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Jewish Journal

Jonathan Kirsch

  • Carter, Begin and Sadat — Nostalgia for hope of peace

    6 days ago

    Lawrence Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker, is attracted to moments of high drama and historical significance. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his account of Osama Bin Laden and the events of Sept. 11 in “The Looming Tower,” for example, and he penetrated the inner workings of...

  • Three books, three opinions about The Lubavitcher Rebbe

    September 23, 2014 | 2:48 pm

    The 20th anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (1902-1994) has inspired no fewer than three new biographies, a fact that attests to his enduring importance even outside the Chasidic community he led for four decades. Even more telling, however, is the fact that he is...

  • Jules Feiffer’s ‘Kill My Mother’: You’ll Die Laughing

    September 17, 2014 | 3:41 pm

    Last week, I happened to catch the 1971 movie “Little Murders,” adapted by Jules Feiffer from his stage play. It’s a black comedy, mordant but full of insight into the American psyche and the zeitgeist of the era, and it reminded me of the role that Feiffer, and especially his...

  • Portrait of a very human King David

    September 10, 2014 | 9:15 am

    When Jews gather to pray, we invoke the Patriarchs and, in some synagogues, the Matriarchs, the Prophets and Mosheh Rabbenu.  The glorious King David, by contrast, is mostly mentioned in connection with the Psalms, whose authorship is attributed to him in pious Jewish tradition....

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  • The making of a beloved ‘Tradition’ with Barbara Isenberg

    September 3, 2014 | 2:20 pm

    Thanks to Barbara Isenberg and her effervescent and entertaining new book, “Tradition! The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World’s Most Beloved Musical” (St. Martin’s Press), the soundtrack to “Fiddler” is back on...

  • ‘Woody on Rye’: Jewishness in the works of Woody Allen

    August 20, 2014 | 1:41 pm

    A few years ago, I discovered that there is actually something called The Big Lebowski Studies, a tongue-in-cheek academic discipline wholly devoted to a single Coen brothers movie (and, if I may say so, hardly their best movie). Yet, as far as I have been able to tell, no such...

  • Understanding the Holocaust: ‘Why the Germans? Why the Jews?’

    August 6, 2014 | 3:51 pm

    The Jew-haters among us, as recent headlines out of France and Belgium have reminded us, reach without interruption all the way back to antiquity. Still, the worst-case scenario of genocide in general and the mass murder of Jews in particular is what happened during the Shoah. And...

  • ‘The Lion’s Gate’: Firsthand accounts of the Six Day War

    July 23, 2014 | 1:05 pm

    From a distance of a half-century, the Six Day War looks very different indeed from what is happening today on the Gaza border, but “The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War” by Steven Pressfield (Sentinel) is a kind of companion reader for those of us who are...

  • The true story of how scientists battled Typhus and sabotaged the Nazis

    July 9, 2014 | 10:29 am

    By now, of course, we know full well that the Holocaust is a bottomless pit. More than a half-century after the liberation of the last camp, new and wholly unsuspecting tales of both suffering and redemption continue to reach us. “The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two...

  • Turning the Shtetl’s image upside down

    June 20, 2014 | 2:16 pm

    The biggest challenge that Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern faces in “The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe” (Princeton University Press) is that he is working against more than a century of sentiment and nostalgia, a kind of collective fantasy that reached its...

  • Thrilling days of yesteryear

    June 11, 2014 | 11:26 am

    Nothing links the three books described below except that each, in its own way, is so charming that I couldn’t resist opening it up and, having done so, couldn’t put it down.

    One of the treasures of American-Yiddish journalism was “A Bintel Brief” (“A Bundle of Letters”), an...

  • World of adventure for the bookshelf

    May 28, 2014 | 2:16 pm

    The summer season offers some remarkable opportunities for face-to-face encounters with authors who are celebrated not merely for their celebrity but for the quality of their written work. To be sure, Kendall Jenner will be touting “Rebels: City of Indra: The Story of Lex and...

