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The Pat Boone Fan Club My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew

Jewish Books - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 7:00am
Author: Sue William Silverman

Gentile reader, and you, Jews, come too. Follow Sue William Silverman, a one-woman cultural mash-up, on her exploration of identity among the mishmash of American idols and ideals that confuse most of us—or should. Pat Boone is our first stop. Now a Tea Party darling, Boone once shone as a squeaky-clean pop music icon of normality, an antidote for Silverman’s own confusing and dangerous home, where being a Jew in a Christian school wasn’t easy, and being the daughter of the Anti-Boone was unspeakable. And yet somehow Silverman found her way, a “gefilte fish swimming upstream,” and found her voice, which in this searching, bracing, hilarious, and moving book tries to make sense of that most troubling American condition: belonging, but to what?

Picking apricots on a kibbutz, tramping cross-country in a loathed Volkswagen camper, appearing in a made-for-television version of her own life: Silverman is a bobby-soxer, a baby boomer, a hippy, a lefty, and a rebel with something to say to those of us—most of us—still wondering what to make of ourselves.

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The Marrying of Chani Kaufman

Jewish Books - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 7:00am
Author: Eve Harris

Review by Shira Schindel for The Jewish Book Council
Chani and Baruch do not know one another, but they are about to wed.

Baruch Levy is obedient and religious, and makes his parents proud with his keen Torah study, until the day he announces the name of the girl he’d like to court. A quick forbidden glance to the women’s section enthralled him with Chani Kaufman, and he won’t take no for an answer.

Nineteen years old and increasingly frustrated with the obligations of her Ultra-Orthodox community, Chani follows the only permissible route of escape—getting engaged. Though she finds Baruch attractive in his earnest, if fumbling, attempts at courting, she has no idea what to expect next.

As the couple navigates their path of parents, matchmakers, and mikvehs, their closest confidants and friends explore the romantic and sexual relationships possible within and without marriage. Rebbetzin Zilberman remembers the sacrifices she made for the man she loves, while Avromi explores a world previously forbidden. On the outside, these characters are obedient and true to the traditions they value, but from inside passions ignite and regrets long hidden are reawakened, no longer willing to be ignored.

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Why Tom Rachman Imagines the Child in the Corner

Jewish Books - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 7:00am
Sophomore Novel Spans Decades and Continents
By Anna Goldenberg for The Jewish Daily Forward

Before he started writing, novelist and journalist Tom Rachman had a peculiar visual image: A child being led into a room with a couple of adults who pay no special attention to her. The person who brings her there leaves, and the child sits quietly in a corner. As the hours pass, it becomes clear that nobody is going to collect her. The adults and child have to figure out what to do next.

In the end, there was “The Rise & Fall of Great Powers,” the second novel by Canadian-born Rachman, 39, whose 2010 debut “The Imperfectionists” was a bestseller that was translated into 25 languages. “The Rise & Fall” tells the story of Tooly Zylberberg, who leads a reclusive life as the owner of a bookstore in a Welsh village — until a former boyfriend contacts her, which encourages her to revisit the places in which she grew up. Having spent most of her childhood and adolescence as the forgotten child in the corner, being shuttled between countries and four enigmatic adults — socially awkward computer programmer Paul Zylberberg, Russian book lover Humphrey Ostropoler, flimsy Sarah, and crooked but warm Venn — she tries to untangle the secrets of her youth.

The novel offers vivid imagery of life across three decades and three continents, and is rich in literary references, witty dialogue and astute observations of the human psyche.

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A rememberance of Bel Kaufman, author, Up the Down Staircase

Jewish Books - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 7:00am

Bel passed away in July at age 103.  She obviously inherited much of the humor and wit of her grandfather, Sholem Aleichem.  Even at 100 she's sharp, funny and insightful.  Enjoy this talk she gave at Iona College.

The Jew Who Turned the Left Against Israel

Jewish Books - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 7:00am
A new book shows how Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky was the ancestor of the Jews who now serve in the hate-Israel movement
By Joshua Muravchik for Tablet Magazine

For the first quarter-century of its existence, Israel could count on one bastion of foreign support: the Socialist International, an agglomeration of moderate Leftist parties like the British Labour Party, the German Social Democrats, and the French Socialists. Among the world’s democracies, no country was molded more by socialist ideas than Israel, and this commanded the admiration of other socialists worldwide.

