Yes. You can tell a book by its Cover.
I think the following were among the Best of 2016 (actually more than ten):
And by best, I mean they are unique and attract reader interest.
The New Mediterranean Jewish Table:
Old World Recipes for the Modern Home
by Joyce Goldstein
University of California Press
For thousands of years, the people of the Jewish Diaspora have carried their culinary traditions and kosher laws throughout the world. In the United States, this has resulted primarily in an Ashkenazi table of matzo ball soup and knishes, brisket and gefilte fish. But Joyce Goldstein is now expanding that menu with this comprehensive collection of over four hundred recipes from the kitchens of three Mediterranean Jewish cultures: the Sephardic, the Maghrebi, and the Mizrahi. The New Mediterranean Jewish Table is an authoritative guide to Jewish home cooking from North Africa, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, and the Middle East. It is a treasury filled with vibrant, seasonal recipes—both classic and updated—that embrace fresh fruits and vegetables; grains and legumes; small portions of meat, poultry, and fish; and a healthy mix of herbs and spices. It is also the story of how Jewish cooks successfully brought the local ingredients, techniques, and traditions of their new homelands into their kitchens. With this varied and appealing selection of Mediterranean Jewish recipes, Joyce Goldstein promises to inspire new generations of Jewish and non-Jewish home cooks alike with dishes for everyday meals and holiday celebrations.
A moving novel about a Holocaust survivor’s unconventional journey back to a new normal in 1940s Savannah, Georgia. Think “Driving Miss Daisy” meets survivorship.
In late summer 1947, two years after the end of WWII, 31 year old Yitzhak Goldah, a Nazi death camp survivor, arrives in Savannah, Georgia at the train station to live with his only remaining relatives. They are Abe and Pearl Jesler, older, childless, and an integral part of the thriving Jewish and commercial community that has been in Georgia since the founding of the colony. Abe drives Yitzhak to their home, but first shows off the Jewish owned stores as well as his. Black workers are fixing up the front.
In Savannah, Yitzhak discovers a fractured world, where Reform and Conservative Jews live separate lives — distinctions, to him, that are meaningless given what he has been through. He further complicates things when, much to the Jeslers’ dismay, he falls in love with Eva, a young widow within the Reform community. Then, when a woman from Yitzhak’s past suddenly appears — one who is even more shattered by the Holocaust than he is — Yitzhak must choose between a dark and tortured familiarity and the promise of a bright new life (Didn’t IB Singer have a book like this?). Set amid the backdrop of America’s postwar (and civil rights) South, AMONG THE LIVING (or Among the Loving) grapples with questions of identity and belonging, and steps beyond the Jewish experience as it situates Yitzhak’s story during the last gasp of the Jim Crow era. Yitzhak begins to find echoes of his own experience in the lives of the black family who work for the Jeslers–an affinity he does not share with the Jeslers themselves. This realization both surprises and convinces Yitzhak that his choices are not as clear-cut as he might have thought.
The previously untold story of the Jews in twentieth-century Russia that reveals the complex, strange, and heart-wrenching truth behind the familiar narrative that begins with pogroms and ends with emigration. In 1929, the Soviet Union declared the area of Birobidzhan a homeland for Jews. It was championed by a group of intellectuals who envisioned a place of post-oppression Jewish culture, and by the early 1930s, tens of thousands of Jews had moved there from the shtetls. The state-building ended quickly, in the late 1930s, with arrests and purges of the Communist Party and cultural elite, but after the Second World War, the newly named “Jewish Autonomous Region” received an influx of Jews dispossessed from what had once been the Pale, most of whom had lost families in the Holocaust. In the late 1940s, another wave of arrests swept through Birobidzhan, traumatizing the Jews into silence, and effectively making them invisible. Now Masha Gessen gives us a haunting account of the dream of Birobidzhan—and how it became the cracked and crooked mirror in which we can see the true story of the Jews in twentieth-century Russia.
