By Kathy Bloomfield. This article has been reprinted with permission from InterfaithFamily
When I was a girl, I spent many weekends at my grandmother’s house. She had a HUGE walnut tree in the center of her backyard. The neighborhood kids and my siblings and I, like most children, used sheets, blankets, benches and the like to create tents, tunnels and fortresses under the branches of that tree. From there we would enter the fantastic worlds of our imagination, gathering food for our children (i.e. walnuts for the dolls), walking through the desert (i.e. my grandmother’s cactus garden) or searching for magic globes (i.e. fruit from her avocado tree). The walnut tree was the starting point of every journey and the center of most of our larger family gatherings.
Find some great ideas on JvillageNetwork's Pinterest page.
Spy games, catch-67s, lionesses, smugglers, patriots, setting suns, and more.
To mark the close of 2017, we asked a handful of our writers to name the best two or three books they read this year, and briefly to explain their choices. Their answers are below. (All books were published in 2017 unless otherwise noted.)
Misagh Parsa, Democracy in Iran: Why It Failed and How It Might Succeed (Harvard, 416pp., $45). This history of the Islamic Republic is a reminder that the ayatollahs have been at war with the people of Iran since 1979. It is therefore also a reminder of whose side America must be on in that conflict.
Jewish Book Council
Aside from the book and your friends, asking questions about what you’ve read is, obviously, a key to any good book club. The right questions can keep your book club lively and engaged (and avoid any awkward silences). And since no one wants to sit through a book club discussion that is halting and uninspiring, we have discussion questions available for all of the titles below, plus some general questions that you can use to start a conversation on any book. CLICK BELOW for the complete selection of discussion questions.
Rachel Lynn Solomon for Jewish Book Council
Growing up, I only saw Jewish protagonists in Holocaust literature. The kind of books I loved—realistic YA—occasionally had a main character with a Jewish friend, but that was it.
While I don’t believe we should ever stop writing about the Holocaust, for a long time, that was the only narrative I thought we had as Jewish people. People like me didn’t get to be protagonists. For a while, this stuck in my mind: the first four manuscripts I wrote before my debut, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, had no Jewish characters.
But there is so much richness to explore in a modern setting that hasn’t been explored nearly enough. The following novels feature my favorite representations of Judaism in contemporary realistic YA.
By Alexander Aciman for Tablet Magazine
Bookworm: Jacob M. Appel’s life-affirming elderly suicide novel ‘Millard Salter’s Last Day’ is a highwire act balancing tragedy and comedy
Hidden beneath a perplexingly nondescript book jacket is one of the best novels of 2017, Millard Salter’s Last Day by Jacob M. Appel. Millard Salter is a wry old New Yorker who after 75 mostly satisfying years wakes up on his birthday determined to leave the party fashionably early. With the exception of a single dodo son, Millard’s children are successful, his practice as a shrink is in good shape, and the state of his love life means he has likely contributed to the growing STI epidemic among senior citizens. What better moment to commit suicide?
Jewish Book Council
Today, Brenda Janowitz, author of The Dinner Party, tells us about the book that she couldn't put down.
When asked about my favorite books of all time, books that have moved me, books that I come back to over and over again, it’s a long list. After all, I love reading, and I’ve been an avid reader my entire life. In the second grade, I was dubbed “The Bookworm” by my teacher, Mrs. Pepper, and I can’t say that much has changed for me. I’m now the author of five novels, and I can still always be found with a book in my hand. Or on my desk. Or in my car. In addition to writing, I’m the PopSugar Books Consultant, so now, reading and recommending books is my job.
When someone asks me about my favorite books, there’s one book I always recommend. It’s a book that my best friend gave to me when I was in law school. At the time, I had my head firmly planted inside law books all day long and had very little time for pleasure reading. She asked me if I’d ever read Elinor Lipman before, and when I shook my head no, pressed a copy of The Inn at Lake Devine into my hands.
Neil Rogachevsky Neil Rogachevsky
A new biography brings to life a leader of few words who accomplished much with the ones she had, and reminds us how much of her Zionist perseverance remains intact today.
One of God’s less charitable epithets for the children of Israel in the desert is am k’shey oref: a “stiff-necked” people. Yet some biblical scholars have seen the phrase as a kind of backhanded compliment. Rigidity, myopia, lack of imagination are hardly admirable traits; but when expressed as fastidiousness, perseverance, single-minded devotion to a worthy goal, mightn’t there be something to say for them?
This, at any rate, is the label that repeatedly comes to mind for the subject of Francine Klagsbrun’s Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel, a mammoth, meticulously researched, and engaging biography of Israel’s fourth prime minister. Golda, as she was universally known, was a famously stiff-necked individual if ever there was one.
By RENEE GHERT-ZAND for The Times of Israel
In 'It's All Relative,' A.J. Jacobs takes an amusing deep dive into genealogy, genetics, and family history
A.J. Jacobs said he was going to do it. And he did.
True to his promise, Jacobs pulled off the first-ever Global Family Reunion on June 6, 2015. It took months of planning, and wrangling celebrity cousins to help publicize the event. Ultimately some 3,800 people showed up at the main site in Queens, New York, with another approximately 6,500 taking part via 44 simultaneous reunions around the world, for a grand total of more than 10,000 attendees.
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.