Tag Archives: Jewish history

The Book of Lost Names Review

During wartime, there are multiple ways of fighting an invading enemy. One way is doing combat on the battlefield. The other is joining the resistance and fighting in ways that are not obvious to the naked eye.

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel, was published last year It starts in 2005. Eva Traube Abrams is a semi-retired librarian living in Florida. While putting her books away, she is drawn to an article in the New York Times. Within the article is the image of a book that Eva has not seen in decades-The Book of Lost Names. It describes the libraries that were looted by the Nazis and the attempt by modern-day authorities to return the books to their rightful owners. The book in the photograph contains a code that researchers are unable to crack. But Eva knows its secret.

The narrative flashes back to 1942. Eva was then a young woman living in Paris with her whole life ahead of her. But because she and her family are Jewish, there is a target on all of their backs. When her father is taken away, Eva and her mother escape to a small town in rural France that is not yet under Nazi control.

Joining the resistance, she starts forging documents for Jewish children who are trying to get to Switzerland. But this kind of work is dangerous in both the physical and emotional sense. Eva starts to fall for Remy, a young man with a handsome face and a charming demeanor. To save the real identities of the young ones she is trying to save, their real names are recorded in The Book of Lost Names. This work becomes even more important when Remy disappears and their network is betrayed.

As usual, Harmel writes in a way that is entertaining, readable and teaches the audience without hitting them over the head. As the main character, Eva is a compelling heroine. The story is absorbing and exciting. My problem is that the romance overwhelms the narrative. It almost felt like the love story took prominence over the war. I get that Eva is young and falling in love is part of being young, but I wish the emphasis was a bit more on the danger of their work.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

The Book of Lost Names is available wherever books are sold.

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X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II Book Review

Behind every fictional war story is a real narrative that is sometimes more interesting than its invented counterpart.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II, by Dr. Leah Garrett, was published in 2021.

The book starts in the middle of World War II. It looks like the Allies are fighting a losing battle. In England, a plan is concocted to create a commando of unlikely recruits: young Jewish men who are refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe. None of them have had any previous military training. Most have been classified as “enemy aliens” due to being born in either Germany or Austria. In addition to being suspected of possibly spying for the other side, these young men have lost everything: their families, their homes, and everything/everyone they held near and dear.

Known as the X Troop, they take on new identities, are trained in secret, and have one goal: to defeat the Nazis. For these soldiers: the fight is personal. They are fighting for their homeland, fighting for the ones they love, and for justice.

The best way to describe the narrative is sort of real-life Inglorious Basterds. It was an amazing book. Dr. Garrett writes in a way that is accessible, readable, and, most importantly, a history lesson we should all learn. It reinforces the idea that European Jews were not just lambs to the slaughter. They fought in whatever capacity they could. From a personal stance, it gives me hope that there are good people out there, even in the midst of antisemitism, hate, and prejudice.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II is available wherever books are sold.

P.S. Today is Memorial Day in the States. May the men and women who gave their lives for this nation (even with its imperfections) forever be a blessing. Z”L

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Can We Talk About Israel?: A Guide for the Curious, Confused, and Conflicted Book Review

If there is one thing we can hopefully agree on, it is that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is not as black and white as it appears to be on the surface. The truth is that there are grey areas that are not often explored or given time in the spotlight.

Can We Talk About Israel?: A Guide for the Curious, Confused, and Conflicted, by Daniel Sokatch, with illustrations by Christopher Noxon, was published last fall. This premise of the book is to answer as many questions as possible in a concise, readable, and understandable manner in regard to one of the world’s longest modern disputes. Starting in the distant past and ending in today’s world, Sokatch explores the history of the region, the people who have called it home, and the arguments that have lasted generations.

I have mixed feelings about this book. While he highlights the antisemitism that has, unfortunately, been part and parcel of Jewish history, I think he gives the haters too much latitude. While I am again hoping that the consensus is that there has been too much destruction and loss on both sides, I am disheartened that the author ignores the many times that real attempts for peace have been shot down by the Palestinians.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Can We Talk About Israel?: A Guide for the Curious, Confused, and Conflicted is available wherever books are sold.

