Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Jewish Arts and Crafts

It's hard to believe three years have passed since we explored the joys of knitting and all the Jewish-related books, websites, and charity projects, when we "Knit One, Read Two." Here in Israel it is the rainy season, and when you're stuck in the house, nothing beats some art or crafting to occupy the time (and having something to show for it, too).

Obviously, I am a big fan of arts and crafts, especially when you can craft and do something else (like listening to an audio book) at the same time. I was thrilled when they did crafts at my mother's, a"h, senior facility; she was not so thrilled.

©Roz Chast, 2017, ‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, used with permission.

One of my neighbors is quite the art expert, so we'll talk about her book, as well as suggest some other resources.

The Joy of Jewish Art for Children

Would you ever think a book about art and about creating art would not be filled with color pictures? Well, if you want young artists to use their imagination and enjoy the process, and to not focus on the end product and not worry about comparing it to the picture or to others' work, then it makes perfect sense.

Such is the genius and sensitivity of Devora Piha, author of The Joy of Jewish Art for Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers (Mosaica Press, 2018). She is the art teacher who wish you had, passionate about art education, emphasizing process over product, and believing that art is not only for those who show "talent," but those who want to grow and create. Rather than putting a paper and crayons (of which she is not a big fan) in front of a child, she looks at skill building projects (repeitition, control, using shapes) and connecting to Judaism through art. We recently spoke about her book and her approach to art for children. The book developed and changed over twenty-five years as Devora expanded on ideas and created new projects.

Who is your intended audience?

It's for everyone, but especially for Jewish teachers (teaching all levels), parents that enjoy art and want to share it with their children, and for people who want to learn about Judaism through art.

What is your background?

Both my parents were artists, so I got a lot of encouragement and nurturing at home. I took art classes and went to art school, and now, if something interests me, I do a lot of research and experimentation to master the concept or technique.  Some things I feel intuitively, and when I do the research, I find that my intuition is right.

What is your approach to art?

Art has so many purposes and functions in our lives. It can be functional, educational, historical in terms of leaving a record for posterity. It is way to communicate and express emotions and thoughts. It is an outlet and a release. It is a combination of both technique and expression.

"Children grow through their art" (page 90), and "Art can be used an an amazing tool to help children improve their character and build their self-confidence" (page 102). It helps children develop patience and self-control. In my art classes, they are free to experiment and try new things and express themselves. They also learn how to work with mistakes, either incorporating them into a project, or adapting the project to the stray mark or splash of color. They learn to plan and organize their project, follow instructions, and trust themselves.

Obviously, they develop fine-motor skills, and they also learn about spatial relations and perspective.

What makes Jewish art special?

It's special because it comes from a spiritual source. It shows the beauty of God's creation and how we personally relate to it. It is "art that feeds the soul along with the eyes" (page 8).

Here are some examples:

Thank you to Devora Piha for taking the time to speak with me and share her thoughts and her art.

Hands-On Activities in Israel

If you are up in the Galilee, you can enjoy the meditative art of Saori weaving at the Tiferet HaYetsirah Studio in Yavne'el. Workshops are offered for all levels, and for families, and, based on personal experience, it is relatively easy to learn, fun, and relaxing.

If you are down south in the Negev, try the B7 Art Experience in Beer Sheva. Activities combine educational tours and workshops like a photography walk.



Jewish Threads: A Hands-On Guide to Stitching Spiritual Intention into Jewish Fabric Crafts by Diana Drew with Robert Grayson (Jewish Lights, 2011). My kind of book with techniques like quilting, applique, embroidery and cross-stitch and functional projects like challah covers and wall hangings, all with an emphasis on the creative process and "personal flair."

Easy and Economical Jewish Crafts by Susan Fishman Kramer (AuthorHouse, 2011). Projects designed to take thirty minutes with some preparation by the adult and some by the child, depending on the child's age. Full of good ideas that can be created in a school or home environment.

The Yaldah Year: Crafts & Recipes for Every Month of the Jewish Year by Leah Larson and Chavi Resnick (YM Books, 2009). Geared to pre-teen and teen girls, "each Jewish month features two recipes and a craft connected to that month, plus lots of interesting background information about the month."