But in the 1970s, one European leader took up the mission of reversing this good opinion. He was Bruno Kreisky, the Chancellor of Austria, Vice President of the International, and one of the most memorable European politicians of his era.

By turning around the Socialists, Kreisky hoped to effect a larger transformation. “I set out to change [the] attitude on the part of the Western world” whose sympathy for Jews as a consequence of the Holocaust was, in his view “exploited by those in power in Israel in the most brutal fashion.” As he saw it, “The European parties were one-sidedly pro-Israeli, and I considered this short-sighted and dangerous.”

Remarkably, Kreisky was himself of Jewish lineage, born in 1911 to a well-to-do secular Viennese family. But he apparently felt nothing for this heritage—at least nothing positive. At age 19 or 20, he had taken the trouble to have his name stricken from the official list of Austrian Jews. A few years earlier he had become a devoted member of the Social Democratic Party, a disciple of Otto Bauer’s, the chief theoretician of Austrian Marxism.

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Jennifer Weiner On Her New Book, Her Boyfriend & Tweens With Santa Envy

Jewish Books - Mon, 07/28/2014 - 7:00am
By Cara Paiuk for Raising Kvell
Thirteen years ago, a friend gave me a book to read saying that I would love it. And I did. A curvy, Jewish girl who had a neurotic dog and is dating a doctor? Check, check, and check. I felt an immediate kinship with Cannie Shapiro and the woman who created her. With each subsequent book by Jennifer Weiner, I, and thousands of other women, fell deeper in love with her heroines and their creator.

I sat down with Jen to discuss her fantastic new book, “All Fall Down,” about a suburban mommy blogger who succumbs to an addiction to prescription meds, her boyfriend (he loves her kids!) and what makes her kvell (same thing as most of us!).

What was the hardest part of writing “All Fall Down”?

People tell me they’re reading it with their hearts in their throats because every time Allison takes a pill, it’s like, “Is this going to be the one where there’s a real bad consequence?” And the hard part for me was my dad died of an overdose. It was sort of like putting myself into that headspace of: you know you shouldn’t be doing this, you don’t really want to be doing this, but you’re addicted. So your body is telling you “no” and your brain is telling you, “Oh just one more, doesn’t matter, no big deal.” And you know, Allison puts her kid at risk, so basically, just even imagining doing it, just writing the character of a mom who’s an addict, was hard.

Do you like Allison Weiss? Is she someone you would be friends with?

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Invisible City

Jewish Books - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 7:00am
A book by Julia Dahl; Jewish Book Council

Just months after Rebekah Roberts was born, her mother, an Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, abandoned her Christian boyfriend and newborn baby to return to her religion. Neither Rebekah nor her father have heard from her since. Now a recent college graduate, Rebekah has moved to New York City to follow her dream of becoming a big-city reporter. But she’s also drawn to the idea of being closer to her mother, who might still be living in the Hasidic community in Brooklyn.

Then Rebekah is called to cover the story of a murdered Hasidic woman. Rebekah’s shocked to learn that, because of the NYPD’s habit of kowtowing to the powerful ultra-Orthodox community, not only will the woman be buried without an autopsy, her killer may get away with murder. Rebekah can’t let the story end there. But getting to the truth won’t be easy—even as she immerses herself in the cloistered world where her mother grew up, it's clear that she's not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep from an outsider.

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Meet Tom Freud, Sigmund's Famous Niece

Jewish Books - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 7:00am
You've probably heard of Lucian Freud, Sigmund Freud's grandson, and a master of 20th-century painting, but he wasn't the first member of the famous clan with visual acumen. The famous psychoanalyst's niece, Martha, who went by the name Tom Seidmann-Freud (1892-1930), was an imaginative illustrator and author whose work from the 1920s is avidly collected today.

Rendered in muted, fanciful colors and bold graphic lines, Freud's illustrations—a dream-world setting where children frolic with gentle rabbits and giant fish—are ahead of their time, with inspiration coming from as varied sources as Paul Klee, Japanese prints, and Victorian illustration. Freud eschewed decorative surface in favor of a modern vision, suggesting an infinite, somewhat surreal space. Contributing images for her own multilingual texts, as well as to those of other authors, the artist worked in pochoir, a technique that combines stenciling and painting to produce an unusual and rich tonal depth.

