Category Archives: History

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement Book Review

Some people are born to change the world. Others change the world by a twist of fate, forcing them to step into the spotlight and speak for those who for any number of reasons, cannot do so themselves.

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement, by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, was published last month. Born in the Bronx, Burke was sexually assaulted as a girl. Believing that she was at fault, she let the shame settle into her emotional bones and change her. She thought it could be simply hidden away and life would simply go on. But the experiences would force her to not just confront her own past, but how other women have lived with similar traumatic experiences. She specifically explores how those responsible for such heinous acts are often given a free pass. At the same time, their victims must live with the scarlet letter that is forced upon them for something they were not responsible for.

This book should be on every must-read list of 2021. In telling her own story, Burke speaks for the millions of women across the world, past, and present, who were called all sorts of names simply because some man thought they were there for his sexual pleasure. By calling out those who would shelter sexual predators and supporting those who have suffered, she is challenging all of us to break the status quo and make assault/rape the criminal act it should have been all along.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, New York City

Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood Book Review

Antisemitism is on the rise. It is a fact that is sadly indisputable. When innocent congregants were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27th, 2018, it was a wake up call.

Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood, by Mark Oppenheimer (co-host of the Unorthodox podcast), was published earlier this month. In the book, Opppenheimer focuses on the community, both past and present. It starts with the history of both the city and the neighborhood and ends with how it has bounced back since that day. What makes Squirrel Hill unique is that it is both diverse and has retained it’s Jewish neshama (soul). While in other parts of the country, there is an obvious demographic, cultural and religious shift over the decades, this district has maintained its identity.

When the gunman (who the author does not mention by name and shall be referred to in the same manner in this review) entered the synagogue, it was an event that can only be described as knowing the rose colored glasses off of our collective faces. With a journalist’s eye and the heart of an ordinary human being, Oppenheimer speaks to survivors, the victim’s family members, local residents, historians, and others to tell the story of a moment in time that will forever be preserved in a moment of hate, fear, and heartbreak.

I loved this book. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on multiple lists of the top books of 2021. If the author’s approach would have been to wallow in grief and anger while telling this story, he would have had every right to. But he treats the subject with sensitivity and the understanding that not everyone involved is ready or able to talk about that day and its aftermath.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, History, Judaism

People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present Book Review

Anyone with an inkling of knowledge of Jewish history knows that it comes down to one phrase: they tried to kill us, we survived, now lets eat”. Though its a joke, the truth behind it is far from funny. Over the millennia, we have been accused of lies, forced to convert and assimilate to survive, persecuted, and murdered.

Dara Horn‘s new book, People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, was published last month. A respected novelist and writer whose work has often focused on anything and everything related to Judaism, Horn examines how we look at deceased Jews are looked with starry eyed nostalgia. But yet, when it comes to living members of the faith, antisemitism is still an all too dangerous part of our lives. Using examples such as Anne Frank, Shylock, and the Auschwitz. Not Long Ago, Not Far Away, Horn looks at how modern Jews are experiencing the same bullshit that our ancestors went through.

I loved this book. Pulling no punches, the author knocks the rose colored glasses off the reader’s face. She forces us to take a long and difficult look at the past and how its time to get real. As I see it, we have an opportunity to put to rest the deception that has caused too many generations to suffer for no reason. The question is, are we willing to do so? Or is it easier to just repeat the actions of our predecessors?

Do I recommend it? Yes.

P.S. There is an adjoining podcast, Adventures With Dead Jews that is the perfect complement to the book.

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The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal Book Review

Healing is never easy. It requires strength, fortitude, and the courage to face your demons. Though this is often applied to difficult life challenges and mental health, it can also be applied to a shared historical or cultural past.

Mary Trump‘s new book, The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal, was published in August. Combining a new examination of American history and her professional background as a psychiatrist, Trump forces the reader to ask the difficult questions that few have had the courage to even consider. She goes deep into the institutions that have built up this nation and how they have been changed, for better or for worse. The throughline is if we can trust both the individuals and establishments that are supposed to keep this nation going. If we can’t, what needs to be done to rebuild that trust?

I enjoyed this book. Trump’s approach is both firm and supportive. She is challenging all of us to take a hard look at what needs to be done and be unafraid to do it. Which may come, at the end of the day, making hard decisions.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth Book Review

The Alamo is one of the iconic and problematic events in American history. The defeat of the Mexican army by a small band of rebels in Texas is emblematic of the idea of freedom and independence that is the United States. But that does not mean that the story that we know today has been told in its entirety.

Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth was published in June. Written by Bryan Burroughs, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford, the book explores not just the narrative of the battle at the Alamo, but how it has been changed over time. After telling the story as it was experienced by those who were there, the authors delve into how it was reshaped to match the perspective of the majority Caucasian population. The fact that the Americans were aided by Tejano fighters and that the war was about keeping slavery legal when it was outlawed in Mexico was conveniently forgotten.

This book is uncomfortable to read, in a good way. It forces the reader to take a hard look at not just this event, but our history as a whole. Are we being told of the facts or those that are convenient to those in power? A well written chronicle makes the reader think. If nothing else, Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, starts to turn the wheels and ask questions that have remained unanswered for far too long.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Comey Rule Review

Politics is a strange push pull of personal needs vs. the needs of those who voted for you. It would be easy to say that you became a politician to serve the nation and your constituents. The harder aspect of the job is ignoring your gut instincts for prestige and press.

