Jewish Book Council
Congratulations to the awardees of the 2017 Natan Book Award at the Jewish Book Council! We're excited for the conversations their books will spark around issues of Jewish life, Jewish community, and Jewish identity.
By Nat Bernstein, Jewish Book Council
Back when we first started the Eight Nights of Stories series here on The ProsenPeople, I mentioned a childhood friend’s family tradition of gathering to hear stories read aloud by the light of the shamash after lighting the other candles each night of Chanukah. (You should read it, really, it is a lovely post. There’s a Harry Potter reference in there for the true fans and everything.)
That same childhood friend is about to be a published author. His debut novel, Anna and the Swallow Man, comes out January 2016 from A. A. Knopf, and friends, it is a very, very good book. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either: Jewish Book Council’s entire staff has been coveting our shared advance copies since they arrived from the editor, and laudatory reviews are beginning to roll in across the publishing playground.
Want more great Hanukkah ideas? Find articles, crafts, and recipes in our Hanukkah Guide.
By Phyllis Chesler for Tablet Magazine
But the theft and erasure of Sabina Spielrein’s intellectual legacy by the psychoanalytic establishment may be an even more troubling crime
In August 2012, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, a protest took place critiquing a plaque that memorialized the 27,000 “citizens” who were systematically shot in a two-day massacre by the Nazis during World War II. Russian officials had removed the original plaque, which had honored the mostly Jewish victims, and replaced it with a revisionist plaque honoring only “citizens.” The precious Jewish souls, the doctors, lawyers, poets, scientists, librarians; all the parents, children, and grandparents, murdered specifically on account of their ancestry—were gone, literally overnight. Among them was Dr. Sabina Spielrein, the pioneer psychoanalyst, a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, the first child psychoanalyst in the world, (yes, even before Anna Freud), and the founder of Moscow’s Psychoanalytic Clinic.
Jeremy Dauber for Jewish Book Council
Writing a history of Jewish comedy, trying to cover everything—or at least a representative sample of everything—from the Bible to Twitter, was a daunting, though admittedly fun, task. One of the questions I got asked most frequently when I told people what I was working on was, “What is Jewish humor, anyway?” Or, put another way, “What makes comedy Jewish comedy?”
Luckily, now I have a pretty easy answer to that question—“I wrote a book giving my best answer; feel free to purchase on Amazon or at local stores”—but over this week, as a Visiting Scribe™ for the Prosen People, I wanted to try to give three different perspectives on that question. And I wanted to do it through looking at three Jewish jokes: jokes that I find deeply, almost ineffably, Jewish, even though their origins may come from elsewhere, or they could be easily told in other contexts.
So here goes, with joke number one. It’s set in medieval times.
By Yoel Finkelman and Ofir Haim for Jewish Review of Books
A Collection of Long-Lost Manuscripts Sheds Light on Medieval Afghan Jewry
A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah sometime in the 11th century, a distraught, young Jewish Afghan young man named Yair sent a painful letter to his brother-in-law, Abu-al-Hasan Siman Tov. Life had dealt Yair a tough hand, or maybe it was just his own bad choices. Having failed in business in his hometown of Bamiyan, rumors were now spreading that he had “broken promises . . . regarding property” and that he did not truly “observe the Sabbath.” Leaving these problems behind him, he had left his young wife to move some 150 miles to Ghazni and begin anew.
But even there he struggled to make a living. More importantly, he missed his family. “Anyone who marries a woman brings peace to his own mind, as it is for all people, not so that I will be sitting in Ghazni and she in Bamiyan.” But, with business doing so poorly, Yair could barely make ends meet on a day-to-day basis, let alone afford the costs of travel.
BY SANDEE BRAWARSKY for The Jewish Week
An espionage thriller that’s also an allegory, magical realist tale, love story, tragedy and an impassioned cry for peace wrapped in one.
In a dark prison cell somewhere in the Negev, a cell that doesn’t exist in any written record, Prisoner Z spends endless days alone, with his guard. In “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” (Knopf), Nathan Englander artfully spins a complex twist of stories of how this yeshiva-educated boy from Long Island ends up as an Israeli spy, living many lives undercover in Paris and Berlin, and then condemned to this cell.
The novel is intensely engaging in many ways: It is an espionage thriller, and it is also an allegory, a magical realist tale, a love story, a tragedy and an impassioned cry for peace, its many shifts of scene laced with material from Englander’s own life and moments of humor too.
Carol Zoref is the author of Barren Island, which was Longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction. Earlier this week, she wrote about communal sin and collective responsibility in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre. She is blogging here all week as part of Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.
What books of Jewish interest or by Jewish authors are currently on your nightstand?
Nicole Krauss’s Forest Dark, in anticipation of hearing her speak at the 92nd Street Y with Jenny Erpenbeck. As soon as I finish the Krauss novel, I will dive into Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone, which was recently translated from German by Susan Bernofsky—they are a trifecta of smart writers/translators. In nonfiction, Enraged: Why Violent Times Need Ancient Greek Myths by Emily Katz Anhalt. Anhalt, a classics scholar, shines light on how the Greeks struggled with human violence and the desire for moral evolution.
