Archive for the ‘Books’ Category.
That latest novel we added to the library’s collection is Steve Stern‘s The Frozen Rabbi. The boko’s falp starts with these two intriguing questions: “How does a nineteenth-century rabbi from a small Polish town en up in a freezer in a suburban Memphis home at the end of the twentieth century? And what happens when a teenage boy thaws him out an miraculously brings him back to life?” Based n this you can already guess that this is a humorous book that mixes a number of themes. What do the reviews say?
- The book’s 370 pages are packed to bursting with epic adventure and hysterical comedy, with grim poignancy and pointed satire, as Stern repeatedly shifts time and tone to craft a wildly entertaining tale of the 20th-century Jewish experience and the paradox of tradition. [...] In all, it’s a fine performance: Stories are told, points made, conventions flayed, and the reader comes to care about what will happen to poor Bernie, earnestly seeking transcendence from a fallen prophet. - The Washington Post
- Throughout “The Frozen Rabbi,” Stern demonstrates an alchemical power to transform lumpen failures like Bernie, barely curious enough to gaze at their own navels, into young men and women with noble missions. He does this by heaping impossible responsibilities on their shoulders; their subsequent maturation is so rapid they seem subjected to some kind of ferocious growlight. [...] Yet along with the difficult question of just what is lost when assimilation is gained, Stern also raises the hope that even the most unwitting among us cannot fully escape the passions of our ancestors. - The New York Times
- Whether his latest novel, “The Frozen Rabbi,” will finally propel him into mass recognition is impossible to say, but it ought to, because it is, like his previous books, a funny, profound and virtuosic work. [...]for those willing to enter this unfamiliar space, to be tossed between centuries and realities, between this world and the Other Side, what awaits is a rare enchantment. - San Francisco Chronicle
- The Frozen Rabbi is as much fun to read as it sounds. Peppered withYiddishisms and lively, colorful prose, even as strange as it gets sometimes it’s quite delightful. And it does get strange, especially towards the end. – Boston Bibliophile
I had to share reviews as I didn’t read the book. This also means that as of this moment the book is in the library, you can borrow it, come Sunday. Or if you can’t wait for it you can start reading the book in serialized version here. The whole book is there in 46 installments.
Some of you may remember that the library used to subscribe to Nextbook Reader, a large format magazine. (We still have all the issues out, on the second white shelf.) The paper magazine ceased to exists, but the people who were behind it created an online version called Tablet Magazine. It launched June 2009 and has been adding content daily. Even if you don’t agree with all of their choices for topics, their writing style or opinion, it is still very much worth to follow them, as they produce quality and quantity of interesting Jewish content.
The magazine’s “arts & Culture” section has a subsection dedicated to books. I could say that I read it “cover to cover”, but there are no covers in online magazines and being on ongoing publications there aren’t even single “issues or volumes”. Here is a selection just from their April articles. I omitted the names of the authors from these taglines on purpose, because I think they are interesting enough in themselves without having to resort to namedropping.
- In stories written in Poland and the U.S., the modernist master Isaac Bashevis Singer mined folk tales to convey the 20th century’s essential cruelty
- Thane Rosenbaum’s young-adult novel The Stranger Within Sarah Stein, takes on the Holocaust and Sept. 11 but can’t reconcile Jewish past and future.
- Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind remains as important as ever, and as misunderstood, 25 years after the 1980s culture wars. (See corresponding picture right.)
- In a new English translation of Second Person Singular, Israeli novelist Sayed Kashua gives voice to the Arab minority in the Jewish state.
Four kids from Toronto help an Israeli agent and the local police to capture to capture criminals, members of an international smuggling ring. This is the short summary of Galila Ben-Uri‘s The Missing Crown. A slightly more verbose recap would include that the four boys are around the age of 8-12 and are orthodox Jews; that they are helped by their synagogue’s shammas, who teaches them Judaism; that the Israeli agent is chasing a family heirloom, a Torah crown that was stolen from his family and belonged to a famous synagogue in Tzfat.
The “crown” is one of the words I knew in Hebrew first, so it took me a second to realize what they are talking about. “Rimonim“, also meaning pomegranate, is the ornamental top that they put on the top of Torah scroll, made of precious metal. The one which is missing in this book is made of golden and has little bells on it, that are used to smuggle diamonds. The one on the picture here is from the Brooklyn Museum.