  • Turan’s pick of pics

    May 28, 2014 | 10:21 am

    Film critic Kenneth Turan grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950s in an observant home, which means that he did not often enjoy a Saturday matinee at the Lowe’s Pitkin or the Brandt’s Sutter. “That said, I do have a vivid memory of sneaking out to see a vibrant, cleft-chinned Kirk Douglas...

  • An audaciously simplistic plan

    May 14, 2014 | 3:23 pm

    Caroline B. Glick, meet Ali Abunimah.

    Glick advocates a one-state solution to the long-festering conflict between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs in “The Israeli Solution: A One State Plan for Peace in the Middle East” (Crown, $25), a much-talked-about book that purports to offer...

  • The making of a real spy

    May 14, 2014 | 11:23 am

    Our idea of what spies actually do is deeply tainted by a century or so of novels and movies, some better than others but all of them fictional. “The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames” by Kai Bird (Crown, $26), by contrast, is the real thing.  And yet, for all of its...

  • Secret Schalit negotiations unveiled

    April 16, 2014 | 1:10 pm

    Back in 2006, a 19-year-old Israeli soldier named Gilad Schalit was the victim of a weapon of disequilibrium.

    Since Hamas could not defeat the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in open battle, their operatives entered Israel through an underground tunnel from Gaza, snatched the young...

  • Delving into the mystery of mortality

    April 2, 2014 | 2:11 pm

    Sara Davidson is a best-selling memoirist (“Joan: Forty Years of Life, Loss and Friendship with Joan Didion”), a biographer (“Rock Hudson: His Story”), and an astute observer of our culture (“Loose Change: Three Women of the Sixties”). In her compelling new book, “The December...

  • Butterflies are free

    March 19, 2014 | 2:24 pm

    The exotic byways of history have provided the settings for Dora Levy Mossanen’s previous fiction, including the sizzling “Harem” and “Courtesan” and the magical “The Last Romanov.” Her new novel, “Scent of Butterflies” (Sourcebooks, $14.99), is still a work of exotica, but in a...

  • The Arab Spring’s missed opportunity

    March 6, 2014 | 9:41 am

    Walid Phares, born and educated in Lebanon, is an experienced observer of events in what he calls “the Greater Middle East.” But perhaps his most telling credentials are found in the fact that he served as a foreign affairs advisor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney...

  • Awarding a Broadway ‘Wonder’

    February 26, 2014 | 3:28 pm

    Few figures of popular culture are quite so beloved or beguiling as the character of Tevye, the pious but philosophical dairyman who reached his most celebrated incarnation in the Broadway hit musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” Yet Tevye himself and the musical in which he is showcased...

  • 1950s ‘Cool,’ with a side of loss

    February 21, 2014 | 3:37 pm

    Leo Braudy is a distinguished scholar at USC whose work focuses on the entertainment industry and other artifacts of popular culture.  His previous books range from “The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History” to “The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon.” But...

  • John B. Judis and the ‘Genesis’ of the Arab/Israeli conflict

    February 12, 2014 | 6:27 pm

    The struggle for Israel’s survival is a far more complex and nuanced matter than the readers of Tom Friedman’s short takes in the New York Times might suspect.  By contrast, John B. Judis, a senior editor at The New Republic, digs deeply into history, politics and diplomacy to...

  • Twisted tale of Demjanjuk

    February 12, 2014 | 3:22 pm

    Among Nazi war criminals who have faced justice, ranging from Hermann Goering to Adolf Eichmann, we find John Demjanjuk, who was charged with participating in the murder of 29,060 Jews as a guard at the Sobibor concentration camp. Unlike the more notorious Nazis, Demjanjuk actually...

  • The twisted tale of John Demjanjuk

    February 6, 2014 | 10:33 am

    Among Nazi war criminals who have faced justice, ranging from Hermann Goering to Adolf Eichmann, we find John Demjanjuk, who was charged with participating in the murder of 29,060 Jews as a guard at the Sobibor concentration camp. Unlike the more notorious Nazis, Demjanjuk actually...

  • Born loving Stalin, raised to revere Roth

    January 29, 2014 | 3:46 pm

    The key to Gary Shteyngart’s best-selling novels can be found in the title of his second book: “Absurdistan.” His genius manifests in the making of imaginary people and places that are slightly cracked versions of the real world, and he brings a wry and ironic sense of humor to the...

