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  • Stern thriller

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    June 26, 2013 | 5:15 pm

    The legal thriller is a fast track for debut novelists, but Robert Rotstein enters the race at winning speed with “Corrupt Practices” (Seventh Street Books, $15.95).

    Rotstein gives us an updated version of Los Angeles that recalls the mean streets of Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled...

  • How you can counter hate on the Web

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    June 12, 2013 | 12:34 pm

    Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, is the Paul Revere of our era, and his latest call to arms is “Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet” (Palgrave Macmillan: $27). Co-written with Internet law expert Christopher Wolf, the book alerts us...

  • A questionable woman in the synagogue?

    June 11, 2013 | 2:16 pm

    Ah!  How authors wax poetic about the allure of a vulnerable woman!  How tempting it is for that mensch in shining armor to whisk that vulnerable waif off her delicate feet and carry her away on his white horse, how tempting to rescue her from unnamed perils, and especially from...

  • What is Judaism in a ‘post-ethnic’ world?

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    June 5, 2013 | 3:05 pm

    The ongoing public conversation about the future of American Judaism is embodied in a small library of recent books, many of which have been considered here. None of them, however, offers quite the same potent brew of courage, clarity, passion and expertise as Shaul Magid’s...

  • Getting a read on summer

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    May 31, 2013 | 10:49 am

    Poetry is a literary enterprise with enormous allure to the amateur, and yet it is an art form that one can study for a lifetime. And who is a better teacher than Robert Pinsky? The former poet laureate of the United States — and perhaps the most familiar face among working poets,...

  • Memories of Auschwitz, on a return trip

    May 15, 2013 | 3:33 pm

    How does any man survive unspeakable trauma?  After 70 years of controlled silence, Otto Dov Kulka, Czech-born Holocaust historian and Professor of History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has come forward to show us his roadmap in “Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death:...

  • Funny music, sad life

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    May 15, 2013 | 12:01 pm

    On an otherwise unremarkable day in 1938, a chubby but charming student at John Burroughs Junior High in Los Angeles “cracked the code of his comic gift and discovered his life’s work,” as we learn in “Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman” by Mark Cohen...

  • Hank Greenberg's Jewishness

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    May 8, 2013 | 10:03 am

    The big question in Detroit in the fall of 1934 had nothing to do with the troubled state of the world. Rather, the fans of the Detroit Tigers wanted to know whether their star first baseman, Hank Greenberg, was going to play on the Jewish High Holy Days. After all, the Tigers were...

  • What it really feels like to be alive today

    May 7, 2013 | 3:47 pm

    David Shields, author of the hotly debated “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto,” has bewitched us once again with his innovative genre-bending meditation “How Literature Saved My Life” (Knopf, $29.95).  Shields remains a mysterious man.  He initially seems to be one part seducer, and...

  • On Jewish writing

    May 3, 2013 | 9:50 am

    I’m noticing a trend among my coreligionists-who-write: arguing against being “labeled” as Jewish writers — especially when they are simultaneously speaking in Jewish-sponsored lecture/reading series, blogging for the Jewish Book Council, and/or benefiting from awards given...

  • Ghosts of Communism

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    May 1, 2013 | 11:25 am

    Two weeks ago, my wife, Ann, and I completed our first trip to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Everywhere we went, our local guides proudly pointed out the progress that has been made since the fall of communism, and we could readily see for ourselves the affluence,...

  • ‘My Mother’s Wars’: Witness From Afar

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    April 24, 2013 | 12:10 pm

    I met Lillian Faderman last Saturday when we both appeared on a panel titled “Holocaust Lives” at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. To be sure, the Holocaust figures crucially in her new memoir, “My Mother’s Wars” (Beacon Press, $25.95), but her book is more than a testimony...

  • The comfort of lies

    April 9, 2013 | 1:27 pm

    The ups and downs of everyday life, the many dramatic struggles woven into the fabric of life, provide writers—this group of shameless voyeurs and hoarders of stories—with invaluable ideas for our novels.   In “The Comfort of Lies” (Atria Books, 323 pp) Randy Susan Meyers, the...

  • Jay Neugeboren gets reel with latest novel

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    March 21, 2013 | 4:55 am

    "For far too long, Jay Neugeboren has been known as a writer’s writer and as the nurturing teacher of future writers,” Sanford Pinsker wrote in the Forward about one of Neugeboren’s earlier books. “It is high time for a wider audience.”

    Neugeboren, in fact, has written 19 books,...

  • The splendor and distinction of Iranian-Jewish art

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    March 15, 2013 | 8:11 am

    For visitors to the Fowler Museum’s recent exhibition, the show’s catalog, “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews” edited by David Yeroushalmi (Beit Hatfutsot/Fowler Museum: $30) will be a keepsake. For those who missed the exhibition, the book captures the sumptuous images...

