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GENRE: ISRAEL - JEWISH INTEREST
A PASSION FOR A PEOPLE by AVRAHAM INFELD. The book is divided into three sections beginning with the case that Judaism goes beyond a shared belief in a spiritual being and religious rituals. He addresses the way we work as professional and volunteer leaders in the Jewish community. Lastly, he shares his thinking about the future of the Jewish people and the need to develop the five-legged table of Jewish identity in today’s global world.
ARCHITECTS OF DEATH by KAREN BARTLETT. Family owned company Topf and Sons facilitated the murder of millions by its manufacture of crematoria for concentration camps. Fuelled by ambition, the owners and senior engineers developed the technology for the twentieth century’s worst genocide. Bartlett examines the natures of the men responsible for the company’s infamy and how the name Topf and Sons became synonymous with Nazi inhumanity.
THE AUSCHWITZ ESCAPE BY JOEL ROSENBERG. Luc, a French Christian pastor was imprisoned in Auschwitz for helping save the life of many Jews. There he joined forces with Jacob Weisz a Jewish rebel. Jacob attempted to raid a Nazi train carrying prisoners to Auschwitz and instead of liberating them was caught and locked into one of the cattle cars himself. Together they plan to escape to tell the world about Nazi atrocities and help those left behind in the camps.
THE EMPEROR OF SHOES by SPENCER WISE. The story follows Alex, an American living in Southern China and helping his father run his shoe factory. Alex begins to realise that his father has not been a scrupulous businessman and on meeting Ivy an organizer of a pro-democratic Chinese party, his sympathies shift. Alex has to decide whether to remain loyal to his heritage. A mediation on idealism and realism set against social and technological change.
GENRE: MENTAL HEALTH
EXQUISITE MIND by TERRY RUBENSTEIN. Born and raised in privileged white South Africa Terry met her husband Rabbi Brian Rubenstein in Johannesburg. At the age of 29, Terry was an overwhelmed mother of five sons suffering from depression. Terry’s life changed on hearing a talk by Liverpool born Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt about Innate Health. Terry discovered that we may empower ourselves in the knowledge that we are innately good, healthy and have a soul.
THE INQUISITOR’S WIFE by JEANNE KALOGRIDIS. In 1481, conversa Marisol Garcia marries an “Old Christian” during the Inquisition for protection. When her father is arrested and tortured, she finds herself trapped in a web of intrigue. Antonio, her former lover is working to smuggle conversos out of Spain while her husband seeks power and wealth assisting the infamous Torquemada. Marisol’s love for Antonio and loyalty to her Jewish family are tested.
THE LOST BOOK OF MOSES by CHANA TIGAY.In 1883, Moses Shapira, an antiquities dealer was denounced as a fraud when he claimed to have discovered the world’s oldest biblical manuscript. He died six months later. Tigay, a journalist, set out to find the controversial scroll and determine Shapira’s guilt or innocence. In this finalist for the Sami Rohr book prize Tigay, weaves a tale of history and theology; intrigue and scandal; greed and ambition.
NEW CHILDREN OF ISRAEL by NATHAN P. DEVIR.An engaging book exploring the inclusion of people from developing nations who self-define as Jewish but have no historical ties with established centres of Jewish life. He focuses on emerging Jewish communities in Cameroon, Ghana and India. Devin has the view that because there are so many people claiming Jewish roots, in a generation from now, Jewish identity could be globally compromised..
OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES by LORE SEGAL. Nine months after Hitler invaded Austria, Lore left on the Kindertransports at the age of ten. For seven years, she lived as a refugee moving from the wealthy Orthodox Levines, the working class Hoopers to the formal Victorian house of two elderly sisters. An insightful and witty depiction of the ways of life of those who gave her refuge, Other People’s Houses is a memorable novel of the immigrant experience
PATH OF THE PROPHETS by BARRY L SCHWARTZ.The reader is introduced to eighteen biblical figures who personify Jewish values. Schwartz defines a prophet as someone who was inspired by the Divine spirit or exemplified the highest ethical ideals of the Torah. With that, he has included some well-known biblical woman. Each vignette has a rewriting of the prophet’s life followed by the original biblical narrative coupled with insightful analysis.
PLAYING WITH MATCHES by HANNAH ORENSTEIN. Sasha Goldberg has it all- a college degree and boyfriend, Jonathan. When her dream career falls through, she settles for working for an elite matchmaking service, Bliss. She begins helping clients by searching for their perfect partners on Tinder. Things spiral out of control when she finds that Jonathan has betrayed her and she breaks the one rule of Bliss and asks out a client. A witty story with a realistic ending.
