Friday, July 12, 2024

Poetry and War

 Since October 7th, life has a been a rollercoaster in many ways. For a long time, I could not read a book, could not focus long enough to read more than a page, could not do something so trivial or that could possibly be enjoyable when there had been so much horror and heartbreak. 

While bibliotherapy has gained credence in recent years, librarians have always known the serendipity of reading the right book at the right time. The same is true for poetry. 

During this phase, these words were a comfort:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free

                -- Wendell Berry

As I attended more and more funerals and the cemetery started filling up, I remembered the poem I had to memorize in junior high school:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset flow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.
                                                                                                           -- John McCrae

I was also reminded of a poem written by my father, Edward Schapiro, who was a sergeant in the United States Army and served in the Detachment 12 Weather Squadron. He wrote it in 1945, after World War II ended.

They Say

They say that time is kind, those fools who sit
And wait to die, who never climb the sky
Or touch the glowing stars with magic lit
And watch unmoved the rushing years go by.
They say that love's a flame whose burn is slight
And quickly heals before the press of days,
Who never shared with you the star swept night
And knew the fiery heat the heart can blaze.
They say that passion gives the tortured heart
A dearer fondness when the loved on is far,
Who never spent the hours from you apart.
Playing a crazy manmade game called war,
They say these things, a smirk of wisdom in their eye,
And all that I can say is this:

Damn them! They lie!

Recently I heard about a song dedicated to the memory of Re'em Batito, who was killed on October 7th. As songs are poetry put to music, this beautiful tribute broke my heart yet again:

Stories of War by Eli Huli

Besorot tovot,

May we hear good tidings soon!

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Booking in Tel Aviv (and Jaffa)

 With the good news of the rescue of four of the hostages (and the sad news that Almog Meir Jan's father died a few hours before the rescue, and that one of their rescuers, Arnon Zmora, died of injuries sustained in the rescue), it was time was a change of pace and a change of scenery. Off to Tel Aviv to go to bookstores!

We stared in Jaffa at...the Yafa Bookstore and Coffee Shop. Why did we not know that this is an Arabic bookstore? They had a few used English books, and they graciously offered some romance novels "to read on the plane." A little miffed on both counts, since we live in Israel and prefer literary fiction and non-fiction, but it was nice that they tried. The reward for trekking way down to Jaffa was the beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea and the architecture of the neighborhood.

From there, it was on to Sipur Pashut, which means "simply story." This bookstore is in the charming Neve Tzedek neighborhood, which is full of interesting stores and galleries. Again, not much of an English selection, but a fun place to look around.

Next stop, HaMigdalor. And yet again, not so many English books, but lots of games and toys in addition to the books.

And finally, Book Worm, which in Hebrew is Tola'at Sefarim. Here, it seemed the coffee and the snacks were the main attraction, although there were a lot of interesting books, many in English.

For our next trip, we will probably return to an old favorite, Halper's on Allenby, where there are plenty of English books!

Happy Reading!

Besorot Tovot!

May we hear good tidings soon!

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble


Wisdom from the Witch of Endor: Four Rules for Living
by Tikva Frymer-Kensky was recently published by Eerdmans Publishing Company. Frymer-Kensky died in 2006, and this posthumous volume is emblematic of her interests in drawing from the biblical text and championing women. To fully appreciate this little gem, we had to put a few pieces together.

Today, when we thick of witches, the coven from Macbeth comes to mind. This creepy group meets secretly and makes a nauseating brew in their cauldron:

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog, 

Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,

Lizard's leg and howlet's wing, 

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth, boil and bubble.

The witches predict that Macbeth will be king, but that Banquo's descendants will be monarchs. They tell Macbeth that "no man of woman born" can kill him, and that he will not be defeated "until Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane." All of which comes true. Macbeth is killed by Macduff, who was born via caesarian birth, and his forces cut down trees to use as camouflage when they attacked at Dunsinane.

Many assert that Shakespeare found inspiration in Samuel I, Chapter 28. Saul has been deteriorating, both mentally and physically, even more so since Samuel the Prophet's death. Saul tries praying and calling out, but he cannot reach God. Although he has outlawed necromancy, Saul disguises himself and brings two attendants to a witch. She is hesitant to help, since it is against the law, but Saul implores her, and she communicates with the deal Samuel. 

Samuel asks why the witch disturbed him, and he gives Saul the bad news: he and his son will be killed in battle the next day. Saul is distraught, and the witch sees he is upset and gives him bread and meat before he goes on his way. While the witch did not make the predictions, Samuel's prophecy comes true, and David becomes king.

We never learn the name of the sorceress (fun fact: Endora, Samantha's mother on the 1960s television show Bewitched got her name from this chapter). But she is not the spooky, cackling, stereotype that casts spells; she is a professional with empathy.

