Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism
Howard Schwartz (Oxford University Press, cloth, $45)
Does Judaism have a mythology? Most would say no, but folklorist Howard Schwartz has compiled a 586-page collection of them, culling Jewish literature to illuminate its often-denied mythological tradition. Here are tales on various subjects with extensive commentary, including the origin of the myth and explanations of relationships that each myth has with the others and with world literature.
Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers
Stephanie Wellen Levine (NYU Press, paper, $17.95).
This interesting book is subtitled “An Intimate Journey Among Hasidic Girls.” It’s not the first to take us inside the world of the Lubavitch Hasidim, but it might be the first to focus solely on teenage girls. Levine’s mentor is Carol Gilligan (Reviving Ophelia) and she used her teacher’s interviewing technique to draw these girls out and create a fascinating portrait of a community.
The Jewish Life Cycle: Rites of Passage from Biblical to Modern Times
Ivan G. Marcus (UW Press, paper, $24.95)
This should be part of every Jewish home’s reference library. A compilation of Professor Marcus’ 1998 Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies delivered at the University of Washington, it is a fascinating compendium of lifecycle rituals and their histories.
The Book of Customs
Scott-Martin Kosofsky (Harper, cloth, $29.95)
Another must for the home reference shelf. From the 16th through 19th centuries, the Yiddish “customs book” (Minhogbukim) was the most popular vernacular book in Jewish Europe. The author’s discovery of the form inspired him to create a contemporary version, lavishly illustrated with woodcuts from many of the original manuscripts, including the charming title page of a 1593 minhogbuk that claims it is “much nicer than the previous versions.”
The book introduces the basic tenets of Jewish life along with holiday and lifecycle descriptions, and a month-to-month guide to the Jewish year.
Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary, the First Complete Edition
Forward by Marge Piercy and preface by Senesh’s nephew, Eitan (Jewish Lights, cloth, $24.99)
Inside Anne Frank’s House: An Illustrated Journey Through Anne’s World
(Overlook, cloth, $50).
Two new books memorialize the life and times of two of modern Judaism’s young heroines, Hannah Senesh and Anne Frank. After fleeing Europe during World War II and making her way safely to Palestine, Senesh returned to help rescue Jews. Captured in Hungary by the Nazis, she was imprisoned, tortured and executed in 1944. Here you can read her diary entries, plus accounts of her mission by fellow soldier Yoel Palgi and by her mother, Catherine.
A beautiful coffee-table book, this Anne Frank book is well worth the price. Here, pictures prove to be worth thousands of words. What could be more poignant than a photo of newborn Anne, lying next to her mother in the hospital, that completely fills two large pages of this book? If you have been to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, this is a fitting piece of memorabilia. If you have not gone, or don’t ever plan to go, this book will vividly transport you there.
Eleanor Mallet (Pilgrim Press, cloth, $25)
JTNews contributor Ozzie Nogg (paper, $15, at Tree of Life or from the author at email@example.com)
These two books dovetail nicely with The Tenement Saga mentioned in this issue’s main book article. Both deal with the aftermath of the Lower East Side. What are the stories of the first-, second-, even third-generations of American-born Jews? Many, like Nogg’s family, found their way to the Plains states. This little book of family stories is utterly charming and absorbing.
Mallet, also a journalist, takes a more serious look at her return to Jewish roots. Mallet had considered Jewish tradition to be sad and somewhat of a burden, but her sons’ experiences in Israel showed her there was another side.
This book is about her travels and studies in Israel and her return to the U.S. Particularly moving is her chapter on anti-Semitism and her final chapter called, simply, “Home.” “My husband,” she says of lighting the Shabbat candles with her family, “had erected the scaffolding of this ancient ritual through which we could express our love.”
Finally, two small books, which I think go perfectly together, since one is poetry and the other is about wine.
Marcia Falk’s beautiful The Song of Songs: Love Lyrics from the Bible, originally published in 1973, has been reissued with new notes by the translator, a poet in her own right. This translation, which includes the Hebrew on facing pages, has been around long enough to win praise from Isaac Bashevis Singer (”Öan exceptional poetic jobÖ”) and many other scholars and poets.
I don’t know how many of these Israeli wines are available in Washington, but if you are interested in exploring this burgeoning Israeli industry, this guide, Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines, by that country’s preeminent wine critic, Daniel Rogov, (Toby, cloth, $14.95) will introduce you not only to the wines themselves, but the wineries. You can keep in the Valentine spirit with the inspirational words from “Song of Songs,” and a nice bottle of Barkan Reserve Pinotage (2001): “O for your kiss! For your love/More enticing than wine.”