Sunday, November 8, 2020

13 Cheshvan

My mother died on July 6, 2015. Two years later, the right books came into my life at the right time, and on her yahrzeit, 19 Tammuz, I found solace and was able to look back with fondness and humor at my mother's life and death. 

One of the books was Lesléa Newman's I Carry My Mother (Headmistress Press, 2015). I enjoyed the different styles and the candor with which Newman portrayed dealing with some of the unpleasant details of being responsible for a parent.

As Yogi Berra would have said, "it's like deja vu all over again." My father's yahrzeit is 13 Cheshvan, and this year, on the 23rd anniversary of his death, I read an ARC of Newman's forthcoming collection of poems, I Wish My Father (Headmistress Press), which will be released on January 2, 2021.

Both our fathers were named Edward. My father was Edward Robin. How my Polish immigrant grandmother came up with those names, I will never know, but my father was always more of an "Edward" than an "Ed." He grew up in the South, and loved the English language. He was an amateur actor, an amateur bird watcher, and a fan of movie stars and royalty. We both enjoyed The New Yorker - he for the short stories and me for the cartoons.

Newman's poem do not vary in style -- they are all narrative prose describing her father's decline, and those moments where his strong personality still shined through. 

At the end of "Without Warning My Father," Newman expressed what I felt as my father was in hospice: "but I don't know if the same God will forgive me for not knowing what's best: to pray or not to pray for the Book of Life to be inscribed at the start of the new year with my father's holy name underneath my own." 

In "For as Long as Can," Newman details her father's early morning routine. My father, a"h, was an early riser, also getting up at 6 am every morning, putting on a suit and tie, and then walking to work, with a stop at the candy store on the corner to pick up a daily newspaper. The stories deviate here, as my father predeceased my mother and needed full time care. 

As I continue reading, one phrase in "My Father Is Moving Out", in which Newman describes cleaning out her mother's closet and remembering which shoes and outfits she wore to which events, stands out:

"Such a long and short time ago"

As I light the yahrzeit candle, I can't believe it's been 23 years. I remember his morning routine so vividly. It's a strange mix of good memories and some sadness that I did not get to share so many life events with my father. My father's yahrzeit usually falls out close to Veterans' Day. He served in the army during World War II, and he was so proud to be a Jewish War Veteran, but, to him, November 11 was "Armistice Day."

Newman writes  "My Father Was Never on time once in his entire life." My father was the same. He usually arrived early, saying "Punctuality is the politeness of kings." He took pride in being the first person to vote at the designated precinct on Election Day. For those of us who don't appreciate standing around waiting for everyone else to show up, it was a challenge, but his acts of showing up on time were another facet of his reliability and dependability. 

So thank you,  Lesléa, for sharing your thoughts and memories so eloquently, and sparking some great memories for me. May both Edwards' souls be elevated, and may they continue to be strong advocates for us in the Heavenly Courts.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Jewish Book Carnival - September 2020


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.

Life Is Like a Library was privileged to host the September 2019 Jewish Book Carnival, and it's unbelievable how much the world has changed in a year. This time last year meant back to school, back to a "regular" schedule, and time to think about the upcoming Jewish holidays.  Now nothing is "regular," whether it is school or schedules. Here's what our bloggers have been reading:
Each week, Erika Dreifus's 
My Machberet blog curates links from the world of Jewish books and writing. Here's one recent example.

he Book of Life Podcast has a joint interview with Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan about their new middle grade novel A Place at the Table. It's the story of Jewish and Muslim girls who bond over food - delicious!

The Sydney Taylor Shmooze is a mock award blog for the Association of Jewish Libraries’ children’s literature prize. 
  Here's a review of a new nonfiction title for young adults, The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli.
This month at Gila Green Writesauthor Shana Ritter shares her thoughts on what's on the minds of many of us -- writing during COVID-19
Howard Lovy talked to Dr. Ruth about sexuality and the Hebrew Scriptures, and their conversation ("PG-Rated") appears in Publishers Weekly

On her blog, Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, Deborah interviewed Rabbis Kerry and Jesse Olitzky about their new children's picture book, The Littlest Candle (Kalaniot, 2020).

