatib. Twelve years later, in 1998, the shooter was to be released from jail and Laura decided to exact her revenge. Posing as a journalist (which she is), she traveled to Sicily (to learn the fine art of revenge), Iran, and Bosnia. She collects stories of revenge. Should revenge be carried out in court? With the words of the poet? Or with a gun and knife? Can you exact the best revenge when you know your enemies Achilles heel? Is revenge psychological, physical, or can it be a reversal of power? Is it enough to humiliate and shame a Palestinian, or is success the best revenge? Laura interviewed the family and parents of the terrorist (she draws her father's initials in the dust of their dining room table as they chat), and she became a pen-pal of her father's shooter. And then one day......
OFRAH'S MARCH 2002 SELECTION
An amazing Feminist book on a life and survival in Nazi death camps. I highly recommend this for this month
Coming of Age During the Holocaust and Beyond
(The Helen Rose Scheuer Jewish Womens Series)
By Ruth Kluger (Professor Emerita, UC-IRVINE)
November 2001, Feminist Press. Move over Elie Wiesel, and make room for Professor Kluger. What was a childhood under the Nazi's in Austria like? How about a school art project of making swastikas with colored paper? Born in 1931, this is the story of the destruction of her high-German, utterly rational Viennese Jewish family from 1938-1945, followed by her new beginnings in Germany and New York, an her mother's death at home in California. IT HAS ALREADY BEEN A BEST SELLING BOOK IN GERMANY. Kluger survived a childhood in the children's barracks at both Theresienstadt and the Birkenau Auschwitz Gross Rosen death camps, where she, like everyone else, became subhuman self-hating trash. The fear of death pervades. Kluger, an unbeliever, became a Jew during her 19 months at Theresienstadt, a place of utter awfulness, which forced her to learn to become a social animal and lose her neurotic tics. Everyone knew that "being sent east" to Poland meant death. The kids knew not to take showers (gas). Her portraits of her paranoid mother are astounding. Her mother taught her by example how to remain a person in an awful senseless cruel paranoid place, as she showed compassion to another woman who broke down into insanity on a transport. But at the same time, you read about mother-daughter tensions even in the face of life in a death camp. Her chapter on the last days of her mother, nearly a century old, are utterly amazing to read.
OFRAH'S FEBRUARY 2002 SELECTION
ME TIMES THREE
by Alex Witchel
(A New York Times reporter, and wife of Frank Rich, the former Butcher of Broadway for The Times)
January 2002. Everything's going right for Sandra Berlin. She is living in Manhattan, climbing the editorial ladder at ultra-chic fashion magazine Jolie!, (ELLE) and she's just become engaged to Bucky Ross, her high-school sweetheart. Bucky's her knight in shining WASP armor (she is from Polish Jewish stock), a successful ad executive and a descendant of Betsy Ross, and their future promises a life of comfortable suburban bliss: the Tudor mansion, the beautiful children, the country club. And then, three weeks later, at a party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sandy meets Bucky's other fiancée. Who tells her about Bucky's third fiancée. Which begins Sandy's journey through the unfamiliar world of heartbreak and betrayal-and the most excruciating blind dates in the history of singledom. As she tries to piece her life back together, she relies on the common sense and compassion of her best friend, Paul-a rising young film agent, gorgeous, gay, and moneyed-to keep her sane. But even Paul has his secrets, and soon Sandy is forced, on her own, to reexamine her past and, more important, what she wants for her future. Me Times Three is comic and tender, outrageous and wise-a shrewd, dead-on portrait of a certain slice of New York life. It's a story about wished-for ideals versus hard realities, about being who you are versus the desire to fit in, and, finally, about how love can surprise us in the most unexpected ways. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S JANUARY 2002 SELECTION
CHAINS AROUND THE GRASS
A novel by Naomi Ragen
Fall 2001. The Jerusalem Post said "Chains around the Grass, is the kind of book that you never want to end. It is a timeless tale that not only offers real insight into human character and family relationships but also generously offers the reader a way to relate to at least one aspect or one character in the story." Set in the 1950's in New York City, CHAINS AROUND THE GRASS is a portrait of a Jewish-American family that glows with affection, tenderness, and courage when tragedy changes the lives of all those are left behind. A passionately personal and heartfelt book, based heavily on autobiographical material, this is the book Ms. Ragen says that she became an author to write. Sara is barely six years old when her beloved father unexpectedly vanishes from her life. Her mother, Ruth, a dreamy and reluctant housewife, is now left with three small children to bring up, and the knowledge that she will somehow have to pick up the pieces, if she is to survive and fend for the family. But Sara takes up a vigil at the window of their dismal apartment, refusing to accept that her father won't be coming back. She searches the movements of other men for traits of her father. Throughout the book, she likens herself to the child character played by Shirley Temple in the The Little Princess. Numerous times, Sara describes how she refuses to believe her father is really gone forever. To this bittersweet and moving tale of childhood and the loss of innocence, the author brings the added intensity of a personal memoir. There seems no way out of the family's poverty or their life in a low-income housing project. Jesse, the older brother, is beaten by the situation only adding to the family's burden. While Sara deals with the pain internally, becoming an introverted little girl and a virtual prisoner in her own home, content to looking out the window at the chained off grass below. The family is not strictly Orthodox Jewish at first, but after the death of her father, Sara is enrolled in a private, Jewish day school not far from her home. Sara feels inadeuqte at the affluent school, but in her study of Judaism she is slowly able to help her family to overcome the death of her father, and even give her mother and siblings strength. This is Naomi Ragen at her best, her writing charged with a searing, emotional truth as she unravels a tale of childhood, betrayal and the unending resilience of family love. Click the book cover to read more.
