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, 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


Jerusalem Prizes

I attended the the opening event of the Jerusalem International Writers Festival on Sunday, May 12th.  Mayor Moshe Leon presented the Israel Prize to American author Joyce Carol Oates for lifetime achievement in the Humanities. She has authored over 58 novels, as well as poems, short stories, plays and novellas. Her books have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and she has won the National Book Award and two O. Henry Awards. Full disclosure: Of all her works, I have only read We Were the Mulvaneys because it was a pick for Oprah's Book Club, and even though it was sad, I enjoyed it because of the nuanced characters, the family dynamic, and the sense of place in Upstate New York.

So,  a day in Jerusalem is always special for me. As I rode from the Central Bus Station to the YMCA, there  was a petite blonde girl in an army uniform with a big musical instrument case on her back. She got off at the same stop I did, but she walked much faster than I did to wherever she was going. To my surprise (and delight), she was the cello player in the string quartet that introduced the evening. Just another example of what a small world it is and how I feel so connected to my fellow citizens. 

On to the opening ceremony. After a lot of thanks and recognition of dignitaries, which took even longer because there were in Hebrew and in English, the chair of the selection committee explained the criteria for the award and why Joyce Carol Oates is such a worthy recipient. The Jerusalem Prize is awarded every two years to international writers "whose body of work assert 'The Freedom of the Individual in Society'," and in her acceptance speech, Oates proclaimed that "without freedom, there is no art." 

She also spoke of her paternal grandmother, who bought her books, paid for piano lessons, bought her a typewriter, and took her to get a library card. After her grandmother died, Oates learned that she was Jewish and basically erased that part of her life. Oates' 2007 novel, The Gravediggers' Daughter, is based on her grandmother's life and  "her family history that was filled with pockets of silence."

The evening included a tribute to Amoz Oz, the noted Israeli author who died in December of 2018. Oates is also a fan of his, and quoted from Oz's 2002 memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness:

"When I was little, my ambition was to grow up to be a book. Not a writer. People can be killed like ants. Writers are not hard to kill either. But not books: however systematically you try to destroy them, there is always a chance that a copy will survive and continue to enjoy a shelf-life in some corner on an out-of-the-way library somehwere in Reykjavik, Valladolid or Vancouver."

And here is one of my favorites:

"While it was true that books could change with the years just as much as people could, the difference was that whereas people would always drop you when they could no longer get any advantage or pleasure or interest or at least a good feeling from you, a book would never abandon you. Naturally you sometimes dropped them, maybe for several years, or even forever. But they, even if you betrayed them, would never turn their backs on you: they would go on waiting for you silently and humbly on their shelf. They would wait for ten years. They wouldn't complain. One night, when you suddenly needed a book, even at three in the morning, even if it was a book you had abandoned and erased from your heart for years and years, it would never disappoint you, it would come down from its shelf and keep you company in your moment of need. It would not try to get its own back or make excuses or ask itself if it was worth its while or if you deserved it or if you still suited each other, it would come at once as soon as you asked. A book would never let you down."

In Search of Another Prize

I've been having a lot of fun with  ScaVentures Jerusalem: The Experiential Guidebook by Tali Kaplinski Tarlow. Whether hanging out by the windmill (May 2018), or giving myself a mini-mission as I pass through the Machane Yehuda Market (December 2018), I've seen things I don't normally look for, and by doing so, learn more about Jerusalem and Israel.

But my best and most exciting experience was at the beginning of the month when I joined a group of "influencers" to test the "app" of the ScaVentures Guide to Machane Yehuda, better known as "the Shuk Dash." Tali split us into teams and gave us a brief history of the area. In the early 20th century, it was an open field where Arab merchants sold their produce out of crates.  The field was owned by the wealthy Valero family, of Spanish descent, and it was originally called the Valero Market.

Chaim Aharon Valero (1845-1923)
As its popularity grew, the merchants set up huts. After World War I, the British rebuilt the area, and it is that market that we go to today. Armed with a tablet and a map, the teams went off to meet people shopping and selling goods in the market, find different items, and have fun. Lots of sumptuous pastries, piles of interesting spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fish are just some of the items on your grocery list that can be found in the market. Alas, there is no bookstore, but you can go to the barber, and there are many, many places to eat serving all kinds of food. 

The beauty of "touring" the shuk this way is that it is experiential. Whether you are holding a raw fish or searching to find the green wall, you are interacting with all kinds of people, really looking around the area, and using the strengths of your team to complete the missions. At first I thought, "How can I spend two hours in the market?" But as the clock ticked down, and we had to return to base, I reflected that I could probably use another hour, and I would still not see all there was to see. 

