Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What Makes A Book Jewish??

I decided to put this on my blog. I have alway wandered about this. What Makes A Book Jewish? There is not any easy answer to this.
When our book club picks what we read we sometimes have issues. For example is it Jewish content? Is the author Jewish? If not should we still pick the book if it has Jewish content? Is the book or author Jewish enough? There is a author that has written a novel that is a gentile but vey Yiddishkeit. Now, what do we do?

What are your thoughts about this??This can bring in a very hot and tempered conversation. I try to stay away from this subject. But when it deals with a book we need to discuss sometimes it can not be helped.

What Makes a book Jewish
By Josh Lambert
Copied from Jewish Book World
Summer 2009

since you’re reading Jewish Book
World, this is probably a question
you’ve asked yourself, at
least briefly, at one point or
another. If you’re a librarian or
bookstore owner, editor or
reviewer, literary scholar, or
book group leader, you may
even have decided which books
count as Jewish and which books don’t for a
particular project, issue, display, or collection.
I had to think about this all the time while
writing my book, American Jewish Fiction: A
JPS Guide, which explores the field through
short reviews of 125 classic novels and short
story collections published between 1867 and
2007. What books would I include, and
which ones would I leave out?
Many of these decisions are easy enough
to make. Everyone agrees that a book written
in a Jewish language like Hebrew, Yiddish, or
Ladino, can be counted as a Jewish book.
Even when they have nothing to do with Jews
or Judaism, it would be hard to deny that
such books maintain some relation to Jewish
writers and readers. Sure, the Yiddish translation
of the New Testament was produced to
help Christians convert Jews, but the book
remains Jewish in a sense because of its language
and its intended audience.
Since my focus was on American fiction, I
could immediately and enthusiastically add
to my list many novels written in Yiddish,
including works by David Pinski, I. J. Singer,
I. B. Singer, and Chaim Grade; my publishers
requested that I steer clear of any books that
have not been translated into English, which
meant picking Isaac Raboy’s Der yiddisher
kauboy (Jewish Cowboy, 1942), rather than his
earlier and somewhat similar novel Herr
Goldenbarg (1913), and leaving out books
like David Ignatov’s In keslgrub (1918) that
have not yet been translated. Sadly, this
requirement meant excluding many novels
and short story collections written in Hebrew
12 Jewish Book World Summer 5769/2009 www.jewishbookcouncil.org
by Josh Lambert
What makes a book Jewish?

