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  • “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem”: A tale of love and war in pre-state Israel

    3 weeks ago

    Every now and then, a multi-generational novel such as  “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem” by Sarit Yishai-Levi (Thomas Dunn Books/St. Martin’s Press) comes along, so rich with potent curses, outlandish customs, eccentric characters, and forbidden loves, readers might find the story...

  • Probing the minds of Nazi war criminals

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    April 27, 2016 | 11:36 am

    Dr. Joel E. Dimsdale is a psychiatrist who has long specialized in the “coping behavior” of concentration camp survivors. One day, a man knocked on his office door and introduced himself as the official hangman who carried out the death sentences of the Nuremberg war crimes...

  • Jews could laugh everywhere, even in the Holocaust

    By Michael Berenbaum

    April 27, 2016 | 8:37 am

    Chaya Ostrower, “It Kept Us Alive: Humor in the Holocaust,” Translated by Sandy Bloom. (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2014) pp. 439.

    A personal confession: some 30 years ago, as I was lying on my living room couch reading a Holocaust diary, every few minutes I would break out in...

  • Culturally rich history of Jerusalem is literally in the woodwork

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    April 13, 2016 | 2:20 pm

    When it comes to the Middle East, and especially the city of Jerusalem, everything in the built environment has a significant historical subtext, as we are eloquently reminded in “Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City” by Adina Hoffman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux),...

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  • ‘My Fat Dad’ delicious as autobiography and cookbook

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    March 30, 2016 | 12:57 pm

    Food can be a weighty issue, both literally and figuratively, as we discover in “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes” by Dawn Lerman (Berkley), which began as a blog on The New York Times’ website and has now emerged in print as a fully realized...

  • ‘The Yid’ embarks on a hero’s journey

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    March 9, 2016 | 2:02 pm

    Moscow-born author and journalist Paul Goldberg first learned about the so-called blood libel — the hateful lie alleging Jews use Christian blood in their rituals — in a place where slander against the Jews is deeply rooted. After immigrating to the United States in 1973, Goldberg...

  • Episode 1: Jon Birger, author of 'Date-onomics'

    By Jared Sichel

    March 3, 2016 | 2:48 pm

    In this premiere episode of Tribal, Jared sits down for an extended interview with Jon Birger to discuss his new book, "Date-onomics," which explores how the surplus of young, college-educated women –relative to their male counterparts – has transformed the dating and marriage...

  • Marvin Kalb discusses the U.S.-Russian game of chicken

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    February 25, 2016 | 10:30 am

    The voice of Marvin Kalb, deeply familiar to any baby boomer, is calm, measured and authoritative.  He was one of “Murrow’s boys” — the young reporters mentored by iconic broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow — but he was dubbed “the Professor” because he had been recruited to join...

  • New book prompts soul-searching in Lithuania about Holocaust-era complicity

    February 17, 2016 | 3:40 pm

    As the author of a best-seller that deals with female sexuality after 50, the Lithuanian novelist Ruta Vanagaite is used to embarrassing questions from journalists about her private life.

    But even she was astonished when a reporter for a popular television station demanded to see...

  • God: What’s in a name?

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    February 10, 2016 | 1:49 pm

    Naming plays a crucial role in Judaism. Our tradition provides 72 names for HaShem, a phrase that literally means “The Name,” and the actual name of God is regarded as so sacred that it is not to be read aloud from the pages of the Torah. But one divine name in particular is the...

  • Hier and Hier: From yeshiva boy to global storyteller

    By David Suissa

    December 30, 2015 | 11:28 am

    The longer I live in America, the more fascinated I become with the story of American Jewry —  how a wandering and persecuted people discovered a free and open nation and have given so much back.

    At the heart of this story are some larger-than-life Jews who have influenced every...

  • Growing up half Middle-Eastern

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    December 16, 2015 | 1:03 pm

    At this fraught moment in history, a cartoonist named Riad Sattouf has achieved best-seller status in France with a memoir in the form of a comic book with the provocative title, “The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984.” The first volume of the trilogy,...

  • The lure, history and humor of the Catskills

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    December 9, 2015 | 2:12 pm

    The Catskill Mountains are, of course, a fact of geology located northwest of New York City. The Catskills are also a nearly mythic place — the so-called Borscht Belt —where Jewish cuisine, humor, music and sheer joie de vivre reached such a high boil that they spilled over into...