The fast paced story was mixing lots of actions(, including car chase, subway chase, fights), planning sessions, always accompanied with eating piles of dessert and family moments. The events described took place during a summer vacation, starting with the discovery of a suspicious house. This opening reminded me of a book I read several times as a kid “Vakáció a halott utcában” (“Vacation in the dead street”) by István Csukás, but then the rest of the content of the two books diverged.
Unfortunately I found the writing boring and repetitive. The same phrases kept popping up making me feel like I was reading an episode of a 60′s family sitcom. The kids in the book and the supposed readers were both treated as a little idiots and not as developing persons. The vocabulary of the book was mostly appropriate for th 8-10 year old crowd, but every once in a while a word appeared that surely would have required explanation for the age group. The author must have known this too, because the first few times he did weave into the conversation words that shed light on the meaning of the complicated words. Later he abandoned this useful habit.
I also had problems with some of the messages of the book. Using ice-cream as the only reward for good deeds is not something I want to follow, although I can see how that can motivate kids. The fact that there were no girls amongst the kids and the adult female characters were also just footnotes in the book reminded me why I could never embrace a non-egalitarian orthodox lifestyle. I kept hoping that the stories the shammas shared with the kids would be Biblical or from classical Rabbinic literature, instead he made up parables corresponding way too directly to the kids’ current situation and they were not very captivating.
I found that the plot was enjoyable, but the author’s style and message prevented me to be able to recommend the book wholeheartedly.
The book at Amazon.com
It’s so much fun to read a book to kids that moves their imagination. Margot Zemach‘s It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale was ideal in this regard. It starts off with a problem: there are too many people living in small house, the lack of personal space causes friction between the family members. The kids I read the story to came up with all sorts of ideas of how to solve the issue. Then the story moved onto the advices the man of the house got from the rabbi: bring in the animals one by one into the house.
Any (good) story that has more than one kind of animal in it can be a hit with kids. They sure made all the animals sounds as the story moved on. Some of them even figured out the ending: when you take out the animals the limited space will feel spacious and the atmosphere will be relaxed again. The kids in my audience stayed excited though and the book encouraged them to take it a record number of books from the library where we had our story time.
A disadvantage of readings a book to a group of kids, that not all of them could see the illustrations. In this case the colored in sketches were mostly lost on them. However they enjoyed the humor and by making them talk and think about the ending I made sure that the wisdom of the story wasn’t lost on them either. It was a good experience for all. It could have been much worse.
The book at Amazon.com
Gila Almagor, the author of Under the Domim Tree, placed bits of her personal life into several characters in her first book, but most of them for the narrator, who tells the story in first person. Here are some of the basic elements that are autobiographical and define the character:
- A mother who is collapsing mentally under the weight of what happened during the Shoah.
- A father who was dead before the daughter was born.
- A group home for orphans, that includes both sabras (people born in Israel) and refugees from Europe.
The book is a coming of age story for a group of young, mostly orphan, teens living in a children’s village in Israel. The story is set in 1953, just late enough after the war that some of the children remember segments of their life in Poland and some don’t. During the course of the novel at least four of them have to revisit (and face the darker parts of) their personal history in various ways. This process helps them heal on the long turn, but is painful in the short. What helps them the most is the friendship and solidarity with the other girls and boys.
The book is probably most enjoyed by young teen girls, after all a lot of the book is dealing with hopes, dreams and aspirations of that group. I enjoyed the mix of humor, the interpersonal and group dynamics, the inspiring strength of the young people mixed with their concerns that are often prematurely adult in their nature. The Domim Tree itself stands strong as a real place and a symbol of a solid point in the universe where they can pour their heart out. With their previously transient life and recurring nightmares they sure need something like this.
Hillel Schenker’s translation (from Hebrew to English) is adequate but I got the sense that the original Hebrew might have been more poetic. The content of the book certainly allows more colorful language, although I have to keep in mind the target audience’s age. As far as I know the book’s sequel (Summer of Aviya) hasn’t been translated to English. Interesting to note that the film version of the second book (1988) came out seven years before the film version of the first book (1995). The author who is one of the most well-known actors in Israel is playing in both, although not herself.
This is a recommended book for 12-15 year olds as they can learn about problems and problem solving, the value and advantages of friendships and the importance of being honest to yourself.
The book @ Amazon.com
“Shabbos treats that grew” is a lovely little story about the unexpected outcomes of doing good deeds. Once you step on the road of paying attention to others and trying to help them the slippery slope of philanthropy may lead you increasing joy in the life of many other people. Particularly if the “pay it forward” principle gets involved, which is exactly what’s hapenning here.