The increasingly popular genre of “alternative histories” has captivated audiences by asking questions like “what if the South had won the Civil War?” Such speculation can be instructive, heighten our interest in a topic, and shed light on accepted history. In The Holocaust Averted, Jeffrey Gurock imagines what might have happened to the Jewish community in the United States if the Holocaust had never occurred and forces readers to contemplate how the road to acceptance and empowerment for today’s American Jews could have been harder than it actually was.
Based on reasonable alternatives grounded in what is known of the time, places, and participants, Professor Gurock presents a concise narrative of his imagined war-time saga and the events that followed Hitler’s military failures. While German Jews did suffer under Nazism, the millions of Jews in Eastern Europe survived and were able to maintain their communities. Since few people were concerned with the safety of European Jews, Zionism never became popular in the United States and social antisemitism kept Jews on the margins of society. By the late 1960s, American Jewish communities were far from vibrant. This alternate history — where, among many scenarios, Hitler is assassinated, Japan does not bomb Pearl Harbor, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt is succeeded after two terms by Robert A. Taft — causes the reader to review and better appreciate history. As Gurock tells his tale, he concludes every chapter with a short section that describes what actually happened and, thus, further educates the reader.
How a Show About Nothing
by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Simon & Schuster
The hilarious behind-the-scenes story of two guys who went out for coffee and dreamed up Seinfeld—the cultural sensation that changed television and bled into the real world, altering the lives of everyone it touched. In Seinfeldia, acclaimed TV historian and entertainment writer Jennifer Keishin Armstrong celebrates the creators and fans of this American television phenomenon, bringing readers behind-the-scenes of the show while it was on the air and into the world of devotees for whom it never stopped being relevant, a world where the Soup Nazi still spends his days saying “No soup for you!”, Joe Davola gets questioned every day about his sanity, Kenny Kramer makes his living giving tours of New York sights from the show, and fans dress up in Jerry’s famous puffy shirt, dance like Elaine, and imagine plotlines for Seinfeld if it were still on TV.
Jewishness in the Caribbean
by Sarah Phillips Casteel
Columbia University Press
With what may seem surprising frequency, Caribbean writers have turned to Jewish Caribbean experiences of exodus and reinvention, from the arrival of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s to the flight of European Jewish refugees to Trinidad and elsewhere in the 1930s. Examining this historical migration through the lens of postwar Caribbean fiction and poetry, Sarah Phillips Casteel conducts the first major study of representations of Jewishness in Caribbean literature. Bridging the gap between postcolonial and Jewish studies, Calypso Jews enriches crosscultural investigations of Caribbean creolization. Caribbean writers invoke both the 1492 expulsion and the Holocaust as part of their literary archaeology of slavery and its legacies. Despite the unequal and sometimes fraught relations between Blacks and Jews in the Caribbean before and after emancipation, Black-Jewish literary encounters reflect sympathy and identification more than antagonism and competition. Proposing an alternative to U.S.-based critical narratives of Black-Jewish relations, Casteel reads Derek Walcott, Maryse Condé, Michelle Cliff, Jamaica Kincaid, Caryl Phillips, David Dabydeen, and Paul Gilroy, among others, to reveal a distinctive inter-diasporic relationship refracted through the creative innovations of two resilient cultures.
DEATHBED WISDOM OF
THE HASIDIC MASTERS:
The Book of Departure and Caring
for People at the End of Life
Translated by Rabbi Joel H Baron and
Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow
Foreword by Dr. Rabbi Arthur Green
From two Boston area rabbis who work with death and illness on a daily basis, we learn that death is a time of life that holds meaning for the dying, their families and friends, their community – and us. Students of the Hasidic masters wrote down the stories of the last months, days, hours and moments of the lives of their rebbes. A compilation of their experiences, called The Book of Departure (Sefer haHistalkut), first published in Hebrew in 1930, brings together the rich end-of-life stories of forty-two holy men who died between 1760 and 1904, as well as their philosophical forebearer, Isaac Luria.
