614 Staff Picks

staffpicks

Find out what the 614 staff members have been reading this winter.

If you’re looking to awaken your mind:

Book pick: Betraying Spinoza by Rebecca Goldstein (Schocken, 2006)

Description: Goldstein sets out to rediscover the flesh-and-blood man often hidden beneath the veneer of rigorous rationality and to crack the mystery of the breach between the philosopher and his Jewish past. Here is a Spinoza both hauntingly emblematic and deeply human, both heretic and hero—a surprisingly contemporary figure ripe for our own uncertain age.

Sylvia Barack-Fishman (co-director of the HBI): What were the motivational wellsprings of 17th-century rationalist Benedict Spinoza’s groundbreaking vision of the world? Rebecca Newberger Goldstein sweeps the reader along, arguing that Spinoza, unlike his Christian intellectual contemporaries, struggled with “the wrenching problem of Jewish identity, of Jewish history and Jewish suffering.” This pain became the secret ingredient in the sublimity of Spinoza’s ecstatic “intellectual love of God.” Goldstein’s novelistic skills and stunning clarity make this passionately felt, brilliantly crafted philosophical thriller a “must read.”

Book pick: Expanding the Palace of The Torah by Tamar Ross (Brandeis University Press, 2004)

Description: A broad philosophical overview of the challenges the women’s revolution poses to Orthodox Judaism and Orthodox Judaism’s response to those challenges. Surprisingly, very little work has been done in this area, and most Jewish feminist critiques addressing broader theological concerns are conducted by non-Orthodox, Anglo-educated women.

Shula Reinharz (Director of the HBI): Ross is as firmly rooted in feminist ideas as she is in Orthodox Judaism. She was raised in the U.S. and has spent her adulthood in Israel. Because of her background, I find comfort in her optimism for the future. Note: read “Caution vs. Revolution” to find out more.

Book pick: Russian Jews on Three Continents: Identity, Integration, and Conflict by Larissa Remennick (Transaction Publishers at Rutgers, 2007)

Description: Following the demise of communism in the early 1990s, more than 1.6 million Jews from the former Soviet Union emigrated to Israel, the U.S., Canada, Germany and other Western countries. Remennick relates the saga of their encounter with the economic marketplaces, lifestyles and everyday cultures of their new homelands, drawing on comparative sociological research among Russian-Jewish immigrants she conducted over the last decade.

Michelle Cove (Editor of 614): What I appreciate most about this book is the eclectic blend of material that Remennick uses. She calls herself a “holistic social observer,” merging statistics, surveys, fiction, folklore and interviews, and is the first to claim some of her political sympathies may “hang out” in spite of efforts to be objective. It’s also just fascinating to read about the psychological range of experiences that the Russian Jews have faced in their attempts to assimilate and what has made the immigration process different today.

If you’re looking for a visual journey:

Book pick: The Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography Project by Susan Chevloe, Joanna Lindenbaum, Ilan Stavans (Yale University Press, 2005)

Description: While American Jews are commonly considered a homogenous ethnic group, the reality today is far more complex. Conversion, adoption, intermarriages, and immigration have transformed the fabric of Jewish communities, as they have the United States as a nation. This fascinating book explores questions of American Jewish identity and how Jews fit today into larger discourses of race, ethnicity and religion.

Becky Rolnick (614 editorial advisor): One of the most engaging and inspiring things about Judaism, for me, is the fact that we are required to struggle with our identity and beliefs. And yet, somehow the face of Judaism often feels homogenous. The Jewish Identity Project is a fascinating portrait of Jews in all of their diversity of practice, belief, ethnicity, experience. I cannot think of a better way to continue the mandate to struggle than to connect thousands of years of tradition with the important realities of an ever-evolving people as explored in this collection.

