There are myriad ways to approach self-improvement in the context of both religion and culture, and no shortage of Jewish books to help the reader accomplish it.
Whether it is study or learning a new skill, many authors apply Jewish texts to some of the more pressing problems of everyday life, war and peace, leadership, environmental issues, being a better Jew.
Then there is Susan Shapiro, whose Secrets of a Fix-Up Fanatic: How to Meet and Marry Your Match (Bantam, paper, $12) focuses on improvement through meeting and marrying your match. Although she doesn’t draw directly on Jewish texts to explain her approach, what could be more Jewish than creating a good match? Shapiro’s message is that all single women, who the book is geared toward, need to take matters into their own hands and turn to people who can help identify a soul mate. It’s entertaining reading, and can even give ideas to those trying to help single friends find mates.
On a more serious note, in Moses and the Journey to Leadership: Timeless Lessons of Effective Management from the Bible and Today’s Leaders (Jewish Lights, cloth, $21.99), Rabbi Dr. Norman J. Cohen shows us both what Moses did, and what contemporary business and political leaders have done when faced with the challenges of leadership. Cohen, provost and professor of Midrash at Hebrew Union College, makes a detailed study of the Exodus story and Moses’s role, adding parallel anecdotes about modern CEOs, politicians and explorers in a series of sidebars featured on almost every page. Chapter subjects include showing potential, overcoming self-doubt, finding support, enduring rejection, among others.
Jeremy Bernstein’s Judaism and the Environment (cloth, $24.99) is billed as “an accessible introduction to the Jewish understanding of the natural world and the key concepts central to Jewish environmentalism.” Bernstein, a founder and associate director of the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning in Israel, draws on Jewish writings and teachings to show how Torah and traditional sources support taking an environmentally responsible approach to managing the earth’s resources.
Improving your knowledge of Judaism is never a bad thing, and who better to teach you than that perennial teacher and author, Adin Steinsaltz, with the 30th anniversary edition of The Essential Talmud (Basic, paper, $17.95)? In the author’s new introduction, Steinsaltz calls the book more an overview than a preface. He goes on to say that, “the Talmud has been terribly maligned by those who do not know it. It needed some kind of explanation,” and Steinsaltz, who also recently reissued his overview of Kabbalah, is the person to rise to the challenge. The Essential Talmud serves not just as an introduction to that collection of rabbinic wisdom, but also a history of contemporary Judaism in the making. It ends with a chapter, “The Talmud has Never been Completed.”
Local history teacher Paul Azous, who divides his time between Seattle and Jerusalem, has put his many years of teaching Jewish history and comparative religion between two covers of a book titled In the Plains of the Wilderness: Anthologies of Modern Jewish History (Mazo, cloth, $32.95). At just over 300 pages it includes copious footnotes and manages to touch on major events of Jewish history, beginning with the Enlightenment and ending with a chapter on American Jewry since 1945. The author brings a strong Jewish perspective, of course, and throws in a little opinion at the end.
Rabbi Samuel M. Stahl served the Jewish community of San Antonio, Tex., for many years at Temple Beth El, where he is now rabbi emeritus. In Boundaries (Sunbelt Eakin, cloth, $22.95) he offers us succinct essays, touching on the personal, religious, ethical and even a Jewish perspective on vegetarianism. His pieces on the differences between Judaism and Christianity are quite interesting. At the end of the book the reader will find a series of short profiles of “those who made a difference,” including Oskar Schindler, Anne Frank and Mordecai Kaplan.
Finally, what better way to improve yourself and your home — and perhaps even your status in your own family — with a bit of Jewish cooking? The latest cookbook to arrive at JTNews is New Jewish Cooking (Absolute, cloth, $37.50) by Jason Prangnell, the chef at London’s haute kosher cuisine Bevis Marks the Restaurant. Located adjacent to Britain’s oldest synagogue, Bevis Marks offers dairy-free kosher meals drawing on Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions.
Although there are meat recipes here (try Lamb and Cherry Koresh with Jeweled Rice), vegetarians and even vegans will find delicious dishes among the parve selections. Potato and Thyme Gnocchi with Paprika Sauce and Black Olives or Chilled Cauliflower and Fennel Soup sound quite delectable. This large-format book features lovely color photographs of many of the dishes.