What’s the last great book you read?
By Adam Dickter for Hadassah Magazine
Isra Isle: A Novel By Nava Semel. Translated by Jessica Cohen
In the course of modern Jewish history, there were several visions for a Jewish national home other than Theodor Herzl’s dream of Israel in historic biblical land. In the early 1900s, for example, in response to pogroms in Russia, the British proposed annexing a slice of Uganda for the Jews—a nonstarter. Even more absurd was Mordechai Manuel Noah’s concept of a Jewish homeland as “Ararat City,” to be located in the gray mist of Niagara Falls, where he had purchased Grand Island, poised between the United States and Canadian borders. Noah (1785 to 1851) was an influential American diplomat and journalist, but, ultimately, he couldn’t rally much enthusiasm for an “Isra Isle” while world Jewry dreamed of a return to Jerusalem. (Michael Chabon envisioned another alternate home for Jews in Sitka, Alaska, in his book The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.)
Review by AJ Frost for Jewish Book Council
Roz Chast’s breezy and winsome jaunt, Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York, prides itself on not being a “definitive guidebook,” nor an “insider’s guide,” nor a “history book.” Rather, it is a deceptively rich rumination of New York as it exists today, an animated investigation into the heart of what makes New York such an indelible beacon of opportunity. In her inimitable cartoon style, so often a highlight in each week’s New Yorker, Chast breaks down what it’s like to live in the Big Apple.
Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting by Danya Ruttenberg
By Naomi M. Gruer for Hadassah Magazine
In her new book, Nurture the Wow, Conservative Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg explores the mundane and mystical, frustrating and fascinating, physical and philosophical aspects of raising children. Using self-deprecating humor and situations from her own life, Ruttenberg ties the act of parenting to the practice of prayer and spirituality. She also questions preconceived and deeply embedded notions of how to be spiritual. “It’s possible that our kids can be important teachers who help us better find the doorways to the transcendent,” she writes.
BY GARY ROSENBLATT for The Jewish Week
Haroon Moghul’s ‘How to Be a Muslim’ explores his struggles with his religion and inner demons.
HHaroon Moghul’s powerful new memoir, “How to Be a Muslim: An American Story” (Beacon Press), is not a how-to manual for religious practice — far from it. Rather, it’s a searing, intimate portrait of a brilliant but troubled young man struggling with spiritual, psychological and physical challenges while trying to balance a commitment to his religion’s tenets and succeed in a secular society.
He happens to be Muslim, but his story is as universal in appeal as it is particular in its details. At times funny and at times painfully raw, the book reads like a confessional — an extended exercise in self-reflection shared with the public as a cautionary tale.
Devorah Baum for Jewish Book Council
Grace Paley – Collected Stories
Everyone should read Grace Paley. She deals with tough stuff with wit, vitality and grace and she tempers what many would consider tragic storylines with an insistence that where there is life there can always be ‘enormous changes at the last minute’. Unlike the dominant male voices in American Jewish letters, who’ve tended to resist the labeling of either themselves or their fictions as Jewish, Grace Paley showed no such commitment phobia: “I like being Jewish” she once – shockingly – said.
Hélène Cixous – Reveries of the Wild Woman, Primal Scenes
Review by Inger Saphire-Bernstein for Jewish Book Council
Two companion collections of short stories edited by Lavie Tidhar and Rebecca Levene explore interactions or collisions between Jews and aliens and Jews and zombies, respectively. The editors invited accomplished science fiction writers to submit new stories related to the open-ended themes. Inclusion of Jews (or Judaism), aliens and/or zombies were the only expectations. As a result, the stories vary widely in subject matter, accessibility, and tone.
Jewish Book Council
Every month, JBC Book Clubs offers weekly email subscribers a dedicated email with special book club features that will enhance a book club or add to your personal reading experience.
Whether your book club is formal or informal; social or educational; interested in reading only books of Jewish content, just a few Jewish books throughout the year, or good literature that happens to have Jewish themes, JBC has a book for you and the resources to take you to the next level.
By Leah F. Finkelshteyn for Hadassah Magazine
Jewish in America is a work of history that is as much about the future as it is about the past. In much of the book, author Richard Rubin details American Jewish history from colonial times to the present, highlighting the uniqueness of the American Jewish experience. He deftly intersperses his own experience with anti-Semitism—as a child, when applying to college and while serving in the army in the mid-20th century—with historical observation and social science data.
By Sharon Leder for Jewish Book Council
Sharon Leder is the author of the recently published novel The Fix: A Father's Secrets, A Daughter's Search. She will be blogging here all week for the Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.
I had the privilege in 2008 of teaching a seminar at the Wellfleet Library on Cape Cod on the father-daughter relationship in Jewish literature. The American Library Association sponsored the program, “A Mind of Her Own: Fathers and Daughters in a Changing World.” My teaching American Pastoral by Philip Roth, Tevye the Dairyman by Sholem Aleichem, Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska, O My America! by Johanna Kaplan, and Bee Season by Myla Goldberg helped me find my own character, Sara Katz, eight years later. And in May 2017, my revised novel, The Fix: A Father’s Secrets, A Daughter’s Search was published by KiCam Projects.