With her husband, Yankel Seidmann and the famed Hebrew poet, Hayim Nahman Bialik, Freud established Ophir, a publishing company which produced Hebrew children's books. Ophir's bankruptcy led to Yankel's suicide, worsening Freud's own debilitated mental state. She ended her own life two years later at the age of 38.

- Cheryl Kempler for Jewniverse

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Rivka Galchen’s Short Stories Transport Readers Into Magical Worlds

Jewish Books - Mon, 07/07/2014 - 7:00am
Israeli Writer Tells Surreal Stories of Culture Shock
By Shoshana Olidort for The Jewish Daily Forward

The stories in Rivka Galchen’s “American Innovations,” aren’t all fantastical — although a fair number include elements of magic realism and science fiction — but even the most realistic stories in this collection have a kind of magical quality about them that transports the reader into a world that feels at once real and surreal.

In “Real Estate,” the narrator moves into a haunted building where she meets a man, or imagines she meets a man, Eddy, who she will never see again. Opening her fridge, she finds not the Armenian string cheese she thought she had purchased too much of, but the apples she thought she had “only contemplated buying.” At a nearby gyro place she encounters a man who reminds her of her dead father, and whom she begins to refer to as “my dad.” She wonders: “Had I slipped through a wormhole of time?”

Galchen gives phantom and reality equal space in her stories, as if to underscore the fact that for her characters, the distinction between these two spheres is less important than the recognition that the imaginary and the actual are both a part of the experience of life. In the title story, the protagonist wakes one morning to find herself newly endowed with a third breast on her lower back. She consults a doctor, who asks a series of personal questions about the patient’s family life and emotional well-being, because, as she says, “It’s very common to manifest these things in our body… Your body speaks a language. It’s like a foreign language we all speak but have forgotten how to understand.”

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How to Write to Your Long-Lost Love, In Yiddish

Jewish Books - Mon, 06/30/2014 - 7:00am
Imagine, esteemed reader: Your son has recently arrived in America from your shtetl, and you want to warn him about the temptations of the goldene medina. But how do you find the right words in the right order to remind him to keep shabbes and not spend too much time at the theater? You need a guide—a brivnshteler.

And for those of us secure in our theater-going ways but still curious, the guide to letter-writing guides—the brivnshteler-shteler, if you will—has finally arrived. In Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl: Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America, authors Alice Nakhimovsky and Roberta Newman provide a glimpse into how Jews led "a paper life," or a life in letters. Besides teaching literacy in prestigious languages like Hebrew, Russian, and German, the brivnshteler provided a road map for any number of sensitive situations in business and personal relationships.

The most delicious part of the book is its extensive anthology of translated Yiddish letters in which recent American immigrants warn their friends back home about the hard work that awaits them, and sons thank their fathers for the advice that kept them from the theater on the day it burned to the ground. Seems safe to say that this book is one of a kind.

- Leah Falk for Jewniverse

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Bad Israeli Blood in a Holy Spanish City

Jewish Books - Mon, 06/23/2014 - 7:00am
 In master novelist A.B. Yehoshua’s most recent book, The Retrospective (published in Israel in 2011), Yair Moses, an aging Israeli film director, arrives in the holy city of Santiago de Compostela for a retrospective of his earliest work. A rotation of Spanish monks, film connoisseurs, and his frequent and troubled star, Ruth, accompanies him. But on Moses's mind is the bad blood between him and his estranged screenwriter, with whom he collaborated on the honored films, and an unusual painting hanging in his hotel room.

Characteristically, Yehoshua weaves a richly symbolic tapestry of a novel with a light hand. The question raised by the retrospective—of what early attempts a late-career artist can still believe in--occasionally comes to rest on the difference between the ideologies of the youthful Jewish state and its complex realities. Other times, Moses senses that the meaning made by his earliest films has been lost, or revised, in their translation across cultures and decades.

