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The Jewish Week ■ ■ November 29, 2019


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Present At The Creation

Tom Segev takes on Israel’s iconic leader, David Ben-Gurion.

Fall Literary Guide

Jerome A. Chanes

Special To The Jewish Week

he retelling of history, like a Hindu god, takes many forms. The narrative of the life of David Ben-Gurion, the iconic figure in the pantheon of Zionist leaders, has been told, retold and overtold. Shabtai Teveth’s massive and comprehensive political biography, “The Burning Ground,” is an analysis from the political center; Ben-Gurion confidant Michael Bar Zohar’s 1968 “Ben Gurion: The Armed Prophet,” also centrist, emphasizes

“A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion,” by Tom Segev. Translated by Haim Watzman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 804 pp.)

Ben-Gurion’s role in developing Israel’s armed forces; Robert St. John’s earlier “Ben-Gurion: Builder of Israel” paints a colorful picture of B-G for a popular audience — his insatiable scholarly curiosity, his militant insistence on democratic methods in crafting the future state; and, more recently, Anita Shapira’s smart “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” is a compact conspectus of B-G. Now comes journalist and historian Tom Segev with “A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion,” a massive volume, weighing in at 800-odd pages, a magisterial work, surely to take its place as a standard reference on B-G. Segev’s work adds to the corpus of Ben-Gurion literature in his interweaving of the complexity of the personal with the complexity of the political and geopolitical. Those who know Segev’s tour-de-force “One Palestine, Complete,” “1967” and “The Seventh Million” know that it is impossible for him to write an uninteresting sentence. There is nobody like Segev for knowing how to spin a yarn — and what a yarn this one is! — and for developing a historical context for a narrative. Ideological struggles among early Zionists; the precarious position of the Ottoman Empire, long the overlord in Palestine; the contrast between the American Jewish and European Jewish preWar landscapes, refracted through the lens of Ben-Gurion’s visits to the New Land; the contexts for armed conflict with Arab countries — all are cogently composed here in a manner that engages the casual reader, and that may even satisfy the scholar.

courage. Ben-Gurion bucked his socialist and left-of-center majority in the provisional government — his socialist labor Mapai party, the left-wing Mapam and Achdut Ha’Avodah and the left-of-center religious Mizrachi, B-G’s socialist majority, much of which was chary about an immediate declaration, as was B-G himself. But he understood that, whatever the perils, it had to happen — and so it did. A courageous moment. In terms of the war itself, Segev has no coherent discussion of how and why the war was successfully Top: Ben-Gurion reads the prosecuted. Contrary to the version Declaration of Indepenof history celebrated by “Exodus,” dence in the Tel Aviv Muthere were four crucial dynamseum Hall on May 14, 1948. ics in the conflict, which together Above, biographer Segev. ensured, from early on, Israeli I SR AEL GOVER N M ENT P R ESS OF F ICE victory: the lack of unified Arab war-aims, which resulted in a lack of coherence in Arab military planning; the closing of the ordnanceStoryteller Segev is biographer Segev as well. gap between Israel and the Arab states, especially Ben-Gurion, from his early years in Plonsk and after the first truce in June, 1948; the utter disinhis early embrace of Hebrew culture and (sort tegration of Palestinian Arab society; and the role of) a socialist-collectivist ideology to numerous played by the Yishuv’s superior agricultural techconflicts and wars, to B-G’s less than heroic final nology and distribution system. The point: after years, comes to life in “A State at Any Cost.” the first month of fighting in mid-1948 — a dicey The history narrated most comprehensively time indeed — these factors (together with Israel’s by Segev is the period of Israel’s War of Inde- numerical superiority on the ground) enabled the pendence, 1947-49, known variously in Hebrew newly constituted Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to (depending on one’s ideological persuasion) gain the upper hand and emerge victorious. as Milchemet HaShichrur (“War of Liberation More serious is Segev’s narrative of the gen[from the British],” from the far-left kibbutz esis of a political structure in the first decades of movements); HaKomemiyut (“Sovereignty,” B- the 20th century, the early years of the Yishuv. G’s formulation, signifying the establishment of But he leaves the reader too often in a heada new national Jewish entity); and Ha’Atzmaut scratching mode. Discussions of important early (“Independence”). But missing in Segev’s nar- political groups — Poalei Zion and Hapoel Hatrative is an important and controversial histori- zair are two examples — are presented without cal dynamic, one that had implications down political context. What were they? What were the pike. The very declaration of statehood on continued on following page the part of Ben-Gurion was an act of political