  • Growing up Jewish in post-WWII Germany

    January 9, 2014 | 4:12 pm

    Yascha Mounk’s “Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26) starts on an ironic note and stays there. Two decades after the end of World War II, when the latest wave of official anti-Semitism swept over Communist-ruled Poland in...

  • Archaeology, truth, Jerusalem

    January 3, 2014 | 2:06 pm

    Archaeology is more than a science when it comes to Jerusalem, a place where the turn of the spade may reveal an artifact that has political and theological overtones. Katharina Galor and Hanswulf Bloedhorn, authors of “The Archeology of Jerusalem: From the Origins to the Ottomans”...

  • Jews and Muslims, their common threads

    December 19, 2013 | 5:07 pm

    The encounter between Jews and Muslims, which began during the lifetime of Mohammed, has never been without tensions and conflicts, perhaps never more so than today.  “A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations: From the Origins to the Present Day” (Princeton University Press, $75),...

  • Three different ‘Family’ ways

    December 12, 2013 | 1:25 pm

    Word of mouth is the real maker of best sellers in the publishing world, and I can think of few books with quite as much buzz as David Laskin’s remarkable family chronicle, “The Family: Three Journeys Into the Heart of the Twentieth Century” (Viking, $32).

    Laskin tells a story —...

  • Warsaw’s other uprising

    December 4, 2013 | 6:34 pm

    For most Jewish readers, I suspect, the phrase “Warsaw uprising” refers to the stirring last stand of the Jewish ghetto fighters in 1943.  But there was quite another upwelling of armed resistance in Warsaw a year later, and that’s the focus of “Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler and the...

  • Eight books to light your Chanukah season

    November 27, 2013 | 12:12 pm

    The early arrival of Chanukah coincides with Jewish Book Month, which suggests a convenient shopping list for gift-giving. Here are eight books I am planning to give this year to the book lovers among my family, friends and colleagues. Some of these books already have been reviewed...

  • After the fall

    November 27, 2013 | 11:47 am

    Perhaps no single Bible story is quite as familiar as the fateful encounter in the Garden of Eden between God, Adam and Eve, and that damned snake, an episode that entered Western theology as “the Fall.” It may appear to be a kind of biblical fairytale, but Ziony Zevit reveals the...

  • Financial planning for a move to Israel

    November 21, 2013 | 2:44 pm

    What I know about Israel comes from a variety of sources, including the news and commentary in this newspaper, countless books, my own experiences as a traveler to Israel, and the Facebook postings of my friends who live there. But the information and insights in “A Financial Guide...

  • Herschel Grynszpan: ‘The Boy Avenger’

    November 7, 2013 | 4:29 pm

    Like stills from a film noir, the black-and-white photographs of a 17-year-old boy named Herschel Grynszpan that have come down to us — police mug shots, newspaper photos, a souvenir snapshot taken at a Paris street fair — capture the various faces that he presented to the public...

  • 2 authors, 2 takes on Jewish humor and theology

    October 30, 2013 | 12:53 pm

    Jewish humor and Jewish theology share something in common. I can think of any number of jokes whose punch lines say something profound about God (“Work with me here — buy a ticket!”). And we need only consult the Torah to discover how the matriarch Sarah responded when God...

  • Q&A with Alan Dershowitz

    October 15, 2013 | 3:55 pm

    No one can accuse the ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz of understatement, but the subtitle of his new autobiography, “Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law” (Crown, $28), is a bit misleading. It’s true that Dershowitz’s claim to fame began with his work on a long list of famous cases, but...

  • Hollywood and Hitler: A book review

    October 9, 2013 | 3:20 pm

    It’s rare that a book garners as much pre-publication publicity as has Ben Urwand’s “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact With Hitler” (Belknap Press, $26.95). Even more unusual, however, is the backlash that greeted the book now that it is actually available to read.

    “Perhaps I’m...

