Boris Fishman Stakes His Claim

With an eye and an ear for Malamud, he tells a modern (and Holocaust-tinged) immigrant tale in his debut novel.

06/17/2014 - 20:00
Culture Editor

Slava Gelman had the kind of grandmother who would have walked under a tank for him. 

Boris Fishman’s impressive debut novel, “A Replacement Life,” (Harper) opens on an early summer morning in 2006 when Slava picks up the phone to learn from his mother that his beloved grandmother Sofia “isn’t.” In Russian, as the narrator explains, “you didn’t need the adjective to complete the sentence, but in English you did.”

“A Replacement Life” centers on a Claims Conference-like Holocaust restitution scam in Brooklyn’s Russian community.

The Politician With Literary Chops

Ruth Calderon’s creative (and inclusive) journey through Talmudic literature.

06/09/2014 - 20:00
Culture Editor

Even as she works toward effecting change in Israel as a member of Knesset, Ruth Calderon remains a passionate student and teacher of Talmud. After her election as a member of the Yesh Atid party in February 2013, she gained international acclaim with her debut speech in the Knesset in which she taught a Talmudic unit — as well as the respect of her haredi colleagues who recognized their style of study in her own. Now, she co-leads a weekly Talmud class in the Knesset and has just published a new book, Ilana Kurshan’s fine translation of “A Bride for One Night” (Jewish Publication Society), originally published in Hebrew in 2001, that brings her eloquent conversation about Talmud to an English-speaking audience.

Calderon’s book appears now for the first time in English.  University of Nebraska Press

Malamud’s Magic

Re-evaluating the great (but underappreciated) novelist as the Library of America enshrines his deeply humanistic works.

03/31/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

Finally: with the publication of two handsome volumes (and a third in the works) of the novels and short stories of Bernard Malamud (1914-1986), the Library of America has at long last welcomed into its pantheon of American literary greats the Brooklyn-born author of such well-known works of fiction as “The Natural” (yup, the source for the blockbuster baseball movie starring Robert Redford), “The Fixer” (which won the Pulitzer Prize and also spawned a movie, this one starring Alan Bates), “The Assistant,” and others. 

With two new editions, Malamud belatedly takes his place among fellow, lauded 20th-century Jewish writers S. Bellow and P. Roth

Tova Mirvis’ New York Novel

A sense of place — the Upper West Side, that is — runs through ‘Visible City.’

03/17/2014 - 20:00
Culture Editor

Tova Mirvis’ new novel is full of Manhattan moments — when you learn that your neighbor is your best friend’s therapist, or that you can’t help but eavesdrop on a conversation behind you about people you know. It may be a combination of coincidence and close quarters, but lives in this city seem to overlap and intersect repeatedly.

Mirvis’ new novel offers a window on New York’s “anonymous intimacy."  Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Back From Iran

The new memoir “A Sliver of Light” sheds light on the captivity, for more than two years, of three Americans.

03/13/2014 - 20:00
Jewish Week Correspondent

Josh Fattal was imprisoned in Iran for 781 days on the charge of espionage. In his fascinating new memoir, “A Sliver of Light,” co-written with Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, he describes how the three friends went hiking in Kurdistan and didn’t realize they were near the Iranian border. They were told to come forward by soldiers they soon realized were Iranian. They were placed in cars, blindfolded, and imprisoned. They would soon hear screams of torture, and they were uncertain if they would live or die. Fattal, who lives in Brooklyn and is pursuing a PhD in history at New York University, spoke with Jewish Week by phone.

Josh Fattal, left, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd

Kaddish, From A Woman’s Perspective

Getting feminine voices into the discussion on mourning.

03/10/2014 - 20:00
Culture Editor

In many a shiva house, books of consolation and Jewish ritual are as ubiquitous as archival photos and cellophane-wrapped platters of food. You’re likely to find Leon Wieseltier’s “Kaddish,” Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s “The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning” and perhaps Rabbi Richard Hirsh’s “The Journey of Mourning.” A new book by Michal Smart and Barbara Ashkenas, “Kaddish, Women’s Voices” (Urim) belongs on the table.

“Kaddish: Women’s Voices” was recently awarded a 2013 National Jewish Book Award in Contemporary Jewish Life.  Courtesy of Urim

When History Disrupts Dreams

The characters in Molly Antopol’s debut collection of ‘diasporic’ stories face a series of disconnects

02/24/2014 - 19:00
Culture Editor

At night, Talia and her sisters liked to sneak onto the kibbutz adjacent to their land and hang out in the date palms, climbing and balancing themselves while trying to steer clear of the thorns — they understood that whatever was said there stayed there.  Everything in life seemed solvable among those trees. She also loved the walk back home in the dark, when it was impossible to distinguish between sky and hills.

Molly Antopol writes short stories that combine personal challenges with sweeping historical events. Courtesy of Norton

Wrestling With Heschel

Shai Held takes on the iconic rabbi’s theology and spirituality in new biography.

02/03/2014 - 19:00
Culture Editor

When Rabbi Shai Held was a college freshman, the late Professor Isadore Twersky told his seminar class, in a moment of candor, that Maimonides had been his life companion. Rabbi Held recalls that he found the comment strange, but now, decades later, he understands. For Rabbi Held, it is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel with whom he has spent considerable time, whether reading his works, wrestling with his ideas, or teaching about him — and finding his words overwhelmingly beautiful, challenging or even infuriating.

Rabbi Shai Held says his biography of Heschel is “sympathetic and critical.”  Courtesy of Indiana University Press

'Unclean Lips:' Jews And Obscenity

New book traces role of Jews and obscenity in the pushing of societal boundaries, from Isaiah to Sarah Silverman.

01/23/2014 - 19:00
Jewish Week Online Columnist

Few anti-Semitic remarks have plagued the Jewish people more than the “dirty-Jew” stereotype. “The idea of Jews as differing sexually from Christians had a long history… [I]n the ancient Mediterranean, Jews had been called an ‘obscene people,’ who were ‘prone to lust’ and ‘indisputably carnal’ by Romans,” writes Josh Lambert, academic director of the Yiddish Book Center and visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His new book, Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture, illuminates the dangerous origins of this false idea, as well as teasing out salient questions about the Jewish historical role in obscenity law throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Josh Lambert

Master Of The Turnaround

In his just-published biography of Ariel Sharon, David Landau chronicles the transformation of a hawk.

01/13/2014 - 19:00
Culture Editor

When Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel in 2001, David Landau was almost in mourning. He and his left-leaning friends thought of Sharon as a disaster, a warmonger. But Landau changed his mind, as he witnessed Sharon’s own transformation as a leader, ultimately breaking with his past and directing Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

New biography of the late Ariel Sharon by veteran Israel journalist David Landau, paints a  picture of the politician-warrior.
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