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!


Virus-free. www.avast.com

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!!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Letters from Israel

So many lament that with the advent of the internet and things like Twitter and Instagram, the art of letter writing is in serious trouble. We won't even talk about the lack of thank you letters, which is fertile ground for an entire tirade. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, for those who love the written word, a letter is a form of it that can be filled with news, or chatty banter, or serious reflection, or expressions of love, sympathy or support. So even in the age of email, when I see something in my inbox from a certain friend with the subject "Catching Up," I am excited to find out what is going on in her part of the world and her opinions about everything from music to books to politics. 

There were noted pen pals like Catherine the Great and Voltaire and Edith Wharton and Henry James, and Brain Pickings offers five books of famous correspondence "that shed new light on the hearts and minds of cultural icons" like Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck. 

Maria Popova says it so well:
What is it about letters that speaks to us so powerfully, intrigues us so seductively? Letters in general have a way of revealing as much about the subject matter as they do about the author and the recipient, but when they offer slivers of the lives, loves, and longings of those we hold in high regard, they hold a whole different kind of appeal. 

Especially pertinent at this time of the year, some of the most famous "Letters from Israel" are those written by Yoni Netanyahu (brother of Bibi), who lead the Entebbe operation and was killed during its execution on July 4, 1976. Published by Gefen in 2001, the book is "a collection of personal letters penned by Netanyahu over a period of thirteen years, from high school in Philadelphia to the raid at Entebbe." It includes a forward by Herman Wouk, who asserts that the letters are "A remarkable work of literature, possibly one of the great documents of our time."

This month, we look at some more recent publications:

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor

Yossi Klein Halevi is "an American-born writer living in Israel." Perhaps that it part of the affinity for his writing, but moreover, it is because it is so good. Already a huge fan of Like Dreamers (Harper Perennial, 2014), I knew I would want to read whatever else he published. His latest book (Harper Perennial, 2019) "endeavors to untangle the ideological and emotional knot that has define the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for nearly a century," which is just a monster tangle to untangle.

In many ways I enjoyed the book. His writing style is so simple and clear, but so intelligent. He makes his points about Jewish history and commitment to Israel respectfully and without being preachy or accusatory: "We're trapped in what may be called a 'cycle of denial.' Your side denies my people's legitimacy, my right to self-determination, and my side prevents your people from achieving national sovereignty. The cycle of denial defines our shared existence, an impossible intimacy of violence, suppression, age, despair. This is the cycle we can only break together." As a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute, "a leader center of Jewish thought and education," Yossi spends much of his time in dialog and interacting with other thinkers and educators. Don't get me wrong; this is a good thing. It will take a long time to change the hearts and mind of those on both sides, and it is a tremendous start.

The newly released paperback edition includes an epilogue of "Palestinian responses." Klein Halevi received many letters, quite a few not fit for publication, and the ones at the back of the book are interesting and informative.

If I were to write Yossi a letter, I would say in focusing on what can be done in the present and not lingering on the past,  you do not reflect on a big contributor to the current situation: British (and European) colonialism, which after World War I chopped up the Ottoman Empire into pieces. On the one hand issuing the Balfour Declaration and on the other the 1939 White Paper, trying to placate both Jews and Arabs and failing miserably. (The Kurds are not so happy with that slicing and dicing, either.) I would point out while Israel has made the painful concessions of continuing negotiations despite terror attacks (which were allegedly renounced in the 1993 Letters of Mutual Recognition) and disengaging from Gaza, what are the painful concessions the other side has made? If they indeed "love this land in it wholeness," why are they currently sending incendiary balloons that are destroying the land? It's also interesting that Israel and Jerusalem and the Temple are mentioned so many times in Jewish texts and prayers, while the Palestinians have kept the keys to the houses in which they once lived. 

Armed with Spirit

The subtitle of this recent book (Gefen Publishing, 2019) is "A Father's Advice to His Son in the Israeli Army Based on the Weekly Torah Portions." Rabbi Shalom Hammer is a senior lecturer for Machane Meshutaf and the Jewish Identity Branch of the IDF and the founder of Makom Meshutaf, "offering nondenominational Jewish programming for secular kibbutzim and moshavim throughout Israel."

When Yakov was drafted as a combat soldier into a brigade of mostly nonobservant young people, Rabbi Hammer knew his son would face religious challenges, so every single day, Rabbi Hammer WhatsApped his son an inspirational dvar Torah based on the weekly Torah reading.  First of all, I love parsha books. I enjoy a quick read that focuses on a verse or theme in the weekly Torah reading. Second, if you are writing letters or charting a correspondence over a period of time, it's important to have dates to put the information in context. Third, if you are quoting from Jewish texts, especially the Midrash, include references. 