about life in America by writers including
Simon Halkin, Reuben Wallenrod, Razia
Ben-Gurion, and Maya Arad (though I mention
several of these in an appendix for those
able to read them in the original). But I never
had to think too deeply about whether these
Yiddish and Hebrew books should be considered
Even when dealing with non-Jewish languages—
in the case of my own book, particularly
with novels written in English—some
decisions pose no great difficulty. Who would
deny that Milton Steinberg’s As a Driven Leaf
(1939), which dramatizes a set of stories from
the Talmud, is a Jewish book simply because
Steinberg, a congregational rabbi, chose to
write it in English? The real complications
begin with writers who were not rabbis
and with stories drawn not from central
and traditional Jewish texts, like the Talmud,
but from modern experience in all
of its ambiguity and dynamism.
A few borderline cases will help to
demonstrate the problems that tend to
crop up. Nathanael West (né Weinstein)
wrote extraordinarily dark and
resonant satires of American
culture in which Jews do not
figure as primary characters,
and while J. D. Salinger was a
rabbi’s grandson, his stories of
alienated young geniuses and
dysfunctional urban families,
including Catcher in the Rye
(1951), barely mention Jewishness.
An even more resonant
case is that of the famed Czech
writer Franz Kafka, whose diaries and
letters reveal an intense fascination with
and attention to Jewish life and history,
but who never mentions the word “Jew”
or “Jewish” in a single one of his novels
or stories.
To justify including works by these
writers in the category of Jewish literature,
critics often argue that their books subtly
symbolize something fundamental about the
modern Jewish experience, even if they don’t
explicitly mention Jews. Saul Bellow, for example,
characterized a Jewish book as one in
which “laughter and trembling” are “curiously
mixed,” and by this standard, West and Kafka
would be shoo-ins, while Salinger would have
a fair shot. Cynthia Ozick, meanwhile, has
called for a “liturgical literature,” and depending
on how one defines that purposely vague
term, West, Salinger, and Kafka could all be in,
or out. Ruth Wisse, professor of Jewish literature
at Harvard, proposes that “in Jewish literature
the authors or characters know and let
the reader know that they are Jews,” under
which criterion West, Salinger, and Kafka
would all be summarily excluded; nevertheless,
Wisse insists on including Kafka in her Modern
Jewish Canon (2000), as she perceives “the
permanent anxiety of a Jew writing in German”
in The Trial (1925). Noting the long history
of such disagreements and confusions,
Hana Wirth-Nesher remarks, in an anthology
of essays on this topic, titled What Is Jewish Literature?
(1994), that “there is no consensus nor
is it likely that there will ever be one.”
Why not say, then, as Michael Kramer, a
professor of English literature at Bar Ilan University,
does, that “Jewish literature is simply
literature written by Jews”? Kramer means
this literally and absolutely: he includes any
books written by any Jew “regardless of any
relationship to Judaism or yiddishkayt or any
of the many versions of Jewishness that have
strutted across the stage of modern Jewish
history.” For Kramer, if it turns out that a
Jewish person wrote PowerPoint for Dummies,
well, then that’s a Jewish book.
For many readers, Kramer’s approach will
seem needlessly broad—does he really imagine
that the Jewish section at Barnes and
Noble could include every book written by a
Jewish author? And who exactly is supposed
to check to see whether the author of The
Bacon Cookbook had a bat mitzvah?—but even
this inclusive approach is also not nearly broad
enough. Plenty of books written by proud and
unambiguously identified non-Jews surely
deserve mention in any discussion of Jewish
literature, from George Eliot’s influential
proto-Zionist novel Daniel Deronda (1876) to
the most recent winner of the National Jewish
Book Award for fiction, Peter Manseau’s Songs
for the Butchers Daughter (2008). Manseau’s
book appeared too late for me to include it in
American Jewish Fiction, but I did include
works by non-Jewish authors including Henry
Harland, Edward King, and John Updike. I
particularly recommend Gish Jen’s Mona in
the Promised Land (1996), which features a
young Chinese-American convert to Judaism.
It seems to me, finally, that the way
to answer the question about what
makes a book Jewish is to decide why
you think anyone should read such
books. Are these books meant to bring
Jews closer to God? To explain Jewish life
to non-Jews? To educate, to entertain, to
perplex, to enlighten? Personally, I hope
Jewish books can do all of these
things, and that helped me to
make my choices. After consulting
with experts, literary scholars,
and many voracious readers,
I eventually chose novels about
religious and secular Jews, about
the Holocaust and Israel, about
conversion and intermarriage,
about Jews who are proud to be
Jewish and about Jews who
aren’t exactly sure what being
Jewish means. And, for the record, I
included novels by West and Kafka, but
not Salinger. I imagine that not everyone
will agree with these choices. In fact, I
hope they won’t. That’s why I created a
companion website, www.AmericanJewishFiction.
com, where readers can let me
know what books and authors I neglected
and help me to build a more complete list.
We may never be able to agree, as Wirth-
Nesher suggests, on what exactly makes a
book Jewish. But by staking out positions and
arguing about them, we’ll develop richer and
more complex ideas about our literature, and
even, perhaps, about what “Jewish” means.
Josh Lambert (JL) is a doctoral candidate in English
literature at the University of Michigan, and the
author of American Jewish Fiction: A JPS Guide
(2009). He contributes regularly to the Forward,
Nextbook.org, and other publications, and his
website is epikores.com.
www.jewishbookcouncil.org Summer 5769/2009 Jewish Book World 13
That’s why I created a companion
website, www.americanjewishfiction.com,
where readers can let me know what books
and authors I neglected and help me to
build a more complete list.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Starting Book Club

Those of you that follow my blog know that I have had a hard time keeping Our book club, The 38th Ave. Diva Readers, going this year.The 38th Ave. I am not sure what is going to happen.

Now for some good news. Our new Jewish book club was formed this evening. Unfortunately, we forgot to name our selves. But that can be next time. Our first meeting was wonderful. We discussed Who By Fire By Diana Spechler.

I read this a second time around and appreciated it much more. The book is about a family of three siblings. The youngest sibling is kidnapped. Ellie asked Ash to watch his younger sister, Alena.