Fryer-Kensky elaborates on the four lessons we learn from the Witch of Endor:

  1. Know your power.
  2. Strive to excel.
  3. Choose the moment.
  4. Win well.

After recounting the biblical story, she explains how the Witch applied these rules. Finally, she illustrates how we can use the rules:

[The Witch of Endor's] story reminds us that even people whose actions are suspect in their own day can be wonderful, magnanimous, and benevolent spirits. And so can we.

A small book, a quick read, but one with a message relevant to our times. The "other" is often discounted or disparaged, but everyone should know their power and strive to excel. Their moment to shine will come, and when it does, they should take it with grace.

 Real Cats of Israel

These real cats were in Jerusalem, enjoying one of the first warm days of spring:

Happy Reading!

Besorot tovot (May we hear good news soon!)!

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Life IS Like a Library

 Our blog gets its title from the quote by Harry Emerson Fosdick, and especially in these turbulent times, it is obvious that most books were written and are being written for us, and we have no control over anything that is happening. 

For those of us who have had the privilege or working in or using a great library, we know it is a magical place, full of books and other materials just waiting to be discovered. As collectors of quotes, these came to mind:

A truly great library has something to offend everyone. - Jo Godwin (librarian)

A public library is the most democratic thing in the world. What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants. - Doris Lessing

The libraries of America are and must ever remain the home of free and inquiring minds. To them, our citizens - of all ages and races, of all creeds and persuasions - must be able to turn with clear confidence that there they can freely seek the whole truth, unvarnished by fashion and uncompromised by expediency. - Dwight D. Eisenhower

We often participate in projects where book lists are compiled and created. Sometimes it's really fun to think of books on a particular subject or by certain authors. Other times, it's a little more challenging. There may be a book on the subject or by the author, but it may not be suitable for the intended age group or be the strongest book on the subject or by the author. Talking about books is something librarians LOVE to do, so while there can be a lot of back and forth about what books to include, the resulting list is usually created with care and purpose.

In the current "matsav" (situation) - after October 7th, we need books that educate and enlighten. As Rudine Sims Bishop so eloquently observed in her famous piece on "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors:"

Those of us who are children's literature enthusiasts tend to be somewhat idealistic, believing that some book, some story, some poem can speak to each individual child, and that if we have the time and the resources, we can find that book and help to change the child's life. If only for a brief time, and only for a tiny bit. On the other hand, we are realistic enough to know that literature, no matter how powerful, has its limits. It won't take the homeless of our streets; it won't feed the starving of the world; it won't stop people from attacking each other because of our racial differences; it won't stamp out the scrouge of drugs. It could, however, help us to understand each other better by helping change our attitudes toward difference. When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and similarities, because together they are what make us all human. 

With this in mind, we sought out books that could be "windows" into a culture with which we are unfamiliar. We hoped to find books with no agenda, no politics, no framing - just good stories and/or factual information. To say we went out of our comfort zone is an understatement. We walked into a neighborhood where we stuck out like huge, flashing sore thumbs, and we had to wade through books that were popular, but did have agendas, politics, etc.

Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! A Palestinian Folktale

Retold by Margaret Read MacDonald
Collected by Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana
Illustrated by Alik Arzoumanian
©2012 Two Lions

A charming story about a little pot who steals things and then gets her "just reward." Love, love, love the vibrant illustrations: the characters with big eyes, the geometric borders around the pictures, and the feisty little red pot.

The Magical Hands of Zalatimo

By Salam Akram Zalatimo
Illustrated by Margarita Fomenko
©2018 Create Space

An adorable rhyming book about a baker who makes the best mutabak (a treat made with sheets of dough, cheese curds, and sugar syrup). Based on a true family history (read more here), the delicious pastries (see how they are made here) put a smile on everyone's face.

While the original shop, opened in 1860, is still in Jerusalem's Old City, Momo's descendants have opened shops (and factories) all over the world.

Arab Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook

Tales by Karim Alrawi
Illustrations by Nahid Kazemi
Recipes by Sobhi al-Zobaidi & Tamam Qanembou-Zobaidi and Karim Alrawi
©2021 Crocodile Books

Part of a series that includes Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts (2014) and Fairy Tale Feasts (2006), these "literary cookbooks" combine short tales with classic characters and classic recipes. This volume includes "Fish Soup in Gaza," accompanied by a recipe for fish soup. The notes include explanations of these characters like Goha (Joha), the wise fool, descriptions of the items in the recipes, and etymology of many of the Arabic words used in the stories and recipes. Colorful illustrations show the foods and compliment the text, like a picture of a winking girl who has outsmarted the teller of the "big fish tale." All the recipes are relative simple, although some of the ingredients are exotic.