Celebrating with Jewish Crafts by Rebeca Edid Ruzansky (self-published, 2008). Reviewers on Amazon have dubbed this "the best Jewish crafts book ever," and with the bold colorful photographs of projects that are relatively easy to make, it is a great resource. There are many ideas for holiday-related items as well as things like tzedakah boxes and plates. Thank you for techniques and templates.

Crafting Jewish: Fun Holiday Crafts and Party Ideas for the Whole Family by Rivka Koenig (Mesorah Publications, 2008). This book features "over 120 holiday and every day projects, each with step-by-step instruction; stunning full-color photos of every craft; distinctive ideas for holiday get-togethers -- many with delicious recipes; pictorial reference guide of crafting tools and buying guide; and full-size templates and comprehensive index." Critics note that there are a lot of recipes in a book about crafts, and that the crafts are geared for young children.

Kids Love Jewish Holiday Crafts by Tracy Agranoff (Simcha Media Group, 2000). Provides instructions for making decorations and gifts for the Jewish Holidays and the Sabbath.

The Jewish Holiday Craft Book by Kathy Ross (Millbrook Press, 1997). Kathy Ross is known for her themed crafts that use recyclables, and here she applies her talents to such projects as Jonah and the Whale Puppets, a kiddush cup, a spice box, and a wheel of months, also presented with clear, easy-to-follow instructions and illustrations.

Jewish Holiday Crafts for Little Hands by Ruth Esrig Brinn (Kar-Ben, 1993). Between six and sixteen crafts for each of the eleven holidays included, with concise and easy-to-follow instructions.


Pinterest has hundreds of pin for all kinds of Jewish crafts.

Creative Jewish Mom is packed with ideas for crafts including Holiday-themed craftsCrafts made from recyclables and Kids' Crafts.

Bim Bam "uses digital storytelling to spark connections to Judaism to learners of all ages." They offer "DIY Arts and Crafts Projects," including a recipe for "Jewish Slime" and "12 Amazing Purim Basket Hacks (more comedic than crafty)," all available as YouTube videos.

The Kveller website hosts a crafts page with links to projects.

AHC offers many, many holiday-related craft ideas.

More websites with Jewish crafts:

Joyfully Jewish

Our Jewish Homeschool Blog

Free Kids Crafts

Bible Belt Balabusta (the queen of Lego and Jewish crafts)

And for those who prefer kits, our friend's at Benny's (exit 159 off the Garden State Parkway) offer a variety of "Affordable Jewish Art Projects."

Just for the Mitzvah, aka, also offers kits, but they deal in wholesale. So if you are looking for a project for a school, party, or other large group, this is the place.

Finally, if you like crafts, but aren't so crafty yourself, go to Buy for Good and purchase some items "made by adults and children with disabilities or from underprivileged communities in Israel through educational and vocational programs."

And, at The Real Cats of Israel, Jojo is doing some quality control on a baby blanket I knit:

Happy Reading and Happy Crafting!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Pirkei Hallel

On June 30, 2016, thirteen-year-old Hallel Ariel, may God avenge her blood, was brutally murdered. An Arab terrorist infiltrated her Kiryat Arba community, entered her home, and stabbed her multiple times as she lay in her bed, sleeping in after a dance recital the night before. A horrible and horrifying tragedy, the loss of this beautiful girl created a void for her family and the world as well.

Amazingly, Hallel's mother  Rena emerged with strength and grace, determined to   perpetuate her daughter's memory. Several project were undertaken, including monthly visits to the Temple Mount, naming a wine from their winery, Ariel B'Yehuda, "Hallel" and encouraging people to make blessing over the wine in memory of Hallel, and most recently, a book for bat mitzvah girls that mothers (and grandmothers) and daughters (and granddaughters) can use to learn about important aspects of Jewish life, and about themselves.

As her mother says in an introductory note, "Hallel was a beautiful and happy child, with a smile that lit up the room. She was quiet, with inner strength and a well-developed sense of justice. She possessed genuine modesty and humility, maturity and seriousness. At the same time, like every child, she was playful and knew how to have a good time."

