Lubartovska Street circa 1937 was a vibrant and predominantly Jewish thoroughfare in the industrial city of Lublin, Poland. Men wearing top hats and well-coiffed women shared the cobblestone artery with horse-drawn carriages. Yiddish and Polish signage advertised kosher restaurants, hardware stores and lingerie boutiques.
The road less traveled is getting crowded. Not only are large numbers of Jews embarking on spiritual journeys, but many are writing about them, in full candor. The inner adventure story might be the Jewish book of the moment.
While bookstores are overflowing with memoirs of every stripe — the musings of people from all backgrounds, reflecting on remarkable families, abuse and dysfunction, divorce, relationships — Jewish writers seem to be revealing the details of their spiritual lives: The relationship frequently examined is that with God.
One of the most striking exhibits in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is the three towers of photographs taken in Eishyshok, documenting that shtetl’s Jewish life before it was destroyed by the Nazis. Viewers are encircled by 1,600 photographs collected by Dr. Yaffa Eliach, a professor at Brooklyn College who was born in Eishyshok. Now, Eliach has published a book that links together the moments captured in the photographs, presenting a full and textured description of the once vital community: It is a work about one town, with clues to many pasts.
When Ram Oren, the Israeli author likened by much of his country to John Grisham, learned of Michael Stolowitzky’s story, he was faced with a choice: He could turn the tale into a work of fiction, like 17 of his previous 20 books, or treat it as history.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.
In his essay on the great Jewish scholar, the Vilna Gaon, Louis Ginzburg wrote that the Gaon “declared it to be a religious duty and inviolable obligation of every person to fix a certain time of the day for reflection and meditation.” Ginzburg, himself a great scholar, and the Gaon agree: both insist there comes a time to put the books away.
At 98, Mina Bern was one of the few remaining stars from Second Avenue’s heyday.
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She was one of the last supports of a world that was crumbling to pieces.
When Mina Bern died of heart failure last week at the age of 98, the Yiddish theater world mourned one of its leading lights, an indefatigable performer and champion of the Yiddish language whose career spanned three continents and virtually the whole of the 20th century.
My father continues to breathe — huge, wheezing, unconscious but determined breaths — despite the doctor’s predictions, despite the Alzheimer’s that’s ravaged his brain and despite the broken hip and pneumonia that brought down the rest of him. And somehow, that continued existence seems entirely appropriate for this inadvertent survivor.
White House ceremony earlier this month, President George W. Bush honored several Jewish intellectuals who are authors of prominent books, and one Jewish New Yorker who helped save thousands and thousands of Jewish books.
Before World War II, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, was known as “The Jerusalem of the North.”
The city was the center of Jewish scholarship, home to rabbis and radicals, businessmen and artists. The YIVO Yiddish research institute was founded there. The sage known as the Vilna Gaon lived there.
Then came the Holocaust.
Ninety-five percent of Lithuania’s 200,000 Jews were victims of the Final Solution.
Vilnius became a setting of memories and memorials.
Now Vilnius is a venue of Jewish renaissance.