  • The clout of Judge Stanley Mosk

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    March 7, 2013 | 4:03 am

    A new biography of California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk opens with an apt quote from the late and much-loved Jewish Journal columnist Marlene Adler Marks: “Mosk,” Marks wrote in these pages in 1997, “is California history with a heartbeat.”

    Mosk entered public service...

  • Yiddish: The enduring language

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    March 1, 2013 | 12:56 pm

    Among the many ways the Jewish people have sought to honor the Six Million, perhaps none is so life-affirming as the revival of interest in Yiddish, the mother tongue of the vast majority of the men, women and children murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.

    Yet as Barbara...

  • The wrath of history

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    February 20, 2013 | 3:16 pm

    Much has been written about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, but “anti-Judaism” is something else again.

    “ ‘Judaism’ ... is not only the religion of specific people with specific beliefs, but also a category, a set of ideas and attributes with which non-Jews can make sense of and...

  • Elie Wiesel and questions of God and duty

    February 15, 2013 | 9:49 am

    The madness always calls him back.  You only have to glance at Elie Wiesel’s tortured face to know that he is always at risk.  Even after the countless novels and the Nobel Peace Prize.  Even after producing “Night,” his devastating masterpiece about Auschwitz.  Even after all the...

  • ‘Brandeis-Bardin,’ on paper

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    February 7, 2013 | 2:05 pm

    From generation to generation, starting in 1950 and continuing today, one of the most important sites on the map of the Jewish community in Southern California was a stretch of rolling hills in Simi Valley.

    The story is richly told in the pages of “The Brandeis-Bardin Institute:...

  • Perspectives on occupation: Lessons from Israeli society

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    January 23, 2013 | 1:02 pm

    The argument over Israel’s presence in the territories beyond the Green Line has recently come to focus almost exclusively on security issues, but there is literally no aspect of life in Israel that is not affected by its settlement policies. Indeed, the Jewish identity of Israel,...

  • ‘Freud’s Sister’: Abandoned by her brother to the Nazis, a story of childhood love and betrayal

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    January 17, 2013 | 1:42 pm

    Sometimes the human mind seems inadequate to understand and explain the enormity of the Shoah, which may explain why Freud is so often invoked by writers of Holocaust literature, ranging from D. M. Thomas in “The White Hotel” to Primo Levi in “The Drowned and the Saved.”  Perhaps...

  • Jewish Journal Book award announced

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    January 9, 2013 | 11:15 am

    The making of a memorable book requires the skills of an alchemist. Every author starts with the raw material of his or her own experience and expertise, but it can take a certain secret ingredient — passion, vision, inspiration — to transform the dross into gold. That is a fair...

  • Uncle Leo, helloooooo

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    January 3, 2013 | 2:06 pm

    “Seinfeld” was never really “a show about nothing.” Rather, not unlike the Bible, it was a work of the imagination that had something to say about nearly everything.

    One episode, for example, focuses on the moral ambiguity of old people stealing from a chain store.  The culprit...

  • Reviving Biblical blue

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    December 19, 2012 | 3:59 pm

    Blue and white are the traditional colors of the tallit, and, for that reason, the colors of the flag of Israel. And yet the ancient craft of making blue dyes for use in sacred garments was lost to the world for centuries. Just as the Jewish people longed for Zion, they also longed...

  • An age of broken glances: On ‘Why Love Hurts’

    By Rabbi David Wolpe

    December 19, 2012 | 10:00 am

    Each time I officiate at a marriage, I perpetrate a small fraud. I read the ketubah, the marriage contract, in its original Aramaic and then I read the “translation.” The translation is actually a confection of sweet-spun phrases about creating a home of warmth, openness, and...

  • The Peanut Gallery: An American Icon Examined

    By Susan Freudenheim

    December 13, 2012 | 8:53 am

    Forget apple pie — if there is an iconic American food, it is surely peanut butter.

    The rich and satisfying story of peanut butter is told by Jon Krampner in “Creamy & Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, The All-American Food” (Columbia University Press: $27.95), a...

  • Who is a Jew?

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    December 5, 2012 | 4:17 pm

    When Theodore Ross was just a boy, his  mother took something away from him and never gave it back — his Jewish identity.

    “If you have a tumor, you cut it out,” his mother tells him when he brings the subject up many years later. “Judaism was a tumor?” he asks. “Well, it can kill...

  • Howard Jacobson, in retrospect and looking forward

    November 30, 2012 | 10:39 am

    Finkler QuestionSomething disturbs me about the way Howard Jacobson, the Man Booker Prize winning author of “The Finkler Question,” navigates the rocky road of his fluctuating Jewish identity.  The British Jewish author, who lives in London, sometimes reminds me of the comedian Jon Stewart.  Both...

  • Gifts for literarily everyone

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    November 20, 2012 | 2:02 pm

    As Chanukah approaches, there is a plentitude of gift-worthy titles from recently published books. Some are elegant, some quirky, some comforting, but all of them are suitable for one or another of the readers on your list.  


    Michael Feinstein, an American maestro in his own...

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