We were saddened by the "coulda, shoulda, woulda" of so many books, and that out of nine books, only three fit the criteria. Some had incredible artwork, some showed beautiful examples of community caring and sharing, the richness of the culture, and some had a cute story. But the politics and the agenda overshadowed all these merits.

Real Cats of Israel

As for the Real Cats, this is about as real as it gets. We saw this crew outside when we went to pay a condolence to the family of 24-year-old Amichai Oster, who was killed in Gaza. Seeing this clowder of cats gave me a smile after a very sad visit.

Besorot tovot - May we hear good news soon!
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

The Right Book at the Right Time

 The world changed on October 7th, and since then, it's been hard to focus on a lot of things, especially when a siren goes off. But as a corollary to two of SR Ranganathan's Five Rules of Library Science (Every person his or her book; every book its reader), the right books often come along at the right time for the person who needs to read them.

Yehuda Avner's The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership (Toby, 2010) has been enlightening in terms of the history of the modern State of Israel and politics. Avner (1928-2015) was born in Manchester. He was a speechwriter for Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, and worked as an advisor to Yitzchak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres. He also served as Consulate in New York and in Washington, DC, and he served as Israel's Ambassador to Great Britain, Ireland, and Australia. His book is a memoir of his diplomatic service, but also a look at history, and the personalities that shaped it.

During this "matsav" (situation), one of the most interesting things in the book was Yitzchak Rabin's answer when Avner asked him, in 1995, why he shook Arafat's hand. Rabin answered that

 "Israel is surrounded by two concentric circles. The inner circle is comprised of our immediate neighbors. The outer circle comprises their neighbors -- Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya. Virtually all of them are rogue states, and some are going nuclear. Iranian-inspired Islamic fundamentalism is striving to destabilize the Gulf Emirates, has already created havoc in the Sudan and Somalia...and in Yemen. And now it is gaining influence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip...At the end of the day, the inner circle recognizes they have less to fear from Israel than from their Muslim neighbors, not least from radicalized Islamic powers going nuclear."

Wow! If you think this situation is something new, it has been brewing for 30 years. A hefty read at over 700 pages, but very worthwhile. 

For those participating in the Nach Yomi project (an cyclical reading from the books of Prophets and Writings), it was incredible to read Megillat Esther, which is the story of how the enemies of the Jews tried to annihilate them, and things flipped and the enemies of the Jews were killed. No coincidence that the reading of this book took place after October 7th. While reading the actual text, I also read JT Waldman's Megillat Esther (JPS, 2005). Dubbed as the world's first religious, scholarly comic book, it combines amazing illustrations, creative use of text, and a list of resources from the commentaries. Hailed as a "visual masterpiece," the graphic novel reveals layers of meaning through both the art and the text. 

I was trying to give a quick summary of Tunnels, a graphic novel by Rutu Modan (Drawn and Quarterly, 2021), but Amazon did a much better job:

"When a great antiquities collector is forced to donate his entire collection to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Nili Broshi sees her last chance to finish an archaeological expedition begun decades earlier―a dig that could possibly yield the most important religious artifact in the Middle East. Motivated by the desire to reinstate her father’s legacy as a great archaeologist after he was marginalized by his rival, Nili enlists a ragtag crew―a religious nationalist and his band of hilltop youths, her traitorous brother, and her childhood Palestinian friend, now an archaeological smuggler. As Nili’s father slips deeper into dementia, warring factions close in on and fight over the Ark of the Covenant!"

I was a little nervous to read about tunneling Palestinians in the current situation, but Modan's book was captivating, with humor, irony, and the twists and turns of a complicated history and current situation. It had the edginess and quirkiness that are often found in graphic novels, but was also well-researched. While many of my colleagues put graphic novels in the "middle grade area" of the library, this one is definitely for adults.

Real Cats of Israel

These cats live in Nir Oz, one of the worst hit communities on October 7th. I recently visited this once-serene enclave on the Gaza envelope, and took in the horror of what remained after over 100 of the 400 residents were murdered, kidnapped or injured. Houses were hit with RPGs or set on fire. But the cats still wander around.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Let's Make Soup

 Once again, winter has arrived in Israel, with a nice bit of rain, and some brisk, sunny weather. As the Talking Heads so eloquently expressed it in "Life During Wartime," "this ain't no party, this ain't no disco." So we have to look extra hard to bright moments in the dark days of Kislev and the "matsav" (situation).

For us, one such moment was meeting Chaya Bluma Gadenyan at a local vendor fair. She is the author of Getting Ready for Shabbat!: Let's Make Soup!, with art by Eugenia Ard (self-published, 2023). Chaya Bluma's first trip to Israel was for her bat mitzvah. She returned to Israel permanently in the late 1980s and worked in high tech for many years, eventually leaving a job as CFO to pursue "a more personally meaningful endeavor." During the pandemic, she taught English online to over 400 Chinese children on a one-on-one basis, and for the past three years, she has facilitated English learning for groups of Israeli youngsters.

