Posted by Rabbi David Wolpe
Adam Kirsch, "Benjamin Disraeli" (Nextbook: Schocken, 2008 ) $21.00.
12.31.08 at 2:21 am | Benjamin Disraeli was born Jewish, baptized as a. . .
12.28.08 at 11:42 pm | Herman Rosenblat says he, "...wanted to bring. . .
12.26.08 at 5:12 pm | Ashkenazi I.Q. and Ashkenazi breast cancer are. . .
12.14.08 at 4:05 pm | Need help finding a book for someone? TIME just. . .
10.22.08 at 3:00 am | Krista Tippett discusses her new book,. . .
10.6.08 at 5:01 pm | Welcome to JewishJournal.com's virtual book club.. . .
12.31.08 at 2:21 am | Benjamin Disraeli was born Jewish, baptized as a. . . (13)
12.26.08 at 5:12 pm | Ashkenazi I.Q. and Ashkenazi breast cancer are. . . (3)
December 28, 2008 | 11:42 pm
Posted by Book Buzz
The recent news about the memoir by Herman Rosenblat, “Angel at the Fence,” being canceled is a major disappointment to, movie producer, agent, Oprah fans and the Jewish community. Rosenblat said he met his wife while a prisoner at a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Turns out, the love story isn’t so lovely.
Andrea Hurst, Rosenblats agent, said in a statement: “It is with heavy heart that I share what I learned today from my client, Herman Rosenblat, about his book, ‘Angel at the Fence.’ Herman revealed to me that part of his memoir was not true. He’d invented the crux of this amazing love story–about the girl at the fence who threw him an apple–which drew my attention when I read it in a major magazine [Guideposts] two years ago. All of the story about Herman in the concentration camps and the love and survival of him and his brothers, he states is true. I understand why Berkley has chosen to withdraw publication of this book. Like millions of others who read this story or saw Herman and Roma on Oprah, I never for a moment questioned the authenticity of the widely circulated story. I know that everyone who has worked so hard with Herman this past year is as stunned and disappointed as I am that this story of hope has such a sad ending.”
One must wonder why a person chooses to fabricate something about the Holocaust? Through Ms. Hurst, Mr. Rosenblat released a statement, “Why did I do that and write the story with the girl and the apple, because I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate, but to love and tolerate all people. I brought good feelings to a lot of people and I brought hope to many. My motivation was to make good in this world.”
“Berkley will demand that the author and the agent return all money that they have received for this work,” said Berkley Books (unit of Penguin Books) spokesman Craig Burke in a statement release by Reuters.
Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, Atlanta, denied the story months ago. She even publishes an e-mail exchange with Harris Solomon, producer of the proposed Rosenblat film.
According to many news organizations, The New Republic released one of the first stories about the books cancellation.
Although this latest stain on the Jewish community is bad, fabricating memoirs is not uncommon. Ruters mentions here, that, “in 2006, U.S. author James Frey admitted he had fabricated key parts of his drug and alcohol memoir “A Million Little Pieces,” the top selling non-fiction book in the United States in 2005. In February, Misha Defonseca admitted most of her bestselling autobiography, which told of a young Jewish girl saved by wolves while hiding from the Nazis in wartime Europe, was made up. “Love and Consequences,” a memoir by a Margaret B. Jones about a mixed-raced girl growing up in a gang-ridden neighborhood of Los Angeles, was revealed to be a fabrication and distributed copies of the book recalled this year.”
These continuous oversights mean that authors, publishers, movie and television producers and agents should all be more careful.
December 26, 2008 | 5:12 pm
Posted by Adam Wills
Father William Sanchez wears a Star of David pendant on the same chain as his crucifix, and he keeps a menorah in his parish office. After a DNA test confirmed his Sephardic roots, the Albuquerque priest has been actively reconciling this discovery with his Catholic beliefs.
“Knowledge of my Jewish ancestry has provoked me to question things, yes,” Sanchez says in the book, “Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People” by Jon Entine (Grand Central, 2007).
Looking back over his childhood in New Mexico, Sanchez now recognizes the Jewish signs: his parents shunning pork, spinning tops during Christmas and covering the mirrors at home if someone in the family died.
