My Review of Henye Meyer’s A Stranger to My Brothers

My latest review appears in the Jewish Press book supplement, Of the Book. You can find it here. It’s of Henye Meyer’s re-issue of A Stranger to My Brothers under a new title and with new material.

A classic or a shonda: Which pieces of literature stand the test of time?

Earlier today, I was listening to an audio recording of some Beatrix Potter stories. My children and I laughed over the surreal adventures of little Lucy in “Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle” and the slapstick of “Two Bad Mice.” The stories are about a hundred years old now, I believe, and they’ve stood the test of time very well.

A failure in my sister’s home.

My kids and I often read classics, and sometimes we recommend titles to friends and family looking for a good read. Not too long ago, I recommended “Little House” books to my sister. Specifically, I suggested she start with Farmer Boy, which my children think is nearly as funny as a Beverly Cleary book. The scene where Almanzo feeds his pig home-made candy is one of the few literary moments that have made my kids laugh as hard as Ramona’s antics.

So, my sister and brother-in-law picked up a copy to read with one of their kids. A few days later, I got a phone call from my sister.

“What were you thinking?” she asked. Continue reading

Have you seen my review of Miriam Kosman’s new book about Jewish feminism in this week’s Jewish Home L.A.?

This week’s Jewish Home L.A. contains my review of Circle, Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaismrecently published by Mekor Press and distributed by Menucha Publishers. 

Jewish book on feminism

Miriam Kosman’s outstanding new book about gender within Judaism

Miriam Kosman‘s new book appears at a pivotal point in Jewish history. The role of women in Judaism has dominated the headlines of Jewish media outlets in recent years. Usually, Hareidim are made out to be the bad guys: according to most writers, Hareidi men bully women, look down on us, and short change us in any way humanly possible.

For someone like me — a feminist who willingly joined the ranks of those observant Jews who lean to the right — this kind of “news” makes us want to bang our heads into the wall in frustration. Not only do we perceive the Jewish world differently, many of us chose Orthodoxy in some part because mainstream feminism had failed us. Frankly, we felt more supported and appreciated as human beings, as Jews, and as women within our new community than we did in in our former, non-Orthodox world. We feel respected by the vast majority of Hareidi men, including by our husbands, sons, and rabbis. And while we do see plenty of areas in which our community can and should improve, many of the issues targeted by reporters and crusaders hold completely different meanings for us than for secular people.

Many of the recent books about Judaism written by Modern Orthodox authors have compounded the problem. They report on our world as outsiders (sometimes trumpeting all along how because they are, loosely-speaking, “Orthodox” they therefore have an insider view), and often articulate outrage while playing fast and loose with facts. Yet, until now, few books for the English speaking world have expressed the genuine insider perspective as to why Orthodox women don’t participate in many time-bound positive commandments, are excluded from certain communal rules, and so on. 

Miriam Kosman‘s new book remedies that. Continue reading

One week until seder night! How to keep focused and full of joy

Here’s today’s teeny post:

Getting through the long, hard slog with a smile on your face.

Passover is just a week away, but if you’re cleaning your house like me, scrubbing mysterious substances off of flatware and appliances you intend to use during the holiday, it can get hard to think beyond getting the house chometz-free. To get myself in the mood, I listen to lots of fun music while I clean (Jewish, classical, and jazz) and attend classes about Passover with local rabbis and teachers. I enjoy practicing singing the seder songs with my kids during carpool, and we usually read I.L. Peretz’s “The Conjuror” at some point during the week.

Writing can be hard work like that, too. What do you do — either while Pesach cleaning or while plugging away at the keyboard — to give you inspiration and focus?

Different strokes for different folks: How one book can inspire so many others

A while back, someone my husband respects very much encouraged him to read this book:

Stop Surviving Start Living Shafier

Rabbi Shafier’s book, based largely on Mesillas Yesharim

The first time I read Rabbi Shafier’s book, Stop Surviving, Start Living, I just didn’t get it. Not the content of the book — the content was clear as day, written lucidly by Rabbi Shafier, with nice anecdotes and everything. What I didn’t get was that it was based on a book my husband had already read. This one: Mesillas Yesharim, known in English as The Path of the Just, one of the most foundational texts in the Mussar world.