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Helen Mirren, Golda Meir, and the Question of Jewface

Representation both on the screen and on the page is a powerful thing. For those who feel maligned or ignored, seeing themselves in the media as fleshed-out human beings is an experience that can only be described as life-changing. It also changes minds and hopefully opens the door to understanding one another.

When it was recently announced that Helen Mirren is starring in an upcoming Golda Meir biopic, some people accused her of playing Jewface.

I have mixed feelings about this. Golda Meir was Israel‘s first female Prime Minister and a woman to be reckoned with. The actress who plays her has to have that same energy and presence. Mirren is clearly up for the job.

The problem (which I understand) is that Mirren is not Jewish. When she spoke to the director before she took the role, she understood the criticism that was potentially coming her way.

“[Meir] is a very important person in Israeli history,” Mirren continued. “I said, ‘Look Guy, I’m not Jewish, and if you want to think about that, and decide to go in a different direction, no hard feelings. I will absolutely understand.’ But he very much wanted me to play the role, and off we went.”

“I do believe it is a discussion that has to be had – it’s utterly legitimate. [But] You know, if someone who’s not Jewish can’t play Jewish, does someone who’s Jewish play someone who’s not Jewish?”

This is not the first time that she has played a Jewish character. In both The Debt and Woman in Gold, the women she played were of the faith. But neither of the women who she temporarily inhabited were in the position that Meir was in. What I think makes this question of Jewface more complicated is that Ashkenazi Jews (for the most part) are Caucasian. The question of the entertainers’ skin color is less important than their ethnicity or family heritage.

I have no doubt that Helen Mirren will be nothing short of fantastic. I have been a fan of hers for a number of years. My hope is that she will do Golda justice. But for now, we can only wait and see how the movie is received when it hits theaters.

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The 2022 Olympics & the Uyghur Torch Bearer: History Repeats Itself

Human history is cyclical. The details may change, but the general narrative is static.

As is standard practice at the beginning of every Olympic season, the games are opened by a couple of torchbearers. As I write this, this year’s competition is held in Beijing, China. According to many journalists and media outlets, this nation has a long list of human rights abuses.

Among them is the treatment of the Uyghurs. In an attempt to quell the criticism and prove the rest of the world wrong, a Uyghur athlete was one of the competitors chosen to light the torch during the opening ceremonies. If the Chinese government thought that this would silence its critics, they were wrong.

Eighty-six years ago, Berlin was the host city for the Olympics. Like the Chinese government, the Nazi-run German government needed to put on a good face for visiting contenders and officials. They did so by “allowing” fencer Helene Mayer to compete. Her father was Jewish, her mother was not. According to the Nazi racial Laws, Mayer was a mischling. Though she was classified as a Jew and had Jewish lineage via her father, Mayer did not consider herself to be Jewish.

If history is any indicator, we have an opportunity to save lives and prevent another Holocaust. The question is, what is the rest of the world going to do? Are they going to sit idly by while innocent people are being slaughtered? Or will they step up and make it clear that what the Chinese are doing is unacceptable?

Only time will tell, but I hope that they will finally do the right thing.

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Enough With the Antisemitic Bullshit: Updates From The Hostages Held up at the Texas Synagogue

When my immigrant ancestors came to this country more than a century ago, they came for the freedoms and opportunities that did not exist in the places of their birth. They were also escaping from the antisemitism that at best limited their chances for a productive life and at worst, killed them for absolutely nothing. I imagine that they hoped that in emigrating, their descendants would be accepted for who they were and not hated/discriminated against for their religious beliefs.

It breaks my heart that this hope still lingers in the distance.

Earlier today, hostages were taken at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. The purpose of this heinous act was to get the attention of the authorities and force them to release Aafia Siddiqu. Siddique is serving a nearly 100-year sentence for attempting to kill Americans overseas.

