Book Reviews

The Orchard – Yochi Brandes

Fans of Milton Steinberg’s As a Driven Leaf and Maggie Anton’s Rashi’s Daughters will be thrilled to discover Israeli-author Yochi Brandes’ latest work. The Orchard recounts the story of Rabbi Akiva and the sages of his generation, giving the powerful voice of the narrator to his wife, Rachel. In this meeting of rabbinic tradition, a women’s perspective, and the political intrigue of the Roman rule of Judea, readers have a front row seat at what is truly a battle to establish the course of Jewish history.

The world of the rabbis is a complex one, and readers would be well-served to have more than a passing knowledge of the main actors. The schools of Hillel and Shammai, the relationships and rivalries between the leaders of the main centers of learning, as well as the religious and secular governance structures of the time all feature in the narrative. With a story whose plot is heavily interspersed with rabbinic terminology, theology, Hebrew language, and allegory, an index including family trees and a historical time line would be of immense assistance to most casual readers. For those with the necessary a background, an index of the included texts (mostly mishnah) would have been a powerful tool for further study. As required reading for an adult-education course on rabbinic history, this book could easily be the primary source.

Reading this book in translation is intensely rewarding, as it makes much of the traditional sources accessible to a new audience. It is much to the Brandes’ credit that her characters and drama of the story are so vividly drawn that she makes readers forget that they may already know the ending. Daniel Libensons’ translation is a monumental effort in maintaining the seamless movement between Brandes’ descriptive prose and rabbinic legends. It reads so beautifully in English that readers may find themselves wishing they could appreciate every last nuance of the Hebrew original.

In The Orchard, Yochi Brandes has once again showcased her exceptional story telling skills and encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish history. For those who seek a window into the world of the sages, who strive to understand how the rabbis nurtured their faith and created the framework of two millennia of Jewish practice, The Orchard is an absolute must-read.

Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries

We Will Do And We Will Listen

Blog Cover The Hebrew month of Sivan is here, and that means it’s time for a new Jewish Text Art Challenge. As we prepare for the holiday of Shavuot (the feast of weeks), we are reminded of the Israelite’s words when they were preparing to receive the Torah. נעשה ונשמע – we will do and we will hear.

We are looking forward to sharing works of art that inspire us to action and understanding. How do we take on the responsibilities of the Jewish tradition? How do we express our connection to the generation that received the Torah in our art?

We hope that you will contribute to our gallery and join the conversation about the works that we showcase.

Chodesh Tov!

Book Reviews, Literature

Waking Lions – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

“Intense”. This is the word that kept coming up during my book club’s discussion of Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. Readers described their visceral reactions to her characters, their actions, and her portrayal of Israeli society. No one needed any prompting to share these strong feelings either. In a group that rarely reaches a consensus, Waking Lions stood out for its ability to powerfully affect everyone who read it.

What made this such an intriguing book? The true force is Gundar-Goshen’s fearlessness as she portrayes Israel’s complexity, in all its geographic, socio-economic, racial, sexual, and violent tensions. Gundar-Goshen doesn’t have to create these elements – they exist in the country’s headlines and the lives of all Israelis. Her ability to capture these experiences in her characters’ personalities, motivations, and actions, demonstrates her keen insight into the struggle of this country and her people to survive.

Gundar-Goshen’s writing style mimics the opacity of her characters – the way she writes about them presents their discomfort with their own ideas and often the limitations they place on themselves about what they choose to understand. In keeping her characters so absolutely messy and human, some are harder for readers to connect with than others. There is no true protagonist in this book. Readers who like to cheer for a hero will almost certainly be frustrated. Readers who enjoy searching for the deeper meanings behind people’s actions – “why they do what they do” – will fully appreciate all of the narrative’s twists and turns.

While a basic understanding of Israeli immigration law and the current Eritrean refugee crisis, the Israeli medical system, the relationship between Israel and its Bedouin inhabitants, drugs and criminal activity and racial and gender conflicts may help readers acclimate to the plot, the book does include enough information to provide the necessary background. It will almost certainly challenge the readers’ perceptions and knowledge of the country. But those who read and understand will be ever richer for doing so.


Iyar - "V'Ahavta L'Reiacha Kamocha" ואהבת לרעך כמוך, Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries

Drop By Drop

drop by drop

The Jewish Text Art Challenge text – “Love Your Neighbor As Yourself” is just one way to introduce children to Rabbi Akiva’s life and teaching. Jacqueline Jules’ book Drop by Drop is another opportunity for the whole family to learn together about the important leader and what he represents in our tradition. And Yevgenia Nayberg’s illustrations will help the text come alive to the smallest readers.

Iyar - "V'Ahavta L'Reiacha Kamocha" ואהבת לרעך כמוך, Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries

The Original Human Right

Israel Stamp from 1958 In 1958, the State of Israel issued this stamp to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

It showcases this month’s Jewish Text Art Challenge Text, marking its Biblical origins, and the multiple languages indicating the principle’s universal message.

For more information about this stamp and others in this series, please visit

Iyar - "V'Ahavta L'Reiacha Kamocha" ואהבת לרעך כמוך, Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries, Words of Wisdom

Love is Essential

Just as deceptively simple as true, this image shows highlights the clarity of Rabbi Akiva’s message.

Love is Essential.png

Books and Blintzes created this image using Notegraphy to represent this month’s #JTAC Jewish Text Art Challenge text.

Iyar - "V'Ahavta L'Reiacha Kamocha" ואהבת לרעך כמוך, Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

It is one of the most well-known of Jewish teachings – ואהבת לרעך כמוך – Love Your Neighbor As Yourself. It is associated not only with the verse in the Torah (Leviticus/Vayikra 19:18) but also with the sages Hillel and Rabbi Akiva.

Between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot there is the Jewish tradition of counting the omer. Some consider the first 33 days of this period to be a time of mourning, remembering a plague that is said to have consumed the rabbinic academies in the time of Rabbi Akiva. Many celebrate the end of the plague on the 33rd day (Lag B’Omer) with bonfires and recalling the teachings of the great sages.

We are looking forward to being inspired by these words and sharing the art that they inspire all month long!