Book Reviews

Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries, Tammuz - Hagid Lecha Adam הגיד לך אדם

Micah 6:8 – Jewish Text Art Challenge Tammuz 5778

Micah 6:8 Tammuz CoverThis month’s #JewishTextArtChallenge is inspired by the words of the prophet Micah. Read as the haftara accompanying the Torah portion Balak, the prophet’s message gives the people a concise prescription for following God:

Justice.

Mercy.

Humility.

We look forward to featuring works that represent these ideals from our tradition, and the works of those who are inspired from these words.

 

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Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries

“We Will Do”

1972 Torah Fund Pin In 1972, the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism issued this brooch as part of its annual Torah Fund fundraising campaign. The design features the word “na’aseh” overlaid on the ten commandments, representing the organization’s dedication to nurturing the development of Conservative Jewish practice and education. Thousands of Jewish women across North American proudly wore this visual representation of this month’s Jewish text art challenge verse, and its inspirational call to action.

Book Reviews, Culinary Arts, Literature

Hazana – Paola Gavin

Hazana

If you have ever wondered what to serve to a vegetarian family member or guest, or are hoping to expand your vegetarian repetoire, Hazana – Jewish Vegetarian Cooking is exactly the book you have been looking for. Paola Gavin presents simple and diverse recipes inspired by traditional Jewish dishes from across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Gavin includes the basic culinary history of the Jewish communities from which she draws her recipes at the beginning of the book, which allows her to give homage to their roots while maintaining a clear emphasis on ingredients and instructions further on. Her associations of the dishes with Shabbat and other holidays are an added bonus for the meticulous menu-planner. While Gavin’s writing assumes that readers know their way around a kitchen, the recipes are not overwhelming for the novice cook. With her emphasis on ingredients and enthusiasm for her subject, Gavin succeeds in encouraging her readers to try something new, while allowing more experienced cooks the freedom to experiment with difference techniques and flavors. For those who are willing to sacrifice total authenticity for time-saving conveniences, most of the recipes in this book can easily transform into quick, healthy, and delicious weekday dinners.

So go ahead and buy some eggplant, watch the cauliflower disappear from your children’s plates, and savor the taste of traditional Jewish vegetarian cooking from around the world.

 

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.