Featuring new pastoral commentary in a unique facing-page format, this English presentation of heart-touching deathbed tales sheds light on Jewish traditions about death, the afterlife and how to care for people in their final days
“Most of Torah’s teaching is about how to live. But there is a special section within its wisdom that also speaks to us about how to die. Since we are all mortals, our lives fashioned somehow around the awareness that death is inevitably to come, this is one of the important lessons…. There is something profound to be learned about the way of dying, and it is best learned from the wisdom and stories of those who have gone before us.” -from the Foreword
Here’s a heartwarming winter picture book that’s sure to appeal to families who love knitting. Mrs. Goldman always knits hats for everyone in the neighborhood, and Sophia, who thinks knitting is too hard, helps by making the pom-poms. But now winter is here, and Mrs. Goldman herself doesn’t have a hat—she’s too busy making hats for everyone else! It’s up to Sophia to buckle down and knit a hat for Mrs. Goldman. But try as Sophia might, the hat turns out lumpy, the stitches aren’t even, and there are holes where there shouldn’t be holes. Sophia is devastated until she gets an idea that will make Mrs. Goldman’s hat the most wonderful of all. Readers both young and old will relate to Sophia’s frustrations, as well as her delight in making something special for someone she loves.
in Medieval Ashkenaz:
Men, Women, and Everyday
by Elisheva Baumgarten
University of Pennsylvania Press
In the urban communities of medieval Germany and northern France, the beliefs, observances, and practices of Jews allowed them to create and define their communities on their own terms as well as in relation to the surrounding Christian society. Although medieval Jewish texts were written by a learned elite, the laity also observed many religious rituals as part of their everyday life. In Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz, Elisheva Baumgarten asks how Jews, especially those who were not learned, expressed their belonging to a minority community and how their convictions and deeds were made apparent to both their Jewish peers and the Christian majority. Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz provides a social history of religious practice in context, particularly with regard to the ways Jews and Christians, separately and jointly, treated their male and female members. Medieval Jews often shared practices and beliefs with their Christian neighbors, and numerous notions and norms were appropriated by one community from the other. By depicting a dynamic interfaith landscape and a diverse representation of believers, Baumgarten offers a fresh assessment of Jewish practice and the shared elements that composed the piety of Jews in relation to their Christian neighbors.
The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel
by Uri Bar-Joseph
(University of Haifa)
A gripping feat of reportage that exposes—for the first time in English—the sensational life and mysterious death of Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian senior official who spied for Israel, offering new insight into the turbulent modern history of the Middle East. As the son-in-law of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and a close advisor to his successor, Anwar Sadat, Ashraf Marwan had access to the deepest secrets of the country’s government. But Marwan himself had a secret: He was a spy for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. Under the codename “The Angel,” Marwan turned Egypt into an open book for the Israeli intelligence services—and, by ALERTING the Mossad in advance of the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur in 1973, saved Israel from a devastating defeat…
Two delicious recipes.
Sophie loves Bubbe’s Jewish chicken soup, made with kreplach.
She also loves Nai Nai’s Chinese chicken soup, with wonton.
But don’t tell Bubbe and Nai Nai that their soups are the same.
HOW THE WISE MEN GOT TO CHELM
The Life and Times of a
Yiddish Folk Tradition
by Ruth von Bernuth, Phd
(Assoc Professor, UNC Chapel Hill)
This is an academic book, not a joke book or short story collection. From the author of “Wunder, Spott und Prophetie: Natürliche Narrheit in den Historien von Claus Narren (The court fool of Saxony in 1572),” which focused on natural folly and natural fools and miracle men, comes a study of the Yiddish men of Chelm. Professor von Bernuth suffers fools gladly. Ashkenazic Jewish writing about a whole society that is foolish – in the tales of the “wise men” of Chelm represent the motif of the foolish town per excellence in Jewish folk tradition. Chelm remains a major archetype of eastern European Jewish identity to the present day. In How the Wise Men Got to Chelm: The Life and Times of a Yiddish Folk Tradition, she unpacks the connection between German and Yiddish literary traditions and in complicating the assumption that the tales were simply transferred from the German via on Old Yiddish translation into modern Yiddish.
