Jewish Book Month, which originated in 1925 right here in Boston, ends tomorrow with the beginning of Hanukkah. We thought we'd commemorate the annual tradition with some never-too-late reading recommendations by a few of our authors. For more suggestions of Judaic titles to read during Hanukkah, or for any occasion, Beacon Press has you covered.
Susan Katz Miller, author of Being Both, offers several titles that celebrate the diversity of interfaith life:
Mixed-Up Love by Jon M. Sweeney and Michal Woll is important as the first memoir written by a rabbi married to a Catholic. Jon and Rabbi Michal will appear on a panel with me in March at the Jewish Community Center in Silicon Valley. They tell their story in alternating voices, providing both perspectives, which reminded me of the classic pioneering joint memoir by interfaith couple Ned and Mary Rosenbaum, Celebrating Our Differences.
For hilarious, poignant, gorgeous writing, pick up Growing Up Golem: How I Survived My Mother, Brooklyn, and Some Really Bad Dates, a magical realist memoir by former Village Voice writer Donna Minkowitz. I came under Donna's potent spell when we sat next to each other (alphabetical order: Miller, Minkowitz) at a Jewish Book Council event last summer.
Danya Ruttenberg, author of Surprised by God, suggests four books that were influential to forming her own understanding of Judaism:
Be Still and Get Going by Rabbi Alan Lew. This book, by my own rabbi and teacher, is an extremely powerful look at the way the Torah and other Jewish texts speak to the most essential questions in our lives.
The Jewish Catalog by Richard Siegel, Michael Strassfeld, and Sharon Strassfeld. This DIY guide to Jewish life, published in 1965, is dated in places, but it's still one of the best introductions to Jewish living out there.
There Shall Be No Needy by Jill Jacobs. A compelling, thorough look at social justice issues through a Jewish lens.
Blood, Marriage, Wine, & Glitter by S. Bear Bergman. Bergman is a storyteller who brings heart, soul, and thoughtful insight to stories about his very queer, very Jewish family, and the many bonds that surround them.
Louise Steinman, author of The Crooked Mirror, reflects on a novel that gave startling insight into her Jewish immigrant ancestry:
Until I began research for my book The Crooked Mirror, I had no idea about the family my grandparents left behind when they emigrated in 1906. The cataclysm of WWII and the Shoah supposedly severed that possibility. I had no names for those family members in the Polish town of Nowo Radomsk, the ones who "never left Poland," the very mention of whom caused my mother tears.
My grandmother Sarah Konarska Weiskopf traveled on the liner Furnessia from Glasgow, accompanied by her husband, my grandfather Louis, and her widowed sister Rose. Another sister, Leah, came later.
I was shocked to learn then, via newly available archival records, that my grandmother had a fourth sister, Fayga Konarska, "the kid." Why hadn't our grandparents ever mentioned her to the family? Had she stayed behind to look after the elderly parents?
I gained new insight to that conundrum recently when I read Colm Tóibín's beautiful novel, Brooklyn, about a young Irish woman named Eilis Lacy, who travels to Brooklyn from a small town in Ireland, leaving behind her widowed mother and her sister, her only sibling.
Toibin's novel is structured on a stunning symmetry; the sharpness of loss and the power of physical distance. In her first months in Brooklyn, Eilis suffers deep longing for her family and former life. And then, as she forges new relationships, that desire for life in her home town Enniscorthy recedes into what feels to her like a distant dream. No one in Brooklyn has met her Irish family; no one in Ireland knows about her Brooklyn boyfriend, her new independence. When she journeys home for a visit after a family tragedy, the trajectory of familiarity is reversed. A few weeks into her visit home, Brooklyn becomes the distant dream: ". . . she stood in the room with the door closed wondering . . . everything else that had happened in Brooklyn seemed as though it had almost dissolved and was no longer richly present for her—"
So much of our connectedness we take for granted—email and Skype, cheap phone calls abroad. What reality did Nowo Radomsk have to hardworking immigrants on the Lower East Side, to the day to day struggles of raising children and earning a living? Through the eyes of a young Irish woman in 1950's Brooklyn, Toibin's masterful novel helps me to understand what it might have been like for my Polish grandparents—foreigners in a strange place who'd left behind family they loved to an uncertain fate, and never talked about them, even to their own children.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Susan Katz Miller is the author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. A former Newsweek reporter and former US correspondent for New Scientist, her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Conde Nast Traveler, Moment, and other publications. She blogs on interfaith families for Huffington Post and OnBeingBoth.com. She lives in the Washington, DC, area with her husband and two interfaith teenagers.
Danya Ruttenberg is the author of Surprised by God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion and the editor of Yentl's Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism. She has been published in a wide variety of books and periodicals, including Encyclopedia Judaica, Best Jewish Writing 2002, the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, Bitchfest, and The Women's Movement Today: An Encyclopedia of Third-Wave Feminism. A contributing editor to both Lilith and Women in Judaism, Ruttenberg received rabbinic ordination from the Zeigler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles in 2008. Her personal website is danyaruttenberg.net. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
Louise Steinman is the author of The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation, as well as the award-winning memoir The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War and The Knowing Body: The Artist as Storyteller in Contemporary Performance. For the past two decades, she has curated the ALOUD literary and performance series for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. She also codirects the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities at the University of Southern California. Read more about Steinman on her website and her blog.