The Jewish Week ■ ■ November 29, 2019


The Jewish Week ■ ■ November 29, 2019


Present At The Creation continued from previous page

their ideologies? (In the Yishuv — the Jewish community in pre-state Palestine — it was all about ideology.) For example, Poalei Zion, a truly important precursor to Ben-Gurion’s Mapai — the party regnant for decades, until the 1977 “Begin Revolution” — did not come out of nowhere. Poalei Zion was influenced by the socialist ideas in the Russian “street,” in opposition to Hapoel Hatzair, which was more of a “backto-the-land” movement, and to other fledgling Zionist initiatives that emphasized national and cultural dynamics. This context is important in understanding the socialist parties that emerged, movements that differed dramatically in terms of ideology. Without an understanding of the genesis of these parties it is impossible to make sense of how the state itself came to be or of BenGurion’s central role in the process. And ideology was crucial in the Yishuv; ideology informed everything. Each party had, for example, its own kibbutz movement, its own defense militia. (The Haganah, for example, was a vehicle of Mapai and of the Histadrut labor federation; the Palmach had its origins in the Achdut Avodah and Mapam kibbutzim — not, as conventional wisdom has it, as a part of the Haganah). These political dynamics, crucial in

any discussion of Ben-Gurion, are missing in “A State at Any Cost.” And who are the characters who provide the connective tissue of the unfolding B-G drama? Arthur Ruppin is one — but the book doesn’t give us a sense of who he was. Early on in the history of the Yishuv, in an effort to avert a workers’ strike at one of the settlements, Ruppin came

‘Segev’s work adds to the corpus of BenGurion literature in his interweaving of the complexity of the personal, political and geopolitical.’ up with the then-radical idea of a socialist-collectivist agricultural settlement that addressed manifold issues — the kibbutz. And where is Ber Borochov, who created the synthesis between Marxist socialism (the dominant ideology) and Zionism — a synthesis crucial to Ben-Gurion’s

own ideology and subsequent career? One looks in vain for Borochov, to no avail. Finally, Segev has the reputation of being a “revisionist” historian, and he has been attacked for salting his own ideology into the B-G narrative, most pointedly in the controversial area of the flight of Palestinian Arabs from Israel during the 194749 war. But has there ever been a historian since Herodotus — or for that matter, since the author of the Book of Kings — who does not inject his or her political ideology into the narrative? I may hold the view that the emptying out of Arab villages may have to some extent been dictated by military considerations, and not as part of a grand plan to remove the Arabs — but Segev’s view is a legitimate part of the discussion, and ought not be dismissed as some kind of left-wing “revisionism.” Segev is not inventing history; he is not rewriting history in calling attention to controversial historical events. The reader of “A State at Any Cost” — scholar, student, Israeli, American, Zionist or anti-Zionist And the Bride — will benefit from Segev’s well-crafted work. Closed the Door. David Ben-Gurion was a leader, a visionary — By Ronit Matalon. Transla and what made him the leader that he was is what from Hebrew by Jessica the book is all about. Segev shows us the way. ✒

(New Vessel Press, 128 p

Jerome Chanes, a regular contributor, is the author of four books and hundreds of articles and reviews on Jewish public affairs and arts and letters. He is the editor of the forthcoming “The Future of Judaism in America” and is working on a book setting a context for one hundred years of Israeli theater.


By Zeruya Shalev. Transla from Hebrew by Sondra S (Other Press, 356 pp.)

The Liar.

By Ayelet Gundar-Goshe from Hebrew by Sondra S (Little, Brown, 278 pp.)

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Fall Literary Guide

Stormy emotional entanglements lie at the heart of three new Israeli novels. Diane Cole

ghostly presence of the bride’s younger sister. She has been absent for years, presumed killed in a terrorist attack that left no trace of her body. Unable to grieve, unwilling to discuss the subject out loud, her mother lives in paralyzed uncertainty. It is just one more subject the family dares not discuss openly. One possible clue to Matalon’s — and the bride’s

Special To The Jewish Week

t isn’t really love that’s in the air in three new Israeli novels, but something more like whirlwinds of emotion that catch both the characters and the readers by surprise. “And the Bride Closed the Door” by Ronit Matalon is a riotous satire of wedding-day jitters. Look deeper and it can also stand as a parable of a country divided, and most of all as an absurdist situation comedy of contemporary Israeli family life.

continued on following page

The new novel from the acclaimed author of


And the Bride Closed the Door.

“ Such a good book that touched me so deeply and strongly.... Wonderful.”

By Ronit Matalon. Translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. (New Vessel Press, 128 pp.)


By Zeruya Shalev. Translated from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston. (Other Press, 356 pp.)

The Liar.

By Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. Translated from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston. (Little, Brown, 278 pp.) As this compact tale begins, the bride has locked herself in her room, alone, refusing to come out. Family hysteria reigns as her mother, the bridegroom and the prospective in-laws all take turns yelling, cajoling, trying to get any clues to or explanation for the bride’s emotional state and odd behavior. It soon becomes clear, though, that their concerns center less on the bride than on themselves, with their questions devolving into the more material matters of saving face — and money: What will they tell the 500 guests already waiting at a nearby catering hall to celebrate that very evening? What about all the money they’ve spent and will now lose? Can they salvage anything from this misfire of a marriage? Throughout, the motivations of the bride herself — who stays hidden behind the door from beginning to end — remain obscure. It is up to those waiting outside her door — and for the reader — to try to understand why the bride has suddenly decided not to say the words “I do.” Instead, the only words that come out of her mouth, as filtered through the closed door, are “Not getting married. Not getting married. Not getting married.” Her refrain (which is nearly identical to a lyric from Stephen Sondheim’s musical masterpiece of marital ambivalence, “Company”) hangs over the day like existential doubt. While Matti the bridegroom ponders the course of their relationship, and even the very purpose of marriage, the


“And the Bride Closed the Door” is the last novel Matalon completed before her death, at 58, in 2017. J ESSIC A COH EN others brainstorm how to break through the door. Will they find a peace settlement of sorts, courtesy of an emergency house call from a psychologist who advertises her specialty as “regretful brides”? Should they borrow a ladder truck that will allow them to climb up to the third floor window and force it open from the outside? Observing the scene as it unfolds are two additional family members who double as a kind of wacky, modern-day Greek chorus: the bride’s flamboyant 21-yearold cousin Ilan, who has been excused from military service due to “incompatibility,” a euphemism for being gay; and the aged, inscrutable “Gramsy,” the bride’s grandmother. And there is one more character who hovers, hauntingly, over the proceedings: the


I N H A R D C O V E R, E B O O K,




The Jewish Week ■ ■ November 29, 2019


What’s Love Got To Do With It?

The Jewish Week ■ ■ November 29, 2019


What’s Love Got To Do With It? continued from previous page

— intent lies in the author’s sly revision of the classic poem by the Israeli poet Leah Goldberg (1911-1970), “The Prodigal Son.” Goldberg’s poem, written in 1947, was itself a rewrite of the New Testament parable in which a father welcomes home and forgives the son who has left his family behind to wander the world, only to come back a beggar, having squandered his fortune. In Goldberg’s version, it is the mother who embraces the son upon his return. Here, though, Matalon has the reclusive bride write and slip under the door to her waiting groom the opening verses of a poem she titles, “The Prodigal Daughter.” Is Matalon suggesting that the bride is embarking on a feminist journey that will leave her independent of the need for a groom? Is this the journey of Israel itself, in search of a way forward to peace? Or is it merely another commentary on the chaotic domestic reality of this family’s nonwedding day? Elusive yet powerful, by turns laugh-out-loud funny and tragically sad, “And the Bride Closed the Door” is the last novel Matalon completed before her death at the age of 58, in 2017. The book’s brevity makes one wonder if, given more time, she would have provided additional clues to her intent. But she has provided enough to make

Shalev captures the acute, crazy-making agony that both pain and love can bring. IT ZI K SHOKEL

us newly aware of her creative gifts, and to honor the distinguished legacy of her eight other novels. ◆ n “Pain,” Zeruya Shalev examines the many variations of suffering, physical as well as emotional, that humans are heir to. We meet Iris, 45, on the 10th anniversary of the suicide bus bombing that nearly killed her, causing in-



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juries so severe she required months of hospitalization and rehabilitation. Even now, a decade later, she remains a victim of chronic pain, subject to periodic spasms that leave her incapacitated. And that is not the only trauma that has plagued her life. When Iris was in her late teens, Eitan, her high school boy friend and presumed fiancé, had dumped her so abruptly that she had fallen into a suicidal depression. His brutal abandonment, without explanation, had implanted in her residual doubts about her own ability to love, or be loved, uncertainties about her deepest being that she has never succeeded in banishing. Still, on the surface, Iris appears to have recovered from her ordeals. Professionally, she has become a respected school principal, having transformed a failing school into a success. Personally, too, she has forged a long-term marriage to the caring if emotionally clueless Mickey, and has brought up two children: 20-something Alma and adolescent Omer. Whatever disappointments and ambivalence Iris harbors about them — Mickey is not the passionate lover Eitan was, nor are these the children she would have had with Eitan — she tries to keep to herself. Shalev is not shy in pointing out the mind-body connection of physical pain. Simply being reminded of the bus bombing’s anniversary engulfs Iris in pain so agonizing that Mickey insists on taking her to the hospital. There she is referred to the head pain specialist — who turns out to be none other than Eitan. The meeting triggers in Iris renewed anguish at her abandonment, and in Eitan buried depths of shame and remorse. To their surprise, their unexpected reunion also sparks passion. Their affair consumes them in a shared fantasy of a second chance that will allow them to undo their past errors and start over again, this time together. The lure is so mesmerizing that it takes several plot twists for Iris to recognize that rather than heal her old wounds, the new life she yearns for with Eitan would be tainted by her abandonment of her husband and children. Could she cause them the same kind of suffering that Eitan had visited on her? Shalev’s intricate tale can be breathless, and her writing at times overheated. But she persuasively

