Simply Southern With a Dash of Kosher Soul, from the Margolin Hebrew Academy/Feinstone Yeshiva of the South (cloth, $34.99 plus shipping). The Jewish community of Memphis gained some notoriety with the publication of Tova Mirvis’ novel The Ladies Auxiliary, but they make up for it with this big book of scrumptious recipes ranging from down-home “Dixie Caviar” (black bean salad) to gourmet “Raspberry–Pecan-Crusted Lamb Chops.” Featuring color photos and readable recipes, this large-format book is a fundraiser for the school. This reviewer took the liberty of making “real” southern fried chicken from the book — yum! Order it at www.simplysoutherncookbook.net, or call the school at 866-715-7667.
Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks, (Wiley, cloth, $40). These 656 amazing pages will steal the breath of every serious foodie on your list with a jam-packed compendium of Jewish food history, trivia and recipes. The author, a founding editor of Kosher Gourmet magazine, author of five cookbooks and James Beard winner, is also a rabbi. Marks covers food from Adafina (Sephardic Shabbat stew) to Zwetschgenkuchen (plum cake)with Kubaneh (Yemeni bread) in the middle and includes a timeline of Jewish history. (Author’s note: I’ve been trying for years to work “zwetschgenkuchen” into this column.)
500 Judaica: Innovative Contemporary Ritual Art, by Ray Hemachandra and Daniel Belasco (Lark Crafts, paper, $24.95). Another big book jammed with interesting Jewish items, but this time they are stunning ritual objects selected by a curator from The Jewish Museum. The creativity and variety that these artists and artisans have brought to ritual objects is wonderful to see. Works include the usual hanukkiot (menorahs) and mezzuzot along with hand-washing vessels, Torah embellishments and a striking variety of spice and tzedakah boxes. A few featured artisans with local connections are Seth Rolland, Gabriel Bass and Nancy Meagan Corwin.
The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement, by Steven L. Pease (Deucalion, paper, $19.95). This comprehensive examination (topping more than 600 pages) of Jewish accomplishment focuses on the period from Enlightenment on. Remarkably, the author is not Jewish. But he admits to a life-long fascination with Jewish success in a variety of fields from academia to entertainment, where Jews are represented disproportionately to their numbers in the general population. This essential reference for any Jewish library includes history, profiles, factual tables and thorough footnotes. Is the author (a Spokane native) displaying some bias by selecting Noam Chomsky as his representative social activist? On the whole, though, the book is balanced and extremely informative.
Back to the Beginning, by Mark Hoenig (Xlibris, paper, $19.99). The author, an attorney by training, joined with his siblings in paying tribute to their late father by studying every Torah portion for a year. Hoenig wrote responses to each one and on conclusion realized he had a book. This personable approach by a Modern Orthodox lay scholar allows readers to feel as if they’ve joined him in weekly study.
This is an example of a well-done self-published book. It is well written and, more importantly, well edited, and even footnoted. If Hoenig produces another edition, I would only recommend he add a glossary for Hebrew terms that may be unfamiliar to some readers.
Exodus and Emancipation: Biblical and African-American Slavery, by Kenneth Chelst (Urim, cloth, $34.95). An interesting and unusual take on a familiar idea from an equally interesting author — a professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering at Wayne State University and an ordained rabbi. Chelst delves into the story of Biblical slavery — using a variety of sources and commentary — and compares and contrasts it with the historically documented experiences of African-American slaves in a way that enriches the reader’s understanding of both. He explores social, psychological, religious and philosophical dimensions in a dense, but readable tome, and his passion shines through. With illustrations, footnotes and glossary.
Hillel: If Not Now, When? by Joseph Telushkin (Schocken, cloth, $24). Hillel is the latest addition to Nextbook’s “Jewish Encounters” series by one of America’s preeminent Jewish scholars. We know so little about Hillel outside of limited Talmudic commentaries, yet the author cleverly brings those resources forward into the 21st century, presenting 2,000-year-old teachings in a positive, current, and perhaps even radical way. Telushkin wastes no time in letting us know that he thinks we should take the most famous Hillel story — “what is hateful to you do not do to your fellow…the rest is commentary” — as instruction to be more welcoming to potential converts, but there’s more here than that.
Land of Blood and Honey, by Martin Van Creveld (St. Martins, cloth, $26.99). This unfortunately titled book is actually a concise and readable history of Israel written by someone who has lived a better part of it. The author, a leading Israeli military historian and theorist, has been on the faculty of Hebrew University since 1971. He falls on the conservative side of the fence —
or the wall, actually — but offers a good summation of Israel since its founding, including some current analysis of the country’s economy.
Saul Bellow: Letters, edited by Benjamin Taylor (Viking, cloth, $35). Another big book (558 pages), this one is stuffed with the celebrated 20th-century novelist’s missives to a wide variety of recipients. These never-before-seen letters add a personal dimension to other biographical information available, and since Bellow corresponded with many other significant literary figures of the time, also serves as a “who’s who” of American letters, as well as providing glimpses into the author’s personal life and dry wit.
Unexpectedly Eighty and Other Adaptations, by Judith Viorst (Free Press, cloth, $17). When she was dealing with the vagaries of child rearing, Judith Viorst turned her sardonic eye to the life of a child in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Now that she is about to turn 80, the author turns the same eye to the vagaries of aging in this highly entertaining and funny little book of verse. “My scalp is now showing./My moles keep on growing./My waistline and breasts have converged./My teeth resist brightening./I’m in decline./It’s positively frightening.”
The Stormchasers, by Jenna Blum (Dutton, cloth, $25.95). In the bestselling Those Who Save Us, the author paid fictional tribute to her Jewish ancestors. In her new page-turning novel of twins separated and united, Blum turns to her non-Jewish Midwestern roots, set in the drama of Tornado Alley. Karenna George desperately misses her twin brother, whose erratic behavior tore their family apart. He has disappeared into the strange subculture of storm chasers, but when she learns he’s nearby she tries to find him again. Joining a storm-chasing tour as a journalist, she begins her complicated adventure of reunion. Blum has a gift for rendering contemporary dialog into readable form. Learn more about the author and her Jewish roots at www.jennablum.com.