At Book Marketing Buzz Blog, Brian Feinblum interviews Talia Carner about The Third Daughter (HarperCollins, 2019), a 2020 Finalist in the Jewish Book Council Book Club category.

Reuven Chaim Klein reviews Tara Burton's book about contemporary religion, Strange Rights: New Religions for a Godless World (Public Affairs, 2020) at the Rachack Review.

At Books and Blintzes, Rabbi Deborah Miller reviews the soon to be published Jerusalem as a Second Languarge (Aubade Publishing, 2020) by the late Rochelle Distenheiim. 

Barbara Krasner at The Whole Megillah interviews author Leslie Kimmelman and illustrator Galia Bernstein about their new tongue-in-cheek holiday picture book, The Eight Knights of Hanukkah,  published by Holiday House and debuting September 15, 2020.

Another great book list from Marjorie Ingall at Tablet Magazine, "Books for Kids with Anxiety" includes several Jewish books, including one of our favorites from this year, M. Evan Wolkenstein's Turtle Boy (Delacorte Press, 2020). 

And finally, at Life Is Like a Library, it's the annual "Elul Review" of books with important lessons for the coming year.
May it be healthy and happy New Year and may all the desired of our hearts be fulfilled for good.
Kesiva V'Chasima Tova! A Good Writing and a A Good Sealing (in the Book of Life)!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Elul 5780

This year’s list reflects the turbulent times in which we live.:
  • Dreams Never Dreamed by Kalman Samuels (Toby Peres, 2020) - Never settle for less than the exact fulfillment of your dream
  • For the Shabbat Table by the late Rabbi Chaim Wilschanski (Gefen Publishing, 2001) - only the tip of the iceberg
  • I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017) - We are all different and all the same
  • How Women Rise: Breaking the 12 Habits That Hold You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith (Hachette Books, 2018) - Know your faults so you can work with them (or get rid of them)
I was already excited about Dreams Never Dreamed and the story of Shalva. But looking back, and after watching many videos, I was amazed at the humility and awesomeness of Malka Samuels, whose ideas and dreams came true. She saw a need and worked hard. And once she knew what she needed and what she wanted, she was determined to make it happen. And not just to check it off the list. For example, when designing the new center, she insisted on a particular color of tile. She ended up going to Italy, designing custom tiles, and then redyeing it when it was not exactly the right shade. The result is a beautiful, warm, welcoming place for all who enter.

We bought For the Shabbat Table many years ago and read from it each week during Shabbat lunch. Part of the reason we enjoyed it so much was that in almost every election, Rabbi Wilschanski would demonstrate a point "with the following anecdote." The rabbi "left this world on the eve of Passover" this year, and I feel a very personal loss. When we read the book, all I knew was that Rabbi Wilschanski was leading a congregation in London and then retired to Israel. Reading his obituary, I understand that his book is just a small piece of an amazing total package. A native of Germany, he had to flee from the Nazis. He went to the Gateshead Yeshiva with a small Torah scroll in his suitcase. He got married and studied at the Gateshead Kollel, then taught in London. He and his wife had five children, and he served as rabbi at Hampstead Garden shteibel for over 45 years, where he was a dynamic and popular speaker with a huge impact on the community. He also played the violin. After his retirement he would talk to Jewish students who had attended non-Jewish schools. He and his wife moved to Jerusalem when he was 83, and he remained active in his studies. He got to see the fifth generation of his family.

But more than that, when I told my family he has passed away, everyone remembered the stories from twelve years ago that included "the following anecdote." May he use his warm personality and dynamic speaking skills to be a meilitz yosher (strong advocate) for all of us.

