I’ve mentioned before how grateful I am to be taking a noncredit course on “Zionist Thought & Statesmanship” this spring. Among other benefits, the seminar has provided me with an excellent reading list. Most recently, I finished reading A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel, by Allis Radosh and Ronald Radosh. (It is worth noting that May 14 will mark the 65th anniversary of the United States, under President Truman’s leadership, becoming the first nation to recognize the State of Israel.)
Published in 2009, the book won the Washington Institute’s Book Prize (for nonfiction books on the Middle East). It received widespread attention; rather than give you a summary/review myself, I’ll point you to some existing analyses.
“Zionist in the White House,” by Jonathan Tepperman (New York Times Book Review)
Review by Walter Russell Mead (Foreign Affairs)
“Success Has Many Parents,” by Daniel E. Levenson (New Vilna Review)
But wait–there’s more. Bonus material that I’ve located online includes an excerpt and a video (which I hope to have the opportunity to watch in the near future myself) that features the authors discussing their book at the YIVO Institute.
Have any of you already read the book? What are your thoughts?
These days, we attend more closely to the role of our biblical matriarchs. But while Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel occupy the spotlight, most of us haven’t thought much about another female antecedent: Noah’s wife.
As I mentioned here recently, Rebecca Kanner’s new novel, “Sinners and the Sea,” imagines the experiences of that woman. I recently had the opportunity to interview Kanner, who is based in Minneapolis, for The Forward‘s Sisterhood blog.
If you follow me on Goodreads, you know that not long ago, I was reading George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda.
Today’s edition of Jewish Ideas Daily features some reflections on that reading.
In the beginning, there was Theodor Herzl. Or so I thought. I have a Ph.D. in European history, but I have long been aware of the deficiencies in my knowledge of Jewish history and my Israel literacy. So when I discovered the opportunity to take a non-credit course on Zionism here in New York, I jumped at the chance.
Once enrolled, I learned just how much Zionist history there was before Herzl. Our initial sessions were devoted to a variety of Zionist forerunners and an extensive documentary legacy that anticipated Herzl’s visionary 1896 pamphlet, The Jewish State.
I was dutifully taking notes during our second class meeting when our professor mentioned another text that expressed Zionist sentiments well before Herzl took up his mission. But unlike the writings of Rabbis Yehuda Alkalai and Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, or those of Leon Pinsker and Ahad Ha’am, this text was written in English, and by a woman who wasn’t even Jewish. Somewhat surprisingly, it wasn’t a polemic or a pamphlet. It was a novel by George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Anne Evans), Daniel Deronda, published in 1876, 21 years before Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress.
To read the rest of my essay, please click here.
I’ve been reading some wonderful new books lately. Although I may not have the opportunity to write full reviews of all of them, I wanted to make sure I brought at least three of this spring’s releases to your attention. All three can described as “Jewish books”–and they’re all books of fiction–but I think that they also demonstrate what I’m always trying to point out: “Jewish literature” is, in fact, remarkably diverse.
First up: Ayelet Tsabari’s The Best Place on Earth. Tsabari is an Israeli-born writer of Yemeni descent who currently lives in Canada. Her new book of short stories hasn’t yet been published in the United States, but once I became familiar with her work, I simply had to splurge and order my copy via Amazon.ca. I’m so glad that I did. These finely crafted stories feature the voices and experiences of Mizrahi Jews–Jews from the Middle East/North Africa–a group that I haven’t often seen depicted in fiction (at least, not in English-language or translated fiction).
Next: Minnesota-based Rebecca Kanner‘s Sinners and the Sea. If you liked the way that Anita Diamant brought the biblical Jacob’s daughter Dinah to life in The Red Tent, you’ll surely admire Kanner’s novel as well. Sinners and the Sea depicts the story of Noah and the famous Ark from the perspective of Noah’s wife (who doesn’t even get a name in the Bible). Creative and compelling. I consider myself lucky to have been offered a review copy.
Finally: Merrill Joan Gerber’s The Hysterectomy Waltz, which traces–with sly wit and humor–the diagnosis, surgery, and recovery of a Brooklyn-born Jewish woman. I requested a review copy from the publisher, Dzanc Books, after reading an excerpt online in The Literarian. I suggest that you read the excerpt, too, and if it appeals, be sure to put the novel on your list (it will be out in May). Although Gerber’s work is new to me, she has published many books (now available in digital formats through Dzanc’s rEprint series), and is a past recipient of Hadassah‘s prestigious Ribalow Prize for outstanding Jewish-themed fiction.
What have you read lately that you’d recommend?
Last year, I became a member of a Facebook discussion group run by Generations of the Shoah International (GSI). The group (which is “closed,” but open to membership requests submitted to the moderator) discusses specific books and films that are Holocaust-related. And we’ve had some great guests.
For instance, in December, our guests were documentarian Jean Bodon and Antoine Malamoud, discussing the film Léon Blum: For All Mankind. (Malamoud is Blum’s great-grandson.) This week, I’ve written about the film, and the book it inspired me to read, over on my other blog, My Machberet (where I focus on matters of specifically Jewish literary and cultural interest).
I’m proud to announce that in March, I will be the group’s special guest. All month, I’ll be engaging in online conversation about Quiet Americans. To mark this occasion–and mindful that we will be commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day a few days from now, on January 27–I’m offering two additional copies of the paperback version of Quiet Americans. Please go on over to Goodreads to enter. The giveaway will close on February 8, allowing plenty of time for reading ahead of the March discussions.