The book is a tribute to this special girl, and the twelves chapters (one for each month of the year prior to bat mitzvah) help girls to develop these traits through "Chesed," "Prayer," "Gratitude," "Beauty and Modesty," and more. The chapters do not have to be read in order, and they are full of questions to answer, activities, and lessons in Jewish learning. The book can also serve as a basis for more questions, activities and learning, but most importantly, as a special time for a mother and daughter to share together.

While many young people take on Chesed projects for their bar or bat mitzvah and learn what they will be doing the day of the celebration in the synagogue, I love the idea of focused study and really making the time leading up to this milestone a journey of getting to know oneself.

Originally published in Hebrew, the book is now available online in English.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Open House in Jerusalem

Open House is architectural event that takes place annually in Jerusalem. For three days,  free tours are offered of interesting and historical private homes, public buildings, and private collections. While many of the tours are on Saturday or on Friday before the first Sabbath after the clocks have changed, on Thursday I was able to visit some places which have interested me.

Tabor House

Tabor House was designed by architect Conrad Schick and built from 1882-1889. He lived there with his family until his death in 1901. Schick designed other famous buildings in Jerusalem including Hansen House, the Mea Shearim neighborhood (now inhabited by ultra-Orthodox Jews), the Ethiopian Church and St. Paul's Anglican Chapel and the German Deaconess Hospital (which are now part of the Bikur Cholim Hospital).

Full disclosure: I was most interested in the libraries, which were allegedly closed for renovation. The tour was given in Hebrew, and while the guide was excellent, I did not have a big interest in the architectural detail of the buildings. It is a very pretty house, and the courtyards add to its charm.

Rockefeller Library

Touted at the most important archaeology library in the Middle East, the library of the Israel Antiquities Authority is housed in the Rockefeller Museum. Named after its benefactor, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the museum was built in the 1930's and is "part of the legacy of the British Mandate period." 

The library's collection includes books in many languages, and the librarian showed several books from the 1700's and 1800's with large pullouts of ancient cities like Constantinople (now Istanbul) and Aleppo, Syria (now destroyed by civil war). I enjoyed some of the features of the library; the old card catalog is still in the middle of the floor; there is a dumb waiter to move books to and from the downstairs stacks; and there are still bullet holes in the walls from the Six-Day War.

Extra care was taken in finishing the library. The floor is made of special materials to absorb noise, so you can't hear people walking around. The tables and chairs are all very smooth. All the shelves are bolted into the floor and walls, so that when they was an earthquake, nothing fell off the shelves. The cabinets with heavy books have rollers on the shelves, so the books can be removed easily. 

All in all, a very interesting and informative day.

Friday, October 25, 2019

An Unorthodox Interview with Naomi Ragen

I have been a fan of Naomi Ragen for many years. With the publication of her eleventh novel, An Unorthodox Match (St. Martin's Press, 2019), I finally worked up the nerve to contact her and ask her the questions I've been thinking about as I read her other ten novels. 

Her latest book is about Leah, formerly known as Lola, who has embraced Orthodox Judaism and moved to the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her mother, who had abandoned the strictures of religion as a young woman, is very critical of Leah's choice. And the neighborhood only accepts Leah up to a point - definitely not to marry one of their own. The book explores both the good and the bad about living in an insular community, and (SMALL SPOILER), the book ends happily, but not without the foreshadowing of future challenges for Leah.

Since Naomi is currently touring in the United States, we exchanged questions and answers via email:

As they say on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, many of your works are "ripped from the headlines." Jephte's Daughter (Warner Books, 1998), Sotah (St. Martin's Press, 1992), The Sacrifice of Tamar (Crown Books, 1994), The Tenth Song (St. Martin's Press, 2010), and The Devil in Jerusalem (St. Martin's Press, 2015) are all based on real-life stories. I know you asked people for their real-life experiences when you wrote An Unorthodox Match. Is the book based on someone's specific experience, or a conglomerate of the responses you received? Are any of your own experiences included in the book?