The husband eventually leaves the family. The whole family has emotional issues and baggage. They have guilt and blame toward each other and themselves.

Bits deals with the kidnapping by compulsively having sex. Ash deals with the kidnapping by becoming a Bal T'shuva( return Jew). Bits decides to take the plunge and move to Israel and live in a Yeshiva( house of study). The Ellie falls in love with Jonathan. Jonathan and Ellie work together to form a plan to get Ash out of the "cult" in Israel. Jonathan hires a young girl to lure Ash out of the Yeshiva.

Bits, flys to Israel to attempt to bring Ash back. Through all this the family has made several attempts to contact Ash. Ash has cut all contact with the family. Ellie, the mother informs Bits, that her sister's hairs were dug up and found. Bits plans to bring Ash back to the U.S. for the funeral. Ash doesn't want any part of it. Ash has religious searching to do. Ash leave the Yeshiva and meets a Chabad rabbi on the beach. The Rabbi talks him into returning to the states to help the family.

In time we find out that Jonathan is working with a young girl to get Ash out of the cult. There is something suspicious about Jonathan. He is conning Ellie for more money, and he has done this in the past. Jonathan keeps claiming that this kind of Jewish life is a cult. "We have to get him out"

Bits finds out from her aunt that there was not going to be a funeral after all. Her sister's body was never found. This was a story to make Ash come back to the states.

Ash does eventually come back to help take care of her sister. Bits finds out that Bits is pregnant. Ash is staying till he knows she can take care of herself, and the baby. He does plan to go back to Israel when he is no longer needed.

My reaction to the story is this is a dysfunctional family. They are all nuts. The family has a hard time communicating with one another and telling them the truth.
They seem to all want to rescue each other. The sister wants to rescue Ash. The mother wants to rescue Ash and Bits, Ash wants to rescue Bits. The whole family is full of guilt and blame.

I don't like the mother she seems to deal with the guilt by blaming both of the kids. Especially placing the blame on Bits for everything that her brother does. The brother has guilt because he was suppose to be watching Alena when she went out to play and she was kidnapped and never found. He becomes more observant to deal with his sister's kidnapping since this is the only way for him to deal with it. Both of the children live with the guilt that the mother puts on them every day.

I love character study and that is what this book was. It was not a straight narrative. It went back and forth to the characters. I just enjoyed reading this book becauses of this. Everyone was trying to rescue everyone and blame and shame.

Here is what happens when you try to rescue someone. You find out you are the one that needs the rescuing

On Yom Kippur, the most holiest day of the Jewish calendar. This is judgement day.
On Yom Kippur is will be sealed
How many shall pass away
How many shall be born
Who shall live and who will die
Who shall reach end of his days and who shall not.
Who shall perish by water and WHO BY FIRE

The book club reaction: None of them liked the book. The thought the story was totally bizarre. Which I tend to agree with them. When people say they hate the book they tend not to discuss and that makes not a very good meeting. I thought even though I did not particular like the story. I did like the character study. There was alot to discuss.

Administrative Notes:
We will be meeting four times a year. We will read Jewish books either with content or the author is Jewish. The person that decides on the book will be hostess. Even though it technically is not a Jewish book. But does take place in Europe during WW2. We decided on this one. We will be Monday, September 14th at 7PM.
We are going to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Friday, June 12, 2009

Holocaust Museum Shooting: Wednesday

On Wednesday morning, there was a fatal shooting of a security guard. The unfortunate events still say there is much hatred and denial of the holocaust. It is ironic that the holocaust museum was built to promote less hatred and tolerance of all peoples and cultures. Unfortunately it did not reach Vonn Brunn.

I decided not post his picture. I did not want to give him publicity for his actions. Instead I am giving the honor to the security guard, Stephen T. Johns. He was killed by the hand of Vonn Brunn

On Wednesday morning a security guard Johns was opening the door to the museum. A 88 yr.old man, Vonn Brunn walked in as the museu and shot a guard. The guard was rushed to the hospital unfortunately he died 2 hours later.

There was a note left in his car with much anti semitism sendiment. The biography of this man gives you a bad taste in your mouth. He was a soldier in WW2. He hold a bacholor of science degree in journalism. later on in the 80's he was arrested and sent to jail for his views and sentiments about the government and the holocaust.
It also has been said he was a leader in various groups of holocaust deniers and on the internet.

