November 15, 2001
To Warm the Soul
The authors of the "Chicken Soup" series offer the Jewish community a generous helping.
"Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul: Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit,"
by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins.
(Health Communications, Inc., $12.95).
What if someone told you they were making chicken soup, but it took eight years for you to get your bowl? Several years after the release of their first book, the creators of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, have prepared a warm bowl of "Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul," like bubbie used to make.
Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, the co-editor of "Jewish Soul," notes in the introduction: "The Jewish influence on the fundamentals of the 'Chicken Soup' series is long and deep. While this particular collection of Jewish tales has been in the making for several years, it can be comfortably said that every Jewish story ... is chicken soup for every human soul."
The concept behind the book began when Canfield and Hansen, who were internationally known speakers, used inspirational stories to help put their words of wisdom into context. Their audiences encouraged them to write the stories down. The title came from Canfield, who remembered how his grandmother would always say that chicken soup could cure anything. "Jewish Soul" is one of the newest on the "Chicken Soup" menu.
In addition to the six portions of the regular "Chicken Soup" books (the first released in 1993) Canfield and Hansen have a collection of more than 30 specialty books for a variety of souls and topics, including: baseball fans, college students, couples, dentists, expectant mothers, fathers, gardeners, golfers, kids, mourners, nurses, pet-lovers, preteens, prisoners, senior citizens, singles, teenagers, veterans, writers and women. There are also CDs, journals, condensed versions, translations in more than 30 languages and of course, a cookbook.
"This book is both like, and yet different, from the other 'Chicken Soup' books," says Elkins, who serves as rabbi of the Jewish Center in Princeton, N.J. "It's similar in that it deals with stories of courage, faith and hope. It's different, in that they're all stories emanating from the deep well of Jewish ethics and the long history of the Jewish people."
That history is told through eight themed chapters, such as "Being a Jew," "The Holocaust," and "Our Common Humanity." A glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish terms, is also included, with everything from Torah to takeh ("really" in Yiddish).
All the stories feature Jewish ethics, Elkins notes, "what we call menschlichkeit, the love of our heritage and the strength of family in the Jewish tradition."
While some of the stories might sounds familiar -- they have been passed around for generations --others, like the ones by three L.A. area rabbis, will become wonderful additions to the Jewish canon. Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple writes about "A Simple Blessing," and Rabbi Allen Maller from Temple Akiba in Culver City recalls "The Man Who Waited 45 Years to Blow His Shofar." One of the sweetest of the book's 86 stories is by Rabbi Scott Aaron, director of education for the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. Aaron's story, "How Do You Talk to God?" is one that will bring up wonderful memories for readers who had a close relationship with their grandma, bubbie, safta or nana.
"When I was a little boy, I thought my grandmother was God," Aaron writes of his "refined Southern grandma, who was one of the founders of her temple.... You see, in Sunday school, they taught us that God was very old, older than the whole world, and my grandma was the oldest person I knew.... God was respected by the entire world for his wisdom. Well, my grandma knew everything and everybody, even math." The twist is when Aaron realizes that his grandmother, like other Jewish women of her generation who were brought up in the South, had to find her own way of "talking to God." (She had never been taught to read Hebrew.)
The book also includes writings by Anne Frank, Kirk Douglas, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Golda Meir, George Burns and former New York Mayor Ed Koch.
Although the editors give no reason why they waited so long to release a collection of Jewish stories -- "Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul" was released in 1997 -- they say Judaism has a definite link to the entire series because "both chicken soup and stories are quintessentially Jewish."
But only one of these comes with calories.
Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins will be speaking and signing books Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. at the West Valley JCC Bernard Milken Community Campus, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. For more information, contact the JCC at (818) 464-3300.