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Pre-Shabbat Jewish Literary Links

Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

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

  • Typically brilliant and especially timely work from Adam Kirsch: “Wicked Sons: Benjamin Kerstein, Doron Rabinovici, and Norman Finkelstein.” (The Tablet subtitle reads: “Is Jewish rebellion really a form of submission? Two new novels and one political critic examine apostasy.”)
  • Midmonth brought the latest Jewish Book Carnival, hosted for August by Ann Koffsky.
  • “This book had me hooked with the cover.” So writes Sandee Brawarsky about Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
  • The editors of a new volume, Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700-1950, discuss their fascinating book.
  • “Philadelphia-based humorist and freelance writer Stacia Freedman has a knack for one-liners and her snappy new novel, Tender is the Brisket, is peppered with them.” Read more about Freedman and her work on the Lilith blog.
  • Shabbat shalom.

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    Words of the Week, III

    Gary Rosenblatt, “The Editor’s Desk: 10 Lessons from the Gaza War” (The Jewish Week):
    “One can only imagine, with horror, the result if Israel did not have the Iron Dome and if thousands of Hamas rockets had found their targets: Israeli civilians. Would the nations of the world have been more sympathetic then to Israel’s plight? Maybe, but it is better to have their anger than their pity.”

    Ilana Curiel, “Hamas keeps up rocket pressure on Israel; man seriously hurt along Gaza border” (Ynetnews.com):
    “In Eshkol, a man in his 30s sustained serious chest wounds when he was hit by rocket shrapnel. The man, who was at the kibbutz children’s house with his wife, pushed one of the nursery teachers and a child into the safe room, saving their lives. Three-year-old children live in the children’s house that was hit.”

    Alexander Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky, “Stop Giving Money to the U.N.’s Relief Agency for Palestinians” (The New Republic):
    “As it is, UNRWA is effectively a branch of Hamas.”

    James Kirchick, “Excluded, for Zionism, at New York’s Inclusive LGBT Synagogue” (Tablet; I’ve opted for the article title that shows up at the top of the webpage, rather than the clickbait title you’ll see as you scroll down):
    “Yet having finally won the acceptance from mainstream Judaism that had so long eluded them, some gay Jews now feel excluded at CBST because of their Zionism.”

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    Tevye in Amherst: A Glimpse into the Great Jewish Books Program

    I have known Hannah Elbaum literally since before she was born. Hannah’s mom and I have been fast friends since our freshman year in college; I was a bridesmaid in Hannah’s parents’ wedding; and I was among the first to hear that Hannah was on the way (and to meet newborn Hannah in the hospital).

    So you can imagine how I began kvelling when I heard that Hannah had been accepted to the 2014 Great Jewish Books Summer Program for high school students at the National Yiddish Book Center. I asked Hannah if she would be kind enough to write up a guest post about her experience, in part because I wish I could attend the program myself. How I would love to spend an entire week in beautiful Amherst, Massachusetts, reading, discussing, and arguing about Jewish literature! When Hannah agreed to contribute her insights, I suggested that she might share with us a typical day in the program. She complied, and I’m delighted to present this glimpse into what was apparently a vibrant and memorable week.

    Hannah Elbaum is a high school senior, eagerly awaiting the next chapter in her life. She was a Diller Teen Fellow of 2012-2013, and a Rising Voices Fellow of 2013-2014. Currently, she is the president of the senior youth group at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she has held a variety of leadership roles and is an active participant in the North American Federation of Temple Youth-Northeast Region.

    Please welcome Hannah Elbaum! Continue reading ›

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    Words of the Week, II

    Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, “The Hate that Starts with Jews Never Ends There”:
    “The new antisemitism is different from the old. In the past Jews were hated for their religion, then for their race. Today they are hated for their nation state. But it was not long before I saw how seamlessly the old and new hatreds meshed.”

    Ambassador Ron Prosor (via his Facebook page):
    “This morning during a press stakeout I held at the UN, I talked about the word ‘disproportionate’. I can tell you that the only ‘disproportionate’ thing is the accusations being made against Israel by the UN and others.”

    Liel Leibovitz, “Ctrl-F-Genocide” (Tablet):
    “What followed was one of the finest pieces of contemporary theater I’ve read in years, equally remarkable for Harris’s level-headed and intelligent replies as it is for Sullivan’s rants, defying logic and morality in a wild effort to portray the Jewish State as a genocidal demon.” Continue reading ›

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    Guest Post: Mark Shechner on Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories, by David Shrayer-Petrov

    Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories. By David Shrayer-Petrov, edited by Maxim Shrayer. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. 262pp. $29.95.

    Review by Mark Shechner

    The present situation for Jewish writers and their readers bears little resemblance to the scene of just two decades ago. It has been so transformed as to be scarcely recognizable. If there is a prior state of affairs, however, in which our time can see itself in an historical mirror it would be the ferment of the early 20th century, the springtime of Jewish writing in America, when writers ambitious to speak for their culture and their moment commonly had at least two languages to choose from, Yiddish and English. We know that some even wrote in Hebrew, and who now remembers the names of those whose also wrote in Russian and Polish? Who recalls Dusk in the Catskills by Reuben Wallenrod, published in 1957? Wallenrod doesn’t appear in any of the standard histories. Nor will he any time soon. He wrote fiction in Hebrew.

    The contemporary moment recycles history in this sense: much of it is fueled by émigrés from abroad who work in multiple languages: a handful still in their native tongues, but most in English, sometimes a decentered English under the tonal canopy of another language. The FSU (former Soviet Union) writers are the most remarkable cases in point. 2014 alone has seen the publication of books by Lara Vapnyar (The Scent of Pine), Anya Ulinich (Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel: A Graphic Novel), Gary Shteyngart (Little Failure: A Memoir), Boris Fishman (A Replacement Life), David Bezmozgis (The Betrayers), and David Shrayer-Petrov (Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories). And that is just a single year’s production. These writers are either themselves members of the refusenik generation that forced open the prison gates of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s or their children. Wherever they settled, they brought with them their passion for the written word, their febrile imaginations, and their stories.

    David Shrayer-Petrov, born in 1936, continues to write in Russian, though he has lived in the United States since 1987 where, besides writing, he has worked as a doctor. Though he has a reputation in Russian émigré circles, his name is little known in American discussions, even though Syracuse University Press has previously published two volumes of his fiction: Jonah and Sarah: Jewish Stories of Russia and America (2003) and Autumn in Yalta: A Novel and Three Stories (2006). Both books were edited by his son Maxim Shrayer, a professor at Boston College and himself a fiction writer: Yom Kippur in Amsterdam (Syracuse, 2012). Continue reading ›

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