These uncertain times have brought to the forefront of what used to be hidden hatred and violence. Many librarians and groups have offered books to help young readers cope with the situation and learn more about different groups and cultures (see AJL's "Love Your Neighbor" lists). I Am a Cat is a little gem that uses all kinds of felines to make its point. Simon is a small domesticated cat, but when he greets his cousins, ​​the big cats are amused. The lion tells Simon that he is not a cat because he has no mane or tuft on the tip of his tail, and no one will be afraid of him. The cheetah tells Simon that he is not a cat because he is not sleek or graceful and cannot run fast. Other cats tell Simon that he is mistaken because Simon does not live in the mountains and jump, he is not black and he does not live in the jungle, and he is not big and strong and orange.

But Simon remarks that while all of these cats have things that make them special and different, they also have a lot in common. They all have "small, perky ears, and a flat nose," whiskers and tails, sharp claws and  teeth, and eyes that can see in the dark. The big cats consider his argument, and they agree that Simon is a cat. "They [all] spent the rest of the day pouncing and prowling, prancing and playing, like cats of all sizes do."

As a cat lover, I adore this book. As a librarian I see it works on so many levels. It's about cats, it's about differences, it's about similarities, it's about making your point in simplicity and courtesy. The illustrations are colorful and cute, and it can work with any of the sub-themes of books dealing with diversity and respecting others.

How Women Rise is a career counseling book for women who have reached a certain level and realize that something is holding them back from advancing further in their company or in their field. But it reads like a book about middos. It helps you identify things you do or say (or do not do and do not say) that can be perceived as weaknesses or faults. For example, many women work diligently and do not talk about their accomplishments because they think they will sound boastful and egotistical if they "toot their own horn." While on the one hand, working hard is a good trait, if people don't know what you're doing or how hard you're working, they will not value your contributions. They are ways to let people know your achievements, such as weekly or monthly updates, quick meetings with the boss, or memos that can let people know how indispensable you truly are.

The Real Cats of Israel have been luxuriating in the heat:

May 5781 be a year of health, happiness and good reading!!

Friday, June 12, 2020

Wisdom of the Fathers

So many things are going on in the world -- COVID-19, rioting against social injustice, etc. --that I thought long and hard about what to include in this month's blog. I've been involved in some discussions about some of the related issues (responsibility to the community, white privilege, what will happen in the future), and I find myself referring back and finding solace in the six chapters of the Mishnah known as Pirkei Avos, or Wisdom of the Fathers. 

A recently published edition, Dorash Dovid: Insights and Essays on Pirkei Avos (by Rav Dovid Hofstedter, 2020), quotes the Meiri (13th century Catalonian Talmudist), who explains that "the tractate was given the name 'Avos' either because its contents 'came from the fathers of the world' -- this is because it quotes the premier Torah authorities of all time -- or because its contents are 'the avos [guiding principles], the foundation, the root, and the essence of all wisdom and every mitzvah, and the path to all virtue.'" 

Jessica Tamar Deutsch's Illustrated Pirkei Avot (Print-O-Craft Press, 2017) has become a favorite because the graphic novel approach works so well with the words of great rabbis.  Here are one of the ones I like best:

Chapter 1, Mishnahs  12, 13, 14 and 15:

©2017 by Jessica Deutsch.  All rights reserved. Used with permission of Print-O-Craft Press.

And a few more that have been guideposts in the "challenging time:"

Chapter 3, Mishnah 17:

Chapter 1, Mishnah 6: Get yourself a teacher, acquire a friend, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

As for the Real Cats of Israel, they are sleeping in the sun. So enjoy some kittens:

Happy Reading! 