So here's a shameless plug (on my part, no Tali's) for Israel ScaVentures:

Israel ScaVentures

Shuk Dash

And of course, as Spring has sprung, the Real Cats of Israel are also out and about. This feisty little kitten is trying her paws at soccer:

Happy Reading!

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Passover 5779

Because this year is a leap year on the Jewish calendar, Passover is relatively late this year, beginning on Friday night, April 19th. As with almost all Jewish observances, there are customary foods and family favorites.  


Haroset is that mixture of fruit and nuts on the Seder plate in which we dip the bitter herbs.  In Haroset: A Taste of Jewish History (The Toby Press, 2019), Dr. Susan Weingarten "attempts to solve the riddle of the origins of haroset -- when and why it appeared, what it was made of and how it changed over the generations." Dr. Weingarten is an archaeologist and historian and has published many scholarly papers about the history of food. Full disclosure: what I thought would be an academic discourse (boring) is a fascinating exploration of both Jewish sources and cultural influences. As Weingarten explains in the introduction:

Haroset has always been something of a mystery. It was not one of the three original symbolic foods eaten at the first Passover in Egypt. It first appears in the Mishna, but with no explanation of why, and with few details of what it was made of or what it tasted like. The [Babylonian and Jerusalem] Talmuds tell us that haroset was said to resemble the mud or clay for the bricks made by the Children of Israel as slaves in Egypt, so it was clearly connected to the story of the redemption from an early stage, but we do not know when it arrived at the Seder. It seems to have been introduced to counteract the bitter herbs, which have been part of the Passover meal since the time of the Exodus. 
I learned that many ancient cultures using dipping sauces to offset the tastes of other foods. Ashkenazi Jews pretty much use the same basic recipe -- apples, nuts, wine, cinnamon, and all the ingredients have deep symbolic meaning. Sephardic Jews enjoy a variety of recipes, varying from community to community and depending on the fruits available in the spring. Some groups even "add a small amount of clay or scraped brick" into the mixture. History also influenced the development of haroset, as red wine used to be added at the Seder table, but the practice was discontinued in Europe because of blood libels. Communities often made a huge batch that was distributed to all the families. 

Most recipes are not exact; the important thing is that the consistency should be thick, like mortar. Sephardim often cook the mixture, and grinding the mixture is an important part of the process for all cultures. 

Want to add an interesting taste to your Seder? Try "Zoya Leviva's Haroset from Uzbekistan:"

black raisins
red wine
optional: walnuts

©The Toby Press and Dr. Susan Weingarten, 2019. Used with permission.

Passover Baking

Paula Shoyer is known as "the Kosher Baker," and she is an expert on the history of Jewish cookbooks. She is also the author of four cookbooks: The Kosher Baker (Brandeis University Press, 2010), and three from Sterling Epicure: The Holiday Kosher Baker (2013), The New Passover Menu (2015), and The Healthy Jewish Kitchen (2017). For Passover, she is sharing some recipes for the holiday that those who eat "keto"will also enjoy.

For those who have been living under rocks, the keto (ketogenic) diet is protein rich, high fat, low carbohydrate plan of eating. The diet has been suggested for children with epilepsy, those with neurological disorders, those on the spectrum, and Parkinson's Disease patients. Those who work out frequently have also embraced the keto diet. Since so many carbohydrates are either chametz or kitniyot (grains, beans, and soy that Ashkenazi Jews do not eat on Passover), you can literally have your cake and eat it, too, as the baking ingredients for her desserts include coconut oil, almond flour, and quinoa.

Lemon Quinoa Cake   - PAULA SHOYER
Serves 12
PREP TIME: 20 minutes BAKE TIME: 15 minutes to cook quinoa, 65 minutes to bake cake ADVANCE PREP: May be made 3 days in advance or frozen

¾ cup quinoa
1½ cups water
Cooking spray or 2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons lemon zest, from 2-3 large lemons
½ cup fresh lemon juice, from 2-3 large lemons
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or other vanilla if for Passover)
¾ cup coconut oil
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 cup almond flour
¼ cup coconut flour, plus 2-3 tablespoon to dust bundt pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1-2 lemons)

Place the quinoa and water into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the saucepan, and cook the quinoa for 15 to 18 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Let sit for 5 minutes off the stovetop. The quinoa may be made 2 days in advance and stored in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Use cooking spray or oil to grease a 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons coconut flour, or more if needed, over the entire greased pan and then shake the pan all around to cover and then tap out the excess.
Place the quinoa in the bowl of a food processor. Add the lemon zest and juice, eggs, vanilla, oil, sugar, almond flour, coconut flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and process until the mixture is very smooth, about 2 minutes.
Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake it for 1 hour, or longer, until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 30 minutes and then remove it gently from the pan onto a wire cooling rack.
Recipe by Paula Shoyer 
used with permission

As a responsible reviewer, I tried this recipe, and...
I am not a big fan of coconut, which came through more than the lemon for me. But, the cake is super easy to make, there are no weird ingredients that are not available during Passover, it does not require tons of eggs that have to be separated, and it was gone in less than 24 hours, so somebody enjoyed it very much.  Further proof is that my cake looks similar to the promotional picture of Paula's.