Made restless by this nostalgic journey, Moses seeks out his screenwriter back in Israel. As a condition of reconciliation, his old partner presents him with a director’s most difficult challenge: to emerge from behind the camera, relinquish his control, and become a subject.

- Leah Falk for Jewniverse

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Top 12 Summer Reads of 2014

Jewish Books - Mon, 06/16/2014 - 7:00am
By Jordana Horn

Welcome to the Third Annual Jordana Horn Summer Reading List! This list is by no means conclusive, but it’s a list of books I’ve read in the past six months that I thought were particularly terrific. Please put your own ideas and suggestions for great reads in the comments, and friend me on GoodReads (I’m “Jordana Horn Gordon” there) so we can keep talking books, which I love passionately. Without further ado, here are some great reads that should sit on your shelf or device this summer, in no particular order.

1. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris

This one is demanding and intellectually ambitious, but well worth your time. It’s the story of dentist Paul O’Rourke, who is bored with his life, dental practice, and his relationship to the world at large–until his online identity begins to be recreated by strangers. These strangers claim to be the descendants of Amalekites, the ancient enemy of the Jewish people–which is interesting enough without including the fact that they claim that Paul is one of them, and he just might believe them. This is a book about identity–what it means to be part of a people and a person. It’s jaw-droppingly good.

2. When It Happens To You, by Molly Ringwald

I didn’t want to read this one at first, because, really? Wasn’t it enough that you were the star of “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club,” Molly Ringwald? Let well enough alone, lady. Well, apparently it wasn’t, because Ringwald is actually a kickass writer as well. I stand corrected. This book of interlocking short stories, in which each story ties in through threads of characters to the one before it, is really enjoyable. It’s a clever, well-written exploration of humans and human nature, and all the greater for being such a pleasant surprise.

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Summer 2014 Jewish Book Preview

Jewish Books - Mon, 06/09/2014 - 7:00am
From the Jewish Book Council

Now that almost all of the books from our spring preview are available at your local bookstore, we're picking up where the last JBC Bookshelf left off with a few highlights from the summer list. We're excited to share a peek into next season's books! Look out for a biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe from Rabbi Joseph Telushkin; the next Jewish Book World book club pick, Boris Fishman's A Replacement Life; a fascinating history of two scientists who used their work toward a cure for typhus to sabotage the Nazis; Stephanie Feldman's novel, The Angel of Losses, described as The Tiger's Wife meets History of Love; and a slew of other great books.

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An Ode to Salonika: The Ladino Verses of Bouena Sarfatty

Jewish Books - Mon, 06/02/2014 - 7:00am
Review by Laurel Corona for jewishbookcouncil.org 

Readers picking up Renee Levine Melammed’s An Ode to Salonika: The Ladino Verses of Bouena Sarfatty expecting to find an undiscovered Keats or Dickinson may be disappointed, but those wanting insight into the world of Greek Jews before, during, and after the Holocaust are likely to find this unique work well worth their time. Melammed divides the book into two sections, providing a biographical, historical, and so­ciological essay to introduce Bouena’s poems about Salonika before the war. A second essay discussing the Holocaust and the aftermath introduces the second set of poems. These succinct, well written essays give the reader a sense of the culture and dynamic of this part of the Sephardic diaspora, spreading outward from Bouena Sarfatty’s personal story, to that of her town, and to Greece as a whole.

Readers unfamiliar with the tradition of “coplas” may find the poems a bit odd and even “unpoetic.” The traditional copla is an im­provised verse, typically praising or poking fun at a neighbor or commenting on something happening in the village, and ending with a toast to an individual, most often not even alluded to in the poem. “At the balls there is a dance card./ The boys write which dance they are going to dance./ If the girl has a lot of money, everyone waits his turn./ Let us drink to the health of Salomon Amar.” Most of Sarfatty’s 413 coplas in the first collection and 99 in the second follow this tradition, creating such a sense of intimacy with the town that readers will want to raise a glass in toast to people who have come to feel like their own neighbors.

Sarfatty’s tone is ironic, amused, sardonic, and tender in the first collection. In the second half, anger, horror, and bewilderment oc­casionally cause her to abandon the tradi­tional copla style altogether. Collaborators, particularly the Ashkenazic rabbi (an outsider who never bothered to learn Ladino and manipulates the situation to save his own life at the expense of other Jews) and Hasson (a neighbor turned thuggish enforcer for the Nazis), are frequent targets of her outrage. The last coplas were written after the war, as Sarfatty reflects on what was lost and the magnitude of the tragedy.

