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Words of the Week

“‘Israel-themed sermons this year should help people understand what Israel is up against in its confrontation with Hamas — which is not about borders or settlements or who’s at fault for peace talk going nowhere, but about Israel’s very existence, which Hamas seeks to eradicate, and Jews everywhere, whom Hamas aspires to exterminate,’ Rabbi Block told The Jewish Week in an email. ‘Rabbis have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to sermonize about the “other Israel,” the vibrant democracy whose culture of compassion and innovation is contributing so much to the world.’

But underscoring the complexity of the issue, Rabbi Block, in a sermon this spring to his Central Conference colleagues, said: ‘Israel needs many things, but one thing it does not need is more public criticism, which is ubiquitous. Some of it is legitimate, but it lacks context. Much of it is exaggerated, unfair, uninformed or plainly wrong.

‘I am not suggesting that we pretend Israel is perfect, ignore the complex moral challenges it faces, disregard its occasional failures or excesses in the exercise of power or encourage unquestioning approval of whatever its government does,’ the rabbi continued. ‘We have precious few opportunities to address our entire congregation or community on matters of paramount concern. To me, it feels unconsciously self-indulgent to squander them criticizing Israel, even when it may be deserved.'”

–Rabbi Richard Block, quoted in “Gaza War Pushes Israel, Reluctantly, Onto Holiday Bima” (The Jewish Week)

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Pre-Shabbat Jewish Literary Links

Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen


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

  • Rebecca Klempner reviews this past (Jewish) year and realizes: “I’ve published more in the last year than in the prior 38 years of my life combined.” And a few other things.
  • I’ve had an e-galley of David Bezmozgis’s new novel on my Kindle for awhile, but I finally started reading it this week. Once again, an Adam Kirsch review is the motivating force.
  • It happened this week: the latest Jewish Book Carnival, hosted by the Jewish Book Council.
  • Is Leonard Cohen your man? If so, you must read Ezra Glinter’s “A Song of Love and Memory for Leonard Cohen at 80.”
  • Coming very soon: Monday will bring big doings for those of us at Fig Tree Books. We’ll be officially launching ourselves and announcing our inaugural list of novels. I hope that you’re already following Fig Tree on Twitter and/or Facebook.
  • Shabbat shalom!

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    On “Holocaust Fiction”

    cover19_240x3281ruled46In the new (fall) issue of the Jewish Review of Books, I respond to a piece published in the summer issue.

    My response begins:

    “As an avid reader of novels and short stories, and as the author of a story collection myself, I am always pleased to see fiction discussed within the JRB’s pages. But in the case of Amy Newman Smith’s “Killer Backdrop” (Summer 2014), my initial pleasure was tempered by an increasing sense of discomfort.

    In part, the trouble stemmed from my difficulty understanding the exact focus of Ms. Smith’s opprobrium. Does she object to all “new works of Holocaust fiction” because they are not nonfiction? Fair enough. Some people don’t ascribe any value to Holocaust-related fiction; I am not among them. But are there any examples of Holocaust-related fiction that might meet with Ms. Smith’s approval? Novels by the late ArnoŠt Lustig? Cynthia Ozick’s now-classic “The Shawl”?”

    You can find the rest of my response–plus the original article and Amy Newman Smith’s response-to-my-response–on the JRB website.

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    Words of the Week

    “Israelis can listen to the views of dissenters. They are used to it. But they also want to trust that their dissenters are still a part of the family.”
    Shmuel Rosner, “Who Killed the Israeli Left?” (The New York Times)

    “The presumption that Jews must choose between liberalism and Zionism—and always had to—turns each into a kind of historical cartoon. Zionism is not just tribal primacy, and liberalism is not just an empathy for history’s dispossessed.”
    Bernard Avishai, “Is Liberal Zionism Impossible?” (The New Yorker)

    “Something feels different now.”
    Marjorie Ingall, “Anxiously Sending Little Jews to School” (Tablet) Continue reading ›

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    Pre-Shabbat Jewish Literary Links

    Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

    Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

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

  • Coming in 2016: a new book by Jeffrey Goldberg, on “the Middle East through the prism of President Obama’s years in power.”
  • On my more immediate TBR list: Stuart Rojstaczer’s The Mathematician’s Shiva. According to this Jewlicious post, it’s a novel that “mixes Jewish family life, comedy, academia, mystery, greed, chaos shiva, lust and math.”
  • Matthue Roth on Heinrich Heine’s “love song to cholent.”
  • On the Moment blog, Linda Tucker reviews Rabbi David Wolpe’s new book on the biblical David.
  • If you still don’t have enough books on your own TBR list, you’ll find a few more in Sandee Brawarsky’s fall books preview for The Jewish Week. (Coming soon: a similar overview piece by yours truly, elsewhere. Stay tuned!)
  • Shabbat shalom.

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