The Jews Should Keep Quiet “The Liar” is GundarGoshen’s follow-up to her grisly, well-paced thriller “Waking Lions.” N I R K AF R I captures the acute, crazy-making agony that both pain and love can bring. Her story also dramatizes how easy it can be to confuse obsessions that masquerade as love with the ongoing nurturing attachments that buoy us through hurt and joy. The most difficult lesson to accept, Shalev suggests, is that there is no such thing as a fully pain-free life. The past will bring you to where you are — not back again to a romanticized place that never was. ◆ wo years ago, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen attracted international attention with her grisly, well-paced thriller, “Waking Lions.” Now she has published a similarly dark follow-up, “The Liar.” As before, her main theme is the ways in which seemingly good people can become unwittingly ensnared in webs of immoral, criminal behavior. The dilemmas her characters face revolve around whether they can, or will, find a way to free themselves from their entanglements. When we meet Nofar at the start of “The Liar,” she is a moody teenager convinced of her unattractiveness and bored by her summer job behind the counter of an ice cream parlor. Enter Avishai Milner, a washed-up entertainer who, unhappy with Nofar’s service, in-


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sults her so vilely that she runs into the street. What happens next is as open to interpretation — did Avishai sexually assault Nofar or did he merely grab her arm? Nofar’s adventures in lying bring her into contact with a variety of other notas-upstanding-as-they-seem characters presented with temptations whose short-term gains are difficult to resist, no matter the possible long-term cost. Their motivations differ, as do their predicaments, but to say more would be to spoil the surprises and provocations that lie in wait for Gundar-Goshen’s many readers around the world. ✒ Diane Cole, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Week, is the author of the memoir “After Great Pain: A New Life Emerges” and writes for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, NPR online and other publications.


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The Jewish Week ■ ■ November 29, 2019

Fall Literary Guide



The Jewish Week ■ ■ November 29, 2019



Two Families, Across The Great Divide Lis Harris spent 10 years crisscrossing Jerusalem to put a human face on the conflict. It ended up challenging her sense of Jewish values. Sandee Brawarsky Culture Editor

n the early 1980s, Lis Harris spent five years closely observing chasidic life through one family, almost as if she were embedded with them. She would travel frequently between her Manhattan home and Crown Heights, Brooklyn, asking difficult questions and sticking around to hear the answers, sometimes again and again. Harris, who is Jewish, admittedly knew very little about the com-

“In Jerusalem: Three Generations of an Israeli Family and a Palestinian Family,” by Lis Harris (Beacon Press, 272 pp.)

munity and approached her subjects with openness and respect. The family hoped that all their talk would lead to Harris joining them, but she maintained her outsider’s perspective even as she became more of an insider. In 1985 she published a highly praised, beautifully written book, “Holy Days: The World of a Hasidic Family,” which ran as a three-part series in The New Yorker. Harris, who spent more than 25 years writing for The New Yorker and left in 1996, has written other books since but perhaps her newest book is closest in spirit to “Holy Days” than “In Jerusalem: Three Generations of an Israeli Family and a Palestinian Family” (Beacon Press). Here, she spent almost 10 years — the summers and winter breaks from her teaching position at the School of the Arts at Columbia University — dividing her time between a Jewish family in West Jerusalem and a Palestinian family in east Jerusalem, while staying in a studio in the German Colony. This is not meant to be a comprehensive work on the Middle East conflict, but rather a more modest yet deep look at the ways the conflict touches on individuals who live there. “I had never been to Israel,” Harris says in an interview. “I consider myself hugely Jewish, but not religious, which is why the chasidic book was such an adventure for me. My family’s attitude was that their home team was the Jews.” About her motivation for writing this, she says, “It’s the same thing as what drew me to write about chasidim. I am Jewish and these are my people.” And, also, it was “a deep curiosity more than anything.” In an email, Harris adds, “The fulcrum around which everything else turns is the remark the chasidic man I wrote about in ‘Holy Days’ made when