For more about Paula Shoyer, super colleague Heidi Rabinowitz spoke to her at the Limmud Conference in Boca Raton, Florida in December, 2018, and you can hear their conversation at Heidi's podcast - The Book of Life.

The Real Cats of Israel are enjoying the spring weather:
People watching at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem
Chag Kasher V'Sameach!
A Happy and Kosher Passover!
Happy Reading!

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Adar and the Future of Happiness

It's that time of the year:

משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה

When the month of Adar arrives, we should increase our happiness [joy] (Talmud, Taanis 29a).

So this month, we look at some aspects of happiness in our quest to increase it.

We learn so many things when we read -- more than the contents of a book. As Anna Quindlen said, "In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.” In reading about the future of happiness, I took some side trips into copyright law, positive psychology, genetic engineering and technology.  

First, an interesting note on copyright law. Book titles cannot be copyrighted. Series titles can have a trademark, but book titles cannot. Personally, I would try for a unique title so that my book would not be confused with anyone else's. But it is entirely possible for different people to think up the same title, though they be separated by borders, language or culture. I know of one case where the book first appeared as a weekly serial in Mishpacha Magazine -- Gila Arnold's Learning Curve. When the time came to publish, another book had already been released with the title. The publisher changed the title slightly of Gila's to It's a Learning Curve (Menucha 2018), so that people could differentiate between the two.

The first time "The Future of Happiness" appears is in an essay by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (bonus points for pronunciation) that first appeared in the collection The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-first Century (Phoenix, 2003). Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian American psychologist best known for his book Flow (Harper and Row, 1990), where he explains his theory: people are happiest when they are in a state of flow—a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. 

In this article, he talks about controlling the genetic makeup of human beings, and what traits and characteristics they could want included in their children's genetic makeup. Csikszentmihalyi asserts that "it is most likely that the most intense selective pressure will be for producing happy children...they understand that while every other good is a means to an end, happiness is THE good in itself: it is what we hope to achieve through education, money, beauty, and intelligence." Csikszentmihalyi did a study and among the things he learned was that "people who are engaged in challenging activities with clear goals tend to be happier than those who lead relaxing, pleasurable lives. The less one works just for oneself, the larger the scope of one's relationships and commitments, the happier a person is likely to be." He discusses how the individual's measure of his own happiness is a valid assessment, and how although happiness can be subjective, there are definitely objective standards or definitions. Will scientists use genetic engineering to "program" people to be happy? The question is still being debated. 

Amy Blankson's 2017 book also outlines The Future of Happiness (BenBella Books). Many people are concerned that we are so technology dependent, or addicted, based on your perspective. How can you utilize technology without letting it take over every aspect of your life. "By keeping happiness, meaning, and joy as the true North, Blankson provides a much clearer calculus for which technology to use, where to use it, and when to find safeguards against it." 

After addressing "The Three Burning Questions of the Digital Era:"
  • Where Are We Heading?
  • Would We Be Better Without Tech?
  • What Will Happiness Look Like?, 
she discusses "Five Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-Being in the Digital Era:" 
  1. Stay Grounded - to focus your energy and productivity
  2. Know Thyself - through app-driven data to strive toward your potential
  3. Train Your Brain - to develop and sustain an optimistic mindset
  4. Create a Habitat for Happiness - to maximize the spaces where you live, work and learn
  5. Be a Conscious Innovator - to help make the world a better place.
Holding the hardcover book, I realized that many of the people who should be reading it probably don't deal with such low tech and would have to get an e-book or an app for their device. No worries, Blankson suggests plenty of apps to put you on the road to happiness, and the book is a quick and interesting read.

The latest title comes from Mosaica Press: The Future of Happiness (2019), which invites the reader to "discover how to bring happiness to our homes -- and ourselves."  It is authored by Rebbetzin Faige Twerski. It is obvious why she attracts such a cult of personality. She is warm and wise. She speaks of the glory of Hassidic dynasties and of making one's relationship with her husband a priority.