I myself came from a non-observant family, but was sent to a Hebrew Day School when I entered second grade. So the idea of a Ba'alat Teshuva is one with which I have a great deal of experience. But because my experiences happened to me when I was a child and my character is an adult when she becomes observant, I wanted to talk to others who became observant as adults. Leah is a conglomerate of all I know and all I've learned from others.

I loved Leah's mother Cheryl as the "very interesting" "devil's advocate." Is she based on a real character? Do you fell her message came through despite or because of her quirky personality and life choices?

I wanted Cheryl to serve the function of a Greek chorus. She is the one who says what many readers are thinking when they hear Leah's story. She is also a conglomerate of many secular parents whose children become observant about whom I've read and I have met. The details of her life are totally imagined.

There is a strong sense of place in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Did you live there or travel there to do the research?

I attended the Sarah Schenirer Teachers' Seminary in Borough Park when I was eighteen and lived there for close to a year. I also visit Manhattan almost every year, so I know it well.

An Unorthodox Match is being touted as your first book about those who choose to become more religious. It seems like Leah/Lola gets pretty much the same treatment other characters in your novels have gotten when they don't conform to the norms of the community. Did you find a difference between the newly religious versus non-conformists within the community as far as how they are treated? It seemed like people were somewhat accepting of the match between Leah and Yaacov because he was a widower who had cut back on his learning to get a real job, sort of moving from the "A" list to the "C list." Thoughts?

I don't agree that they accepted the match, because the way ba'ale teshuva are treated is pretty harsh and unfair. But what motivates me are stories of injustice, so you are right that there is a common thread in all my books about Haredim -- the idea that the world which should be striving for good is undermined by very human faults that need to be acknowledged and accepted.

Critics are rather harsh in saying you have "a bone to pick" with the Orthodox Jewish community and "air dirty laundry" by publishing with a secular imprint. From my perspective, I think you point out the incongruity between what the Torah dictates and how people behave. Two questions: How do you respond to these critics, and why is this social criticism in all your novels?

My novels are a mirror -- an honest and loving reflection of the religious world as I experience it. If they don't like what they see, don't complain to the mirror, change the face.

[In answering this question, Naomi reminded me of Rose in The Sisters Weiss. Known, and criticized for her photographs of the Haredi community, "her defense had been simple. 'I'm a mirror,' she'd said in response. 'If you don't like your face, change it, Don't complain to the mirror. I show what's there. You created your world, I just document.'"]

And continuing from above, orthodox imprints used to only publish stories about "perfect" families. They have evolved somewhat, and they are now publishing books about people with "issues." What do you think of this, and would you consider publishing with an orthodox imprint?

I think my books pioneered a way forward when Feldheim and Targum were writing fairy tales about all the perfect tzaddikim in their perfect world. Frum Jews were not used to reading the truth, and now they are, so the religious publishers are catching up with their readership. That's great, but I am happy where I am. When I started writing, no religious publisher would touch my books. Everything was strictly censored, and it still is.

I read Devil in Jerusalem (about a charismatic cult leader who convinces a woman to abuse her children - again based on a true story), and while it was a riveting read, it was so sad, I kind of wish I hadn't read it. When the real story appeared in the news, people were horrified. What compelled you to write this story?

I felt it was a very vital and important story. There are so many predators around the watering holes of religious piety and hundreds of religious cults in Israel. Religious people are often naive, and backdoor idol worship, with amulets, holy men, etc., is very common today. The book is hard to read, and it was very hard to write, but necessary.

On your website, I noticed comments from people who don't like your politics, so they are not going to buy your book. Is "cancel culture" a new phenomenon for you? (Of course, there were people who like your politics and are buying two books!)

We live in an age of intolerance and ignorance. I'm not going to be intimidated.

I loved The Saturday Wife (St. Martin's Press, 2008), which is based on Madame Bovary. Can your fans look forward to any more contemporary books based on classics? 

Who knows what the future will bring? My books choose me, not the other way around. 

What is your next project?

A sequel to An Unorthodox Match.

Thanks to Naomi Ragen for answering my questions so thoughtfully. Instead of the Real Cats of Israel, we have The Real Naomi Ragen:

Happy Reading!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Jewish Book Carnival - September 2019

Welcome to the Jewish Book Carnival, a monthly event where bloggers who blog about Jewish books can meet, read and comment on each others’ posts.

