How Jewish do you sound? Learning the lingo as you learn the ropes

I promised a full-length review of Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism by Sarah Bunin Benor (Rutger’s University Press 2012)  a while back, but I (embarrassing to admit!) lost the book before I completed it! (Yes, I feel guilty.)

becoming frum

Becoming Frum, recent winner of the Rohr Prize

Thank G-d, the book re-emerged from the piles on my desk recently, and I finally completed it over the weekend, allowing me to at long-last fulfill my promise to review this book, which recently won the 2013 Sami Rohr Choice Award for Jewish Literature

I first became acquainted with the work of Sarah Bunin Benor when she looked for volunteers to complete an online survey of language use among Jewish Americans several years back. When Becoming Frum came out a year ago, I was even more interested, partly because of my sociolinguistics coursework as part of my graduate-level anthropology program, partly because of my own status as a “BT” (someone who “returned” to Orthodox Jewish observance as an adult).

Becoming Frum draws on Benor’s extensive research among both “black hat” and “modern” Orthodox communities. Continue reading

Review of My Very Own Mitzvah Hands–new from Bracha Goetz & just in time for Chanukah!

My Very Own Mitzvah Hands cover

The Latest from Bracha Goetz!

My friends know that I love to support writers and illustrators local to me in L.A., but this time I’m turning to a writer from my hometown (hint, I’m forever an Orioles fan).

Bracha Goetz is a well-known Jewish writer and the creator of the popular “What Do You See” series of boardbooks from Judaica Press. She’s now teamed up with them for a new series, of which the first book just came out.

My Very Own Mitzvah Hands follows two young children as they employ their hands in a variety of activities. This book is similar to the secular Hands Are Not for Hitting, but differs in two significant ways: 1) the emphasis is exclusively on the positive, 2) the actions are directly connected to using our hands to connect to the Almighty through His mitzvos.

Bracha Goetz’s text rhymes nicely, and uses simple, clear language which is appropriate to the youngest readers. Attractively and colorfully illustrated by Malka Wolf, children will find the pictures engaging, and they’ll particularly appreciate the final spread, which recaps all the actions discussed earlier in the book.

I very much liked the underlying message to children–just because your hands are little, doesn’t mean they can’t bring good into our world. This message is empowering, but it isn’t overpowering in its presentation.  My Very Own Mitzvah Hands lends itself also very well to two common parenting experiences:

1) If your child is using their hands for trouble (like creating murals on your wall with permanent marker or smacking the baby), you can use the rhymes in this book to redirect them or to remind them of better things to do with their hands.

2) Sometimes, children complain about being bored. Using this book as a springboard, parents can invite their children to brainstorm things they can do with their hands to alleviate that boredom.

Whether you’re still doing your Chanukah shopping or looking for books at other times of the year, I’d recommend this book. My Very Own Mitzvah Hands refers to several of elements of Jewish practice only engaged in on a daily basis by traditional and religious families, so I would describe the target audience as children 1-5 years from those backgrounds.