This is the latest collection of articles the Rebbetzin wrote for her weekly column in Ami Magazine. She says there are three primary relationships that bring us happiness: between me and the Almighty; between me and my soul; and between me and others. In this sense, her life experience supports Csikszentmihalyi scientific findings that a person with a larger scope of relationships and commitments will be happier. Rebbetzin Twerski asserts that "the future of happiness, as I see it, will be a world stripped of the many illusions that divide us and distance us from one another. It will be a world where we can drop the many masks we wear and be real people, free of the barriers, agendas, and aimless pursuits that separate us and deprive us of the recognition that we are truly one." Her previous published pieces are organized under several headings, including "Easy versus Happy," "Happiness versus Control," and "Positive Attitude." The reader will enjoy anecdotes about people whom the Rebbetzin met or counseled, as well as stories about her family and friends. Extremely Torah-based with lots of quotes from Psalms and famous rabbis, Rebbetzin Twerski's faith and tradition are obvious, but the distillation of these qualities into common sense and practicality for the common reader are quite impressive. Although not a big fan of collections of advice columns, these are some gems: "We, who are the bearers of a Divine neshamah (soul) and given the power of bechirah (free choice), the ability to will our lives, are charged to rise above the past and move confidently to the future, to claim our full, holy potential and personal destiny. Guilty feelings don't lead to happiness. By accepting accountability for our lives, and mistakes, we lay the foundations of true happiness." 

I met this Real Cat of Israel on the beautiful yishuv of Tekoa, hometown of the biblical prophet Amos, who prophesied about the future of happiness when "I will return the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild desolate cities and settle them; they will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will cultivate gardens and eat their fruits. I will plant them upon their land and they will never again be uprooted from their land that I have given them, said the Lord, your God" (Amos 9:14-15).

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

It's Time for...

Here in Israel, we recently celebrated Tu B'Shevat, the almond trees are in bloom , and Spring is right around the corner, which means two things



It's almost tax time - time to think about finances

Graphic Novel Format Haggadah

Koren, in the tradition of "the rich legacy of illuminated manuscripts," has recently published


The team of Jordan B. "Gorf" Gorfinkel, Erez Zadok and David Olivestone have created a clever and colorful Haggadah that will enhance any Seder. The varied formats means that turning the pages uncovers new surprises, from the Venn Diagram-like picture illustrating the four types of children, the panels of the Ten Plagues (and Pharaoh's hard heart), the cumulative counting of "Who Knows One," and the page showing poses with everyday items and then with Jewish artifacts. Diversity is also evident (if you didn't notice, it's four types of children, not just sons), with an eclectic group gathered for the "Ma Nishtanah" and Jewish experiences like the Ethiopians making Aliyah and a secret Seder in the former Soviet Union.

There is a lot of information about symbolism and customs, and the "to do" items for the Seder are depicted in blue and white "pop ups," with Father Goat explaining the procedures to his Daughter Goat. My favorite is when it's time to eat the bitter herbs.

©2019 Koren Publishers. Used with permission.

Could the graphic novel format be the modern-day version of manuscript illumination? I think it could:

Kaufmann Haggadah - 14th Century
IWEN Corner

Two of the ladies recently featured here belong to a group called IWEN - the Israeli Women Entrepreneurs' Network. These female business owners in Israel are providing all kinds of good and services. More than that, they are helping their fellow IWENs by offering suggestions and moral support. It turns out many of the members are involved in book-related endeavors, so a new feature at Life Is Like a Library will highlight some of these ladies.

First up, Debbie Sassen. She is a financial advisor. A former investment banker, and the mother of eight, this lady has the experience and insight to help those who might be nervous about taking charge of their finances and investing. We recently met and talked about her soon-to-be available (April) book The $1K Investor: Simple, Smart Steps to Start Investing with $1K or Less (self-published, 2019).

With a minimum of financial jargon, a discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of specific financial instruments is followed by Sassen's  four-step process, which starts with defining specific goals, evaluating risk, deciding on the mix of your portfolio, and deciding if you want to do it yourself or work with an advisor. She goes on to address myths and mistakes, then provides some suggestions for getting started.

She generously answered my many questions about the book and personal finance, and she emphasized the value of starting small. It's less scary, and it can eventually become fun. For those who are afraid of losing money, she gives the great example of buying a pair of shoes that were tight, and that you hoped would stretch out. Think of a $100 loss the same way. I had the misconception that everybody is pretty much the same when it comes to investing, and while there are rules of thumb, Debbie set me straight that there is no cookie-cutter approach -- everyone has different goals and different issues.

Debbie works with more than just the numbers. She does a lot of coaching and energy work, and for those who are open, she talks about God, trust and faith. One of the issues she discusses in the book is being comfortable with what you're doing and being confident that your advisor makes your interests a priority. Her book will definitely help the small investor with their decisions.

Thank you to Debbie. If you are interested in the book, or in connecting with her, please visit her website:

And, one of the Real Cats of Israel, Toxy, is very excited about the lemons harvested from her backyard:

Happy Reading!