Posts filed under Book Review

Israeli culinary journalist Gil Hovav’s memoir is a heartwarming and earnest slice of life

Honest cooking and sincere storytelling rely on similar ingredients: tradition, love, humor and spice, among others. These components are found throughout “Candies from Heaven,” the newly translated memoir of leading Israeli culinary journalist Gil Hovav. A series of 22 short stories offers a delectable glimpse into the Hovav family dynamic as each member adapted to the realities of life in the early days of the Jewish state. Hovav’s memoir is a heartwarming and earnest slice of life, writes book reviewer Jeffrey Barken.

Posted on January 10, 2018 and filed under Book Review.

New biography of philanthropic giant lacks perspective on the Jewish future

Prof. Hasia Diner has a well-earned reputation as an insightful historian. But in her new book, “Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World,” she seems to be so admiring of her subject that she can see no ambiguity in his achievements and no problem with his legacy. Rosenwald is a giant of American philanthropy. But to the great detriment of her book, Diner left out a supremely important dimension to his story—a dimension that relates to his people and their ultimate survival, writes book reviewer Rabbi Jack Riemer.

Posted on September 18, 2017 and filed under Book Review.

Newly translated, Israeli novel ‘Three Floors Up’ will give English readers a page-turner

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon…when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret,” Charles Dickens muses in the 19th-century classic, “A Tale of Two Cities.” The same contemplative voyeurism inspires Israeli author Eshkol Nevo’s popular novel, “Three Floors Up,” which becomes available in English this October. Nevo’s chief strength lies in his ability to fashion wonderfully relatable characters whose troubled voices, as well as mysterious and impulsive moods, render the work a page-turner, writes book reviewer Jeffrey F. Barken.

Posted on September 4, 2017 and filed under Book Review.

New book goes behind the scenes of Hasidic musical heritage

You don’t need to be a scholar of Jewish music to enjoy Velvel Pasternak’s new book, “Behind the Music: Stories, Anecdotes, Articles & Reflections.” You just need to be someone who wants to learn about the adventures of the author, a man who has done more than anyone else in our time to discover, record and transmit the treasures of Hasidic music, writes book reviewer Rabbi Jack Riemer.

Posted on June 19, 2017 and filed under Book Review.

New book disarms Israel’s revisionist detractors

No past is more under siege than the history of the Jewish people and their connection to the land of Israel. Replete with facts that the Jewish state’s detractors don’t want people to know, David Brog’s recently published “Reclaiming Israel’s History” is a nightmare for academics teaching revisionist history to impressionable college students, writes book reviewer Paul Miller.

Posted on June 2, 2017 and filed under Book Review.

A fresh, complex perspective on ‘Hebrew national poet’ Hayim Nahman Bialik

Rabbi Jack Riemer thought that he knew a fair amount about the so-called “Hebrew national poet,” but Avner Holtzman’s new biography—“Hayim Nahman Bialik: Poet of Hebrew”—enabled the book reviewer to see Bialik from a whole new perspective. Readers will encounter a Bialik who was much more complex than the one they learned about as children, and who left behind not only a rich legacy of writings, but an unfinished task that we are called upon to continue, Riemer writes.

Posted on March 15, 2017 and filed under Book Review.

‘Fotonovela’ on Jewish center bombing shows camera may be mightier than the pen

Marcelo Brodsky, a photographer, and Ilan Stavans, a scholar of Latin-American Jewish life, enable readers to understand what happened on the day of the July 1994 bombing of Argentina’s AMIA Jewish center in “Once@9:53am: Terror in Buenos Aires.” The “fotonovela” is part documentary, part chronicle and part fiction. The book—which has renewed relevance thanks to the recent reopening of an investigation into former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s alleged covering up of Iran’s role in the bombing—shows that the camera evidently is even mightier than the pen, writes book reviewer Rabbi Jack Riemer.

Posted on January 5, 2017 and filed under Book Review, World.