The story in a nutshell: two siblings first help a kid who they notice at the store couldn’t get any treat for Shabbat, because her mother didn’t have enough money for it. Then they and their friends keep helping them with grocery, and eventually warm up the poor family’s morose landlord too. Who in turn opens up and will help the poor family even more. As you see, there are only positive characters in the book and the overall message is that helping others is a worthwhile mitzvah: it is the right thing to do, it brings you joy and it may even multiply itself in surprising directions.
The story was originally conceived by Mayer Bendet and was written for this book by Yaffa Leba Gottlieb. Miriam Lando‘s illustrations make the book lively and fun for kids who have been reading for a few years. As most pages have 5 to 15 lines of text it may not be the best for the youngest kids.
I didn’t grow up or ever lived as an orthodox Jew. Thus I am not intimately familiar with the details of the everyday life as depicted here. It is clearly set in an orthodox family and neighborhood I only encountered via literature and movies. For me this, being set in an exotic lifestyle in an regular suburb, felt slightly artificial. I assume that you are an orthodox Jew, living similarly to the people described in this book, there is no lingering surreal feeling. To me the drawing’s style enhanced this feeling. The design reminded me of the visual styles I saw in other “orthodox” publications (of other faiths) such as the Watchtower or many varieties of Bible stories for kids. I cannot pinpoint it, but they have all have a simplified, cleancut, worldview with erect, clearly black or white figures.
I loved the message of the story, but because it is not set in a world I live in, I felt alienated from its heroes.
P.s. The text of entire book can be found online here, along with small version of the accompanying images.
Ben Aronin‘s “The Secret of the Sabbath Fish” shares a folk tale about the how the first gefilte fish was ever made. According to this legend poor woman prepared it after prophet Elijah, in the guise of a fisherman, gave her a splendid fish and instructions: “Don’t fry it, Matushka. And don’t bake it. But as you prepare it, think about what has been happening to the Jewish people“. The story teaches three simple lessons:
- Even if you are poor there are always poorer people who you can help.
- The importance of being joyous and sharing joy on Sabbath.
- The history of the Jewish people included a lot of suffering, but they continued to exist.
The book pages are not numbered, but the story and the images take up 42 pages themselves. Every page. Where you open the book you will find a drawing which fills almost a whole page and in some cases both pages. The text for each double page varies between 3 and 12 lines. Therefore the book is great for 3rd and 4th graders. They may also be more receptive to Shay Rieger‘s elegant, black and white charcoal drawings than smaller children who might require more colors to hold their attention.
The advantage of folktales is that they are ageless. So even thought this book was published in 1978 it doesn’t feel outdated, because it is missing any cultural references to the age it was prepared.
Susanne Batzdorff wrote reviews of two new books that will be printed in the next AJL (Association of Jewish Libraries) newsletter, see below. She donated to the books to the library, so they will soon be available for borrowing.
Wengeroff, Pauline. Memoirs of a Grandmother; Scenes from the Cultural History of the Jews of Russia in the Nineteenth Century, Volume One. Translated with an introduction, notes and commentary by Shulamit S. Magnus. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010. xvii, 364p., illus. (ISBN 978-0-8047-6879-5).
Born in 1833 to a wealthy Jewish family in Russia, Wengeroff wrote her memoirs toward the end of the 19th century. In lavish detail she describes the life and times of the Jewish upper middle class family, with particularly loving, but at times critical attention to her own family dynamics. The observances of the holidays, especially the high holy days, Passover and Purim are described. The author reflects throughout upon the status of women and the changing mores with the advent of Haskalah, the Enlightenment and its impact upon parents and children in her family. This edition is unabridged and enhanced by more than one hundred pages of notes and a lengthy bibliography. A second volume is in preparation. Highly recommended as a scholarly but highly readable account by an articulate, intelligent woman.
Dishi, Gad. Jacob’s Family Dynamics: Climbing the Rungs of the Ladder. New York, Devora Publishing, 2010. viii,232p., illus., maps. Paperbound. $ 18.95 (ISBN 978-1-936068-08-1)
Gad Dishi, an orthodox rabbi and teacher as well as a practicing attorney living in Israel, combines his fresh insights into the biblical Jacob story with an accessible style, so that there is something new and interesting for the reader with little background as well as for the scholar. The author demonstrates, by a thorough analysis of the biblical text, that much of what we have always believed is based on assumptions and not on facts, and he teaches the reader to go back to what is in fact contained in the text and to build one’s conclusions on that basis.
It is unfortunate that the book is riddled with grammatical and stylistic errors, which could have been eliminated by careful editing. Recommended for synagogue and university libraries.