PRODIGAL CHILDREN IN THE HOUSE OF GOD by YERMIYAHU AHRON TAUB. In these short stories, Taub explores themes of family, community and exile from an ultra-orthodox perspective. The protagonists navigate religious traditions as they take steps to reshape their lives in startling ways and often at great personal risk. Written in his lyrical prose Taub allows the reader to experience the beauty of life and words on each page with his enduring characters.
THE STRANGER ON THE BRIDGE by JONNY BENJAMIN. When Jonny was 20 his life was saved by a stranger as he was about to jump from the Waterloo Bridge.Jonny began searching for this stranger by launching a video clip. More than 319 million people followed this site. Eventually he and Neil Laybourn were re-united. Now they work together helping to end the stigma of mental illness. His insightful memoir includes parts of his diaries written since he was thirteen.
GENRE: BOOK OF THE MONTH
UPROOTED by LYN JULIUS. The author, British born daughter of Iraqi-Jewish refugees, focuses on how 3000 years of Jewish Civilisation in the Middle East and North Africa vanished overnight. Through their personal stories Julius provides the history of these Jews from Arab countries; why they left and what became of the vast majority. She also assesses how well these Jews from Arab and Muslim countries have integrated into Israel. Uprooted is the culmination of years of study.
WE ARE GATHERED by JAMIE WEISMAN. In her debut novel Weisman allows us to be part of an inter-faith wedding as we read the multiple first person narratives of the adoring, envious and hilarious guests. The bride is part of Atlanta’s wealthy Jewish elite. Included are the sharp-witted bridesmaid Carla, the bride’s great-aunt who is a Holocaust survivor, her wheel-chair bound grandfather and the mother of the bride who reveals her youthful indiscretion.
THE WORK I DID by BRUNHILDE POMSEL. The book is based on the words of Pomsel, one of the secretaries of Goebbels. Brunhilde denied any knowledge of Nazi atrocities yet witnessed its impact on her Jewish friends with apathy. She was one of the oldest surviving eyewitnesses to the internal workings of the Nazi party. The book includes an essay by author Thore Hansen, who uses her testimony as a warning about threats to freedom and democracy today.
GENRE: JEWISH ETHICS
ABUSE IN THE JEWISH COMMUNITY by MICHAEL J. SALAMON. Being an experienced psychologist treating members of the New York Orthodox community gives Dr Salamon expert insight into this problem. He explores halachic issues preventing victims from reporting their abuse within their Orthodox community .He describes the ways abusers and their victims react, the need for training in recognition of abuse and the challenges of treatments.
DEAR ZEALOTS: LETTERS FROM A DIVIDED LAND by AMOS OZ. A collection of three powerful literary essays, which form a brilliant book of thoughts and ideas. Oz has written about the universal nature of fanaticism and possible cures; on the history of Judaism as a culture rather than religion or nationality and the need for a two state solution. He has dedicated the book to his grandchildren with inspiring words shedding light on the future of Middle East.
HITLER MY NEIGHBOUR BY EDGAR FEUCHTWANGER.A well-documented book about historian Edgar Feuchtwanger from the age of five to fifteen when he resided in Munich next door to Adolf Hitler. Through these early, he bore witness to Hitler’s rise in fame. Edgar was forced to draw swastikas at school while watching his friends join Hitler Youth. His father misread the danger and was imprisoned in Dachau. The family were fortunate to find refuge in.
HOW TO FIND A BLACK CAT IN A DARK ROOM by JACOB BURAK. This Tel Aviv author and social activist draws on cognitive and social psychology, science and art to examine human nature. He uses the metaphor of the title to express how we are unable to “see” clearly, what would make us whole and happy as individuals and as a society. Burak explores our distorted obsession with social media and discusses whether destiny or personality controls our lives.
JEWISH GUIDE TO PRACTICAL MEDICAL DECISION-MAKING by RABBI JASON WEINER. A valuable resource providing insight into the process of contemporary medical decision-making. Rabbi Weiner provides an understanding of current medical technology and its intersection with Jewish law. He addresses methods of matching medical with spiritual care. His topics include surrogacy, assisted suicide and organ donation. Each chapter has copious endnotes.