a different Palestinian family as the initial family’s personal situation changed. She doesn’t present either family as typical or representative, just people making their homes in the city of “melancholy beauty.” While Harris interviews and reports on many family members, her main point of entry, and her focus, is the women: Ruth HaCohen, a professor of musicology at Hebrew University, whose second husband was leading political theorist Yaron Ezrahi (who died just as Harris finished the book); and Niveen Abuleil, a speech pathologist with a degree from the University of Top, Niveen Abuleil’s family. Jordan in Amman. Ruth and her famAbove, author Lis Harris. ily live on a leafy street in the Greek ©THOMAS STR UTH / LYN N SAVI LLE colony, sharRuth HaCohen’s family. “All su ing a house says of the two families. … “Th (with separate moral issues. But they were mo entrances) with Ezrahi’s first wife. Niveen lives with her parents and I asked him what he considered the sisters and exmost important of his obligations tended family and he answered without hesita(her married tion ‘to treat others as I would like brothers and to be treated.’ My family may have their families been secular but they were firmly on separate grounded in Jewish values, and it floors) in the was the challenge to those values that hung over the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict that neighborhood of French Hill, where they have lived so disturbed me. The argument that war or a warring since 1948 (now, the Arab population there is outnummilieu creates its own rules goes only so far. What I bered by Israelis). In both families, several beloved realized over the long period I spent in situ (and had members have passed away over the years. Harris recounts the history of Israel and of both no idea of beforehand), was the violation — from the beginning — of this historic moral charge as it families in alternate chapters, detailing Ruth’s roots in Germany — her mother was the granddaughter of applied to the native population.” Harris found the two families through a chain the chief rabbi of Munich. Some of her relatives got of connections, although it wasn’t simple. As out of Europe at the last moment. Niveen’s family she explains, “I’m a very intrusive researcher. members were 1948 refugees from the town of Lifta, Would you want me in your life, night and day?” three miles from Jerusalem. After they had met several times, Niveen’s In fact, three years into the project, she had to find

Harris doesn’t present either family as typical, just people making their homes in the city of ‘melancholy beauty.’


Fall Literary Guide of Islamic history, and the oldest runs the household. Their father told Harris of his belief that a strong education is the “chief way, the only way, for his children and grandchildren to push beyond the harsh circumstances of their lives and to grow and prosper.” One chapter details the experience of one of Niveen’s aunts, whom they rarely speak of, who was tortured and convicted for her alleged role in a supermarket bombing in 1969, jailed for ten years and then released in a prisoner exchange. She later became a prominent activist for the Arab community in the U.S. — Harris met her in Chicago in 2011— but was deported in 2017. Harris says that this was the most difficult chapter to write as she kept changing her position about the aunt’s claims that


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Ruth HaCohen’s family. “All suffered from violence, were dislocated,” Harris says of the two families. … “They had ethnic things in common, an interest in moral issues. But they were more different than the same.” ©THOMAS STR UTH close-up view of the Palestinian family highlights many painful experiences — there is also much pain in the lives of the Israeli family that feels more known and familiar. But it’s an important book to read. For as Harris ably gets into the thoughts and feelings of Niveen and her family, the reader is drawn there too, and may begin to see life through their eyes. Or, short of that, the reader might understand a bit more about those thought of as ‘other.’ Many in Ruth’s extended family have more than one advanced degree. While the Abuleil family is far less financially secure, Niveen and her siblings attended private schools. One brother is a dentist, another a civil engineer and another owns a falafel stand (another who died was a lawyer); her sisters work as a social worker, a therapist for special needs children, a teacher

she did not place the bomb. The reader is left to think about this. Most of the third generation in the HaCohen/Ezrahi families are on the left, and involved in various efforts toward peace; Ruth’s son from her first marriage has become ultra-Orthodox and leans to the right. Harris devotes a chapter to his vision. Harris’ methodology is to immerse herself in her subject — to read and research and mostly to be present to observe, engage and ask questions. In writing, she has a clear presence on the page, not about her. Commenting on her style, she says, “I come out from behind the curtain when it will make the text better” and otherwise withdraws. “I’m here as a person with a voice,”

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“Demonstrates the persistence of memory and the pervasiveness of evil. “ — Kirkus

Growing up, Irene Oore wanted to escape the pain of her past, but doing so would mean discarding something precious—the “gift” of her mother’s stories of surviving Nazi-occupied Poland. The story of an entangled mother-daughter relationship, The Listener is a testament to the shock waves that trauma can send through generations.