The idea for the book germinated many years ago, when she heard a "put the chicken in the pot" song on a CD. As Chaya Bluma was looking for books to share with kindergarteners in her groups, her list of criteria included simple words, a positive message, appealing illustrations, and Jewish values. She remembered the song and realized it would make a great book. The book features her grandson, who is old enough to help and enjoys cooking with his grandmother. 

SPOILER ALERT!: The book begins with some wordless pages. A young boy is dropped off by an apartment building, and he climbs the steps to his grandparents' apartment with his school tik (bag) and two bags of groceries in tow. Grandmother (Grandma, Nana, Bubbe, Savta, Nona) is delighted to see him, and after he washes up, his grandmother asks what he wants to put in the pot. In go chicken, onion, garlic, celery, carrots, spices, potatoes, parsley, and finally, water. The words fit the tune of "London Bridge Is Falling Down." With the addition of each ingredient, Grandmother "stirs it up, nice and hot, we're getting ready for Shabbat." The soup, now ready for Shabbat, sits in the middle of the table. This beautiful double spread captures the colors and the amazing energy of a family around a Shabbat table.

©2023 by Chaya Bluma Gadenyan. Used with permission.

Cooking and singing at the same time, especially with young children, would be very challenging, so Chaya Bluma commissioned a crochet artist to make some of the ingredients in the book. She also created a coloring page, so that a group can review the items, and then follow along with the book.

As for Chaya Bluma's chicken soup, she grew up in an Ashkenazi home and married a Jerusalem-born Persian man, so her repertoire has literally been "spiced up." She makes Gomeh sabzi, which is a chicken soup with lots of fresh herbs and dried lime - her own "fusion" recipe. 

We loved hearing about Chaya Bluma's self-publishing journey from finding an illustrator to picking a printer. There are two versions of the book. The original has activities like a maze and a crossword puzzle at the end, the recipe for Chaya Bluma's chicken soup, as well as QR codes to access the internet, and information about names and Shabbat. The second edition has question prompts, is less expensive, and does not include the activities (or the codes). Both versions have vibrant pictures, and because Chaya Bluma was able to work so closely with the illustrator, the boy looks like her grandson, and the grandmother looks like...Chaya Bluma.

Chaya Bluma has also published an adorable coloring book for girls -- Girls' Names from the Hebrew Bible. On the left of each double spread is a "modern" girl dressed modestly, and on the right is her biblical counterpart: Sarah, Rivka, Leah, and more. She has developed a card name based on the soup book, and is working on several children's picture book manuscripts. 

It was a pleasure meeting Chaya Bluma and learning about all her creative projects.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

A Visit to the National Library of Israel


Creative Commons license

Many were anticipating the gala, grand opening of the new campus of the National Library of Israel, but with the current "matsav" (situation), it's been kind of a "soft" opening, with a limit on how many people can be in the library for security reasons. We joined one of the daily tours of the facility, and the world "cool" came to mind throughout the tour. 

As you can see from the photograph, the building is supposed to look like an open book. You don't really get that close up, but it's still an interesting shape. It is also a "green" building, so several aspects are mindful of the environment, including the landscaping. Our tour guide pointed out that while across the street (to the right in the photo), the Knesset building is heavily fenced, the library has no gate or fence, so everyone has access.

To preserve the quiet of the library, the tour guide had a microphone, and all the tour participants had head sets connected to the tour guide's output, so she could speak quietly and everyone could hear what she was saying. The building is built from Jerusalem Stone, a light-colored limestone. Even though it is called "Jerusalem Stone," the limestone for the building was quarried in Mitzpe Ramon, about 115 miles south in the Negev.

As part of the green concept, there is a huge skylight above the main reading rooms:

Besides the main reading room, there are several rooms for special collections and exhibits. There are offices, a synagogue and a prayer room.

What if the material you want isn't on the shelf? They it has to be retrieved from "the stacks," another really cool aspect of the library. In the storage area, the air is maintained at a very low oxygen level (like being on Mount Everest), so that nothing can catch fire. It also means that humans cannot breathe in the area, so it is all automated. The boxes are barcoded, and a computer directs the machinery.

Outside, there is a big area for gatherings, and a rock sculpture representing letters:


We usually finish up with a look at "The Real Cats of Israel." This segment originated because there were so many books about cats in Israel that gave the impression that they are all cute and cuddly and people love them, when, in fact, they are feral, often sickly, and are very unpopular, often dubbed "Israel's squirrels."

So we'll end with REAL ISRAEL and dedicate this to the memory of Lavi Lipshitz, a 20-year old killed in battle on October 31st. Besides being a talented photographer, Lavi was an avid reader. May God avenge his blood.