  • Tales of Cuba, up close and personal

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    December 3, 2015 | 11:34 am

    Leila Segal is a woman of many gifts and passions. Trained as a barrister, she is today an accomplished writer, poet and photographer, a community activist in London and an advocate for the disempowered around the world. Not surprisingly, she was powerfully drawn to Cuba, where she...

  • Book about mental illness — created by a Jewish father and son — wins National Book Award

    November 25, 2015 | 12:42 pm

    When Neal Shusterman helped his son Brendan with a second-grade report on the Pacific Ocean’s Marianas Trench, he thought the name of its deepest location, Challenger Deep, would make a great title for a book.

    In fact, for a number of years, whenever Shusterman — the author of...

  • How Israel’s desert became a fecund source of water

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 25, 2015 | 9:47 am

    “Making the desert bloom” is one of the stirring and enduring tropes of Zionist history. So it makes sense for a drought-afflicted country like ours to turn to Israel for an example of how to solve the water crisis. That’s exactly what Seth M. Siegel has done in “Let There Be...

  • FACEBOOK:  Ten Questions for Self Reflection.

    By Dr. Afshine Emrani

    September 16, 2015 | 1:46 pm

    When people tell me that Facebook is a waste, I tell them “it depends on the operator.” 

    In skilled hands a knife can save a life, but some use it to peel oranges. 

    When Otis Redding sang “sitting by the dock of the bay” was he really “wasting time”?

    In August, Mark...

  • Historian Timothy Snyder presents a provocative, new take on the Holocaust

    By Danielle Berrin

    September 9, 2015 | 2:41 pm

    Yale historian Timothy Snyder is among the world’s leading scholars of Eastern Europe. Educated at Oxford, he is the author of five award-winning books, including the acclaimed “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” about Nazi and Soviet mass killings in the 20th century....

  • Author, psychologist delves inside ‘The Israeli Mind’

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 2, 2015 | 11:36 am

    Alon Gratch practices psychology in New York but was born and raised in Jerusalem, which puts him in a unique position to tell us how Israelis see the world. Indeed, as he writes in “The Israeli Mind: How the Israeli National Character Shapes Our World” (St. Martin’s Press), “I...

  • The Day Anger Broke Me.

    By Dr. Afshine Emrani

    August 20, 2015 | 12:13 pm

    It’s been eight years.  I still have nightmares about what I had become. 

    My wife and kids are scared in a room.  Sitting on the floor, they are trembling.  She is hugging them protectively, crying.  They are rolled up in fetal position, sobbing.  All I hear is nothing.  I am...

  • The other side of Maxine Kumin

    August 5, 2015 | 4:47 pm

    I think there were always two Maxine Kumins wrestling for space inside of her. 

    In her new memoir, “The Pawnbroker’s Daughter” (W. W. Norton), the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, who died last year at 88, allows us to see only certain parts of her. There is the feeling throughout...

  • All-seeing mother watches family implode

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    July 9, 2015 | 9:49 am

    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 child’s life in the Warsaw Ghetto

    By Avishay Artsy

    July 9, 2015 | 9:33 am

    Polish-Jewish doctor and educator Janusz Korczak was famous throughout Europe as director of the Warsaw Ghetto orphanage and an advocate for children’s rights. Despite offers of sanctuary, he chose to accompany his orphans to the gas chambers of Treblinka. This long-heralded hero...

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

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    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...

  • Five books you should read this summer

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    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...

  • An incomplete view of Mark Rothko

    April 30, 2015 | 10:54 am

    Annie Cohen-Solal previously has written two extremely well-received biographies – one on Jean-Paul Sartre and another on the famous art dealer Leo Castelli, but she can’t seem to find on the abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko. Her new biography, “Mark Rothko” (Yale...

  • Ghosts of exile, examined

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    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...

  • Russian-Jewish author explores breaking rules to get by

    By Rebecca Spence

    February 5, 2015 | 11:32 am

    When Boris Fishman began writing “A Replacement Life,” his award-nominated debut novel about a frustrated writer who forges Holocaust restitution claims for Soviet Jews in Brooklyn, he had no idea that the premise of his work-in-progress was playing out in real time.

    In the fall...

  • Forensic pathologist is no regular ‘Working Stiff’

    By Naomi Pfefferman

    November 25, 2014 | 11:23 am

    Dr. Judy Melinek can’t watch “CSI,” “Bones” and the myriad other medical examiner (ME) shows that have exploded on to television. “I end up yelling at the TV and throwing things,” Melinek, 45, a forensic pathologist for Alameda County who also testifies in cases throughout the...

  • Could we live without the Supreme Court?

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    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...

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