Books

One Searcher’s Highway To Heaven

Jewish ‘agnostic by default’ spends a year looking for God in many unfamiliar places.

08/14/2012
Staff Writer

Silver Spring, Md. — If, as President Kennedy famously said, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step,” Eric Weiner’s journey of tens of thousands of miles began with a single question.

A “determined traveler,” Weiner journeyed around the world in his search for God.

Coming Home, Moving On

Joshua Henkin’s latest novel focuses on a family reunion in the Berkshires, filled with memories and surprises.

07/31/2012
Book Critic

The summer house in Lenox, Massachusetts where Joshua Henkin’s accomplished new novel is set has a tennis court out back, a garden, and, on its interior walls, street maps of Paris, Kathe Kollwitz etchings and faded portraits of great-grandparents. Family history also spills out of closets, with sports equipment of earlier eras, a never-worn wedding dress (the engagement was broken), outgrown sneakers and spare flip-flops.

Joshua Henkin’s “group book” centers around three days in the life of a Jewish family.  Matthew Polis

‘Unnatural Jews’

Bad things happen when Jews move to the country, in fiction, anyway.

07/25/2012
Special To The Jewish Week

 “Nature, he couldn’t help noticing lately, was trying to scare the s--- out of him. F---ing with him.”

 — from Shalom Auslander’s “Hope:  A Tragedy”

Shalom Auslander's "Hope: A Tragedy."

Writing Her Way To A New Life

Documenting the fraught journey from Jay to Joy Ladin.

07/17/2012
Jewish Week Book Critic

In an interview, Joy Ladin begins several responses, “When I started living as myself…” For the Stern College professor, poet and author, the boundary between then and now, between living a lie and leading an authentic life, is her transition from man to woman.

For Ladin, her transition from man to woman is an experience of rebirth.

Past Imperfect?

Yehuda Kurtzer on the history-memory dynamic
in Jewish life.

06/26/2012
Special To The Jewish Week
We Jews, traditionally, are an ahistoric people. That’s not to say that we don’t have a history; praise the Lord, we have plenty! But the rabbis of the Talmud did not see their job as doing history. For the rabbinic leaders and decisors of old, history was not front and center; the rabbinic leadership asked not “What happened?” but rather “How can we set a context, a chronological order, for the events in the Hebrew Bible and by extension for the halacha, the normative system that governs the life of the individual and the community?”
History and memory are not mutually exclusive, Yehuda Kurtzer argues in “Shuva.”

The Social-Justice Camera

06/12/2012
Special to the Jewish Week

The concept of “tikkun olam” — repairing the world — is a central tenet of Judaism. It is also, not infrequently, an excuse for critics like your humble servant to shoehorn texts and art that are not obviously Jewish into the pages of a Jewish newspaper. But there are times when the connection between Jewish identity, social justice work and the arts is so palpable that to ignore it would be more foolish than to proclaim it.

Bernard Cole’s “Shoemaker’s Lunch,” from 1944, is part of documentary on the Photo League.

Strange Fruit

‘Tough Guy’ author Rich Cohen finds another quintessentially American character in United Fruit Company’s Samuel Zemurray.

06/05/2012
Staff Writer

The author Rich Cohen first heard about Samuel Zemurray in the late-1980s. Cohen was sitting in a sophomore class on American Jewish fiction at Tulane, and the professor gave a lecture about Zemurray, the longtime president of the United Fruit Company, and, in the early 20th century, one of the richest men in America.

Cohen tells a classic rags-to-riches story in the tale of Samuel Zemurray.

The ‘Middle’ Movement Affirms, Updates Its Middle Path

Ten years in the making, ‘The Observant Life’ charts a course for between ancient wisdom and say, Internet file sharing, for Conservative Jews.

05/08/2012
Special To The Jewish Week

What does it mean to be an observant Jew in the 21st century? The question sounds deceptively simple, but the answer takes more than 30 rabbis and nearly 1,000 pages in the massive volume being published later this month by the Rabbinical Assembly of Judaism’s Conservative movement, “The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews.” That’s nearly twice the length of the book it updates, Rabbi Isaac Klein’s 1979 “A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice.” Has the world — or Judaism — changed that much in the 33 years in between the appearance of those books?

Conservative movement’s new guide to Jewish life reflects societal changes.

Writing Between Worlds

Life and art collide in the work of Israeli Arab novelist Sayed Kashua.

05/01/2012
Jewish Week Book Critic

When I ask Sayed Kashua about the roots of his humor, he says that he isn’t sure, but that it probably has something to do with his discovery, as an Israeli Arab attending a Jewish high school, that humor could protect him.

Kashua’s third novel underlines the complexities of life in Israel for minorities.

From Here To Absurdity

The tortured (and hilarious) road to recovery of an up-and-coming comedian with a hair-raising biography.

04/17/2012
Staff Writer

Many of the best comedians have had deeply troubled pasts. But Moshe Kasher, a rising 32-year-old comic and author of a new memoir, “Kasher in the Rye,” takes the old adage to a new level.

Kasher in the Rye book cover.
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