Sunday, May 3, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent social distancing, self-quarantine, isolation, etc. has challenged everyone on many levels. One of the few benefits of this time is catching up on reading.  Of course, I could go on about the virtues of reading and books, but 

That's the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet. 
-- Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

Reading Travels with Sushi in the Land of the Mind by Eduard Shyfrin (White Raven Publishing, 2019) was a little like being in The Matrix. While not usually a fan of fantasy, I was drawn into the story. Aaron and Stella enjoy spending summers at their grandparents' house by the seashore (or "Down the Shore," as we say in New Jersey). They play on the beach, and then the family goes to eat at their favorite sushi restaurant, where Mr. and Mrs. Ekaku, a polite Japanese couple, serve the sushi. They come to the table and ask Stella and Aaron, salmon sushi connoisseurs, to try a new delicacy that the chef created. It is the most delicious sushi they have ever tasted: "a thousand flavors seemed to burst from within the tiny golden parcels." They close their eyes to fully focus on enjoying the sushi, and when they open them....

The are in the Mushi Land of the Mind, where Salmon Mushi, the lead of the Mushi tribe enlists their help. They must find the Supreme Ruler's Book in a cave on Memory Mountain and return it to the people, which will destroy the power of the Black Queen.

What follows is a journey through different areas of Mushi Land, where Aaron and Stella make new friends, battle enemies, learn more about this history of Mushi Land, and try to complete their mission.

What is fascinating about this book, besides the journey/quest of the children, is how Jewish elements are interwoven into the story. The Supreme Ruler is, well, the Supreme Ruler, and there are snippets of Jewish history, quotes from the Mishnah and the Talmud, a discussion of the Sefirot, a lesson in Middos, and a certain tribe that "does not eat shrimp sushi."

Adding another layer, are the principles of physics and The Golden Ratio, explained in terms clear and simple enough for young readers. Albert Einstein makes an appearance to help the kids get through a wormhole.

Tomislav Tomic's amazing illustrations made the book that much more enjoyable. The detailed black and white drawings complemented the text perfectly.

©2009 White Raven Publishing. Used with permission.
If you enjoy fantasy, or if you want to expand your horizons and read something you wouldn't normally read, this is a great choice.

Answers to Scavenger Hunt

Last month, Life Is Like a Library went on a Literary Scavenger Hunt in Jerusalem.
Here are the answers:

Amos Street in the Magan Avraham Neighborhood
National Library of Israel
Tmol Shilshom
Poetry House
Rockefeller Museum
Sefer v'Sefel
S.Y. Agnon
Ethiopia Street
American Colony Hotel
Yehuda Amichai
Eveline de Rothschild School
Bnai Brith Library

And the Real Cats of Israel are still doing what they do best:

Happy Reading!

Friday, March 27, 2020

A Literary Scavenger Hunt in Jerusalem

For those of you who visit here regularly, you know that we at Life Is Like a Library are super fans of Israel ScaVentures and the Experiential Guidebook, as evidenced by how it much we love to talk about them:

The International Writers Festival 2018 (May 2018)

Yet Another Beautiful Day in Israel (December 2018)

Jerusalem Prizes (May 2019)

Today is founder, director, writer, and all-around neat woman Tali Kaplinski Tarlow's birthday. So, in honor of this auspicious day, and in appreciation for all the adventures I've had since I received a review copy of the Guidebook, here is

"A Literary Scavenger Hunt in Jerusalem" 
(Answers will be available in the next blog post.)

The author of A Tale of Love and Darkness grew up on the street that bears the same name he does.

This institution was established in 1892 and houses millions of items in many languages.

Stop for a coffee in this café named after a book. 

This location at Ma'aravim 9 is dedicated to a distinct literary form.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority Library is housed here. 

English readers looking for second-hand books flock to this store on Ya'avets (off Jaffa Road) whose name includes the Hebrew words for book and another item.

The house of this Nobel Prize Winner for Literature is near the American Embassy on a street with another author's original last name.

Although there is a street with his name, the father of Modern Hebrew lived on a street named after an African country.