OFRAH'S DECEMBER 2001 SELECTION
What Makes Women Sick? Maternity, Modesty and Militarism in Israeli Society
by Susan Sered
Anthropologist Susan Sered examines Israeli society and the health of its citizens. Her most recent book, What Makes Women Sick? Maternity, Modesty and Militarism in Israeli Society, analyzes the cultural causes of the poor health of Israeli women. Exploring the implications of religious, medical, political and military attitudes and policies, Sered argues that Israeli women are - literally - sickened through systematic exclusion from positions of power and authority at the same time that they are extolled for their maternal role. Professor Sered currently directs the Religion, Health and Healing Initiative at Harvard University and also is affiliated with Bar Ilan University in Israel. Scrutinizing the Israeli military, medical, and religious establishments, Susan Sered discloses the myths, policies, and pressures that encumber and endanger Israeli women in their roles as soldiers, brides, and mothers. Framed by the question of why the life expectancy and health status of Israeli women is poor in comparison to women in other developed countries, What Makes Women Sick conjoins medical anthropology, gender studies, and women's health to show how female bodies in Israel are controlled through public policy, symbolic discourses, and ritual performances. Looking at issues such as disputes over women serving in combat, the rape of a former "Miss Israel," and government incentives for bearing children, Sered develops a passionate ethnography of Israeli society that resonates universal truths about women, power, and authority. Click to read more.
OFRAH'S NOVEMBER 2001 SELECTION
This month, I started to read a book on FDR and his imprisonment of Japanese Americans (By Order of the President), as well as the new Humash from the Masorti Movement (Etz Hayim). My recommendation for the month of November 2001 is by a classic Jewish author, Chaim Potok:
OLD MEN AT MIDNIGHT
By CHAIM POTOK
October 2001. Knopf. 304 pages. Chaos Theory Meets The Novel
Chaim Potok, the master of the fictional clashes between cultures and countries (My Name is Asher Lev, The Chosen, the one about Kyoto, Wanderings), JTS Grad, and celebrated author, has written three related novellas about one woman who touches the lives of three men. (but is the story about the woman? Or is it actually about the stories of the men she meets?) Ilana Davita Dinn is the listener to whom three men relate their lives. In the first story, it is 1947, and Ilana is as a young 17 year old woman. She listens to the story of Noah Stemim, the Ark Builder, a man who builds torah arks for synagogues and what happened when the Nazis invade his Polish town. He is the only survivor from his town. In the next story, she is a newly minted teacher at Columbia University in the 1950's, and reads the story of a KGB agent, Leon Shertov, who as a young man during the Russian Civil War is saved by a doctor who he later meets during the Kremlin doctors' plot. Shertov sends Ilana three long letters. In the third story, Ilana is a famous writer and neighbor to an elderly, distinguished Professor of military warfare, Benjamin Walter (you mean Walter Benjamin?), who is trying to write his memoirs who gets distracted by Ilana's presence over the rhododendron hedge and the illness of his wife. Benjamin Walter is famous for being able to detect connections and patterns across historical periods and geographies (kind of like Potok). Yet he is unable to find the patterns and connections of his own life. But, secretly, as you read this novel, you find that you know little of Ilana; the portrait of her is withdrawing as you get deeper into the book. (Is she secretly the shechina? Should Leonard Nimoy take a picture of her female presence?)