Ever since Michael Chabon severely criticized the State of Israel and its policies, and embarked with his LSD loving wife on a collection of writings critical of the current State of Israel’s policies, his popularity among Jewish readers may be diminishing.
But here is his latest novel. And its cover is cute and makes you wonder about the matches, the title, and the main character’s grandparents.
The keeping of secrets and the telling of lies; sex and desire and ordinary love; existential doubt, Alger Hiss, Thomas Pynchon, and model rocketry – all feature in the new novel from the author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. MOONGLOW unfolds as a deathbed confession. An old man, tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of his death, tells stories to his grandson, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried. From the Jewish slums of prewar South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of a New York Prison (for trying to strangle a Hiss loving boss), from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of “the American Century,” Moonglow collapses an era into a single life and a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional non-fiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir.
Geoff and Mitchell Schwartz are the NFL’s most improbable pair of offensive linemen. They started their football careers late, not playing a down of organized football until they joined their low-key high school program. Despite all that, they wound up at top-tier college programs and became the first Jewish brothers in the league since 1923.
I once took a baking class at BREAD BAKERY near Union Square in Manhattan. And I spied a lovely cookbook, but it was in Hebrew. One day, I was told, there would be a BREADS BAKERY cookbook in English. It has arrived. Israeli baking encompasses the influences of so many regions—Morocco, Yemen, Germany, and Georgia, to name a few—and master baker Uri Scheft seamlessly marries all of these in his incredible baked goods at his Breads Bakery in New York City and Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv. Nutella-filled babkas, potato and shakshuka focaccia, and chocolate rugelach are pulled out of the ovens several times an hour for waiting crowds. In Breaking Breads, Scheft takes the combined influences of his Scandinavian heritage, his European pastry training, and his Israeli and New York City homes to provide sweet and savory baking recipes that cover European, Israeli, and Middle Eastern favorites. Scheft sheds new light on classics like challah, babka, and ciabatta—and provides his creative twists on them as well, showing how bakers can do the same at home—and introduces his take on Middle Eastern daily breads like kubaneh and jachnun.
An understated memoir by bestselling Israeli author Yael Neeman detailing the intimate, collective memories of children raised on the kibbutz.
Yael Neeman was born in Kibbutz Yehiam. Yehi’am is an in the western Upper Galilee, 8 miles east of Nahariya. Neeman is the internationally bestselling author of two novels, Orange Tuesday and Rumors About Love, and a collection of stories, The Option. The kibbutz is one of the greatest stories in Israeli history. These collective settlements have been written about extensively over the years: The kibbutz has been the subject of many sociological studies, and has been praised as the only example in world history of entire communities attempting, voluntarily, to live in total equality. But there’s a dark side to the kibbutz, which has been criticized in later years, mainly by children who were raised in these communities, as an institution which victimized its offspring for the sake of ideology. In this spare and lucid memoir, Neeman–a child of the kibbutz–draws on the collective memory of hundreds of thousands of Israelis who grew up in a kibbutz during their height and who intimately share their memories with her.
By Amos Oz
Translated from Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I pondered this a while. And decided I liked the design. The red graphic mimics the blank space of the “A” and can be a nail used in a crucifixion, and relates to an ancient crucifixion and perhaps a modern day political crucifixion in the State of Israel. The novel is set in Jerusalem, 1959. Shmuel Ash, a biblical scholar, is adrift in his young life – problems with love and school – when he finds work as a caregiver for a brilliant but cantankerous old man named Gershom Wald. There is, however, a third, mysterious presence in his new home. Atalia Abarbanel, the daughter of a deceased Zionist leader, a beautiful woman in her forties, entrances young Shmuel even as she keeps him at a distance. Piece by piece, the old Jerusalem stone house, haunted by tragic history and now home to the three misfits and their intricate relationship, reveals its secrets. It is an allegory for the State of Israel and for the biblical tale from which it draws its title.