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From My Bookshelf: On Bittersweet Place, by Ronna Wineberg

BittersweetCovLast Thursday evening I had the great pleasure of celebrating the publication of On Bittersweet Place, a novel by Ronna Wineberg, at a lovely book party on the West Side of Manhattan.

I’ve known Ronna for years. I interviewed her when her short-story collection was published. She helped shepherd one of my short stories along the route to publication in Bellevue Literary Review. And one of her cousins is a dear friend of one of my cousins—which makes Ronna and me practically family!

So I was honored to be asked to contribute a “blurb” for On Bittersweet Place, which relocates the typical Jewish-American immigration story from New York to Chicago. After reading the galley last spring, here’s what I wrote: “In the pages of Ronna Wineberg’s On Bittersweet Place, one finds echoes of Anzia Yezierska and Betty Smith; in the fictional story of Lena Czernitski’s immigrant family in the first quarter of the 20th century the reader recovers a piece of our larger American history. Quite impressive.”

You’ll surely be hearing more about this lovely novel soon. For starters, you might want to read this new Q&A with Ronna on the wonderful Bloom website. Read through to the end, and you’ll see a link to a book excerpt, too.

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From My Bookshelf: Barbara Krasner’s Children’s Book About Golda Meir

I don’t often discuss children’s books here on My Machberet. But I decided to make an exception when Barbara Krasner contacted me about her new picture book, Goldie Takes a Stand: Golda Meir’s First Crusade (Kar-Ben Publishing; illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley), mainly because of my longstanding interest in Meir.

One hopes that most of the adults who pick up this book already know who Golda/Goldie is. For the younger folks, a biographical note after the main story explains the basics: Our heroine was born in Kiev in 1898, immigrated to Milwaukee in 1906, and went to Palestine in 1921. She was Prime Minister of Israel from 1969-1974.

The note adds: “Although the dialogue in this book is imagined, the events are true.” The story takes place in Milwaukee, and the plot depicts the child Goldie undertaking a fund-raising effort. As leader of the American Young Sisters Society, she directs a campaign with the purpose, as she explains, of “trying to raise money to buy school books for kids who can’t afford them.”

What’s especially nice here is the way that Krasner situates Goldie as an American girl, a Jewish immigrant in Milwaukee. Yes, she’s far better known in Israel. But the book reminds us of yet another bond between Americans and Israelis and a major figure in whom both countries can rightly take pride.

My thanks to Kar-Ben Publishing for the complimentary review copy.

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From My Bookshelf: THE HOPE: American Jewish Voices in Support of Israel

I need not tell you how absorbed I’ve been in certain current events of late–a look at the recent “Words of the Week” posts attests to that. But I have not yet shared one of the actions I’ve taken in response to those events: contributing a poem to a new anthology, the sales proceeds of which are being donated to The Lone Soldier Center (in memory of Michael Levin).

Edited by the indefatigable Rabbi Menachem Creditor, the book features an array of American Jewish voices that, as Rabbi Creditor notes, are united when it comes to “one sacred truth: Am Yisrael Chai!”. You can read more about the book via Jweekly.com, and you can take a “look inside” on The Hope‘s Amazon page.

If you are so inclined, I ask you to please spread the word about this meaningful volume. Thank you.

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From My Bookshelf: Rachel Mennies’s Jewish Poems

290_glad handMy online path recently crossed that of poet Rachel Mennies, and how glad I am that it did. Soon enough, I was immersed in Mennies’s debut full-length poetry collection, The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards. The book was published this year as the winning manuscript in the Walt McDonald First-Book Series in Poetry, housed at Texas Tech University Press.

Here, in part, is how ImageUpdate has described the collection:

Rachel Mennies’s first collection is a powerful lyric account of a woman’s search for self through her relationship to God, Judaism, and history. These carefully-shaped poems arrest the reader with startling imagery and sound. With a compelling voice that is at once anguished and utterly composed, these poems ask: how does one reconcile one’s personal faith and struggles with those of one’s ancestors? And how, within the context of this history, does one come to terms with a God of witness and mercy?

But, wait–there’s more. I’m so grateful to Mennies for the permission to publish this sample from the book: Continue reading ›

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From My Bookshelf: ISRAEL-A HISTORY by Anita Shapira

About 18 months ago, I purchased a new book for my Kindle: Anita Shapira’s Israel: A History (translated from the Hebrew by Anthony Berris). But soon after that, I began attending a weekly seminar titled “Zionist Thought and Statesmanship”; that wonderful course came complete with its own considerable reading list. I put aside Shapira’s book for another time.

It’s not that I’m glad that it has taken me so long to return to the book, which I’m about halfway through right now (I’m reading slowly). But I can’t help feeling that approaching it with at least a little more knowledge of Israeli history already in my mind has enriched my reading experience. Similarly, what I’ve read so far in Shapira’s book has reinforced and complemented the readings from my earlier seminar very, very nicely.

I’m not quite prepared to write a review of my own, but I’ll point you to some reviews that piqued and sustained my interest in the book over time. In the meantime, I can assure you that this is a book very much worth reading.

  • In The Forward, Jerome Chanes wrote: “Anita Shapira ups the ante in her history, which recently won a 2012 National Jewish Book Award, offering a truly comprehensive narrative of Israel, from its genesis in the first stirrings of Zionism in the 19th century to present day’s unsettled Israeli society. Shapira is a historian who believes things actually happened in history and they deserve a good telling. But the author, who has had a distinguished academic career, is a superb analyst, as well.”
  • In the Jewish Review of Books, Allan Arkush noted: “Shapira, for one thing, has done away with all sorts of errors that have been passed through the years from one short history of Israel to another.”
  • In The Jewish Week, Francine Klagsburn wrote: “Unlike other histories that often tell Israel’s story by jumping from one war to the next, this one…captures the nation’s diversity and cultural richness along with its existential struggles.”
  • P.S. Yesterday came the tragic news about the three missing boys in Israel. It’s hard not to feel totally helpless and devastated at a time like this. But thinking of those boys and filled with the spirit of Jewish peoplehood, I will do something simple: continue my reading, mindful of my connections to Israel, and to those boys (one of whom is also connected through our common American citizenship).

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