Obviously if a father is texting is son, there will be plenty of advice and quite a few "I love you and I'm proud of you"s.  But what comes through is the mutual respect between father and son, and some great Torah thoughts, from both Rabbi Hammer and his son. I particularly enjoyed the entry for Purim that talked about clothing - the Kohain's garments, Queen Esther's royal garments and the uniform an Israeli soldier wears. 

And finally, Real Cats of Israel Toxy and JoJo are doing what they do best:

Happy Reading!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Booked in Jerusalem

I'm been spending a lot of time in Jerusalem this month, and every visit yields something new and interesting.

Poetry in Motion

The Israeli Association of Writers in English (IAWE) hosted a launch party for the publication of the latest volume of their annual literary journal:  arc 26. Edited by Shawn Edrei, the works explore "Love in a Time of Conflict." I accompanied poetess Judy Belsky to hear her and many of the other contributors read their works -- some published in the journal, others preferring to share other poems. Some took the theme very literally, combining violence and sex. Others offered more nuanced selections, and one man read his sonnets, which were very clever.

The launch took place on the roof of the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem. I have passed it many times on the bus, but I had never been inside. Definitely suited to young travelers, it is full of energy. While the poetry reading took place in one corner, hostel guests were socializing by the bar on the other side of the roof. It was a beautiful night to sit under the stars and experience culture in Jerusalem.

Forever My Jerusalem

One of the greatest things about living in Israel is going to historic places. Even more special is meeting people who have experienced the history first hand. I had the honor of meeting Puah Shteiner, the author of Forever My Jerusalem (Feldheim, 1987). Her book chronicles her life in Jerusalem before, during and after the War of Liberation. She was a young girl at the time, but her vivid recollections make for fascinating reading. Her family lived in the Old City, in the Batei Machse. She played it what was a big open area. When the Israelis surrendered, they were expelled from their homes with the clothes on their backs, and her father was held as a POW for nine months. No more spoilers - this book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of Israel.

Then, to visit the places she describes in the book - now rebuilt and reoccupied by Jews, was amazing. Batei Machse is now a public school, and the open area is now a courtyard surrounded by apartments. Even though I read the book twice, listening to Mrs. Shteiner tell her story made it that much more real. Her fondness for the memories and her love of Jerusalem were evident.

Batei Machse - where Puah Shteiner lived from 1945-1948. It is now a school.
This month's Real Cat of Israel is, of course, a Real Cat of Jerusalem, who was lounging on a step in the old city:

Happy Reading!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Jewish Book Carnival - May 2019

Welcome to the May 2019 Jewish Book Carnival -- a selection of book reviews; interviews with authors, publishers, librarians and others about Jewish books; and essays about Jewish books and literature. 

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

This month's selections:

The Book of Life Podcast features an interview with author Jonathan Auxier about about Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster. The book introduces us to Nan, a chimney climber, and her golem friend Charlie, a creature made of soot. This middle grade novel won the 2019 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Jewish children’s books, along with numerous other literary awards.

Over on gilagreenwrites, Gila is thrilled this month to welcome Tara Lynn Masih to her blog where she interviews her about her new young adult novel My Real Name is Hanna that takes place during the Holocaust in the Ukraine.

On Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, Deborah interviewed poet Sarah Stern about her latest collection, We Have Been Lucky in the Midst of Misfortune

Barbara Krasner at The Whole Megillah reveals the results of a survey among writers, editors, and publishers about "Why We Write Holocaust Books for Young Readers" in commemoration of Yom HaShoah.

On her My Machberet blog, Erika Dreifus routinely compiles news of Jewish literary interest. Here's one recent post.

Life Is Like a Library found two prizes in Jerusalem: Joyce Carol Oates receiving the Jerusalem Prize, and the riches of a Machane Yehuda scavenger hunt.

Over on Sassonmag.com, Myrtle Rising reviews One in a Generation, an expose of the case against Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who came to be known as the 'Fugitive Rabbi' - and draws a surprising conclusion.

Finally, a call to all librarians, teachers, publishers, authors, illustrators, agents, booksellers, book bloggers, reviewers, and others involved professionally with Jewish kidlit!:

 There is now a Facebook group especially for you: Jewish Kidlit Mavens. Please join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/JewishKidlitMavens/