OFRAH'S OCTOBER 2001 SELECTION
I would like to retreat to a children's book for this month:
DAUGHTERS OF FIRE
HEROINES OF THE BIBLE
By Fran Manushkin. Illus by Uri Shulevitz
September 2001. Age 9-12. From Eve to Esther to Yael, full page illustrations, with insightful stories on biblical women. Biblical stories of valorous women-from who have helped shape the human character and spirit. Rarely, though, has the essence of these heroines been revealed as poignantly as it is in Daughters of Fire. Fran Manushkin's sensitive retellings of stories from the Bible and Jewish tradition portray strength and honor, but also jealousy and fear, and Caldecott Medalist Uri Shulevitz's heroic illustrations highlight the bold, passionate essence of each woman and her world. The result is a collection of tales with heroines who are, above all, human
OFRAH'S SEPTEMBER 2001 SELECTION
THE FIRST GENERATION
Edited by Rebecca T. Alpert, Sue Levi Elwell, and Shirley Idelson
August/September 2001. Rutgers. PAPERBACK EDITION.
Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation documents a change in Jewish life as 18 lesbian rabbis reflect on their experiences as trailblazers in Judaism's journey into an increasingly multicultural world. They were leaders in school and on the pulpit. In honest essays, they discuss their decisions to become rabbis and describe their experiences both at the seminaries (RRC and HUC will ordain lesbians as rabbis, JTS and Orthodox seminaries will not ordain an openly lesbian or gay student) and in their rabbinical positions. They also reflect on the dilemma whether to conceal or reveal their sexual identities to their congregants and superiors, or to serve specifically gay and lesbian congregations. The contributors consider the tensions between lesbian identity and Jewish identity, and inquire whether there are particularly "lesbian" readings of traditional texts. These essays also ask how the language of Jewish tradition touches the lives of lesbians and how lesbianism challenges traditional notions of the Jewish family. The book was born in 1997 at a meting of B'not Esh, a 21-year-old women's collective. Fifty rabbis were invited to contribute essays. All were recetive, except for one who wrote that lesbianism had nothing to do with her profession or Jewish practice. Rabbi Rebecca T. Alpert is a rabbi and codirector of the women's studies program at Temple University. She is the author of Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist Approach and Like Bread on the Seder Plate: Jewish Lesbians and the Transformation of Tradition. Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell is a rabbi and director of the Pennsylvania Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. She is the editor of the Jewish Women's Studies Guide. Rabbi Shirley Idelson is a rabbi who serves as associate chaplain at Carleton College and associate for Jewish Life at Macalester College.
HOW I FIND HER
By Genie Zeiger
2001, A daughter writes of her life with her mother, afflicted with Alzheimers. This tender memoir explores the complex shifts in relationship between mother and daughter as an elderly mother slowly declines. Zeiger takes an uncompromising look at the caretaker`s dilemma as a vibrant mother deteriorates into illness and dementia. `How I Find Her` articulates a daughter`s grief, the struggle of letting go, and the unexpected gift of redemption following her mother`s death.
OFRAH'S AUGUST 2001 SELECTION
BREAST CANCER WARS
Hope, Fear, and the Pursuit of a Cure in Twentieth-Century America
by Barron H Lerner MD (Columbia College of Surgeons)
When Dr Lerner was an undergraduate, his mother discovered she had breast cancer. She quietly had it treated, and quietly recuperated. Lerner thought that was how it was done. When he aged and became a physician and historian, he learned that there was more to breast cancer, its treatment, its politics, and its support groups than he and his family were aware. This may be a controversial book. Survivors and physicians and families have deeply held, emotional views on the treatment of breast cancer, particularly the societal embrace of a "war on cancer" rather than an emphasis on prevention. Lerner focuses on the rise and fall of the radical mastectomy pioneered by surgeon William Halsted. To prevent what he theorized was the centrifugal spread of cancer to the lymph nodes, Halsted determined that it was necessary to remove not only the breast but also the nodes and two chest-wall muscles, leaving the patient feeling disfigured and with serious side effects. Lerner details CLEARLY the arguments that many in the scientific community made against this eventually DISCREDITED theory and against radical mastectomy, including those advanced by surgeon George Crile. Crile favored less aggressive operations and disagreed with the cancer establishment's relentless publicity campaign for early detection. He and others were convinced that it was the biology of the cancer, rather than how early it was diagnosed, that determined whether or not a tumor would metastasize. Dr. Lerner provides excellent portraits of the players in this controversy and helps you to understand why they chose their paths and beliefs. Lerner also explores the strong impact the 1970s women's movement had on cancer treatment, with women demanding more information from physicians and input into their treatment options. Pub Weekly calls it "Provocative and highly engaging."
