Tag Archives: Jewish history

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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Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World Book Review

One of the major tenets of Judaism is “tikkun olam“. In English, it means “repair the world” and in our modern lingo, it is social justice.

Hasia R. Diner‘s 2017 biography of the late businessman and philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald is entitled Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World. Born in 1862 to Jewish immigrants, his early years were modest. As an adult, he took over the helm of Sears, Roebuck & Company and made it the retail giant of it’s day. He also ahead of his time in the manner that he treated his staff and his approach to those who were not as fortunate as he was. Instead of putting his names on buildings and using his wealth for conspicuous consumption, he was passionate about giving back. In addition to supporting his co-religionists, he supported the African-American community in a way that many Caucasians did not in that early 20th century.

Before reading this book, I had no idea who Rosenwald was. He is one of those figures in Jewish history who is not as well known as others of his day. This is a quick read (in a good way) and a story that I think is inspiring for us all, regardless of faith or family origin. It shows that it is possible to be a mensch and not give into the preconceived notions of other people.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Hebrew School Podcast Review

For people of many faiths, the question of how to educate their children in the doctrines and traditions of said faith is not always easy to answer. While the obvious answer is sending their children to full time religious school, not every parents wants to or is able to do so. The compromise is that the child(ren) will go to secular public school and then attend religious school.

The second season of the Tablet magazine podcast, Hebrew School, premiered this past weekend. Now hosted by Frank Spiro and Sabrina Marielle Friedman, this quiz show brings in young contestants, asking them questions about Jewish history, culture, and holidays. Using games, songs, and sound effects, these kids are challenged on their knowledge of everything Jewish.

This podcast is adorable. I wish it had existed when I was in Hebrew school. It is brilliant, charming, funny, and educational for listeners of any age.

P.S. Shout out to Sabrina for the Destiny’s Child reference. It was good laugh and made this old millennial feel old.

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Throwback Thursday: The Story of the Jews with Simon Schama

History is both fascinating and truthful, if we are willing to listen.

In 2013, The Story of the Jews with Simon Schama premiered on PBS. Hosted by British born historian Simon Schama, this mini-series talks about Jewish history from the ancient world to today.

I love this series. Schama obviously knows and loves this subject, but does not present it in a way that boring or academic. It is vibrant, alive, and relatable to our time. Regardless of faith or knowledge of the topic, the viewer (at least I did) will learn without realizing it.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth Book Review

The best way to learn about a new culture is to speak to a local. They have the insight and experience that an outsider would never have.

Earlier this month, Israeli actress/ producer Noa Tishby published her first book. The Tel Aviv native seeks to understand and explain Israel as it is, without relying on the flashy headlines or the half truths. Using her firsthand experience, she speaks of Israel, both past and present, as it is, and not how some see it or wish it could be.

What I love about this book is how down to earth and accessible it is. Tishby‘s voice is that of the average person, not the academic or historian who usually writes about this topic. That, I believe, provides an opportunity for a dialogue that should have happened long ago.

If you only read two chapters, I highly recommend chapters on BDS and the virulent anti-Israeli sentiment (which is really antisemitism). Even for those who are well versed on the topic, it was an eye opener.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Podcast Reviews: People of the Pod and Fever Dreams

Though podcasts are a relatively new form of media, they have as much power and influence as their predecessors.

The new podcast from The Daily Beast is called Fever Dreams. Hosted by reporters Asawin Suebsaeng and Will Sommer, they delve into political right’s various plans to take over the government. Examining the different aspects within the movement, each episode talks about how each subgroup is using different methods to reshape the United States into their own image.

The People of the Pod is a podcast that made its debut in the summer of 2019. Created by the American Jewish Committee, hosts Seffi Kogen and Manya Brachear Pashman talk to different guests about what is going on in the world, how these events can be looked at via Jewish eyes, and the connection to American Jews, Jews across the world, and Israel.

I enjoy both podcasts. The perspective that each takes is an open, honest, and sometimes difficult approach to talking about what are essentially important subjects.

Do I recommend them both? Yes.

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Happy 73rd Birthday, Israel!

Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut, otherwise known as Israeli Independence Day.

Though no country is perfect, I find it astonishing that in a little less than three-quarters of a century, she has become a vibrant, thriving democracy. Out of the desert and the memory of a thousand generations in exile, a modern country has risen. Through blood, sweat, tears, and the belief in a higher power, she has become the vision that has kept Judaism alive.

It was prophesized in the Book of Ezekiel via Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones that a modern day Israel would arise.