Those interested in Ladino will also enjoy the layout of this book, with Ladino versions of the coplas on the verso side and English translations by Melammed on the recto side.

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Ruth: A Shavuot Story from Treasures of the Heart

Jewish Books - Mon, 05/26/2014 - 7:00am
Diane Wolkstein

Treasures of the Heart is a unique rendition of stories in the Hebrew Bible that are part of the foundation of Judaism and Western literature. Structured according to the Jewish calendar, Diane Wolkstein retells various stories that are traditionally read on each holliday. Below is the story of Ruth, which is read on Shavuot as an example of committment and devotion.

Where You Go, I Will Go

When the judges ruled Israel, there was chaos and terrible corruption in the land. There was no king and the people did as they wished. During this time, there was a famine, and a wealthy man named Elimelech left Bethlehem with his wife, Naomi and their two sons. They might have stayed to help their own people, but the husband, Elimelech, chose to go to the land of Moab, even though the Moabites had been enemies of Israel.

Soon after they settled in Moab, Elimelech died, and his wife, Naomi, was left alone with her two sons. The sons married Ruth and Orpah, daughters of Eglon, the king of Moab. Naomi welcomed her daughters-in-law. She rejoiced and danced at their weddings, but then misfortune struck the family--ten years of misfortune. Their horses died; their donkeys died; their camels died. They had no children. Then Naomi's sons both died, and she was left poor and bereft, a widow in a foreign land.

One day when Naomi was working in the fields, she overheard a wandering peddler telling the workers that God had remembered Judah. There was bread again in Bethlehem, and the famine was over. At once, Naomi left the fields where she had been working and the place where she had been living and set out barefoot for Judah. Her two daughters-in-law accompanied her.

After they had gone a short distance, Naomi stopped. She turned to her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. She embraced them and said, "Thank you for accompanying me on my way, but now, each of you return to your own mother's house. How can I thank you? When your husbands died, you might have run after other men, but you stayed and comforted me, you fed and supported me. May God care for you with as much hesed, kindness, as you have shown to me. And may you be blessed with comfort and peace in the homes of new husbands."

Again Naomi kissed them. Standing on the road, the three women raised their voices and wept loudly, realizing that if Naomi went on to Judah and the younger women went back to Moab, they would never see one another again. Suddenly, the two younger women protested, saying, "No. We will go with you to your people."

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Fiction Meets Reality in Croatian Novel About Nazi's Son

Jewish Books - Mon, 05/19/2014 - 7:00am
Dasa Drndic's Work Invites Comparisons With 'War and Peace'
By Todd Gitlin for The Jewish Daily Forward
In Gorizia, near Trieste, near Italy’s border with Slovenia, an 83-year-old woman named Haya Tedeschi has been waiting 62 years — since 1944 — for the return of her abducted little boy, Antonio. For years she has been collecting shards of the history that surrounds her life story — writing notes, collecting old, cracked photos and news clippings, rearranging them “as if shuffling a pack of cards.” The promise of this grave, staggering book by the Croatian writer Daša Drndić is that we will eventually get to the bottom of a mystery. We will find out not only what became of Tedeschi’s son but why, as his mother awaits him, she remains “wildly calm.”

“Her story is a small one,” Drndić writes, but a necessary one, for Tedeschi, a mathematics teacher, knows that if she succeeds in “sweeping away the underbrush of her memory,” her testimony will take its place in “a vast cosmic patchwork,” and some truth might emerge about the grotesquely unnerving history she’s lived through.

Tedeschi’s forebears were citizens of the republic of displacement. They spoke Italian, German and Slovenian. Their saga begins long before 1944, in the southern reaches of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand pays a visit not long before heading for Sarajevo in 1914. From there, the saga bulges out in many directions, heading forward, backward and sideways, folding back upon itself more than once, swelling into a boundless weave of facts and inventions, so that everything in Tedeschi’s story touches a million other stories in a delirium through which a historical sequence pokes out, like bones.

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