OFRAH'S JULY 2001 SELECTION
Hi readers and Happy July. Is your Summer going well? Has anyone seen the books on the 2000 Presidential election by Alan Dershowitz and Richard Posner? They both analyze the outcomes of Bush v Gore. Alan Dershowitz's "Supreme Injustice" describes what he thinks was the "corrupt" Supreme Court's hijacking of the election. Taking the other point of view is Federal Judge Richard Posner's (Seventh Circuit) "Breaking the Deadlock" in which he argues that the court was pragmatic and honorable. I am in NYC this month and am looking forward to July 10, when Joshua Bell and the NY Philharmonic (NYPhilharmonic.org) will give a free concert in Central Park of Bernstein selections. At the HRW Film Festival (HRW.org) last month, I picked up a brochure for a post graduate Certificate program in International Trauma Studies at NYU (Refsource.org). It sounds enticing, doesn't it? I was too late to apply for this Fall, but maybe next year. While I wait, my selection for July is:
by JENNIFER BELLE
May 2001. Ms Belle has followed up her successful novel, GOING DOWN. The author of the outrageous, hilarious Going Down-named Best New Novelist by Entertainment Weekly-returns with her second novel: the story of an obsessive love affair between a woman and an apartment. High Maintenance is another brilliantly twisted New York story that is as funny, sad, painful, ridiculous, wild, daring, and lovable as its predecessor. Set in the manic world of New York real estate, it tells the story of Liv Kellerman, a young woman who's just left her husband and, more importantly, left their fabulous penthouse apartment with its Empire State Building view. On her own for the first time in her life, she relocates to a crumbling Greenwich Village hovel and contemplates her next move. Before long she finds her true calling: selling real estate. With her native eye for prime properties and an ability to lie with a straight face, Liv finds success and soon is swimming with the sharks-the hardcore, cutthroat brokers who'll do anything to close a deal. Along the way she picks up a maniacally ardent architect who likes to bite her, a few hilarious bosses, strange and exasperating clients, and a gun, and brings them with her on her search for the one thing she's really after-a home. Belle's gift for creating strange and winning characters and her acute observations of both the absurd and the poignant in everyday life are the hallmarks of her fiction. High Maintenance is generous and unsparing, tough and exciting and terrifically smart-a hot new property on the market.
OFRAH'S JUNE 2001 SELECTION
Well, the Reform Movement canceled its youth tours to Israel this Summer, and as I write this, there is talk of a diluted Maccabiah Games in July. Therefore, if you can't make it to Israel this Summer, I am recommend the following book below for June 2001. As for what I am currently reading, I tried The Conscience of a Liberal by comrade, I mean Senator, Paul Wellstone.
I am only in the first part, so I am not ready to tell you what it is about. I also started Changing Places. A Journey With My Parents into Their Old Age by Judy Kramer. As she writes, there is nothing remarkable about the lives and deaths of her parents, only that she shares her feelings about her journey and that of her late parents, Milton and Evelyn (Stemberg) Lieberman, into frailty and dependence.
I am also browsing The Sovereigns. A Jewish Family in the German Countryside by Eric Lucas. It is about Lucas' family and their deportation from Germany to Poland in 1941. Lucas died in 1996, having written this after WWII. Also, I am glancing at An Algerian Childhood, edited by Leila Sebbar. It is a collection of auto-bio's of arab, jewish, kabyle, and French childhoods in Algeria.
DISCOVERING NATURAL ISRAEL by Michal Strutin
The flora and fauna of Israel, a place where there over 500 species of birds, about seven times as many as nest in Europe, and 2700 species of plants (twice as many as in Egypt). Michal Strutin has been involved with nature writing from her time as an editor at Outside and National Parks magazines. In Discovering Natural Israel: From the Coral Reefs of Eilat, through the mountains above Eilat, to the Emerald Crown of Mount Carmel (Where Haifa's mountains meet the Sea), to Gamla in the Golan, Michal Strutin shows travelers natural wonders often obscured by political realities: from Rosh Hanikra to Gamla to Ein Gedi, from Makhtesh Ramon, (Israel's Grand Canyon) to the hot springs of Gader. Strutin encounters two-foot long parrot fish grazing on coral in the Red Sea; wafer-thin, often motionless gazelle camouflaged in the Negev Desert; colonies of griffon vultures in the Golan; skinks; fringe-toed lizards; hyraxes and countless other mythic-seeming beasts. And no politicians.