The Comey Rule premiered last year. Based on former FBI Director James Comey‘s 2019 book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, Jeff Daniels steps in the role of the man whose held the fate of the 2016 Presidential election in his hands. The 4 part miniseries follows two different and important narratives in recent political history: the Hillary Clinton email scandal and the four year tenure of you know who in the Oval Office.

The discovery that Clinton used personal servers for government business sends Comey and his staff on a year long search to discover if anything untoward was located within her emails. When they come to the conclusion that it was just a mistake by the former Senator/Secretary of State/First Lady and her staff, Comey is torn as to how to proceed. He could keep it within bureau, or make a public statement. His wife, Patrice (Jennifer Ehle) and those who work under him advise Comey to not say anything to the press or or public. But, as we all know, he chose to bring this information into the light.

When a certain reality show star and businessman is elected President (played by a fantastic Brendan Gleeson), Comey does his best to do his job. But when it becomes clear that the new leader of the free world is underqualified, he knows that this man is different than any other who has held the role.

I loved this series. Combining news clips with scenes based from the real James Comey’s book, it is tense, dramatic, and reveals an aspect of the 2016 election that only a few at the time were privy to. If nothing else, it is a reminder of how important the separation of powers is and how democracy if not tended to as it ought to, can quickly disintergrate.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Comey Rule is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Flashback Friday: Secrets of the Dead (2000-Present)

When someone dies, it may appear that everything they knew was lost when they passed. But if we look closely enough, what they left behind speaks to us as much as the person themselves.

Secrets of the Dead has been on the PBS schedule since 2000. In this documentary series, each episode examines one person or moment in history using the known facts and the objects that stand in for the subject. Part scientific/archeological study and part true-life story, this program is ideal combination of educational and entertaining.

I find this series to be fascinating. It balances the history and the drama to present as much as a complete story as possible. Bringing these people and these worlds back to life, the audience is treated to a compelling drama and a time in history in which they may not have not had all of the facts.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City Book Review

Food is more than the nourishment our body needs to survive. It tells the story of the people who prepared it.

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City by Scott Seligman was published last year. One of the major tenets of traditional Judaism is keeping kosher. That means that certain foods are off limits. Meat and dairy dishes cannot be combined in the same meal. There must be two sets of dishes and two sets of preparation tools. Most of all, the only acceptable meat is kosher. The problem with kosher meat is that it is more expensive than its non-kosher counterpart.

In May of 1902, many Jewish families who resided in New York City were poor immigrants, barely struggling to get by. But in spite of the hardships, they were determined to maintain their traditions. That included the food they purchased and consumed. When the price of the animal based proteins rose beyond what many could afford, women took to the streets, believing that price gouges were responsible for the increase. What started out as a non-violent movement turned into a battle for the hearts and minds of the community. Led by women who lacked the education and opportunities of their uptown peers, it is a story of not just economic survival, but the average person fighting against the powerful.

This book is obviously a niche subject and right up my alley. This is my history and the women I come from. Instead of keeping silent, they stood up for themselves and their community. In doing so, these women blazed a path and helped to created the blueprint for the modern non-violent protest that we see today.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, New York City, Politics

The Rose Code Book Review

War is not always fought in the battlefield. For every soldier with a weapon in their hand, someone is working equally hard behind the scenes to ensure victory.

The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn, was published in March. In England in 1940, as World War II is about to explode, three women join the war effort. Accepting jobs as code breakers at Blectchley Park, they are responsible for cracking the codes that have been intercepted from Germany.

Osla is the debutant who wants to be known for more than her status in society. She is also dating Prince Philip, who was still a few years away from marrying the future Queen Elizabeth. Mab climbed her way out of her poverty driven childhood in the East End of London. While she works furiously to save lives, she is looking for a husband to give her the life she did not have when she was young. Some might say that Beth is shy, but those who know her will say that she is incredibly intelligent and eager to see what the world has to offer. The war brings these women together before tearing them apart.

Seven years later, the country has united under happier events: the royal wedding. Osla, Beth, and Mab have not spoken to each other since the end of the war. When two of them receive an encrypted letter, the unspoken lie comes to the surface and they must work together to catch a traitor.

I loved this book. It is one of the best that I have read this year. The story is a thrilling rollercoaster of friendship, the sacrifices that war demands, and three women whose lives are turned upside down. It was half spy novel and half coming of age narrative with an undercurrent of early 20th century feminism that is sometimes forgotten.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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The Wonder Years Review

The Wonder Years is one of the most beloved television series of the modern era. The story of growing up from the perspective of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) speaks to the 12 year old in all of us.

The reboot of the series premiered on Tuesday on ABC. As in the original program, the story is set in 1968, but in Montgomery, Alabama. Our protagonist is 12 year old Dean Williams (Elisha Williams). Narrating the story from decades in the future as the adult Dean is Don Cheadle. As Dean starts on his journey from childhood to adulthood, the Civil Right movement plays on in the background affecting everything and everyone around him.

The Wonder Years is one of the best new series of the fall. It has the charm and nostalgia of its predecessor, while feeling relevant with the issues that African-Americans and other people of color are still dealing with. It hits both the heart and the head, making the viewer think while reminding us of the joys and perils of being on the precipice of our teenage years.

Do I recommend it? Yes

The Wonder Years airs on ABC on Tuesday at 8:30 PM.

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Filed under History, Politics, Television, TV Review