For Crypto-Jews like Sanchez, DNA testing services can confirm or disprove suspicions about a hidden Jewish family history, uncover unknown genetic disease risks or inspire greater exploration of Judaism. For small populations in Africa and Asia, genetic research has shed light on claims of Jewish ancestry and provided a better understanding of Jewish migration over thousands of years.
But critics fear that Jewish genetic research also opens a Pandora’s box. The discovery of a shared genetic marker among men who claim to be descended from Kohanim grew into wild, exaggerated claims in the media that geneticists had confirmed the story of Aaron. Some have decried research exploring a genetic basis for Ashkenazi intelligence as politically incorrect and racist, since all humans are 99.9 percent similar.
Entine believes exploring that .1 percent is worth getting researchers riled up.
An American Enterprise Institute fellow and former NBC news producer, Entine is no stranger to controversy. He tackled the topic of race in sports with “Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It” (PublicAffairs Books, 1999), which was lauded by Scientific American as a “well-researched, relatively thorough and lucidly written case.”
After “Taboo” was published, Entine learned his sister had breast cancer. As a teenager, he had lost his mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer over a period of three years. The family assumed it was a coincidence at the time, but recent genetic testing revealed the BRCA2 genetic mutation contributed to his sister’s cancer.
Since Entine has a young daughter, he decided to undergo testing, which confirmed he carries the mutation. The experience inspired him to research the link between Jews and DNA.
The result is “Abraham’s Children,” a survey of Jewish genetic research paired with a chronicle of Jewish history that explores the thorny question: “Who is a Jew?”
Entine writes that Jewishness is a function of religion and ancestry, shaped by faith, politics and culture. Given the Jewish community’s historically insular nature, most Jews also share genetic markers, which speaks to common ancestors.
This commonality inspired research in the 1990s that found the Cohen Modal Haplotype, a set of six identical genetic markers shared among Ashkenazic and Sephardic Kohanim, passed from father to son on the Y chromosome, which doesn’t change much over time and may have originated with a common ancestor. While the genetic markers alone do not prove the existence of Aaron, they can be seen to confirm a biblical tradition.
The haplotype, however, is also not unique to Jews—Kurds, Armenians, southern and central Italians share these same markers but to a lesser extent.
Jewish genetic testing is also being used to better understand historic Jewish migration patterns. For instance, the Lemba, a southern African tribe that claims a longstanding Jewish heritage, were found to have Semitic genetics, including the Cohen haplotype. While their connection doesn’t trace back directly to biblical Israel, their genetic heritage does seem to have a basis that likely originated with Diaspora Jews.
Entine argues, however, that DNA alone is not a basis for Jewish identity, and that the Jewish romance people have built up about what the Y chromosome or the mother’s mitochondrial inheritance represents is only a tiny sliver of the overall genetic makeup.
For the Lemba, the 22 pairs of nonsex chromosomes, known as autosomal DNA, “is definitely African,” Entine said, and the tribe’s members are still expected to formerly convert if they wish to be recognized by Israel as Jews, much like Ethiopia’s Falash Mura, who were found to have no Semitic DNA.
Despite Entine’s use of “race” in the subtitle, a concept most genetic researchers no longer use and Jews abandoned after the Holocaust, he believes Jews are and have always been a tribal people, whose genetic diversity has grown over time through conversion and marriage.
“There’s no question that Jews historically have been a people, and it’s more than just a culture, and it’s more than just a religion. Judaism was founded as a tribal religion. It was never just about faith,” he said.
While the other geographically focused tribal religions died off, Judaism survived and became a major world religion, birthing two faith-based religions—Islam and Christianity, he says. “There’s all kinds of rigmarole we have to go through that enforces a kind of peopleness on us, everything from the gauntlet you have to go through to understand and accept Judaism…. So there’s always been an ancestral dimension to Judaism.”
More important than identity, Entine says, are the medical dimensions of what Jewish DNA research represents.
Entine says the genetic insularity of Ashkenazim makes them an ideal group for medical research. While Ashkenazi DNA is believed to be a mixture of Middle Eastern Jews, Khazarian pagans and Christian converts, he says, the walls went up around the community about 1,000 years ago. Ashkenazi Jews had the lowest historical intermarriage rate of any culture, estimated a roughly .5 percent, which ensured that their genetic markers remained mostly unchanged.