The purposes of the Jewish Book Carnival are to build community among bloggers who feature Jewish books on their blogs, and to promote Jewish reading, and fields supporting this reading such as publishing and library services.

It's September, which means back to school, back to a "regular" schedule, and time to think about the upcoming Jewish holidays.  Here's what our bloggers have been reading:
  • "Honour thy father and thy mother." At A Jewish Grandmother, Batya Medad reviews 
  • The Lost Kitchen, Miriam Green's story of how she and her father cope with her mother's
  •  Alzheimer's Disease.  More than just the saga of dealing with Miriam's mother's 
  • increasing dementia, The Lost Kitchen is also a cookbook and includes poetry.

On her My Machberet blog, Erika Dreifus recently posted a list of 12 Jewish books, new for 
this fall, that are on her radar, including Birthright - Erika's collection of poetry, which 
will be coming out in November.

The Book of Life Podcast shares an interview with Sadaf Siddique of the South Asian kidlit 
site Kitaab World, about her Counter Islamophobia Through Stories campaign. Listen for 
the parallels with AJL's Love Your Neighbor campaign to fight anti-Semitism through kidlit! 

The Association of Jewish Libraries has posted a new book list: 
Selected Holocaust Literature for Youthpulled from the 200+ titles recognized 
by the Sydney Taylor Book Award over the years. 

Amalia Hoffman, whose The Brave Cyclist, about Righteous Gentile and champion

bicycle racer Gino Bartali was recently published (Capstone, 2019), reviews Susan 
Dubin's Katzele and the Silver Candlesticks (Armani the Cat Publishing, 2019). 

Gila Green is happy to share her interview with Rachel Barenbaum with you. Her debut 
novel, A Bend in the Stars, was a New York Times Summer Reading Selection and 
a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. It is also a Boston Globe Bestseller. 

Talia Carner's The Third Daughter (HarperCollins, 2019), was inspired by a story by 
Sholem Aleichem. Read Part I of her essay for the Jewish Book Council

From author/artist Ann Koffsky, coloring pages using the same designs from her book 
Creation Colors (Apples & Honey Press, 2019). Great for Rosh Hashanah!

At Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, Deborah interviewed Debbie Levy about Levy's new 
children's picture book, The Key from Spain: Flory Jagoda and Her Music.

In the run-up to the Rosh HaShana, you can find a book-based pamphlet of
Reflections and Resources on Teshuvah on the Memory & Redemption site. While the 
questions for discussion are drawn from one of the darkest periods of Jewish history, 
they prove the transformative power of hope for the future.

And, at Life Is Like a Library, it's the annual Elul book list.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!



Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Elul 5779

Things I Learned from Reading Books That Are Now on my New Year's "Resolution" List:
  • There's more to almost everything than meets the eye (the Art of Revelation)
  • Look for Joy and Open Your Eyes to Life's Possibilities (Julie and Julia)
  • Your job is to be as you as you can be (You Are a Badass)
  • Character development is a life-long process (Everyday Holiness)
Art of Revelation: A Visual Encounter with the Jewish Bible by Yoram Raanan (paintings) and Meira Raanan (commentary and explorations) (Raanan Art Ltd., 2018). When you pick up this book, and it will require some effort because it is quite hefty, you will be stuck by the beautiful artwork and how it relates to each weekly Torah reading through images, texture and color. Then you read the commentary and explorations and realize there is even more in these paintings once it is pointed out. You would think that pretty much covers "there's more to this than meets the eye." But Yoram's story and the back story of this book are also incredible. In November of 2016, a fire caused by an arson attack destroyed Yoram's studio and over 40 years of artwork, included 160 parshah-related paintings. Many of the photographs in the book were "casually captured by a hand-held camera," but the vibrancy comes through. 

"Lech Lecha" from The Art of Revelation by Yoram Raanan. Used with permission.