The Jewish Week ■ ■ November 29, 2019

father tells Harris, in recalling the upheavals of 1948, “We’d heard by then about the terrible things that had been done to the Jews in Europe but we couldn’t understand why we were being asked to pay for it — we hadn’t been their enemies.” Harris also covers the impact on the families of the Six-Day War in 1967, the years after the Oslo Accords and the two intifadas. “All suffered from violence, were dislocated. All lost family members,” Harris says of the families. “They have so many similarities in general experience; they had ethnic things in common, an interest in moral issues. But they were more different than the same; their traditions are very different. Though Israel is still in a fragile way often, the life that they lead is much more a modern civilized life — the Palestinians are busy catching up.” Throughout, Harris is a graceful, even masterful, writer, although the book can be unsettling to read. Her


The Jewish Week ■ ■ November 29, 2019


A Roundup Of New Fall Titles

From the ethics of Jewish food to the quiet genius of Red Holzman.


Sandee Brawarsky Culture Editor

ell Worth Saving: American Universities’ Life-and-Death Decisions on Refugees from Nazi Europe” by Laurel Leff (Yale) is the first book to explore the choices American universities made when they had opportunities to offer jobs to Jewish scholars trapped in Nazi-dominated Europe and save their lives. While scholars like Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi and Herbert Marcuse were welcomed, most scholars were turned down; the primary American committee working on this placed 335 scholars out of the 6,000 who applied. Leff presents the stories of those who were not hired; most were persecuted and deported. She also documents the pervasive anti-Semitism on American campuses. The book is particularly timely when immigration, refugees and anti-Semitism are much in the headlines. Leff, who teaches Jewish studies and journalism at Northeastern University, is the author of another important work, “Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper.” Exploring how deeply and thoroughly Judaism and food are intertwined, “Feasting and Fasting: The History and Ethics of Jewish Food,” edited by Aaron S. Gross, Jody Myers and Jordan Rosenblum (NYU Press), is a collection of essays by professors in various disciplines including ethnography, Talmud, history, religious studies, ethics and culture. Contributors address food in the biblical, rabbinic, the medieval and modern eras, “a brief history of

Two Families, Across The Great Divide continued from previous page

she says. “I don’t pretend to be neutral. That’s not my job. I want to be fair but not opinionless.” Interspersed in the narrative, she includes “Travels with Fuad,” accounts of her sometimes-comic adventures with her intrepid Jerusalem taxi driver, the Palestinian Fuad Abu Awwad, who translates for her — she speaks neither Hebrew nor Arabic — and adds his opinions to the mix. He also takes her on detours off track, including to the wedding of his youngest sisterin-law, to meet with a Druze scholar in Nazareth and to eat grilled chicken at a popular stand in Beit Jala. While working on the book, her friend, the renowned photographer Thomas Struth, visited and photographed the two families, separately. Many inquire if she made attempts to bring the families, or even Ruth and Niveen, together, and she says no, that her subject was not encounter. When asked whether working on the book left her with a sense of hope, Harris, who now heads the writing department at Columbia’s School of the Arts, says, “I wish I could say it did. I’m a skeptic but also

Jews and garlic,” wine, schmaltz, how Shabbat cholent became a secular Hungarian favorite, ecological ethics, dietary laws, food and the Jewish future and more, with a foreword by historian Hasia Diner and afterword by novelist and food activist Jonathan Safran Foer. Beginning his essay, “A Satisfying Eating Ethic,” Jonathan Crane of Emory University writes, “Eating well has long been a Jewish concern.” “Touched With Fire: Morris B. Abram and the

an optimist, and all I can say is an abstraction, that things change. Look at Northern Ireland, Germany. But the weather signs are not that promising. There are so many people of good will. It would be nice to think they could prevail. “One of the reasons I wanted to write this is that I hope that someone will say, ‘this is more complicated than I thought,’” she says. As to whether she sees herself as a Zionist, Harris, who grew up in New York City, says, “I would not use Zionist. I was raised to think I was part of a large tribe that was Jewish, that we all belong together. I was raised to think that Jews were great, and the rest of the world not as wonderful, so said my grandmother. Who was not a Zionist after the Second World War? I share that. My family wouldn’t call themselves Zionists but de facto were. But I was a grown woman and still had no sense of the other side of the picture. I believe it’s still true now for a lot of Jews. “I’ve known all along this is a troubling subject. But I’m glad that I did this – it’s always better to know more. To understand the plight of the Palestinians does not mean that I don’t love the Israelis or feel like I have nothing to do with them, or disown them. Nothing like that. These are my people.” ✒