Mesillas Yesharim by the RAMCHAL

The original. So inspirational…and a bit scary for the uninitiated.

Why, I asked my husband, write a book based on another one, a book that you actually want people to read (because you’re such a fan yourself)? Continue reading

Reading local-to-L.A. authors

One of my favorite things to do is to promote the work of Jewish writers with West Coast connections. Here are a few I’ve read in the last couple months:

Hands-On How To’s for the Home & Heart by Tova Younger (Shemtov Press 2012)

TOVA YOUNGER final cover

Tova Younger’s recent release

Tova Younger is a former Angeleno who settled in Kiryat Sefer in 2004. Her new book, Hands-On How To’s for the Home & Heart, contains friendly and very practical advice of all types for the Jewish wife.

When I was first living on my own, someone gave me a book, Where’s Mom Now That I Need Her: Surviving Away from Home. That cookbook/home repair/car repair/first aid/ and just about everything else manual got me through a lot of tough situations. Younger’s book is almost a Jewish version of that secular classic—chock full of basic information that every Jewish homemaker can benefit from.

Divided up into four primary sections:

  • For the Heart
  • For the Home
  • Handy Tips
  • recipes

Hands-On How To’s for the Home & Heart offers advice about everything from maintaining proper kavana (focus) to proper laundering; from how to make conversation with the relatives to whom we owe kavod (honor), to recipes for basics like beet salad and cornflake quiche.

Younger’s book would make a terrific gift for seminary girls, the newly married, and even seasoned homemakers. You can find it on discount right now at Jewish e-Books.

Bells & Pomegranates by Rachel Pomerantz (Menucha Publishers 2012)

bells and pomegranates

Rachel Pomerantz’s latest

Well-known Orthodox author Rachel Pomerantz frequently travels to SoCal to visit her brother and mother, who live near San Andreas. Her latest serial novelization, Bells & Pomegranates, follows the shidduch process of various characters (introduced in previous books), all of whom have life circumstances that present hurdles in their quest for a mate.

There are step-siblings Yoel and Devora, who have been adopted, and the twins Rina and Gila, who converted as children and grew up in a single parent home. There’s foster child Ronny, whose mother is mentally ill, and Yossi, the child of baalei teshuva. Sarah’s got great yichus, but she’s an orphan. These characters and others start off the shidduch process with considerable challenges—but as the novel progresses, Pomerantz throws additional complications into their paths, lending drama and suspense to their intermingled stories.

Bells & Pomegranates is more than kosher entertainment for a rainy afternoon. In describing the family dramas of her characters, Pomerantz invites us to question our own preferences and prejudices. How do my assumptions affect my judgment? How involved should parents and grandparents be in the shidduch process? What are legitimate reasons to call off a prospective match? These questions and others lingered with me after I finished the book.

On This Night: the Steps of the Seder in Rhyme by Nancy Steiner (HaChai 2013)

on this night

While a seasoned freelance author, Nancy Steiner is new to picture book writing. Her first kids’ title, On This Night, will likely prove to be a classic. In cheerful—but unforced—rhyme, Steiner leads readers through the steps of the seder. Her language is perfectly accessible for young readers and will prepare them for the Pesach experience.

The darling illustrations by Wendy Edelson depict an adorable family celebrating their seder. Edelson portrays the family members from a variety of angles, adding to the visual interest. From the twinkly-eyed zeide to the drowsy preschooler on the final page, the pictures (and text) are sure to engage kids aged 2 to 6.

Also of note:

L.A. resident Sarah Bunin Benor’s new book, Becoming Frum (Rutgers University Press 2012), considers the ways newly religious Jews adapt to the language of the mainstream Orthodox world. While an academic book rather than a religious one, Bunin Benor bases her conclusions largely on research conducted here in L.A., and her book will be of great interest of those engaged in the baalei teshuva phenomenon. I participated in her initial online survey, which piqued my interest in her work. I hope to write an entire post devoted to Bunin Benor’s book (and her spin-off website) soon.