After our summer recess, Book Nosh is back, better than ever. We had a good turnout at our October 8 meeting; members arrived armed with interesting books they had read over the summer and exciting ideas for expanding the reach of our book club during this coming year.
PROPOSALS FOR NEW ACTIVITIES:
The One Book idea: As we know, the basic operational model for most book clubs is for all members to read the same book and then devote a meeting to a discussion of that one book. In the past, we at Book Nosh have disdained such a conventional approach. In our view, it is much more in keeping with our Jewish tradition for each member to read a different book, and then spend the next meeting arguing about whose book is superior. However, in a bow to convention, we have decided that this year we will dedicate an occasional meeting to a discussion of a single book. Our first monotopical meeting will be on December 10, and will be dedicated to a discussion ofThe Wanting, by Michael Lavigne. As it happens, this novel is this year’s selection of the One Book, One Jewish Community committee and will presumably be read by all Jewish readers in the greater Philadelphia area, and we at Book Nosh are nothing if not conformists. All kidding aside, it is a wonderful book, and we are looking forward to spending a couple of hours talking about it, and about the issues that it raises, at our December meeting.
Furthermore, because we thought that this book was particularly appropriate for mature and sophisticated Jewish teenagers (i.e. the book is full of sex, violence, and rough language), we have invited the students attending TBI’s Hebrew High School to read the book and join us for our December meeting. Our invitation has been approved by the powers that be, and we are looking forward to an influx of young and opinionated visitors.
As a final note, we have found out that Michael Lavigne himself is coming to our area to discuss his book on January 26, 2014. Time and location are yet to be determined, but the date is on a Sunday, which should make it easier for all of us who admire the book to attend his talk.
Group Outing to See a Play: One of our members, Janie Siman-Glatt, alerted us to a production of Address Unknown being presented at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. This play, which is based on a book by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor that we have all read and which was the subject of discussion at one of our meetings last year, deals in a clever and surprising way with the rise of Nazism in Germany.
We have signed up 10 people to attend the play on Sunday, November 24, at 2:00 pm. We have also managed to persuade the producer to sell us discounted tickets at $20 per person and to make cast members available for a post-performance discussion. We will be meeting in the TBI parking lot at 12:00 noon and traveling as a group. Transportation will be available to those members who prefer not to drive into Philadelphia. There are additional tickets available for anyone wishing to join our group.
Showing a Movie: Another member of our group, Paula Goldberg, has found a wonderful little movie, called The Return of the Violin. It tells the story of a Stradivarius once owned by a Jewish virtuoso named Bronislaw Huberman, who was born in Czestochowa, Poland in 1882. The violin was stolen from Huberman in 1945, during one of his performances at Carnegie Hall, and disappeared for some 50 years. Eventually it resurfaced and is now owned by famed American violinist Joshua Bell. In 2012, Bell brought the violin back to Czestochowa for a concert. Interwoven with the story of the violin is the story of the Jews of Czestochowa, 45,000 of whom were murdered during World War II, and the story of one little Jewish boy who managed to survive, make his way to the United States, prosper, and eventually finance the rebuilding of the Czestochowa concert hall (formerly the Czestochowa synagogue) and the visit by Joshua Bell and his Strad for the once-in-a-lifetime concert. The movie is available for streaming here, but we thought it would be a nice to watch it as a group at TBI, with a discussion to follow. We are currently working on suitable arrangements.
Poetry Night at the Book Nosh: Finally, another of our members, Steve Pollack, suggested that it might be a nice idea to devote one of our meetings to a discussion of Jewish poetry. To illustrate the idea, Steve read one of his poems (which we reprint below, with his permission). Steve’s poem, as well as his idea, met with universal approval. We will dedicate one of our 2014 Book Nosh meetings to Jewish poetry. Stay tuned for further details.
BOOKS DISCUSSED AT OUR LAST MEETING:
A Guide to the Perplexed, by Dara Horn. Horn, who has visited TBI, and whose books we have discussed previously, has now published her fourth novel. (She is already 36, so obviously she needs to start working a little harder. Never mind that she has a job as a university professor and the occasional outside lecture gig.) In this latest book, she weaves together a story about Cambridge professor Solomon Schechter’s discovery of the Cairo Genizah (which we have discussed previously), an account of Moses Maimonides slaving away, back in 1171, over his perhaps somewhat more famous book of the same title, the biblical tale of Joseph and his brothers, and a story about two competitive and high-achieving sisters set in present day New York and Cairo. The book has received somewhat mixed reviews as a work of popular fiction, but there is no doubting the erudition of its author, who holds a Ph.D. from Harvard in comparative literature, studying Hebrew and Yiddish. Highly recommended for those readers who enjoyed reading Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time.
