Wow! Again it is Elul and time to review the past year. Last year at this time, I decided to cut back significantly on book purchases and attack my TBR pile, which now takes up my office and my attic. I'm glad that I read a lot of these books. I did read some recently published books as well, and many of both the old and the new made it to this year's list of "Elul books" -- reading in the spirit of making positive changes in my life and in the world:
We'll start with a new book, endorsed by rapper Nissim Black as one that "will thaw you out and heat you up," The 40 Day Challenge by Rabbi Mark Wildes (Kodesh Press, 2021). Rabbi Wildes is the Founder and Director of the Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE), a "Jewish outreach and educational program that engages and reconnects unaffiliated Jewish men and women in their 20s and 30s with Judaism and the Jewish community." During the pandemic, Rabbi Wildes started a WhatsApp challenge that became the basis for this book. There is an entry for each day from Rosh Chodesh Elul to the day after Yom Kippur, followed by a challenge question to help you apply what you've learned. Of particular note is the reading for Day 33, "Fasting after Feasting," which gives a great explanation for the Fast of Gedaliah. Rabbi Wildes hits the right combination for a wide audience -- quotes from Jewish sources and rabbis without being preachy; and quotes from popular culture without trying to be "too cool" or let the secular outweigh the Jewish content.
With short chapters and substance - "Are we sufficiently using the gifts and resources we have at our disposal or do we allow our challenges to keep us from being are best selves?" -- use this book to get ready for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and life in general.
Matt Haig's blockbuster, best-seller, award-winning The Midnight Library (Viking, 2020) is the kind of popular, feel-good book that I normally would not pick up, opting for something literary and not so happy. But I love books about libraries, especially when the librarian is the hero. No spoilers, but this is a good one for Elul and Rosh Hashanah, as Nora Seed "travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place." And, surprise, it's not being a rock star or an Olympic athlete.
Angels and Tahina by Tzippi Ross (Goat Path Publishing, 2020) was inspiring on many levels. As mentioned here previously (Angels and Tahina), Tzippi hiked the Israel Trail in 2009 to raise money for ALS research. So besides hiking over 600 miles, besides raising $40,00 for ALS research, and besides the challenge of being with family 24/7 (and not showering), or maybe because of this, it was also an experience of emotional and spiritual growth. As I started reading, I thought, "It would be so cool to hike the Trail. If I trained, I could probably this." After I finished the book, I realized I probably couldn't do it. Sleeping in a tent, finding food caches stolen, and carrying a backpack that allowed for only two pairs of underwear is not for me. But my admiration for Tzippi is infinite. The book is arranged by lessons, and my takeaway is that preparation and believing that there are good people in the world are two things I would like to work on in the coming year.
We're big fans of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. This author and illustrator team has created such classics as Room on the Broom, Stick Man, The Snail and the Whale, and The Gruffalo. But The Smeds and The Smoos (2019, Alison Green Books) is a book that everyone needs to read now. The red Smeds don't like the blue Smoos and vice versa. But when Janet and Bill look past the surface of color and food preference, they enjoy each other's company. With great rhyming nonsense words, and the eventual purple baby that everyone loves, it is a colorful, fun read, with, of course, a good lesson.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipper, we say "Unetanneh Tokef," a prayer that is central to the themes of the High Holidays, and the second paragraph always makes me cry:On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life, and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval, and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity annul the severity of the Decree."
As I age, death is striking me particularly hard. It reminds me of my own mortality, about all the things people want to do and places they want to go, how much more they had to give to the world, and how much they will be missed. Some people I knew very well and lost touch with over the years; some people I knew by reputation, and others I had met once or twice, but they definitely had an impact on me.
So, to all of you, may you rest in peace, and may you continue to be strong advocates in the heavens for us:
My cousin, Salome Klein, the last of my mother's generation, Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld , Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski , Rabbi Shalom Povarsky, Janet Pollack , Lawrence Otis Graham , Meir Weingarten , Eric Carle, Rush Limbaugh, Christopher Plummer, Cicely Tyson, Cloris Leachman, Hank Aaron, Flory Jagoda
And finally, what a difference a year makes with the Real Cats from Israel. We met Socks II earlier in the year
And here she is with her kittens - Yuki, Stormy and Clawdia: