According to the rabbis, the holiday of Sukkot commemorates the 40 years of wandering in the Sinai Desert, and we eat and sleep in a sukkah — that temporary structure made with a roof of dried vegetation, such as palm fronds — because the Israelites slept in sukkot (the plural of sukkah) on their journeys.
“Beware of being lured into their ways ... Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did those nations worship their gods? I too will follow the same practices!’” (Deuteronomy 12:30).
When was the last time your fifth grader read a book written in free verse? How about a children’s version of life in Stalinist Russia? These two very unusual novels for young people from two Los Angeles children’s authors make excellent summer reads and particularly good discussion starters for families to read together.
Joshua Henkin, author of “The World Without You” (Pantheon Books, $25.95), has frequently said in interviews that he first fell head over heels in love with reading and then convinced himself he could become a writer because he intuitively sensed what was missing in other people’s fiction.
Pausing in the middle of reading “Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad?” at a moment when the protagonist of the children’s book, Montsho, has been called the black sheep of his family, Tanya Graham asks 10 elementary school students grouped around her: “Have you ever felt different from your family?”
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.
My daughter, Dina, accepted a summer job here in Los Angeles last year. Before being hired, she explained that she was an observant Jew who would have to take off two days in early June to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. The manager, respecting Dina’s religious commitment, said it would be no problem.
Observing my kids playing, I notice how the same toy, no matter how many times they play with it, can reveal the most remarkable things. My daughter, with the vocabulary befitting a 1 1/2-year-old, will bring her ball over to me and point to a mark on it with a delighted grunt.
Look up the term “unintended consequences” and you’ll find an entire school of thought on the subject. According to one source, consequences of this sort can be classified as positive, negative or, oddly denoted, perverse. How wonderful are those moments when a new discovery emerges from a serendipitous mistake, like the discovery of penicillin in healing the sick, or the discovery of aspirin to help prevent heart attacks. So many lives have been saved from blunders and mishaps; there is a holiness in this type of discovery.
“A Sweet Passover” by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by David Slonim (Abrams: $16.95).
On Dec. 31, when the Barnes & Noble at the corner of Pico and Westwood boulevards closes its doors for the last time, the “people of the book” and everyone else who lives on the Westside of Los Angeles will move one step closer to becoming the “people without a bookstore.”
When Myra Clark-Siegel, wife of Israeli Consulate General David Siegel, packed their things for their Los Angeles mission, she sacrificed a few items. But she couldn’t leave behind her children’s favorite books, no matter that they weighed down the suitcases.
What would it take for you to disown your child? I know that for most everyone this is a hypothetical question, but please indulge me:
Spring arts calender.
The Arrowsmith Program uses cognitive exercises designed to strengthen the underlying brain functions responsible for learning disabilities. While new to the United States, the program has been offered in private schools in Canada for 30 years, among others by the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
Last Thursday night at LACMA, I was treated to a reading of my own works by the very talented and beautiful actress Bahar Soumekh, and by UC Irvine professor Nasrin Rahimieh. Outside the Bing Theater, rain poured in sheets, and traffic on Wilshire was at a standstill because all the lights had been blown out by the wind and -- this being Los Angeles where even the mildest winter storm is dealt with like Armageddon -- I was rather astonished that anyone had shown up at all.
For Walt Whitman, the Civil War was about the body. The crime of the Confederacy, Whitman believed, was treating blacks as nothing but flesh, selling them and buying them like pieces of meat. Whitman's revelation, which he had for the first time at a New Orleans slave auction, was that body and mind are inseparable. To whip a man's body was to whip a man's soul.
Jonah Lehrer's book, "Proust Was a Neuroscientist," is based on a misunderstanding. Nonetheless, it is engaging, informed, wide ranging and altogether worth reading. At times it has the whip-smart feel of the best term paper you've ever read; if only one could adjust the thesis a bit, it would settle in to what is its real nature -- a provocative meditation, not a genuine discovery.
Historically, rabbis have proclaimed that in order to study kabbalah, one has to be a learned Jewish man older than of 40. So imagine how surprised those rabbis would be today if they could peruse a modern bookstore: There are now a plethora of tomes on the subject, making kabbalah available to the layperson -- male, female, Jew and non-Jew -- the dummy and idiot alike (which is it better to be?).
Yes, take a breath.
"One, long deliberate breath that you feel from the very beginning of it until the end of it. Try it, really. You can do it with your eyes open. You can do it while reading these instructions. Do you notice that you can feel your body, and especially your chest expanding and relaxing to accommodate the air flowing in and out, without stopping reading?"
Let me state, for the record, that I know nothing about sports.
I don't watch them; I don't follow them. My parents didn't. I never did as a kid. I don't now with my family. Occasionally in the finals of a season, a few names flutter into my consciousness and then, just as quickly, disappear. I'm not proud of this. I watch, rather wistfully, as sports informs the conversations of a wide range of folks, as I watch families and friends gather in living rooms or in bars to scream and shout and be together.
In celebration of Jewish Book Month, here are some suggestions for fostering critical literacy skills and igniting a lifelong love of reading in your child:
With few exceptions, I sincerely hate bugs ... a lot. I hate the way they look. I can't stand it when they bite. And most of all, I feel violated each time I catch one crawling up my leg. Yeeech!
List of 10 books about happiness.
The High Holy Days can be a confusing time for children. It's not easy for them to understand the sense behind the story of a father who almost sacrifices his son or how a chicken can help take away sins. Luckily, the answers to these mysteries and many more can be found in a book -- and thanks to the Harold Grinspoon Foundation's PJ Library (as in pajamas), parents around the country are getting those books for free.
I am not sure how your rabbi would react if you sat in the pews reading T.S. Eliot or William Faulkner, but if you were found poring over the pages of 1966 Nobel Laureate S.Y. Agnon's "Days of Awe," originally published in Hebrew as "Yamim Noraim," I trust most rabbis would happily approve. So would Agnon. In his introduction, Agnon states that he created this book so that one may read it "between prayers," as a way of intensifying one's spiritual experience during the High Holy Days.
Roughly 20 years ago, Sudan, whose western Darfur region has been engulfed in genocide for four years, watched another other tragedy unfold -- the deaths of thousands of Ethiopian Jews trying to escape to Israel via Operation Moses.
When author Marge Piercy was a little girl, her grandmother set a special place at the Passover seder for Blackie, her grandmother's cat.
So what is Purim about? This short guide explains the various holiday traditions and celebrations, as well as a few suggestions of unique and fun ways to partake in the festivities.
If you think this column is too religious, wait until you see Jewish Life. If I snorkel into observant Judaism, then it goes deep-sea diving. If this column is "the hood," then Jewish Life is the hood on steroids.
Each Christmas, Barri Evins and a group of volunteers give away thousands of books at Head Start magnet centers throughout the Los Angeles area. At each center, volunteers greet each child individually, ask them their age and then present them with a brand new book especially selected for them.
Dobkin doesn't play bingo, and she doesn't own a television. She occasionally attends a lecture or musical event, but generally, when she isn't working, she is reading, usually The Forward in Yiddish or English or The Jewish Journal. She reads without glasses, except for very small print.
"Jewtopia: The Chosen Book for the Chosen People"
The American Library Association got more than 400 requests to ban books last year. But most of those requests were unsuccessful, because of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other people who make sure books stay on shelves.
The "One People/One Book" plan is for synagogue members to meet and discuss "As a Driven Leaf" in small groups at least four times between last November's opening at the UJ and a closing event on May 24 at Milken Community High School.
Even in the best of families, relationships are enormously complicated. Some of the stories rabbis hear, all too frequently, of families in crisis are excruciatingly painful: parents who disown their children because of radical disappointment with the life choices their children have made; siblings who refuse to be in the same room with each other because their anger is irreconcilable; courts clogged with family members fighting over contested wills, and so forth. The possibilities for family chaos are almost endless. When things go wrong, they often go very wrong.
children's fable "In God's Hands," written by Lawrence Kushner and Gary Schmidt, fancifully illustrated by Matthew J. Baek. (Jewish Lights Publishing, $16.99). Kushner's other children's books include "Because Nothing Looks Like God" (Jewish Lights, 2000) and among his adult books is "The Way Into: Jewish Mystical Tradition" (Jewish Lights, 2004), Schmidt is the author of Newbery Honor Book "Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy" (Clarion, 2004).
Teaching your brain new tricks is like a workout for the mind. It's never too early to start, and you don't have to ante up tuition to start your brain fitness program
Simchat Torah, the holiday called "Rejoicing in the Torah," falls on Oct. 26. We finish the cycle of reading the Torah and begin again.
Jews for Judaism is hosting its third-annual Creative Writing Contest for kids. The theme his year is "My Greatest Jewish Hero."
Independent readers -- who might pull out a book during a particular part of the service in which they lose interest -- are likely to be reading serious books, trying to deepen their experience of the holidays.
How does one create a literary community in Los Angeles?
Have you noticed more and more lately that your child is engrossed in a constant, beeping dialogue with her computer?
Afternoon naps, a steady flow of food and the promise of an afikomen surprise might keep children awake during the seder, but there is nothing that makes them tune out faster than the formal language of an adult haggadah.
When I go out of town, I often take a novel or two with me, knowing that a plane ride remains one of the few places to get serious reading done. Recently, I read two novels, Seth Greenland's "The Bones" (Bloomsbury) and Bruce Bauman's "And the Word Was" (Other Press), which made strong impressions about why, every so often, you need to get out of town. Both novels concern characters who believe their lives are at a dead end, and who leave their homes for experiences that, in the end, allow them to return to a life less examined but worth living.
The Best of Passover Reading
As a kid growing up in Philadelphia, Edward Schwarzschild did a stint as a Kosher Boy Scout and hated it.
"Carrying two sets of dishes into the wilderness was a real turn-off for me," he said.
Now 40, Schwarzschild hails from a venerable tradition of writers who have mined their formative Jewish experiences for literary purposes. This makes sense, considering that his first novel, "Responsible Men" (Algonquin) due out April 8, revolves around a Jewish family in Philadelphia faced with the challenge of understanding their past and improving their present.
Walking near my parents' home in Florida -- where I'm writing this column -- I noticed a hat with World War II insignias, much like the one my father sometimes wears, in the back window of a parked car. I'd just finished reading "GI JEWS: How World War II Changed a Generation" by Deborah Dash Moore, so the image of the hat really struck me, and I imagined that most men on this street must own similar versions.
There's nothing inherently wrong with reading celebrity gossip magazines. If you can do it in moderation, I applaud you (and please let me know if Lindsay Lohan's dad ever gets his act together). In my case, however, I was a problem reader and I had to put the magazines down.
When the woman at the ice rink said to me, "Remember, listen well for when you do you really can achieve anything," she was, in effect, summarizing the message of Parshat Mishpatim: Listen to the words of Torah and you can achieve a just society.
So is it possible to squeeze 5,765 years of history, culture, law and food into a 380-page book? Yes! While academics might snub their noses, the books actually can teach both the idiot and the dummy quite a bit about Judaism.
Cast members from the new "Ten Commandments" musical performed for about 120 people at AMIT's Cherish The Children dinner on Oct. 25 at Brentwood's Luxe Hotel, with the organization event raising money for AMIT's 60 schools serving 15,000 at-risk Israeli youth.
A saleswoman, driving home in northern Arizona, sees a Navajo woman hitchhiking, stops the car and invites the Navajo woman to join her.