As Yoram tells it, "After the fire, in some ways, I'm back to where I started. I've begun painting again, but with new colors, as if it's forced me to begin from somewhere new and unfamiliar, as if I have to rediscover not only my paintings but my very sense of place. It isn't easy beginning again, but the new beginning has opened up new pathways for me, and the greatness of my loss has instilled in me a new sense of urgency. I feel like my new work is more authentic, that I am taking greater chances. I want it to be more meaningful now."

So besides learning about the parsha, and art, I see that through devastating loss we can grow and use the experience to become better at what we do and who we are.

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell (Little Brown and Company, 2005) chronicles a year of cooking everything in Julia Child's classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume I). Julie Powell is turning thirty, has a secretarial job at a government agency, and lives in "an outer borough" of New York City. She takes on this project, and it changes her life in many ways, besides gaining weight from all the butter and lard she is using in the cooking. Powell has a great sense of humor. I thought of my mother, a"h, when Powell started making aspics. Apparently they were all the rage in the 1960's, as my mother had her famous Tomato Aspic, the sight of which nauseated me. So I commend Powell for not only cooking these complicated and sometimes dated recipes, but also eating things like eggs in aspic and lots of organ meats.

So what is the message for Elul? Well, she stuck to something for a year, which enabled her to quit her day job, improved her confidence, and helped prove to herself her capabilities.  More than that, as she concludes, "Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world. It's not what I thought it was. I thought it was all about -- I don't know, confidence or will or luck. Those are all some good things to have, no questions. But there's something else, something that these things grow out of. It's joy."

Julie "thought she was using the cookbook to learn to cook French food, but really she was learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility."

I love reading a book, then watching the movie, and seeing how they differ. The movie is very different than the book because it also tells Julia Child's story, and, as Julie Powell said in an interview, "there are no maggots" (You will have to read the book to appreciate that one). But it was very sweet and full of love (and much less cursing), so I enjoyed it very much.

If Jen Sincero cannot convince you that You Are a Badass (Running Press, 2013), no one can. She is funny, insightful and practical. Some may love the title; others may be off put by it, but if it offends your delicate sensitivities, wrap it in brown paper so you can focus on the contents. There are interesting stories and lists to get you motivated. I am sometimes ambivalent about "life coaching" because many practitioners use a lot of acronyms and affirmations, and it can sometimes feel like you're listening to someone who did not make the cheerleading squad and is now the person you pay to "rah-rah" for you (my mini-rant is over). That said, Jen's approach is straightforward, and although she does suggest using affirmation, she is quick to caution that you must find ones that you can say to yourself in the mirror with a straight face and believe. It is also important that you want whatever you want passionately and are willing to work hard to get it. Making friends with money is another big part of Jen's approach, as is being willing to fail. But you're never really failing if you are being your authentic self -- just gathering information on the road to success.

Mussar has been defined as an "ethical, educational, and cultural movement that developed in 19th century Lithuania" (Wikipedia); and as a "spiritual practice that gives concrete instructions on how to live a meaningful and ethical life" (My Jewish Learning). Alan Morinis looks at eighteen soul traits in Everyday Holiness (Trumpeter, 2007).  Through focus and intention, one can master these traits. Drawing from many Jewish sources and personal experience, Morinis encourages the reader to embark on this spiritual journey by looking at positive characteristics. For example, if someone tends to be messy, he should not berate himself for being inadequate, but look for ways to create order, and reward himself when he does. Morinis quotes all the Mussar luminaries (Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, and more), and his organized and clear presentation highlights their teachings. He also offers a schedule for working on these traits: four 13-week cycles, which takes a year to complete. 

As for the Real Cats of Israel, they are enjoying the beautiful September weather:

Happy Reading, and may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sad Days

The three weeks between the fast days of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av are also known as the time "between the straits" (bein haMitzarim). Jews mourn the destruction of both Temples, as well as other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people. During this period, the customs include not making wedding celebrations, not listening to live music, and not cutting hair. From the 1st of Av to the 9th of Av, things get a little more stringent, with limited bathing and no needlework. Between a sensitive nose and no crafts, it is a particularly challenging time, but it also gives a small taste of the sadness over the destruction of the Temples.