LETTERS TO MY PALESTINIAN NEIGHBOR by YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI. Using history and personal experience, Halevi writes intimately to his Palestinian counterparts who dwell nearby empathizing with their suffering. Halevi presents a sequence of ten letters with overlapping concerns including Holocaust memory, the need to pursue justice and the profound parallels in Israeli and Palestinian religious practices. He argues for durable future peace.
THE MANY DEATHS OF JEW SUSS by YAIR MINTZJER. A gripping reconstruction of the anti-Semitic trial of Joseph Suss Oppenheimer in 1737. He was the personal banker and advisor to Carl Alexander, the duke of Wurttemberg. After Carl died, Joseph was put on trial and executed for “misdeeds”. Using archival evidence Mintzker analyses the trial of this iconic figure from the perspective of four contemporaries including the leading inquisitor.
MY COUNTRY, MY LIFE by EHUD BARAK. The unvarnished story of Barak and his country’s first seven decades; of its successes and setbacks. He offers candid assessments of his fellow Israeli politicians, of the American administration with which he worked and of himself. Drawing on his political and military experiences, he warns that the two-state solution is more urgent than ever, not just for Palestinians but Israel itself. A riveting, candid memoir in which Barak’s love for Israel permeates every page.
NEVER ANYONE BUT YOU by RUPERT THOMSON. A story of love between two extraordinary women who met by chance pre-World War 1. Seventeen year old Suzanne Malherbe and Lucie Schwob, from a family of wealthy Jewish intellectuals, have a clandestine affair and in a twist of fate become “stepsisters”. They move to Paris and reinvent themselves as Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore moving in social circles. Profound and thought provoking.
ENLIGHTENMENT NOW by STEVEN PINKER. In his follow up to The Better Angels of Our Nature Pinker presents a lucid analysis of human progress. He urges the reader to step back from prophecies of doom and to follow the data. There is an increase in life expectancy, decline of dread diseases, better education and access to information. This is a result of Enlightenment -the conviction that reason and science enhances human flourishing.
THE DUTCH WIFE by ELLEN KEITH. Set in Nazi Germany, the book follows Marijke de Graaf, a member of the Dutch resistance who together with her husband are sent to concentration camps. She is forced to work in the camp brothel and meets SS officer Karl. Woven into the narrative is Luciano Wagner, part of a fringe resistance to the fascist government in Buenos Aires in 1977. Keith’s narrative of suffering tackles lesser-written aspects of resistance.
THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ by ANTONIO ITURBE.Drawn on his interviews with Dita Kraus, Spanish author Iturbe describes the horrors Dita experienced in Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the age of 14, she was imprisoned and with Fredy Hirsch, a charismatic Zionist and with others ran a day care centre for children. In Block 31, Dita risked all to keep the magic of books alive when entrusted to look after a few random books found amongst the prisoner’s luggage.
THE ORCHARD by YOCHI BRANDES. A Biblical fable providing vivid descriptions of the legendary Rabbi Akiva, religious disputes among the sages and military resistance to the oppressive Romans. It begins with Rachel marrying Akiva ben Joseph, an illiterate shepherd way below her status. She sends him away to study and endures poverty, abandonment and the death of a child. Akiva returns and becomes a leading contributor of unique Torah interpretations.
THE OTHER WOMAN by DANIEL SILVA. In a village in the mountains of Andalusia, a mysterious French woman begins working on a dangerous memoir. It is the story of a man she once loved and she is the keeper of the Kremlin’s most guarded secret. Long ago the KGB inserted a mole into the heart if the West. Gabriel Allon is lured into the hunt for the traitor after his most important asset inside Russia is brutally murdered while trying to defect. Silva has brilliantly woven real life Russian-British double agent Kim Philby into his thriller.
THE RIGHT THING TO DO AT THE TIME by DOV ZELLER. A delightful Yiddish-influenced version of Pride and Prejudice with a twist. In place of Lizzie Bennett we meet Ari Wexler whose meddling parents seek to find him a match. Intertwined into the book are reminiscences of Ari and his best friend Itche’s childhood. When a music project falls into his lap, he has to choose to remain in his comfort zone or take a risk that may bring his life joyful meaning.
WHO STOLE MY RELIGION by RICHARD H. SCHWARTZ. In this book, Schwartz suggests that the Orthodox Jewish community are not applying Jewish values to today’s critical threats. Although they are doing wonderful things in their communities, they are not helping to shift our planet onto a more sustainable path. He tackles diverse issues such as Israeli politics, socialism, vegetarianism and environmentalism. He challenges us to be more involved in our future.