New book on Six-Day War should be required reading for President-elect Trump

Readers leave Guy Laron’s forthcoming book on the 1967 Six-Day War wondering if civilian governments of all countries are dominated by the militaries that brief them and persuade them. There is a fundamental principle in the U.S. that political leaders should set policy, while military leaders should carry it out. Yet President-elect Donald Trump is selecting a cabinet in which generals and business executives seem to predominate. Laron’s book should be on Trump’s reading list—not only for what it can teach him about the Middle East of 50 years ago, but for what it can teach him about America today, writes book reviewer Rabbi Jack Riemer.

Posted on December 28, 2016 and filed under Book Review.

New biography tries to answer the ‘What if?’ hovering over Yitzhak Rabin’s legacy

Every year for the last 20 years, on the anniversary of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's death, young people gather by the thousands at the place where he was assassinated—now called Rabin Square—to mourn his loss and the lost opportunity for peace. “What if?” is an impossible question to answer. But the forthcoming biography of Rabin by Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. and chief negotiator with Syria under Rabin, makes the case that the prime minister would have taken the risks for his concept of “peace with safeguards,” no matter what opposition stood in his way, writes book reviewer Rabbi Jack Riemer.

Posted on December 5, 2016 and filed under Book Review.

83-year-old author’s debut novel gives glimpse into buried Holocaust memories

Jay Greenfield, an 83-year-old career lawyer, retired to devote his time to writing novels rather than legal briefs. Now he is releasing his debut novel, “Max’s Diamonds,” on May 1. A story that captures the pain of the Holocaust, while exploring the lives that grew out of the darkness, “Max’s Diamonds” enables the reader to relate to—and even get a glimpse into—the buried memories of the Shoah, writes Ronn Torossian. 

Posted on April 21, 2016 and filed under Book Review, Holocaust.

In ‘My Fat Dad’ memoir, wisdom balances recipes and relationships

“A good relationship, like a good recipe, requires balance—three cups of wisdom to every one cup of sugar,” says Beauty, Jewish author and nutritionist Dawn Lerman’s beloved grandmother and revered role model, capturing the flavor of the New York Times wellness blogger’s food-centric memoir. Grandma Beauty bakes important morals into Lerman’s “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes.” The detailed memories recounted in this well-paced narrative—punctuated by delicious-sounding home recipes—depict the healing power of good food, but also the divisions or voids that unhealthy eating habits can create among family members, writes book reviewer Jeffrey Barken.

Posted on March 30, 2016 and filed under Book Review, Food.

‘Pastry secrets’ arrive just in time for Rosh Hashanah

Babka. Strudel. Stollen. Danish pastry. Not to mention Gugelhopf and Charlotte. The names set the mouth to watering and conjure up lovingly concocted pastries that feed the body and comfort the soul. If you didn’t have a grandmother who baked these delicacies, you wish that you had. The newly published “A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets,” arriving just in time for Rosh Hashanah, enables the cook to bring a meal to its magnificent conclusion. The concoctions are so numerous and sound so delicious, one wonders how the author was ever able to choose what to bake.

Posted on September 9, 2015 and filed under Food, High Holidays, Special Sections, Book Review.

Fusing Israeli and Holocaust history, novel offers a ‘Middle Eastern Western’

In their newly published book “The Ambassador,” authors Yehuda Avner and Matt Rees play a game with modern Jewish history. Avner—who died earlier this year, and was a speechwriter, secretary, and advisor to five different Israeli prime ministers—recalls having heard former prime minister Shimon Peres say at a Yom HaShoah memorial meeting, “Can you imagine how different our history would have been if the Jewish state had come into being 10 years earlier than it did?” This exciting novel answers that question, and has the feel of a “Middle Eastern Western,” writes book reviewer Rabbi Jack Riemer.

Posted on September 4, 2015 and filed under Book Review, Holocaust, Israel.

Book paints painful-but-inspiring picture of Holocaust’s immediate aftermath

Dan Stone’s “The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath” is difficult reading, and not just because it meticulously documents what happened in the Displaced Persons camps in the three years after the war ended. The newly published book also reveals painful facts that we did not know—and that we would rather not need to know. At the same time, the book gives us inspiring reasons to revere the Jews who clung to their faith despite all they had gone through during both the war and the three transitional years between the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, writes reviewer Rabbi Jack Riemer.

Posted on June 4, 2015 and filed under Book Review, Holocaust.