On display in my office is a globe that captures a perilous moment in time — the world as it existed on very eve of World War II.
From Kung Pao kosher comedy to a swinging Mardi Gras version of the “Dreidel” song, two new Chanukah season releases explore the intriguing, delightful and sometimes perplexing ways in which American Jews have responded to Christmas.
Of all the incendiary books that have been written about Israel over the last year or so, none is quite as fiery as "Israel: The Will to Prevail" by Danny Danon (Palgrave Macmillan: $26).
Ira Fistell is a familiar and even beloved figure in the Los Angeles radio market, where he long served as an exceptionally amiable, thoughtful and well-informed talk-show host on subjects ranging from politics and religion to vintage trains and Mississippi steamboats. Along with Dennis Prager, he was a host of "Religion on the Line," a Sunday evening colloquy that brought clergy of various faiths together and proved that theological shoptalk could be compelling to a general audience.
As I was reading Dennis Prager’s new book, “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph,” I found myself increasingly frustrated. The words themselves didn’t bother me; rather, it was that silly contraption I was holding in my hands, what’s known as a Kindle.
Summer is here, and the time is right for touring authors. Here are the highlights of the season for poolside and airplane reading, including some local appearances by the authors themselves.
“Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” by 25-year-old Deborah Feldman (Simon & Schuster: $23.00) is painfully good. Through a narrative voice that is almost hypnotic, she puts you immediately in the center of her chaotic world. Flashes of adult wisdom seem almost to compete with her childlike sense of bafflement, and we watch this young author struggle fearlessly to find herself on the page. She is unlike so many other authors who have left Orthodoxy and written about it; her heart is not hardened by hatred, and her spirit is wounded but intact. She is in search of a better life, and this fine book chronicles her departure from the Satmar Hasidic sect in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has been accused of nothing less than apostasy by at least one of his fellow rabbis, all thanks to his newly published book, “Kosher Jesus” (Gefen Publishing House: $26). And I am confident some Evangelical Christians will reach the same conclusion if only because Boteach insists that Jesus was not “holier than any other human being and certainly not divine.”
One way to mark the chronology of the counterculture, a pastime that is beloved by the baby boomers, is by reference to rock festivals. Woodstock and Altamont, for example, are now fully transformed into transcendent symbols of life and death, good and evil, the beginning and end of something. But the real starting point, the uber-festival, was Monterey.
When Hirsh Goodman speaks about the destiny of Israel, people listen.
From the opening passage of “The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World” by Joseph Braude (Spiegel & Grau: $26), we suddenly find ourselves in an atmospheric scene right out of “Casablanca” — an empty alleyway in the storied Moroccan city, a morning mist, a warehouse where the deep silence is suddenly broken by a squad of soldiers and detectives, and the sight of a mutilated corpse.
Four years ago, Jesse Kellerman famously entered the family business when he published his first novel, “Sunstroke.” His father is Jonathan Kellerman and his
mother is Faye Kellerman, both of whom are name-brand mystery novelists in their own rights.
The Kirsch family and the Solomon family have long shared a set of haggadot that include a selection of additional texts that we read aloud at our Passover
seders. One of my favorite readings is an article by Yehuda Lev that first appeared in The Jewish Journal, an account of his trek across war-ravaged Europe in the company of Holocaust survivors heading toward Palestine in 1946. Another is a poem by Karl Shapiro titled, “The Alphabet” — “The letters of the Jews are dancing knives/That carve the heart of darkness seven ways.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Dahlia Finger, the antihero of Elisa Albert's debut novel, "The Book of Dahlia," has an inoperable brain tumor and an attitude.
There is no shortage of books, historical and fictional, on the bombing of London during World War II. Peter Stansky's new book, "The First Day of the Blitz," combines history, political commentary and firsthand testimony in a compelling account.
In Amy Bloom's novel "Away," Lillian Leyb makes her way from the Lower East Side to Seattle and then Alaska, hoping to get to Siberia to find her daughter.
As we think about rewriting our personal narratives in the New Year, adding new pages and chapters, several new books inspire new visions, renewed creativity and new relationships between the calendar and a sense of holiness.
Rich Siegel's day typically consisted of waking up, going to work, coming home and checking his e-mail. This routine probably would have continued had Siegel not become a bit curious about an e-mail he received from a Nigerian businessman offering him 25 percent of $45.5 million in exchange for his bank account information.
I open Esther Perel's new book on the bus, and I know that my seatmate is staring at the cover photo of a man and woman in bed not touching beneath the red sheets. "Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic & the Domestic" (HarperCollins) has caught the man's attention, but he maintains the bus rider's code and doesn't ask about it. Perel's book has also captured the attention of large numbers of readers, journalists and producers.
