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Pre-Shabbat Jewish Literary Links

Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

Every Friday My Machberet presents an array of Jewish-interest links, primarily of the literary variety.

  • It’s always interesting to see which Jewish books others recommend and write about. On the Bustle site, Anna Linton has listed 10 great books that she thinks every Jewish girl should read.
  • One book that this Jewish girl is planning to read asap is Helen Maryles Shankman’s In the Land of Armadillos, which was published this week. (Certain that it’s great from this Jewish Book Council review. Plus, it’s not news that Helen is a gifted writer.)
  • February’s topic of interest over on the Mosaic site is “Identity and the Jewish Museum,” and the offerings kicked off this week with Edward Rothstein’s thought-provoking analysis of “The Problem with Jewish Museums.”
  • Over on the Fig Tree Books website, Merridawn Duckler writes about Grace Paley’s Later the Same Day.
  • And speaking of the Fig Tree Books website–it has received a major makeover! Take a look, and note especially an exciting new direct-sale feature (with discounts!).
  • Shabbat Shalom!

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    1. I was too busy earlier this week to read that Rothstein article about Jewish museums. Well, he certainly took them to task. A lot of what he said, I’d noticed before…but I guess I didn’t judge them for it. I sorta accepted it as just another part of the package of the overwhelmingly secular nature of the American Jewish community. For example, we’ve visited the Skirball on numerous occasions, and I always thought OF COURSE they wouldn’t mention G-d. And OF COURSE they ignore major figures in more traditional and Orthodox communities.

      To many Jews, the U.S. feels like the Promised Land. The reality is that many Jewish Americans are so busy appreciating and enjoying the ease and comfort of life in the U.S. that we’ve forgotten one of the tenets of Judaism over the millenia has been the idea that we are exile and that we pray for that exile to end…at which point we’re all heading back to Israel (in the biblical/geographic sense, not the political sense).

      I think it’s pretty brave for Rothstein to write this article. I don’t think this is what a lot of people want to hear.

      Judaism as a culture is not terribly unified, and Judaism as a genetic identity has only some validity. Jews accept and embrace converts, even if we don’t actively recruit them, and we are of every race. The most enduring aspect of Judaism is Torah and religious practice, and yet that makes people uncomfortable.

      I think that Jewish museums are trying to be inclusive as possible. While I might enjoy learning about the antics of the one-and-only Chief Rabbi of New York to establish rules to govern the business of kosher meat – for one example – or seeing about how the Lubavitcher Rebbe increased the observance of mitzvos or discovering the history of mikveh practice in America…other people might feel outrage. “Are you judging my lack of observance? Are you telling me I should be more like them?”

      Not only that, but in order to make money, a museum must sell tickets to people who aren’t Jewish at all. (I actually think that the average non-Jew would not object to religious content in the way the museum fears. Or, at least, object less than come American Jews.)

      While this inclusiveness has all the downsides Rothstein lists, it does point to one thing that I find noble: achdus (unity). I feel like the directors and curators of Jewish museums want a museum any Jew can go to and get something out of. Most of the Jewish community will feel comfortable – at least in part – at the Skirball. I’ve seen Hareidi kids playing alongside both less observant Jewish families and non-Jewish ones. (I had a nice shmooze in the line once with a Muslim mother who was there with her 2 year old son.)

      That’s something that makes the existence of Jewish museums pretty beautiful.

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