Book pick: Women of the Book: Jewish Artists, Jewish Themes by Judith Hoffberg, Florida Atlantic University Libraries (February 1, 2001)

Description: This beautiful paperback is actually a companion catalog to an exhibition of 90 women artists who have created bookworks of unusual beauty and significance. Among the themes are the family rituals, traditions and liturgy, the Holocaust, the integration of Jewish culture into art, humorous takes on being “Jewish,” cultural memory and the celebration of festivals, among others. But what is most meaningful in this exhibition of more than 100 bookworks is the sense of “belonging” to either a cultural or religious community, or even both.

Rosalind Landman (Communications Coordinator 614): This book has mass appeal and is an excellent resource for anyone with interest in Women’s Studies, Judaism or the arts.  This book was designed as a companion piece for an exhibit of the same title and boasts wonderful photos and descriptions of various “books” that each artist has created.  It not only provides an interesting look at different artistic interpretations of what a book is and can be; but also demonstrates the multitude of ways that Judaism can be expressed, represented and interpreted in works of art. 

Note: The catalog for Women of the Book: Jewish Artists, Jewish Themes is now available from Florida Atlantic University, Special Collections and Archives, Wimberly Library, P.O. Box 3092, Boca Raton, FL 33431-0992 for $20.00 plus $3.95 postage and handling for a grand total of $23.95.

If you’re looking for an entertaining escape:

Book pick: Joy Comes in the Morning by Jonathan Rosen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)

Description: Deborah Green is a woman of passionate contradictions-a rabbi who craves goodness and surety while wrestling with her own desires and with the sorrow and pain she sees around her. Her life changes when she visits the hospital room of Henry Friedman, an older man who has attempted suicide. His parents were murdered in the Holocaust when he was a child, and all his life he’s struggled with difficult questions. Deborah’s encounter with Henry and his family draws her into a world of tragedy, frailty, love and, finally, hope.

Michelle Cove (Editor 614): I have to admit this was one of the first times in my life that I thought about rabbis being truly human—with flaws, anxieties and even doubts about the existence of God. I loved reading about Deborah’s journey both as a religious leader and as a woman dealing with the challenges of a complicated relationship.

Book pick: The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt by Ruth Andrew Ellenson (Dutton Adult, 2005)

Description: Explodes with truth, humor and insight into what it means to be a Jewish woman at the dawn of the 21st century. The writers in this anthology bravely invite you along as they struggle to strike a balance between their heritage and their modern lives. [. . .] This book captures all that is complicated and wonderful about being a Jewish woman today.

Lindsey Fieldman (Director of Communications of the HBI): If you can forgive the title, this book offers much more than a stereotypical glance inside the lives of many Jewish women.  I found each essay to be insightful and honest, showing the many aspects of Judaism that inform our identity.  Laugh-out-loud funny, many of the stories resonated with some variation of my own life experience. The more I read, the more I realized how much I shared with these women writers in my views of the world and that we all struggle in our own unique ways to find our place in Judaism. Most importantly, whatever that looks like to each of us, we should not feel guilty in our expression of being Jewish.

Looking for more suggestions on excellent Jewish reads? Check out the following resources:

Jewish Book Council http://www.jewishbookcouncil.org Sponsor of The National Jewish Book Awards, the longest running North American awards program of its kind in the field of Jewish literature and recognized as the most prestigious.  

National Yiddish Book Center http://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/ The National Yiddish Book Center is a nonprofit organization working to rescue Yiddish and other modern Jewish books and celebrate the culture they contain.

University Press of New England http://www.upne.com/index_new.html: University Press of New England is an award-winning university press supported by a consortium of schools, including Brandeis University. The Brandeis Series on Jewish Women is an innovative book series developed by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute [HBI].

http://www.JBooks.com features reviews of top Jewish books written by well-known authors, journalists and critics, as well as profiles of and interviews with new and established writers.

Canadian Jewish Book Awards http://www.kofflercentre.com/jewish_book_awards.shtml The Canadian Jewish Book Awards Committee began in 1988 as the Jewish Book Committee. Its mandate was to recognize and celebrate excellence in Canadian writing that reflected Jewish concerns and themes.

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