I am so f*cking tired of this antisemitic bullshit. I’m tired of being forced to choose between being accepted by the wider non-Jewish world and being true to the faith I was raised in. For once, I would like to wake up and know that no one gives a shit about who I pray or don’t pray to. But we live in a world in which hate, prejudice, and fear still have a firm foothold on our reality.

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Best Books of 2021

  1. The Four Winds: Kristen Hannah has done it again. Her Cinderella-esque tale of a woman who resecues herself from a live of drugery, poverty, and low self esteem is one to be read again and again.
  2. Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People: Ben M. Freeman‘s treatise on Jews, and Jewish history is a must read for anyone who for once and for all wants to defeat antisemitism and all forms of hate.
  3. Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol: Mallory O’Meara‘s non fiction book explores how inspite of a certain image, women have been creating and drinking all forms of alcohol for centuries.
  4. I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J Trumps Catastrophic Final Year: The subject of you know who will be on the lips of writers and political historians for years to come. Authors Carol Leonning and Philip Rucker examine how the former President believed that he did not need help in running the country.
  5. Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood: Writer and podcaster Mark Oppenheimer tells the story of how a single neighborhood was affected by the murders of eleven Jewish residents in 2018.
  6. Peril: Bob Woodward and Robert Costa take a deep dive into how close the American democracy got close to destruction.
  7. The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh: This JAFF by Molly Greeley gives the spotlight to Anne de Bourgh, a minor Pride and Prejudice character who has yet to be fully seen or appreciated.
  8. Three Ordinary Girls: The Remarkable of Three Dutch Teenagers Who Become Spies, Saboteurs, Nazi Assasins-and WWII Heroes: This fascinating and powerful tale of three young ladies who led an underground war against the Nazis during World War II.
  9. Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers: Written by the Bonnet at Dawn podcast hosts, this book examines the life and works of the women writers we have loved and respected for generations.
  10. The Matzah Ball: A Novel: Jean Meltzer’s Chanukah themed rom-com about two people who are secretly in love, but cannot speak the words due to the current and past trauma.

Here’s to the books we loved in 2021 and the books we will love in 2022.

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Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People Book Review

Throughout human history, Jews have been at best tolerated, and a worst forced to convert or submit to the sword. But even with all of that pressure, we have not only survived, but thrived.

Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, by Ben M. Freeman, was published at the beginning of the year. Influenced by coming out and living as a gay man, Freeman examines both Jewish history and contemporary Jewish culture. He talks about antisemitism, the image of Judaism that is imposed on us, and the choice we have to either remain true to ourselves or change to be accepted by the non-Jewish world.

I truly enjoyed this book. It is both a middle finger to those who hate us and a challenge. To the Jewish reader, Freeman is asking us if the cost of assimilation is worth it. To the non-Jewish reader, he is not asking for friendship and acceptance, he is asking them to examine their own prejudices and ideas about our faith and those who practice it.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family Book Review

The Passover story and the Exodus of the Hebrews from slavery to freedom is a potent one. In one way or another, we can all relate to the idea of breaking free from whatever is holding us back.

Laura Arnold Leibman‘s new book, Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family was published back in August. The book traces the ancestry of Blanche Moses. Moses, whose Jewish-American ancestry goes back to the Revolutionary War, tells the story of her biracial ancestors. Both Jewish (mostly Sephardic with a handful of Ashkenazi) and black, her ancestors had to navigate a world in which they could be doubly ostracized while passing as Caucasian. Living in such different places as New York City, London, and the West Indies, it was akin to a game of chess, in which every move must be calculated before proceeding.

I wanted to like this book. The subject is one that is certainly of interest to me. The problem is that it is slow to read and void of the excitement that I should have had while answering the question that the book asks. While I appreciated this deep dive into a part of Jewish history that is not always in the spotlight, the promises laid out by the author are not met.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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Kristallnacht, 83 Years Later

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht. The violence and destruction that occurred on November 9th and 10th, 1938 was only a taste of what was to come for Europe’s Jews. Looking back, it was a warning. If only the rest of the world had bothered to care, much less take notice. But we are only Jews, right?

May the memories of my 6 million co-religionists and the millions of others who were killed for being different forever be a blessing.

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