  • ‘Fiddler’ makes the world richer

    October 3, 2013 | 4:42 pm

    On a visit to Budapest earlier this year, my wife and I asked the concierge at our hotel for a restaurant where we could find authentic Hungarian fare.  As we took our seats in the bustling little place he recommended, I was encouraged to see a house band tucked away in the corner,...

  • The consequences of Israel's contradictory dreams

    September 24, 2013 | 4:27 pm

    The stirring scene that opens “Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation,” by Yossi Klein Halevi (Harper, $35), is a flashback to the night of June 6, 1967, when the 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade of the Israel Defense...

  • The Jewish Jane Austen

    September 18, 2013 | 12:22 pm

    One of the remarkable things about Ruchama King Feuerman’s second novel, “In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist” (New York Review of Books, $9.99) is the fact it is only available as an ebook in the NYRB Lit series.  Such is the fate of literary fiction nowadays, and it remains to be...

  • Kafka — demystifying the man behind the “Kafkaesque” mystique

    September 12, 2013 | 12:12 pm

    Franz Kafka has entered our language as an adjective — “Kafkaesque” is applied nowadays to almost anything that strikes us as senseless or surreal — but the man himself remains obscure. Saul Friedlander’s short biography in Yale’s Jewish Lives series, “Kafka: The Poet of Shame and...

  • Politics, poetry & pop: An Autumn of literary options

    September 6, 2013 | 2:47 pm

    This fall’s book season brings forth an unusually rich and provocative crop of new works by famous and revered authors, some for children and some for adults, some from abroad, but many from right here in Southern California.

    Among the brightest literary lights in Los Angeles is...

  • Power of Yizkor

    September 3, 2013 | 12:40 pm

    I suppose that Kol Nidrei is still the best-attended service of the Jewish calendar, but surely the memorial service known as Yizkor is a close second. After all, Yizkor — which means “May God remember…” — is the moment when we are invited to recall in solemn prayer the loved ones...

  • ‘Serenade’: Love and liberation

    August 21, 2013 | 1:12 pm

    One of the bitter ironies of history is that Hitler and the Nazis loved music but it did nothing to soothe the savage breast of Nazi Germany. A second irony is that the high culture of Western Europe, including its heritage of classical music, featured the compositions and...

  • ‘Resistance’ was not futile

    August 14, 2013 | 2:42 pm

    As one of the very few reviewers who found fault with Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” I once wrote that I would have preferred a film based on “Defiance,” Nechama Tec’s brilliant study of the Bielski partisans, which shows Jews not as the passive beneficiaries of a Nazi...

  • The Gospel according to Aslan [Q&A]

    August 7, 2013 | 10:22 am

    Reza Aslan, author of the best-selling “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” spoke with Jewish Journal book editor Jonathan Kirsch by phone from Portland, Ore., where Aslan was part of a national book tour. This interview took place just a few days after Aslan’s...

  • Jesus, the Jew

    August 7, 2013 | 10:03 am

    Reza Aslan, an author and scholar of religion, has established himself as a familiar face and voice on American television, the go-to guy for commentary on the Islamic world, and he embodies all the right stuff: youthful good looks, depth of knowledge and the kind of media savvy...

  • The importance of ‘Paper’

    August 2, 2013 | 10:27 am

    A profound irony suffuses this book review.  “Paper, An Elegy” by Ian Sansom (William Morrow/HarperCollins, $24.99) is a celebration of the civilizing function of pulped vegetable matter, but you are reading about the book in the paperless environment of the Internet.  And so...

  • ‘Freud’s Mistress’: A psychiatric affair

    July 24, 2013 | 1:50 pm

    Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman entered the literary scene in 2007 with a debut novel titled “Literacy and Longing in L.A.,” a lively, offbeat chronicle of a contemporary woman in crisis that was described by Booklist as “book lust meets chick lit.” Love of books played as...

  • FDR: Hero or enemy of the Jews?

    July 18, 2013 | 2:06 pm

    When I resolved to enter into the public conversation about “FDR and the Jews” by Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman (Belknap Press, $29.95), a much-talked-about book, I was reminded of the disenchantment that some Democrats felt toward President Obama when he abandoned the...

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