In the courtyard of the Holman Hunt House on HaNeviim, there is a small house that was home to this iconic Israeli poet who was inspired by the view of the garden from the window:

Conspiracy of spring
a man awakes and through the window sees
a pear tree blossoming,
and instantly the mountain weighing on his heart
dissolves and disappears.

O you will understand! Is there a grieving man
who can hold on stubbornly
to a single flower that withered
in last year's autumn gale,
when spring consoles and with a smile
presents him with a giant wreath of flowers
at his very window?

T.E. Lawrence and John le Carre stayed at this landmark on Nablus Road that now houses a noted bookstore. 

Israel's greatest modern poet wrote two collections with Jerusalem in the title. 

Laura S. Schor's The Best School in Jerusalem is about this girls' school, currently located in Rehavia.

This building was erected in 1902 and originally housed "The Midrash Abarbanel Library and the Joseph Archives." It now shares its name with its location.

NOTE: This is a work-in-progress. Because of the current "matsav" (COVID-19 pandemic), I was not able to go to many of the places I hoped to visit. Hopefully there will be an update in the near future.

And finally, as you go on your hunt, look for these Real Cats of Jerusalem:

Happy Birthday Tali!
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A Million Dreams Never Dreamed

There are times, and they become more frequent as the years go by, that I look at the world with quite a cynical eye and lament that I am becoming old and bitter.

Then, I read a book like Dreams Never Dreamed (Toby Press, 2020), and know that no one can read this book and remain a cynic. Its subtitle is "A Mother's Promise that Transformed Her Son's Breakthrough into a Beacon of Hope," and it is written by the father, Kalman Samuels.

I first became familiar with Shalva, the Israeli Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities because of the Shalva Band. A music therapist formed a band made up of "persons with disabilities," and the group almost made it to the finals of Eurovision.

And while Shalva Band sang about "A Million Dreams," Shalva itself started with a promise and a dream. Kalman and Malki Samuel's son Yossi was a healthy baby until he received a faulty DPT vaccine. His situation deteriorated until he was both deaf and blind. The Samuels moved from Israel to New York to find Yossi the resources he needed, and then back to Israel. Malki Samuels made a pact with God: "If You ever decide to help my Yossi, I will dedicate my life to helping so many other mothers of children with disabilities whom I know are crying with me for their children."

Yossi was later known as "the Heller Keller of Israel," as he learned to sign, read braille, and recognize the make and model of a car by its door handle. It was now time to make good on the pact, and Malki wanted to "create a center that will provide parents and families with what we never had -- a program that will care for their challenged children after school each day, giving the child therapy and a good time, and giving the family a chance to live a normal life."

Shalva started in an apartment in the Samuels' neighborhood, and eventually needed a bigger facility. Kalman Samuels did the the fundraising for the organization, travelling to meet donors and promote Shalva. Soon the demand for Shalva's services was so great, that it was time for a new facility.

With dedication to purpose and infinite patience and fortitude (the bureaucracy in Israel is mind boggling, and there were multiple lawsuits and injunctions against the proposed building), a gorgeous, huge facility was built with attention to every detail. It houses facilities for all kinds of therapies, a pool, a respite floor so children can stay over and parents can have a break, a library, a cafe that is open to the public, an employment workshop, and an emergency shelter for those with disabilities. The building is filled with color and art.

As and for Yossi? He met President George W. Bush, visited the Volvo factory in Sweden, and rode an elephant in Thailand. "He is blind, deaf, and cannot walk, but he never loses his zest for life, never ceases to dream new dreams and to make them happen."

As is often the case, fact is as unbelievable as fiction, and the book chronicles the story of an amazing family with incredible determination.  The Samuels have seven children, and they are all involved in Shalva (youngest child Sara plays guitar in the Shalva band). You will find yourself routing for Yossi and for Shalva throughout the book, and you will marvel at how so many dreams were realized.

As for the Real Cats of Israel, who knows what they are dreaming?

Happy Reading!