Battle against Racial and Religious Discrimination” by David E. Lowe (Potomac Books) is a compelling biography of a significant figure in the civil rights movement, whose tombstone reads, “He established ‘one man, one vote’ as a principle of American law.” Born to immigrant parents in a small town in rural Georgia, Abram became a leading civil rights attorney, Jewish communal leader (he headed w Shabbat cho-the American Jewish Committee and orite, ecologicalthe Conference of Presidents), huwish future andman rights activist, U.S. ambassador, Hasia Diner andadvocate for Israel, leader in the Sost Jonathan Saf-viet Jewry movement and president tisfying Eatingof Brandeis University. Abram, who iversity writes,died in 2000, was tapped for service by five U.S. presidents. The author is a concern.” Abram and thepolitical scientist who taught at several universities and served at the National Endowment for Democracy. “999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz” by Heather Dune Macadam (Citadel Press) chronicles the experiences of the first convoy of women that reached the camp. It arrived in March 1942. The unmarried Jewish women, many of them teenagers, had been told that they were being sent to do government

work in newly occupied Poland for just a few months, but very few returned. The author, who co-wrote “Rena’s Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz,” describes the women’s backgrounds and the life of the Slovakian Jewish community before the War, as well as the women’s daily lives at Auschwitz and their murders. While the book is based on archival research, letters, testimony and the tracing of survivors and their families, Macadam sometimes uses dramatic license (which is identified) to recreate scenes and conversations, in addition to direct quotes from interviews. Documenting many untold and important stories, the book is published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. A story of resilience, “No Past Tense: Love and Survival in the Shadow of the Holocaust” by D.Z. Stone (Vallentine Mitchell) is the dual biography of two Czech Jews who met as teenagers in April 1944 when both were forced into the same ghetto. They were together for one week before being sent to concentration camps. He survived Mauthausen and she survived Auschwitz. After the War, she went looking for him and they married. Told in their voices, the book is based on more than 100 hours of interviews, covering their childhoods, liberation from the camps, return to their hometowns and the rebuilding of their lives in then-Palestine and New York City. The couple, Kati and Willi Salcers, hadn’t told their children that they had been in concentration camps before they were interviewed by the Shoah Foundation. Their son then enlisted Stone, a journalist with a background

a living portrait of one of the most complicated and controversial conflicts of our time

“Lis Harris has written about a conflict in which the members of each side, acutely damaged by trauma, are so angry at the other that they can’t listen. But Harris can. Wherever our sympathies lie, we have something to learn from this intensively reported and meticulously written account of two extended families.” —Anne Fadiman, author of The Wine Lover’s Daughter

“Stephen Karol walks with the reader through challenging questions about death and mourning and elucidates traditions surrounding these most complex subjects.” – Abby Gostein, Cantor of Temple Beth Shalom, Austin, Texas “… Karol has written a book full of compassion and empathy on not only coping with the death of a loved one but finding meaning from it.” – Robyn Stein DeLuca, Research Assistant Professor, Stony Brook University

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Monticello: A Borscht Belt Catskills Tale By Elliot Udell This story is like taking a time machine back to the era when the Catskill Borscht Belt resorts reigned supreme. Once you start this book, you will find it hard to put it down. Readers will be able to hear the sounds, smell the grass and live with the people who made up this bygone resort empire. Book is only available on


Stephen A. Karol is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, New York. He was ordained at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1977, and has served at Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, New York, Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, Massachusetts, and Temple Isaiah. He teaches at Temple Isaiah and also at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Stony Brook University. Rabbi Karol lives in Port Jefferson Station, New York, with his wife, Donna.

The Jewish Week ■ ■ November 29, 2019

Fall Literary Guide

The Jewish Week ■ ■ November 29, 2019


New Fall Titles

continued from previous page in cultural anthropology, to chronicle their life stories. Published quietly in 1945 and now in a new edition with a preface by Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano, “A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman’s Harrowing Escape from the Nazis” by Francoise Frenkel (Atria) is the

story of a Jewish woman from Poland who fulfills a dream in 1921, when she opens the first French bookstore in Berlin. The shop, La Maison du Livre, becomes a center for poets, diplomats, artists and intellectuals. On Kristall-

nacht, the bookstore is spared, but Frenkel flees to Paris, witnessing many horrors, and spends the war years in the south of France, secreted in a series of safe houses by kind strangers. Little is known of Frenkel’s life after the War. She died in 1975; the memoir was rediscovered in an attic in southern France in 2010 and has been republished in several languages. Presented through analyses of the weekly Torah portions, “Be, Become, Bless: Jewish Spirituality Between East and West” by Yakov Nagen (Maggid) is unusual in its approach and wide-ranging outlook. Nagen is a senior educator at the Otniel Yeshiva in Israel, where he teaches Talmud and Kabbala, and is very involved with interfaith dialogue between Judaism and Islam as well as encounters between Judaism and Eastern religions. Here, he draws upon teachings from the Bible, Talmud, Kabbala, poetry, philosophy, popular culture and film, as well as his personal experiences, including travel in India, raising a family and reading widely. He highlights differences and similarities between Eastern and Western ways of thinking, and the ways that individuals might learn from one another. The reader gains an understanding of Nagen’s view of life, grounded in Jewish teachings, with gratitude and deep awareness of the blessings of light and life itself. “The German House” by Annette