Thursday (August 8th) was a particularly sad day: Two precious souls were taken much too soon. I cannot articulate my sadness, so I borrow the words of Sandy Cash:
(used with permission)

Two pure souls met on the ascent.
“I never thought it would be so soon,” said one, whose name was the foundation stone of the holy Temple.
“I will always be grateful it wasn’t sooner,” said the other, whose name was Love and Faith.

They rise, Shabbat descends. A one-day respite from Tisha B’Av—our mourning for so many losses.
On a Foundation of Love and with Faith, may we increase holiness in the world.
Dvir Sorek, z"l, a 19-year-old student, was stabbed to death by a terrorist, and buried last night.
Last night, Ahava Emunah Lange, a wife and mother who inspired the world with her courageous, 7-year battle against ovarian cancer, died last night.

Holocaust Non-Fiction
I already felt like I was under a dark cloud because I've been reading personal accounts of the Holocaust. When the book sites ask for a rating, I can't say I really liked these books or enjoyed reading them.  But I learned a lot, and they definitely set the tone for these sad days.

To Vanquish the Dragon (Feldheim, 1991)
Pearl Benisch's life in Krakow before the war was a happy one. She had a large loving family, she had attended Bais Yaacov and absorbed all the lessons, and her family had a profitable thread factory. Then everything changed. While poignant and heart wrenching, her story is inspiring as well. She and her schoolmates upheld the principles they had learned and applied them every day -- helping each other, sharing meager food rations, caring for the sick, and trying to keep everyone's hope highs. She eventually achieved her dream of living in the Land of Israel.

Somewhere There Is Still a Sun (Aladdin, 2015)

Michael Gruenbaum enjoyed his life in Prague and loved going walking with his father, whether to synagogue or to the King of Railroads train store. The memoir is effective because it is narrated from a child's point of view (Michael was eight when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia). He is upset by all the rules, mostly because he cannot go to the park and play soccer. His father is taken away by the Gestapo, and weeks later they hear of his demise. Michael and his mother and sister are deported to Terezin, where Michael plays soccer and performs in the opera Brundibar. The family survives and eventually moves to the United States, where Michael graduates from MIT and Yale. While there are some graphic details (carts filled with corpses), much of the horror is tempered by the child's perspective of not knowing all the details.

Unfinished Diary: Chronicle of Tears (Israel Bookshop, 2015)

During his time in hiding (September 1942 - June 1944), Chaim Yitzchok Wolgelernter, hy"d, began writing a memoir. More than a diary or daily log, he would quote from the Torah and add his perspective on the events around him. As he heard of family members and noted rabbis that had been murdered, he wrote beautiful liturgical poems (kinot) using the letters of their names to start the verses. After successful eluding the Nazis (and Poles) for two years, his group separated, and his sent his writings ahead with his brother. Chaim Yitzchok and seven others were shot and killed not far from where they were hiding. Heartbreaking and tragic, the book illustrates how families were torn apart, how every day was a struggle to survive, and what enormous potential was never fulfilled. It also testifies that only did the Poles know what was happening, their profited from the Jews' misery at every turn. The book was particularly sad to read on Tisha B'Av because Wolgelernter talks about the fast day and how his family's experience so mirrors the words of Jeremiah: "Large and small will die in this land; they will not be buried and no one will eulogize them...No one will break bread for their bereavement to comfort them about the dead...about their father and mother..."(16:6-7). The translators and editors did an excellent job, and the maps inside the front and back covers made the family's travels much easier to follow and understand.

Out of the Depths (Sterling, 2011)
Israel Meir Lau's memoir isn't as dark as some of the other books. First of all, he was eight years old when he was liberated from Buchenwald. While Rabbi Lau does have memories (trains, dogs, boots), much of what he knows about his experiences were related to him by others. He credits his brother Naphtali over and over again for saving his life so that he could carry on the rabbinic tradition of the Lau family. His book is not only about the Holocaust, but life in the nascent State of Israel, and a career that led to the Chief Rabbinate (Ashkenazi) of Israel. Traveling around the world to fulfill some of his rabbinic duties, he was able to find the daughters of the Russian soldier that protected him in Buchenwald, as well as other survivors who remembered his family from Poland.

This Real Cat of Israel found a napping shot in a garden:

Meaningful Reading!!