As you can read in the upcoming issue of J. Rabbi Leo Trepp passed away. Here is the beginning of his obituary
Leo Trepp, Holocaust’s longest-surviving rabbi, dies at 97
By all accounts, Leo Trepp was the world’s oldest European-born rabbi to have survived the Holocaust. With his death last weekend at age 97, he became the last.
A respected scholar, author, lecturer and promoter of interfaith understanding, Trepp called the Bay Area his home for many decades.
He played a role in the formation of three Northern California synagogues: Congrega-tion Beth El in Berkeley, Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa and Temple Beth El in Eureka. For 40 years, he served as the Jewish chaplain at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, and worked over the years to get the facility a Jewish chapel, which was named in his honor…
Our library has one book from him:
The complete book of Jewish observance
The description of the 370 pages long book 1980 is:
Here is a complete guide to Jewish observance in all its richness and diversity. More comprehensive than any other book on the subject, this encyclopedic guide presents Judaism in its totality.
With a view to enhancing life through the observance of Jewish tradition, Rabbi Leo Trepp discusses each practice as a part of a cycle – the cycle of the year, and the cycle of our lives. The customs, and the reasons behind them, are presented from the standpoint of each of the major branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.
Every aspect of Judaism is covered here:
- The Prayers: The majestic Jewish prayers and what they mean – with key passages in both Hebrew and English. Dr. Trepp discusses the beliefs and values which these prayers express, and recalls the four thousand years of history that live within them.
- Sabbath, Festivals and Fasts: How these are marked in the synagogue and the observant home – what to do, when to do it and why, and how these ceremonies have evolved since biblical and pre-biblical times.
- Rituals: The rituals of the Jewish cycle from birth to Kaddish are fully described.
- Customs, Traditions, Laws: A guide to the rules of Kashrut; how to make sense of the complicated Hebrew calendar, how to preside confidently at a family seder, how to don the traditional tallit and tefillin.
The Complete Book of Jewish Observance explains what each branch of Judaism teaches about sex, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, conversion and interfaith marriage. It describes privileges that are fought by Jewish women today but which were theirs by right in ancient Israel. It is full of little-known information: why Orthodoxy approves of the pill but rejects other forms of birth control, why it is a badge of honor to be descended from a convert, and why children of unmarried mothers are not illegitimate under Jewish law.
Comprehensive both as a practical guide and a general reference book, The Complete Book of Jewish Observance provides a wealth of information, for the practicing Jew seeking deeper understanding of his traidition, and for newcomers or non-Jews seeking basic knowledge and general understanding.
Last time I visited Budapest, my home town, I learned that there is an old velodrome, stadium for bicycle races, just a few blocks from the bus stop where I got off from the bus when I went to high school. I never knew of its existence. It opened I 1896, but has been unused for decades. (Now it functions again.) Similarly I didn’t know anything about the Velodrome d’Hiver in Paris. Tatiana de Rosnay‘s book “Sarah’s Key” brought its dark historical legacy to the foreground. Now the building would stand as a memorial to the French Jewry and as a reminder of how French policeman-not German invaders-evacuted Jews and sent them to deathcamps. But the building no longer exists.
A movie about this episode of the Holocaust premiered in France last month, titled La Rafle (The Roundup) Although that movie is based on a different book, but I thought you might enjoy its trailer:
Rosnay’s book initially runs on two threads, but they meet in the book’s middle. In our discussion group some found the two thread approach confusing, others enjoyed the intermixing of the two eras, stories. One thread was about an America journalist who lives in Paris with her French husband and pre-teen daughter. She digs herself into the story of the roundup of 28,000 Jews on July 16, 1942. Many of those who were rounded up were stationed in inhuman condition in the aforementioned velodrome for eight days and many of them were women and children. Vast majority of them were killed in Auschwitz after they stopped over in an internment camp Drancy. The other leg of the story follows one such family, more specifically Sarah, the daughter. The journalist gets obsessed with her fate and eventually tracks down that she survived the Shoah. Telling more of the story would be cheating you out of the joy or learning for yourself what happened to the protagonist and what was the secret of the key. I cannot guarantee you though that it will be a joyous discovery though.
After the two threads met in the middle the book flattened. The excitement of the anticipation of what’s going to happen was mostly gone for me, although I faithfully read the book till the end. The personal dramas covered in the second half didn’t compare to the historic ones in the first. The ending was particularly disappointing for some in our group. Nevertheless the book was educational for all us, uncovering a forgotten part of the Shoah.
The book @ Amazon.com.