The BRCA2 mutation present in Entine’s family line represents one of more than 40 different genetic disorders that affect Jews. “The discovered differences can now be a matter of life and death,” he said. “The fact is the medical research is so important, and there’s so much desire to challenge our mortality that people are going to be focusing on our medical differences.”
When his 10-year-old daughter turns 18, Entine would like her to go in for genetic tests. He believes the information could be used to aid her with early detection and possible prophylactic measures that could save her life.
“It’s such a powerful, single-gene mutation that it’s information she could productively use in her life,” he said.
December 14, 2008 | 4:05 pm
Posted by Book Buzz
It’s almost holiday season and books still make great gifts. Here are a couple top ten lists to help with your selection.
Perhaps the most popular list, released by TIME, offers fiction and non-fiction books. Interestingly enough the magazine only lists five fiction and five non-fiction, while the website features 10 for both categories.
Here is a taste:
1. The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
The gaping wounds of Iraq and Afghanistan have produced a torrent of words, but no single volume so far has the precision and power of The Forever War. Filkins has been covering the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan since 1998, and since then he has filled 561 notebooks with observations and interviews. Even under the direst of conditions Filkins is alive to novelistic detail: the popping sound of a 105 mm cannon, like “a machine that served tennis balls”; a barber shaving the beards of Talibs so they can switch sides; a man whom Saddam forced to pay for the bullets that were used to execute his brother, and who received a receipt for his payment. Filkins’ set pieces have the absolute clarity of lightning flashes that burn away the fog of war.
2. The Thief at the End of the World by Joe Jackson
Henry Wickham was born in England in 1846, and he was one of fortune’s fools if there ever was one. Dreamy, ungifted and of modest means, Wickham set off for the Amazon at the age of 20 to collect exotic feathers for his mother’s hat business. When that venture failed he spent the next 10 years failing to set up a rubber plantation while various relatives who came over to help him dropped dead around him. From this stupendous disaster he wrung one towering, historic, ethically questionable victory. Defying malaria, anacondas, electric eels, freshwater stingrays, Confederate colonists, customs inspectors and Yanomamo tribesmen, he smuggled 70,000 priceless rubber-tree seeds out of Brazil and back to Kew Gardens, in a single stroke handing England supremacy in one of the key resources of the 20th century. Wickham’s life is a stone-cold historical thriller, a black comedy and one of the great secret fables of the modern age.
1. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
It’s baffling, maddening, difficult, violent, obscene, over-indulgent, under-edited and way too long, but 2666 — a number that appears nowhere in the actual book — is also the best novel of the year. The two central plots of 2666 are, very loosely speaking, the life story of an enigmatic German novelist called Archimboldi, and a murder mystery about the killings of hundreds of women in and around a seedy Mexican town called Santa Teresa. But only two of the book’s five sections (2666 is a bit like Dante’s hell, in five easy circles) deal with those stories directly. Packed with red herrings and digressions and leads that lead nowhere, 2666 is a work of anger and anarchy that laughs bitterly at the idea of tidy resolutions. It’s like a Borges story that exploded. But beneath the chaos is a fanatical order, the desperate artistry of a genius scribbling as his life ran out — Bolaño died of liver disease in Spain in 2003.
2. Lush Life by Richard Price
Book critics talk a lot about “crime novels” that “transcend” their “genre.” Lush Life doesn’t transcend anything, it simply is a great novel of social observation. This is what Dickens would be doing if he were still in business. Price’s playground is the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a tiny area that hyperdevelopment has made, if anything, overly lush and full of life, crowded as it is with rich white hipster bars, tenements full of wannabe artists, poor black projects, and immigrant businesses of all kinds, all packed together into too-close quarters. One night a drunk white aspiring actor (i.e., a bartender) gets shot to death by two black teenagers. The witnesses are unreliable at best. The cops — cops are to Price what saints were to Michelangelo — who work the case do so cynically, sardonically, bitterly and with fanatical tenacity, all while uttering the best dialogue being written anywhere by anybody.
1. Foundations of Western Thought : Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans (Portable Professor Series)
by Timothy B. Shutt
2. The Great Religions: Essential Questions
by Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Claude B. Levenson, Dom Robert Le Gall, Malek Chebel, Malek Chebel
3. When Bad Things Happen to Good People
by Harold S. Kushner