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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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    Words of the Week: Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    Toi si Français, je te sens deux fois en péril de mort, parce que Français, et parce que juif.

    (My attempt at a translation: You who are so French, I sense that you are doubly in mortal danger, because you are a Frenchman, and because you are a Jew.)

    Source: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Lettre à un otage (“Letter to a Hostage”), first published in 1943. (My copy lists a 1944 copyright.)

    There’s more about this text, and Saint-Exupéry’s friendship with Léon Werth, the titular though never-named hostage, in Stacy Schiff’s Saint-Exupéry biography. (Werth is the same friend to whom Saint-Exupéry dedicated Le Petit Prince.) I am currently awaiting the arrival of one of Werth‘s works about the wartime period, 33 Jours.

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    From My Bookshelf: “The Hope,” by Faye Rapoport DesPres

    Faye Rapaport DesPres

    Faye Rapaport DesPres

    Sometimes I marvel over the literary connections that the Internet has brought into my life–and the many pages of beautiful, important writing to which they’ve led me. Case in point: I have yet to meet Faye Rapoport DesPres face-to-face. But I feel as though I know her, in part through our social-media exchanges, and in part through her memoiristic writing.

    Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Faye’s memoir-in-essays, Message from a Blue Jay: Love, Loss, and One Writer’s Journey Home (Buddhapuss Ink). The book, available this month, includes one essay that I wanted to spotlight for My Machberet‘s readers. I’m delighted that Faye agreed to answer my questions (especially since she also took the time to participate in another interview about the broader collection; that Q&A will appear in the next issue of The Practicing Writer).

    Faye Rapoport DesPres was born in New York City, and over the years she has lived in upstate New York, Colorado, England, Israel, and Massachusetts. Early in her career, Faye worked as a writer for environmental organizations that focused on protecting wildlife and natural resources. In 1999, after switching to journalism, she won a Colorado Press Association award as a staff writer for a Denver weekly newspaper, where she wrote news stories, features, and interviews. Faye’s freelance work has since appeared in The New York Times, Animal Life, Trail and Timberline, and a number of other publications.

    In 2010, Faye earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College’s Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program, where she studied creative nonfiction. Her personal essays, fiction, book reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines, including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Eleven Eleven, Fourth Genre, Hamilton Stone Review, Necessary Fiction, Platte Valley Review, Prime Number Magazine, Superstition Review, and The Writer’s Chronicle. Continue reading ›

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    From My Bookshelf: “Helpful to Israel and the Jewish People”–An Interview with Nora Gold

    FieldsofExileDr. Nora Gold’s Fields of Exile has been described as the first novel about anti-Israelism on campus, and it has received enthusiastic advance praise from Phyllis Chesler, Thane Rosenbaum, Steve Stern, and others. Gold is also the author of the acclaimed Marrow and Other Stories, which won a Canadian Jewish Book Award, as well as praise from Alice Munro, who – after reading the title story - wrote Gold: “Bravo!”

    I’ve been a fan of the Toronto-based Gold and her work since reading that collection. And I’ve also had work published in Jewish Fiction.net, an online journal that Gold founded and edits. When I discovered that Fields of Exile was slated for a May 2014 release, I knew that I’d be eager to read it (and I said so in a piece for The Forward‘s Arty Semite blog at the beginning of the year). As I noted then, the new novel seems all-too-timely to anyone following news accounts about the vilification of Israel in academia. According to the novel’s publisher, Dundurn, this novel is “about love, betrayal, and the courage to stand up for what one believes as well as a searing indictment of the hypocrisy and intellectual sloth that threatens the integrity of our society.”

    Gold is also a blogger for “The Jewish Thinker” at Haaretz, and the Writer-in-Residence and an Associate Scholar at the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education (CWSE) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto. Gold holds both Canadian and Israeli citizenship.

    Please welcome Nora Gold! Continue reading ›

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    Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: Spotlight on Elizabeth Nunez

    This past week I had the privilege of reading Elizabeth Nunez’s latest book, a memoir titled Not for Everyday Use (Akashic Books). I obtained a digital galley with the intention of asking Elizabeth–whom I’ve been lucky to get to know through my “day job” at The City University of New York–if she’d be willing to answer a few questions for The Practicing Writer.

    I finished this excellent book quickly, and the ever-gracious Elizabeth agreed to answer my questions (in fact, she has already returned her responses!). I had to tell her, though, that the newsletter interviewees are booked (so to speak), for the next several months. This interview won’t appear until the August issue, which will go out to readers at the very end of July. (In the interest of keeping things somewhat suspenseful, I won’t reveal the identities of every interviewee between now and then, but I’ll tell you that our very next issue will feature Roxane Gay, who will tell us about her soon-to-be-published novel An Untamed State.)

    Meantime, I encourage you to watch this video of Elizabeth’s recent appearance at the Center for Fiction (although this latest book is nonfiction, Elizabeth is an acclaimed novelist). You’ll get to hear her read from the memoir, and listen to her conversation with Louise DeSalvo (who offers terrific questions and comments in a discussion that encompasses race, religion, writing and more). An hour well spent.

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