Jewish as a Second Language: How to Worry, How to Interrupt, How to Say the Opposite of What
I am Jewish. My ex-husband Bill is not. One day, back when we were still married, my mother had to get her blood pressure checked. She didn’t need a ride, she said; she’d call a cab. Bill said, “Okay.”
Of course, she stopped speaking to us.
“How could you?” I asked Bill.
“How could I what?”
“Let her take a cab.”
“But,” Bill said, “it was her idea.”
“You should have known how to translate,” I said.
He said, “My mother would have taken a cab.”
“She’s not Jewish. If a Jewish person offers to take a cab, she never means it.”
“Well, you’ll have to be patient with me,” he said. “Jewish is only my second language.”
As a public service, Katz decided to write this language study manual. According to our reviewer, this is a laugh-out-loud book, and based on the few samples our reviewer read to us, we must agree.
American Judaism: A History, by Jonathan D. Sarna. Sarna, who is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, recently spent a weekend with us at TBI, giving several interesting talks on the history of Jews in America. He is the author of numerous books, including When General Grant Expelled the Jews, The American Jewish Experience, and A Time to Every Purpose: Letters to a Young Jew. Our reviewer, who told us a little about Sarna’s inspirational battle to overcome cancer, urged us to read his books. All of us who attended his talks agreed that, if his writing was half as dynamic as his oral presentations, then he was certainly an author worth seeking out.
Di Brider Ashkenazy (The Brothers Ashkenazi), by Israel Joshua Singer. Israel Joshua Singer might have become a famous novelist, but for the fact that he was overshadowed by his younger brother Isaac Bashevis Singer. (It’s tough to compete when your younger brother wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.) Both brothers emigrated to the United States from Poland in the mid-1930’s, but both continued to write and publish in Yiddish. Although The Brothers Ashkenazi is available in an English translation, our reviewer read it in the original Yiddish. She had high praise for this novel, but mostly she wanted us to become aware of the accomplishments of this lesser-known Singer brother, who died in New York City in 1944. (As an interesting side note, Israel was not a terribly gregarious person and, after his death, his widow, who became his literary executor, continued to guard his literary output with such zeal that it has continued to remain pretty much unknown to this day.)
Finally, one of our members was kind enough to bring a copy of Prime Directive (Book One of the Ptolemaios Saga), by Alexander Geiger, to the meeting. Although this historical novel does not cover any Jewish subject matter, it qualified for discussion at Book Nosh by virtue of the fact that it was written by a Jewish author; namely, the anonymous scribe of this blog. It was said by our reviewer to be an enjoyable read, and who are we to disagree. The book is available on Amazon, or by clicking here.
Our next Book Nosh meeting will be on November 12, 2013, at 7:45, in Classroom H (please note the change of location). We hope to see you all there.
STEVE POLLACK’S POEM:
My grandfather, a humble tailor,
taught us a favored expression
he had learned to be true.
When troubles loomed,
when your best efforts were
coming apart at the seams,
when the very fabric of life
seemed forever wrinkled,
these were his comforting words:
“Don’t worry, everything will press out.”
Yes, with a hot iron, a few ounces of water
and careful work-- you could smooth
your troubles too!
A smile illuminated his whole being,
his diminutive frame stood tall, proud
while his voice soothed
with a tangible inner strength,
with an optimism, that came
from experience and patience,
from confidence and faith.
He made us believe. Of course,
he would pronounce this expression
in his native Yiddish, the language
spoken in the poorest villages
of the Czar’s Russia.
Who were we that we should not believe?
Who were we to feel sorry for ourselves,
pinned down by our own problems?
We lived in America.
We lived in a place of plenty,
at a time of abundant opportunity.
We were not compelled to flee
our homes and community,
the suffocating edicts
the cruel persecution.
We did not fear hateful mobs,
the Czar’s army or Siberian winters.
We enjoyed the warm blanket of family,
the cap and gown of knowledge,
a future full of promise.
We invented permanent press garments.
We enjoyed freedoms.
Who were we, after all,
that we should not believe!
Nearly 50 years
after he passed away,
more than 100 years
after he reached these golden shores
a young immigrant, alone, with only
his optimism and inner strength,
I admire his uncommon, common sense.
I still believe in his insights and example.
His calm spirit and can do attitude still guide me.
I am ever grateful for his courage.
There are places in our world, today,
cold and threatening as a Siberian winter.
For many, every day can be an uncertain struggle.
Poppy did not say life would be flawless.
Poppy did not say there would be no loose threads.
Poppy knew life held challenge and sacrifice.
He kept a sharp scissors nearby, ready to trim.
So, remember the simple words of a tailor,
a wise and tender man, who sewed a wonderful life
with his beautiful wife. We are still... counting
generations, human stitches in a great tapestry.
Unfold your hope, measure up and take special note:
“Don’t worry, everything will press out.”
“Zorg zikh nisht, alts’-ding vet zikh oys-presn!”
© 2013 by By Steve Pollack