More than 50 years after Hitler’s death, there’s no consensus among the many Holocaust scholars about the nature of his evil, his motivations, his self-awareness, his hiddenness. As journalist Ron Rosenbaum points out in his new book Explaining Hitler (Random House), there are many competing visions and passionate, bitter disputes.
Alan Lew was getting ready to sew his raksu, the garment worn by Buddhists for lay ordination, but he kept procrastinating. Instead, he wrote poetry and a monologue in the voice of his Bubbe Ida. With every stitch, he was supposed to say “I take refuge in the Buddha,” and he soon realized why he couldn’t sew at all: He felt he was betraying his Jewish soul.
It’s not unusual for strangers to tell Helen Epstein that she changed their lives. They’re referring to her 1979 book, “Children of the Holocaust,” which identified and described an experience that many sons and daughters of survivors shared but few discussed in public. After 18 years, that book — her first — remains in print, still selling.
Within moments of meeting Eli Evans, it's clear that he's not the typical New Yorker. He's more polite than most, and he's a natural storyteller. But it's his accent that places his roots far from even the outer boroughs of this city: He's a son of Durham, N.C., where his father was the first Jewish mayor in the city's history. Evans wears his Southern Jewishness the way a Texan wears his Stetson, with pride.
The one thing that most reviewers of E.L Doctorow’s new novel City of God (Random House) seem to agree on is that it’s an ambitious work. It’s an unusual, non-linear, non-smooth, rambling postmodern novel that takes on themes of God, science, religion, love, war, popular music, bird watching and movies; it’s also a novel about writing. Not always easy to follow, its several narrative lines and multiple speakers shift abruptly, and those readers who like their novels to have beginnings, middles and ends might find it difficult.
Talk about Jewish continuity: Last year, Tirzah Rothschild had a young boy in her fourth-grade class at Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch whose grandfather had been her student. The boy's father had also been a pupil at the school while Rothschild served as principal. As she begins her 52nd year at the Washington Heights school this fall, these multi-generational connections are not uncommon.
For his 50th birthday last fall, 120 friends gathered to surprise and honor Jeff Martin. It was a show worthy of Broadway: Friends who work in theater sang to him, others wrote tributes, his drama teacher from Jamaica High School spoke. “It was the kind of memorial I would probably pray to have at my death,” the entertainment producer and director said, “And it happened when I was there.”
There’s 22-year-old Emma saying the blessing over the Shabbat candles with her mother, delighted by the light, humming a synagogue tune and then covering her mother’s face with wet kisses. Together, Emma and Judith remember out loud all the people to whom they want to wish Shabbat Shalom. The pair could be an advertisement for Jewish living, and at first glance they hardly look unconventional or revolutionary. In fact, they’re pioneers in the — Jewish community, for there’s no daddy — at least, not yet — on their list of Sabbath greetings.
The copy of Leon Uris’ “Exodus” that Mark Tsesarsky read as a teenager was fragile, having passed through many hands before his. This was a samizdat copy, published underground and secretly circulated among Jews in the former Soviet Union. In the 1970s, reading it could have gotten Tsesarsky arrested, but, as he told Uris many years later as a new citizen of the United States, it made him “a Zionist in hiding.”
Judging by their covers, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld’s just published work A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice (Schocken) and his earlier “The Jewish Catalog” (Jewish Publication Society) — published almost 30 years ago — couldn’t be more different. His new book is hardcover; its jacket features a traditional papercut design in deep colors, highlighted in gold, altogether very handsome. The first book, a paperback he edited along with Richard Siegel and Sharon Strassfeld, is bright red, with a do-it-yourself look.