OFRAH'S MAY 2001 SELECTION
Hi friends. I am happy to recommend this new book by Debra Nussbaum Cohen, a good Jewish journalist, and if I recall correctly, a former member of Telem(?). The book is so good, it makes one want to get pregnant and give birth, just so it can be applied.
Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter:
Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls--New and Traditional Ceremonies
by Debra Nussbaum Cohen
Jewish Lights Publishing. 2001. 192 pages.
The introduction opens with, "Mazal Tov, You've Had a Baby Girl!"
Each child comes with your hopes and dreams. Everybody is familiar with a bris, or brit milah circumcision ceremony and in modern times, a festive celebration, for healthy baby boys on their eighth day after birth. But what do you do when you have a daughter? What are they, chopped liver? Since the early 1970's, Jewish parents have been celebrating their daughters in original ways (Ezrat Nashim published the first ceremonies in 1977, and the havurah and renewal movements wrote about theirs dating back to 1973). Debra Nussbaum Cohen, a resident of Park Slope Brooklyn, and mother who has known the joy of birth and the pain of loss, has created this essential guide to new and traditional ceremonies with which to welcome your new daughter to the world, the covenant, and the Jewish people. It's about time. And it will be a welcome addition to your Jewish bookshelf and life. Just consider, what you create today will be a "tradition" for your descendants! Cohen started collecting organic Simchat Bat ceremonies when she was pregnant with her first child. It is an inclusive book that has ceremonies crafted for adherents to traditional Orthodoxy, traditional Sephardic rite, contemporary rites, contemporary Orthodox, humanism, and modren mikveh rites. Part One introduces you to welcoming ceremonies and Jewish tradition, including the idea of covenant, brit milah, and the custom of gomel. Part Two consists of about four dozen pages on seriously practical considerations for your ceremony. It includes chapters on how to involve your non-Jewish loved ones or spouse, if necessary (through acknowledgement and readings); what to do in cases of adoption and cross-cultural adoption (remember, Moses was an adopted child, and Mordechai was probably an adoptive parent); and gay and lesbian parenthood (since both parents will be fathers or mothers, or should you pray for your child to make it to the chuppah, or just to be in a loving relationship). Part Three focuses on planning the event, creating programs, sanctifying the space, and deciding when to have the Simchat Bat (eighth day, 30th day, etc.). Part Four contains over 150 pages of sample ceremonies, and hundreds of readings and elements from which you can pick and choose. It includes selections for welcoming, naming, prayers of thanksgiving, parental blessings, acrostics, psalms, readings for relatives and friends, blessings for wine and bread, and rituals for brit nerot (light), brit mikvah (immersion), brit rechitzah (footwashing/handwashing), brit tallit (enfolding her into the covenant), brit kehillah (community), brit melach, and brit havdalah (transitions). The book succeeds so well, one wishes all the babies were girls (or maybe some things can be borrowed for future boys).
OFRAH'S APRIL 2001 SELECTION
I am preparing for Pesach, and am really enjoying Joan Nathan's FOOD OF ISRAEL cookbook, and I have been browsing through some new Haggadahs. Of course, I am never too busy for at least one novel. My suggestion and selection for April is below. By the way, if you are riding in a NYC taxi, always wear your seatbelt. I learned the hard way.
