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Women’s Minyan, by Naomi Ragen (Toby, paper, $12.95). A best-selling author and advocate of gender equality and human rights, Ragen tackles her subject matter in a play this time. Set in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, Women’s Minyan concerns Chana Sheinhoff, the 43-year-old mother of 12, who has run away from her physically and emotionally abusive husband and how the matter is viewed by the women in her life, including her two oldest daughters.
The Golem, Methuselah and Shylock, by Edward Einhorn (Theater 61, paper, $14.95). These three short plays by the author of the fantasy novels Paradox in Oz and The Living House of Oz examine a number of long-standing Jewish themes, but with a twist. A bonus short, short play, One Eyed Moses and the Churning Red Sea, looks at rabbis and pirates. It was written, produced and performed in 24 hours as part of a theater festival in New York.
The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred and the Jews, by David Mamet (Nextbook/Schocken, cloth, $19.95). Ouch. Ow. Please excuse the reviewer as she picks vitriolic shrapnel out of her skin. It’s hard to believe that Mamet, known for terse, hard-hitting dialogue, would expound for an entire book on the topic of self-hating Jews and Israel-hating Jews. Of course he’s superbly articulate and, being Mamet, has to shock us.
The basis of this riff is the Wicked Son of the Passover Haggadah, the one who asks disdainfully, “What is this to you?” A hard-hitting attack against non-religious Jews who make no effort to understand their religion, it is unlikely to be read by those in its sights, but may comfort those bothered by Jewish attacks on Judaism and Israel.
Confronting Anti-Semitism, by Kofi A. Annan and Elie Wiesel (Ruder Finn, paper, $14.95). This small book contains mostly photographs — disturbing images of anti-Semitic graffiti, propaganda, desecration and political slogans. “Practice tolerance,” begs Annan while Wiesel offers a “plea on behalf of an ancient people.” Perhaps this approach is the most appropriate for our visually oriented culture. Words are processed intellectually by the brain, but pictures of tattooed neo-Nazis, swastika-defaced headstones and a poster advertising an annual “anti-Israel hate fest” hit the viewer in the gut.
History and Culture
Folktales of the Jews, Volume One, edited by Dan Ben-Amos (JPS, cloth, $75). As you can tell by the price, this is a large volume at 700-plus pages, with a scholarly bent. However, it offers something few other collections of folk tales do, which is a focus on the stories of the Sephardic Jews of Israel. Each entry is thoroughly footnoted.
Arrows in the Dark, by Tuvia Friling (University of Wisconsin, cloth, $75). For those with a serious interest in Holocaust history and the birth of the state of Israel, this two-volume is scholarly, yet readable. The author, a senior research fellow at the Ben-Gurion Institute and Ben-Gurion University, draws on archival material from Israel, England and the U.S. to analyze the efforts of the Jewish community of Palestine — the yishuv — to rescue European Jews threatened by the Nazis.
Rogues, Writers and Whores, by Daniel Rogov (Toby, cloth, $24.95). The most Jewish thing about this book is the author, food critic and wine writer for Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper for many years. Amusing tales about serious food lovers spanning the centuries are accompanied by mouthwatering recipes that may send the reader scurrying for the kitchen or Paris, whichever is easier to get to.
The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt, edited by Ruth Andrew Ellenson (Plume, paper, $14). This collection of essays on a theme includes work by Daphne Merkin, Molly Jong-Fast, Tova Mirvis, Rebecca Goldstein and many more. Amusing and touching, these essays run the gamut from Gina Nahai’s multi-cultural family with its “many-layered sorrows” to Jong-Fast’s having to put up with a series of child therapists who insisted she was sexually repressed (she’s Erica Jong’s daughter). A National Jewish Book Award winner, it made the Lost Angeles Times’ best-seller list.
The Contemporary Torah: A Gender-Sensitive Adaptation of the JPS Translation, revising editor David Stein (JPS, cloth, $28). This new adaptation is based on the traditional JPS translation, the most widely read English version of the Jewish Bible, but what jumps out at first glance is the use of the Hebrew tetragammaton — the four letters denoting the name of God (Yud Hay Vav Hay) in place of the word “God,” “He” or “Lord.”
This encourages us to substitute a gender-neutral appellation, such as “HaShem” (the name) or “the Eternal.” According to the publisher, this version doesn’t replace, but supplements, the original translation, for those interested in a fuller picture of the role of gender in the Bible or who are proponents of gender neutrality in English.
Opening the Doors of Wonder, by Arthur J. Magida (U. of California, cloth, $24.95). Journalist Magida brings together stories of coming-of-age rituals. Narrated by a diverse group of representatives of world religions, many of whose names you’ll recognize (Deepak Chopra, Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens, Elie Wiesel and Huston Smith to name a few), the essays focus on spiritual development. Contributors examine a significant religious ritual in their life, each introduced by the author. The Jewish section runs the gamut from Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin (“Israel and I Grew Up Together”) to Ram Dass, (“Mushrooms Gave Me What I Could Have Had at My Bar Mitzvah”).
Albert Einstein: The Jewish Man Behind the Theory, by Devra Newberger Sperengen (JPS, paper, $12.95). A short biography for ages 9 and up, this book follows Einstein from birth to death, touching on his early struggles in school, his later struggles to get the education he desired, and his further struggles under Nazi Germany, as well as his major accomplishments.
Honest Answers to Your Child’s Jewish Questions, by Sharon G. Forman (URJ Press, paper, $16.95). A Reform rabbi helps parents tackle some of the more challenging questions kids ask about their religion, including, “Why does God let bad things happen?” and “Do I have to go to religious school?” Each chapter ends with a detailed bibliography of further reading for children and adults.