In his vision, the prophet sees himself standing in the valley full of dry human bones. He is commanded to carry a prophecy. Before him, the bones connect into human figures; then the bones become covered with tendon tissues, flesh, and skin. Then God reveals the bones to the prophet as the People of Israel in exile and commands the Prophet to carry another prophecy in order to revitalize these human figures, to resurrect them, and to bring them to the Land of Israel.

Happy Birthday Israel, may you live to see another 73 years and many more after that.

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The Passover Story is Nothing Without the Women

It is not uncommon to open a history book and see a complete profile of a man. A woman, however is at best given a paragraph or a footnote and at worst, ignored completely.

The Jewish holiday of Passover starts this weekend. Though Moses is the protagonist of the story, his story would be nothing without the women around him. Given the many dangers around them, the easier thing would have been to say and do nothing. But instead, they stepped up, helping Moses to succeed and paving the way for Jewish women to do the same in their own eras.

  • Shifra and Puah: Shifra and Puah are the midwives who were responsible for bringing Hebrew children into the world. Brought before Pharaoh, they are told to kill every male newborn. They claim that they are unable to do this because by the time they get to the mother, the baby has already arrived.
  • Yocheved: Moses’s mother was facing a parent’s worst nightmare. Infant boys, when discovered by Pharaoh’s soldiers, were taken to the Nile and drowned. The only way she can save her son is to put him in a basket, send it floating down the Nile and pray that he would survive.
  • Bithia or Batya (sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Princess): Finding baby Moses in his basket as she washes up in the river, it is obvious that this child is of the Hebrew faith. Instead of reporting this discovery and sending him to his death, she adopts Moses and raises him as her own.
  • Miriam: Miriam is Yocheved’s only daughter. Not only does she watch over her baby brother, but she approaches the Princess, asking if she needs a wet nurse. That wet nurse is her mother. Years later, when Hebrews are wandering through the desert, it is Miriam who leads the former slaves via song to get to the promised land.
  • Tziporah: Tziporah is Moses’s wife. Though she is Midianite Princess and not of the Hebrew faith, she embraces his heritage as her own. Traveling with him back to Egypt, she encourages Moses to face his destiny and become the man who will lead his people to freedom.
To everyone who celebrates, have a Happy Passover.
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Was the Joke About Israel on SNL Satire or Anti-Semitic?

Satire is a beautiful thing. But it can also cross the line.

During the Weekend Update portion of last weekend’s Saturday Night Live, anchor Michael Che made a joke about Israel. To say that it did not go over well is an understatement.

The question I have to ask, is it satire or antisemitism?

I get that it was a joke. Weekend Update is not your serious local weeknight news. It is supposed to be funny and perhaps bordering on not exactly being 100% politically correct.

That being said, I can’t help but agree that it did have a slightly anti-Semitic undertone. My people have been persecuted and murdered because of the lies that have been told about us.

Unlike other countries (ahem, United States) on which the the rollout of the vaccine programs have been unnecessarily complicated or messy, the Israeli government got their shit together. As of February 4th, US News & World Report put out a story that all Israelis over the age of sixteen were able to get the vaccine. The important word in this headline is all. There was no mention of any specific group that was either pushed to the head of the line or denied access because of their religious or cultural background.

I’ve been a fan of SNL for more than twenty years, this program is usually the highlight of my weekend. I can usually laugh at anything. But this joke, I cannot and will never be able to laugh at.

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Beyond the Ghetto Gates: A Novel Book Review

A woman’s brain is a fearsome thing to behold. Especially when she is not afraid to use it.

Beyond the Ghetto Gates: A Novel, by Michelle Cameron, was published last spring. The books tell the story of two different women. Though they are separated by religion, they are brought together by fate and the French invasion of their home city of Ancona, Italy.

Mirelle is Jewish and like all Jewish residents of the city, she lives in the ghetto. Though she has a mind for numbers, it is inconceivable that she could join her father in the family business. Her only goal, as she is told over and over again, is marriage. She could agree to say “I do” to the older and wealthy businessman that everyone is telling her to marry. Mirelle could also run away and elope with her French Catholic lover, but the consequences of such a union would be disastrous.

Francesca is Catholic and lives in the Christian part of Ancona with her husband and children. To say that he is not Prince Charming is an understatement. When he gets involved with the wrong crowd and helps to steal a miracle portrait of the Madonna, Francesca has a hard choice to make. She could do her wifely duty and support her husband, even when she knows what he did was wrong. Or, she could speak up and create trouble for herself.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I was drawn in by the premise of the novel, the well drawn characters, and the detailed description of the world late 18th century Italy. I also loved the ending, which is atypical for the genre. But if there is one major flaw in the narrative, is that the romance. It is supposed to be the high point of the story, but it falls flat.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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