by Bart Schneider
March 2001. A new novel by Bart Schneider, the author of Blue Bossa. The book's title (Secret Love) comes from the Doris Day song in the movie "Calamity Jane." The book is set in San Francisco, in the 1960s. The summer is approaching, and Barry Goldwater will be nominated top run against LBJ. Lenny Bruce is on the scene, as is Cassius Clay, Tang OJ mix, the race to the moon, Camus, and Mario Savio. Our hero is Jake Roseman, a Jewish prominent civil rights lawyer and agitator for urban renewal, who is in love with a beautiful black activist, Nisa. Jake, who dresses in Bermuda shorts, is in his 40s at a time when 40 was middle aged. Nisa Boehm (as in La Boheme?) is younger, an actress, and the daughter of a white socialite and a black father who vanished long ago. Nisa's annoyance grows from her Chinatown apartment, as Jake keeps her at arms length from his family. Jake is conflicted. Jake's wife, Inez, has recently committed suicide, and he has two kids. His curmudgeonly senile father is a vile racist. Over the course of their sensually passionate and sexually satisfying affair, Nisa draws Jake out of his remorseful depression and mourning. As their affair continues, we meet Peter, a handsome Jewish actor, who has of course changed his surname to make it in the business. Peter also finds love. After meeting in a foggy spot, Peter enters into a relationship with Simon Sims, a young black som of a minister. Simon, has fallen from his father's faith and taken up with the teachings of the Nation of Islam. So here are Jewish Peter and Muslim, closeted, gay, black, literary, janitor Simon, in love, and on their way to a civil rights march. You can see how the stories get interwoven. Click the cover to read more.
OFRAH'S MARCH 2001 SELECTION
I found my selection below to be especially timely and poignant, in light of the problems in Israel and the PA and the new elections. My suggestion and selection for March is below.
MARTYRS CROSSING by Amy Wilentz
Simon and Shuster. March 2001. Amy is the former Jerusalem correspondent for The New Yorker, and a specialist on Haiti. In this novel, a young Palestinian woman, who wants to get her 2 year old child to a hospital in Israel, begs a checkpoint soldier for permission to enter Israel. This is not just any mother. It is the wife of a jailed Hamas terrorist, Hassan Hajimi. Lt Ari Doron calls his superiors, but as he does, Marina's child dies. The answer was no. Lt Doron is plagued with guilt and seeks absolution in Ramallah. At the same time, the Palestinian politicians use this case as a cause du jour. Into this mess arrives Doctor George Raad from the USA. The child's grandfather and a successful cardiologist. Click to read more extensive descriptions of the plot.
OFRAH'S FEBRUARY 2001 SELECTION
House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem Neighborhood
by Adina Hoffman (Jerusalem Post Film Critic)
A beautifully designed book that paints a rich portrait through slice of life vignettes of the Musrara neighborhood in Jerusalem, as seen from the point of view of a single apartment and the American immigrant author. Musrara is a gentrified neighborhood that houses tensions between the old timers and newcomers. Some of her neighbors are open, others closed; some are bigots, others are accepting. There is the mystery of the original residents of the building. There is Sa'adia, a founder of the Sephardi Black Panthers, and his younger brother Meir, the grocer. There is Ahmed the gardner, and Rafi, a lame loner. Nahama must deal with her drug addicted son. Dvora knows much more than she lets on. An excellent book, but take her idealistic politics with a grain of salt.
Razor Scooter: Clear Wheels and Black Handlebars by Razor USA LLC
THE Hottest Toy around the shuls in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Tokyo, and Tel Aviv's Sheinkin Street. Speed safely down the street to the park to read your latest Jewish Books. The Razor--which supports persons up to 224 pounds (100 kilograms)--collapses down to a mere 23 by 5 by 7 inches and weighs just 6 pounds, making it a cinch to carry or pack. Its supershiny, 100 percent aluminum alloy structure is well engineered and dent resistant, and has a simple, stylish design.
Click here to order or to read more about it.
OFRAH'S JANUARY 2001 SELECTION
AND THE FLAMES DID NOT CONSUME US
A Rabbi's Journey Through Communal Crisis
by Rabbi Gary Mazo
Paperback - 172 pages. On November 1, 1994, Carol Neulander, the wife of Rabbi Fred Neulander was found murdered in Cherry Hill NJ. What is shock to the community. The wife of a leading rabbi was brutally killed. Rabbi Gary Mazo, who came to Congregation M'kor Shalom four years prior to study with his mentor, Fred Neulander, was aghast. But then the suspense grew when Rabbi Neulander was fingered as the primary suspect. Was he guilty? Is he guilty? Instead of taking sides in the debate and ongoing murder trial, Gary tells how he helped lead the synagogue's 4000 members through the process of rumour control and mongering, pondering, questioning, doubting, and crisis. This concise, eloquently-written book relates Rabbi Mazo's journey through storms of a magnitude he never expected to face. Crisis reveals character. Despite his youth and lack of experience, despite advice from colleagues to leave the perilous situation, he made the commitment to stay and bring healing to his community.
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