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Jewish Journal

Jonathan Kirsch

  • Parsing the Jewish genome

    1 week ago

    Jewish law holds that Jewish identity is traced through the maternal bloodline, but history cautions us against the dangers of linking blood and religion. From the Spanish Inquisition to the Third Reich, the scrutiny of one’s ancestry has been a matter of life and death for Jews...

  • All-seeing mother watches family implode

    3 weeks ago

    Rare is the writer who does not look at one of his earlier works and see something he would have changed. Rarer still is the writer who actually makes that change. In “Prayers for the Living” (Fig Tree Books), novelist, memoirist and National Public Radio book critic Alan Cheuse...

  • A funny — and touching — thing happened when a writer had a son

    June 25, 2015 | 2:55 pm

    Etgar Keret is an Israeli writer with an international readership. His stories have been translated into 37 languages, and you can read them in The New Yorker and The New York Times. He’s also been a contributor to the radio program “This American Life.” But if you are not already...

  • Cancer obscura

    June 11, 2015 | 10:11 am

    If a feel-good book about cancer sounds like an oxymoron, just pick up a copy of “New Beginnings: The Triumphs of 120 Cancer Survivors” by Bill Aron (Skyhorse Publishing), a tour de force from one of America’s most accomplished photographers.

    Aron is best known for eye-catching...

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  • Five books you should read this summer

    June 1, 2015 | 4:23 pm

    Among the most emblematic figures to emerge in Southern California in the 1960s was Sister Mary Corita, a “rebel nun” whose exuberant artwork captured the spirit of that lively era. Her story is told with both compassion and critical skill by biographer April Dammann in “Corita...

  • ‘How Sweet It Is!’ is a gangster’s paradise

    May 27, 2015 | 10:44 am

    The first voice you hear in the latest novel by Thane Rosenbaum, “How Sweet It Is!” (Mandel Vilar Press), belongs to the Great One himself, Jackie Gleason. 

    “Miami Beach is magical, but it is the magic of the dark arts,” Gleason is made to say. “Black magic masquerading as...

  • The “Encyclopedia Talmudit” is a monumental labor of love and learning

    May 14, 2015 | 1:10 pm

    A vast body of Jewish writing rooted in distant antiquity is headed for cyberspace, thanks to the visionary efforts of an Israeli rabbi who comfortably straddles the worlds of science, faith and scholarship.

    Rabbi Avraham Steinberg is chief executive officer of the “Encyclopedia...

  • Stella Adler:  the methods of a legend

    May 7, 2015 | 10:23 pm

    Dustin Hoffman famously tells the story that he prepared for a torture scene in “Marathon Man” by going without sleep for three days so he would look properly spent in front of the camera.

    “Next time,” Hoffman’s co-star, Laurence Olivier, advised, “try acting.”

    Exactly here we...

  • L.A. Times Festival of Books is back for its 20th year

    April 15, 2015 | 1:40 pm

    The publishing landscape has changed in ways that would not have been dreamed of back in 1996, when the Los Angeles Times invited readers and writers to gather for its first Festival of Books. But one thing remains the same — the Festival of Books is still going strong, still...

  • An extensive history of the Holocaust

    April 9, 2015 | 10:53 am

    On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are confronted by a bitter irony. The vast and ever-expanded scholarship of the Shoah has never been greater, and yet, at the same time, we still hear insistent voices that minimize or even deny that it happened. That’s why the most crucial form of...

  • A ‘Frank’ assessment

    March 11, 2015 | 1:11 pm

    Now and then, a politician comes along who is both cantankerous and somehow lovable, highly principled and yet open to argument, possessed of both a sense of honor and a sense of humor. The late New York Mayor Ed Koch was one example, and Arizona Sen. John McCain is another. And so...

  • ‘Anonymous Soldiers’ looks at terrorism from another troubling angle

    February 25, 2015 | 12:43 pm

    “Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947” by Bruce Hoffman (Knopf) offers an uncomfortable but crucial message: Terrorism works. And the book is all the more disturbing because the examples Hoffman considers are the Irgun and Lehi (perhaps better known as the “Stern...

  • Ghosts of exile, examined

    February 12, 2015 | 10:23 am

    Roger Cohen is an observer of Israel and the Middle East whose voice is especially commanding, and not only because he writes for The New York Times. As a former foreign correspondent, he is deeply experienced in the travails and troubles of the contemporary world. In “The Girl...

  • Moving ‘God, Faith & Identity’ passes mantle of remembrance

    January 28, 2015 | 2:56 pm

    Seventy years ago, the Red Army liberated the death camp at Auschwitz, an event that now marks the observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Ever since that day, we have been struggling to explain and understand what happened in the killing fields and concentration...

  • Can the ‘Creative Class’ survive?

    January 14, 2015 | 1:14 pm

    The digital revolution has its winners and losers. If a question comes up in dinner conversation, there’s no item of information so obscure or so trivial that we cannot find it in a few seconds with a Google search on our smartphones. But, then, I have come to believe that...

  • Norton’s ‘Anthology of World Religions’: Our Prayers Have Been Answered

    December 30, 2014 | 1:08 pm

    The publishing house of W.W. Norton is celebrated for the art of the anthology, whether it is a classic like “The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry” or Reza Aslan’s recent groundbreaking collection, “Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes From the Modern Middle East.”...

  • The welcome enemy: Nazis in the U.S.

    December 11, 2014 | 1:35 pm

    One of the bitter facts of history is that the United States’ immigration quota for Germany and Austria went unfilled during the 1930s when hundreds of thousands of Jews were clamoring to escape the Third Reich. And further, when the war against Germany was finally won in 1945,...

  • Ferreting out the truth about a complicated King David

    November 25, 2014 | 1:13 pm

    King David is like no other figure in the Hebrew Bible. “We know David as majestic king and lowly shepherd, as valiant warrior and soothing singer, as ruthless killer and passionate lover, as enraptured dancer and pious saint,” observes Jacob Wright in “David, King of Israel, and...

  • Holiday season brings authors to SoCal

    November 24, 2014 | 1:25 pm

    From the Bible to the Broadway stage, readers and gift-buyers can find a wealth of new books in the bookstores, and it’s the time of year when authors, too, are out in the world to talk about their work. Here are five choice opportunities in Southern California.

    It’s the year...

  • Leaving religious life: The ‘un-Orthodox’ path

    November 21, 2014 | 12:09 pm

    The path between the secular world and highly observant Judaism is a two-way street. The baal t’shuvah travels in one direction, but he or she may be taking the place of someone who has abandoned Orthodoxy.  It is these so-called “defectors” whose lives are explored with color and...

  • A conversation with Erwin Chemerinsky

    November 12, 2014 | 2:45 pm

    Jonathan Kirsch: Let me begin with a quote from “The Case Against the Supreme Court.” You write: “From the outset, in writing this book, I have been concerned that it would be criticized as a liberal’s whining that the Court’s decisions have not been liberal enough.” What...

  • Could we live without the Supreme Court?

    November 12, 2014 | 2:41 pm

    Anyone who has the opportunity to chat with Erwin Chemerinsky, as I recently did, will find him a gracious, affable and reasonable person — a real mensch. But if you read his latest book, “The Case Against the Supreme Court” (Viking), you will discover that he is capable of taking...

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

    October 14, 2014 | 2:35 pm

    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....

  • 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),...

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