He does have a bachelor's degree in Journalism. What a waste he could have used his background in much better ways then hatred.

This is the exact reason why the museum was built to stop hatred and educate people to understand the diversity of all peoples. It just too bad that no one could help this man.

Hugo Schiller, a holocaust survivor. He is a member of my temple. Later in life he decided to educate people about the holocaust. He belives educating children. He tours around the area and talks about his experience in the holocaust.

A friend of mine, Joy Glunt( she has a pen name for the book) wrote a book about his life, I Remember Singing. The reason she told me that she wrote this book was to educate people. She hoped that if she reached one person to understand then she helped the world.

Mr. Schiller and Joy were invited just a week ago to the museum to speak about the book and a book signing. Perhaps they did reach someone at the book signing. Hopefully the book reached a young child that will make a difference.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Check Out Holocaust Museum in D. C,

If you live in the Washington D.C. area and and will be going to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington this weekend. There will be a book signing, I Remember Singing, a children's biography about a holocaust survivor Hugo Schiller. His wife, Ellie will also be in attendance at the museum.

please support this wonderful children's book. It is a biography about a Holocaust survivor, Hugo Schiller. I don't want to blog to much more. That will be written at another time. I wanted to tell you about this book to spread the word. My friend self-published this book so any of you bloggers are reading this. You all know how hard it is to get recognized in mass book market. Can you imagine how hard it is being self published. You can also purchase it at Amazon.com.

Product Description
"This I remember was very special about Hugo; he sang for the little ones to comfort them when they were scared and missing their families."Alice Resch Synnestvedt, Rescuer of Jewish children during the Holocaust. Hugo Schiller was seven years old when Hitler's Nazis dragged his father Oskar from their home in Grünsfeld, Germany and took him to the concentration camp Dachau. Two weeks later they brought him back without explanation, and forced him to sell Rosenbusch & Company, the family store. When Hugo's school principal informed him that he could no longer go to school because he was Jewish, Hugo's parents sent him to Offenbach, Germany to live with two aunts and go to school. The morning after he arrived home for vacation break, Hitler's uniformed Nazi troops came for the family, giving them one hour to pack a suitcase and leave. Hugo and his family were deported to Gurs, a refugee camp in the South of France where they were held behind barbed wire in intolerable living conditions and with scanty food. At the muddy Gurs camp near the Pyrenees Mountains, Hugo sang for bread for his Mother Selma and Aunt Hilda who were starving. One day cheerful Alice Resch drove into Camp de Gurs in a truck with a canvas flapping on the back. Working with the Quaker Refugee Relief agency, she had gained permission from the Vichy French Government to help feed the children. Soon after, she gained permission to take Hugo and the other children from Gurs to the children's home in Aspet. In Hugo's true story there is unspeakable loss but also great triumph on many levels. Hugo Schiller, child-hero, bravely survived the Holocaust by helping others. Today, he speaks about his experiences and about how to help make certain a Holocaust never happens again.

About the Author
"Today, I write because I want to help make certain that our world becomes a more humane and peaceful place for our children, grandchildren, families and friends," She said, "and to do that it is necessary to expose those elements that lead to Holocausts." Arielle Aaron writes children's books, poetry, and non-fiction, participates in the Grand Strand Creative Artists' Exhibit, and photographs Brookgreen Gardens. She has published poetry, non-fiction articles, a play, children's stories and a book for her sons titled: THINGS I MEANT TO TELL YOU...IF I DIDN'T. She earned her B.A. degree in English/Writing and Editing, a track in Speech Communications and completed studies for a concentration in Journalism at NC State University. In 1993, she won a Dewitt Wallace Fellowship to study graduate Literature at The Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College in Vermont; has completed coursework at the University of South Carolina; attended the Governor's School on Foreign Language at UNC Chapel Hill & Appalachian State University; and did graduate work at Campbell College at Buies Creek. She participated in the North Carolina Writing Project at UNC Wilmington, and participated as a Teacher-Scholar "Writing Children's Books" at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. She recently re-organized the Hugo Schiller Holocaust Resource Center for teachers, and participates in "South Carolina Reads about the Holocaust." "In fourth grade--in a little country school--I wrote about Holocaust children. In my stories some of the children survived." She says. "Imagine my surprise upon meeting brave child-hero Hugo Schiller who did survive the Holocaust. The world is a better place because this good man survived."
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