This book adds a new layer to the information we have about the Holocaust. I loved that each woman is given her time to shine. We are told that women are weak and emotional. We are incapable of being bold, brave, and courageous. The subjects of this book are the opposite. They know that death is waiting for them at every turn. But they cannot sit back and do nothing. Instead these young women used every tool at their disposal to save as many lives as they can.
I appreciated the epilogue in which the author sketches the lives of the survivors after the war is over. While some settled down into of normal life, others are haunted by those years and what they experienced. They lived with what we now know to be PTSD, creating a shadow that stayed with them years after peace was declared.
Though it is not the heart pounding thriller I thought it would be, it is still a good and a very important read.
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.
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.
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.
We live in a world in which antisemitism and misogynistic views still have a hold on us. But there is still hope that both can be overturned.
Last week, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s funeral was held in Washington D.C. As I listened, my pride in her accomplishments as a Jew and a woman were just as prominent as my tears.
She is an icon for so many of us who feel marginalized and pushed aside because of who we are. Listening to Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt speak the ancient Jewish prayers, I had a feeling that in spite of the hatred that still exists, there is light and love at the end of the tunnel. We can look past labels and see each other’s humanity. We only need to open our eyes and our minds.
Though Judge Ginsburg is no longer physically with us, her legacy will last forever.
On the surface, religion and feminism seem to be at odds with one another. Among the world’s major religions, women are often seen as secondary to men. Feminism demands that women be treated as equals to men.
Letty Pogrebin‘s 1992 book, Deborah, Golda And Me, is about Ms. Pogrebin’s journey as she reconciles her faith with her feminist beliefs. Raised in an observant home, she lost her mother as a young woman. Traditional Judaism states that only a man may say kaddish (prayer for the dead). Unable to say kaddish, she drifted away from traditional Judaism. In time, she found a way to mingle Judaism and feminism. While some of the book focuses on the author’s personal journey, other chapters discuss topics such as feminism from the perspective of Black and Jewish women and feminist attitudes in South Africa.
This book is a groundbreaking work of non fiction. While it is not a light read, it is a book that every Jewish woman should read.