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Jewish Journal

Summer Reading From the

The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, editors R.J. ZwiWerblowsky and Geoffrey Wigoder (Oxford University Press, $95)

August 7, 1997 | 8:00 pm

This thick, compact tome is designed for people like me. We wantto be able to access the names, ideas, dates and import of nearly6,000 years of Jewish learning and history, but we simply don't haveenough room in our heads to store it all. A near-complete revision ofa similar book published in 1966, the new version sits close to mycomputer, its sturdy binding already softened by frequentconsultations. The focus is on the Jewish religion. Israel, theHolocaust, indeed, the ethnohistorical sweep of the Jewish people,are only included as far as they bear on aspects of religion. Giventhat more limited scope, the editors pursue balance among Judaism'svarious branches. Some of the entries, especially those pertaining tomore recent developments, such as feminism, seem incomplete. And afew contemporary names, such as Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, are missing.But each entry is wisely followed by a bibliography. So the next timeyou need to know, right now, what Judaism has to say about capitalpunishment, or who Shemuel ben Yusef Strashun was, or what's the dealwith Lag B'omer, this will be the book.

-- RobertEshman,Associate Editor

"Los Angeles from A to Z," by Leonard Pitt and Dale Pitt(University of California Press, $34.95)

Did you know...that the man who headed Los Angeles' first Chamberof Commerce was a French-born Jewish merchant named Soloman Lazard?Or that, during the 1870s, this city's police chief was Emil Harris,a Polish-Jewish immigrant? Or that, from 1933 to 1941, German Naziofficials sojourning in the United States would rendezvous at abuilding on 15th Street near Alvarado, the West Coast headquarters ofthe German-American Bund? Or that Union Bank and Trust Company hasJewish roots? (Before becoming Union, it was Kaspare Cohen Commercialand Savings Bank, named after its founder, a German-Jewish immigrantwho was probably the wealthiest Jew in Los Angeles at the time of hisdeath.)

These and other facts about the City of Angels can be found in"Los Angeles from A to Z," a winning and well-researched compendiumof history, local lore, sociological analysis, scandal, biography,pithy quotes and photographs. Its co-author brothers, Leonard(historian) and Dale (writer) Pitt, have subtitled their opus "AnEncyclopedia of the City and County," and it's darn close. Somehow,they've managed to capture the range of offbeat, complex and polyglotforces that have shaped this constantly evolving metropolis, puttingthem in alphabetical order for good measure. After just a few momentsalone with this book, readers will drive these streets with whole neweyes.

-- Diane Arieff Zaga, Arts Editor

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