Our summers have markers, memories that trigger a specific time: The summer of the walk on the moon, Hurricane Bob or the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles; personal events like a high school prom, a kitchen renovation or a houseguest who long overstays.
Yet Rabbi Mike Comins, author of "A Wild Faith," wants us to know that Judaism and nature have long been entwined, and that there is nothing paganistic about a Jew, let alone a rabbi, talking to trees.
Kirk Douglas is not done yet, not by a long shot. Just out is his ninth book, "Let's Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning." It is a mix of reminiscences, anecdotes, tributes to Hollywood luminaries now faded or gone, a critique of America's present leadership and somber thoughts on the drug-induced suicide of Eric, the youngest of his four sons.
Zachary Karabell offers a different perspective on the question of Islamic rule in his history, "Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence in the Middle East" (Knopf, 2007).
Stephen Prothero, author of the new book "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-And Doesn't" and chair of the religion department at Boston University showed up on "The Daily Show" recently, hawking the fact that his book contains a quiz to test the reader's "religious literacy." Which raises the questions: Can a 15-question quiz test religious literacy?
Shysters chase ambulances; critics chase influences. How to characterize this Chandler-Babel stew? Let's try the Hollywood idiom. "The Yiddish Policeman's Union" is Woody Allen meets Cornel Woolrich. No, better, deeper: S.J. Perelman meets Y.L. Peretz meets Harry Turtledove. Martin Amis meets Stanley Elkin who is chatting with Sholom Aleichem about Jorge Luis Borges.
So I read this season's selection of books with perhaps a different eye and an increased curiosity. There are serious books about Jewish mothers, lighthearted books, how-to volumes and memoirs and some manage to cross categories. Some offer knowing advice, others observations and jokes. The best are those that are open, honest and wise, not preachy or sentimental.
Nathan Englander's new novel, "The Ministry of Special Cases" (Alfred A. Knopf), begins on a dark night in a dangerous time: "Jews bury themselves the way they live, crowded together, encroaching on one another's space. The headstones were packed tight, the bodies underneath elbow to elbow and head to toe.
The U.S publishers hated the title of A.B. Yehoshua's latest book "The Mission of the Human Resources Manager." It was, they argued, better suited to a personnel manual than the work of one of Israel's most venerated authors. Ignoring Yehoshua's pleas, they christened the novel's English translation "A Woman in Jerusalem," and the book became a nominee for this year's prestigious Los Angeles Times Book Prize, to be announced at the Times' Festival of Books this weekend (see story page 36).
With meteoric technological advances presenting many businesses with crises verging on the existential, there is a growing need for nimble minds able to adapt to changes in the marketplace. Given this environment, it is fitting that Jonathan Feinstein, a professor at the Yale School of Management, should come out with "The Nature of Creative Development," a book that attempts to model the trajectory of creativity within individuals.
At first glance, "Testimony" (Aperture, $40) looks like an innocent-enough coffee table book of Israel-themed photographs. Thumb through the first few pages and you'll see examples of photographer Gillian Laub's excellent portraiture. Each color image is accompanied by a simple enough quote from the subject, an Arab or Jew sharing the same bit of the Holy Land.
The ostensible reason for this column is the recently published "Brothers for Resistance and Rescue: The Underground Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary During World War II," by David Gur (Gefen Publishing House), in which Stevens appears.
"Write and record," historian Simon Dubnow urged his fellow Jews, as he was taken to his death in Riga. Over the decades since Dubnow's murder in 1941, many have taken his words to heart, and scholars, survivors, novelists, poets, members of the second and third generations continue to publish new work on the Holocaust. This season, in time for the commemoration of Yom HaShoah, there are impressive historical works, memoirs of lost childhoods, personal testimonies and artful works of fiction; many written by those who feel an obligation to those whose voices were stilled.
Sarah Ogilvie and Scott Miller set a difficult task for themselves. Writing their book was easy. So, too, was researching what happened on the voyage of the St. Louis, the Hamburg-American line ship that traveled from Germany to Cuba in May 1939, carrying 937 passengers who were escaping Nazi Germany. The authors' greater challenge was to uncover the fate of the passengers after the ship had been turned away from numerous ports. Their dogged pursuit of all leads yielded some surprising results.
Letters to the Editor
For The Kids
Fred Rochlin can't understand all the fuss over his monologue, "Old Man in a Baseball Cap," about his adventures during World War II.
"I'm not an actor," he insists. "I'm an old guy."