Inside Hilberg’s Output

Two new collections introduce the methodical work of the eminent Holocaust scholar.


t is ironic that the future Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, who died in 2007, arrived in the United States in flight from Nazi Europe on Sept.1, 1939, the day that World War II began. Two newly edited collections of his writings, both published by Bergahn Books, commemorate the 80th anniversary of both events. For those whom his monumental work, the three-volume treatise, “The Destruction of the European Jews,” remains daunting, these volumes serve as brief yet incisive introductions to the wide-ranging scope of Hilberg’s five decades of scholarship. The essays in “The Anatomy of the Holocaust,” edited by Walter H. Pehle and Rene Schlott, highlight how Hilberg’s methodical analysis of the bureaucratic functioning of the Third Reich in general and of its concentration camp machinery of destruction in particular brought to wide public attention the sinister genocidal efficiency at the Holocaust’s core. “German Railroads, Jewish Souls: The Reichsbahn, Bureaucacy, and the Final Solution,” published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, further underscores the role of Nazi Germany’s amoral bureaucracy in implementing the slaughter of six million Jews. The emphasis here is the role of concentration camp-bound cattle cars in bringing Jews to their deaths. Editors Christopher R. Browning and Peter Hayes, two eminent Holocaust scholars who were themselves influenced by Hilberg’s approach, supplement two essays by Hilberg with further analyses of their own. “Hilberg’s self-imposed task was to ‘grasp how this deed was done,’” Browning and Hayes write. These two books present in capsule Hilberg’s chilling, ever-haunting conclusions.

Diane Cole

Hoop Dreams

Red Holzman, from Bushwick to the Garden.


or me, Red Holzman was an easier interview dead than alive,” Mort Zachter begins his excellent biography of the most successful coach in the history of the New York Knicks. Holzman, who led the team to its only two championships, was known to be very modest. He disliked being interviewed and rarely shared his strategies with the press, but he did sit down for a series of interviews in 1978 for the oral history project of the American Jewish Committee, and left strict instructions as to how they could be used. In 2018 Zachter found the transcripts, which had been unread. Reading them, he says, made him feel “as if Holzman was alive and well and speaking just to me.” In “Red Holzman: The Life and Legacy of a Hall of Fame Basketball Coach” (Skyhorse), Zachter tells of Holzman’s childhood as the son of Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, when an uncle would take him to see his first professional basketball games at Arcadia Hall in Bushwick. Holzman began playing in streets and schoolyards in the 1920s, and his parents referred to the game as narishkeit, foolishness, before he got a basketball scholarship to attend college. As head coach of the Knicks, Holzman led a squad including Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere and Earl Monroe. At Madison Square Garden, the number 613 hangs next to Holzman’s name — the total number of his wins with the Knicks. In the appendix, Zachter also includes Holzman’s wife Selma’s “Chicken-in-the-Pot” recipe, which he found in the Knicks’ 1998-1999 media guide; Knicks center and captain Willis Reed told Zachter she delivered the soup to him each winter when he got the flu.

Sandee Brawarsky

Hess (HarperVia), a debut novel by an award-winning German screenwriter, is now an international bestseller. Told through the voice of a young translator working at the 1963 Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, the novel, based on actual testimony of the trials, is a courtroom drama and family saga of long-hidden secrets. The German House is the restaurant her family runs from its home in Frankfurt. Based on true events, Alan Furst’s new historical spy novel “Under Occupation” (Random House) is set in the occupied Paris of 1942, where French resistance networks secretly combat

Hitler. Furst was inspired by the story of Polish prisoners in Nazi Germany who smuggled valuable information to the French Resistance. Here, a French novelist is the hero of the novel. “L’chaim and Lamentations” (New South Books) is an appealing debut collection of stories by Craig Darch. The stories feature a range of Jewish characters that feel familiar; Darch has a great ear for their individual voices and empathy for the way they experience life’s turns, both the ordinary and the unexpected. There’s loneliness and humor, kiddush and Kaddish, humanity and hope in these stories. ✒

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Fall Literary Guide (November 2019)  

Fall Literary Guide (November 2019)  

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