Tag Archives: Jewish women

Stolen Beauty: A Novel Book Review

If you can, imagine the following: you have lived a relatively peaceful life. Your family is comfortably settled without major problems. There are haters, but they have little to no effect on your day to day schedule. Then you are othered and everything you know is about to go out the window.

Stolen Beauty: A Novel, by, Laurie Lico Albanese was published in 2017. In the early 20th century, Adele Bloch-Bauer is a young newlywed who is at the top Vienna‘s social circle. When she meets artist Gustav Klimt, the mutual inspiration transpires beyond the canvas and the bedroom. But not even his gift with the paint brush can keep the growing anti-Semitism from reaching Adele.

Nearly 40 years later, Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann, is herself a newlywed. But the city she has known her entire life has turned against her after the Nazi Invasion. Suddenly, her Jewish faith has made her, her family, and her co-religionists outsiders. Forced out of her home and praying that her husband is released from prison, she has two choices. She can stay and hope that this is the worst of it. Or try to get out and save her family’s legacy from abroad.

A literary companion to the 2015 film, Woman in Gold, this book is wonderful. The switch between Adele in 1903 and Maria in the late 1930’s is seamless. Though history tells us that Maria would get out of Europe and eventually reclaim her family’s property, the question of when and how holds the reader until the last page.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel Book Review

It is easy to judge someone based on a stereotype or a first impression. But when we get to know them, we hopefully will get to see the real person and not who we think they are.

Pam Jenoff‘s new book, The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel, was published in May. In Krakow, Poland in 1942, 18-year-old Sadie Gault’s life has been turned upside down. Because she is Jewish, she and her parents have been forced to move into the Krakow Ghetto. When the Nazis decide that it is time to liquidate the ghetto, they escape into the sewers beneath the city. Hiding with her pregnant mother and another family, she looks up one day and sees a young woman her age looking back to her.

On the outside, Ella Stepanek is living a comfortable life (relatively speaking). Her Catholic faith has so far kept her alive and safe. But once she gets home, it is another story. Ella is the only one of her siblings still living at home. Both of her parents are deceased. Her stepmother would love nothing more than to have an empty house. She has also opened her doors, literally and figuratively to the new regime.

As the two girls become friends, Ella starts to provide Sadie with as many provisions as possible. But with both the war and the hunt for hidden Jews ramping up, they realize that the decisions that must be made have life-changing consequences.

I have been a fan of Jenoff for the last few years. She perfectly balances the historical record with fictional characters, telling stories that transcend the time and place in which they are set. I also very much appreciate that most, if not all of her protaganists are female. We can talk all we want about representation. But until writers, readers, and publishers step up, male protaganists will still dominate the world of fiction.

Reading this book, I am reminded that the Holocaust is not ancient history. Many who survived are no longer with us. Without their testimony and the recording of their experiences, this dark day in history will be lost to memory. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the younger generations to listen while we can and make sure that what they lived through is preserved, re-told, and never forgotten.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Milk Fed: A Novel Book Review

Food is more than the physical nourishment our body needs to function. It can also be stand in for something else in our life that has not been entirely dealt with.

In the new Melissa Broder novel published earlier this year, Milk Fed: A Novel, Los Angeles transplant Rachel was raised Jewish, but those days are long gone. Outside of her job at a talent agency, the most important thing is her physical appearance. She counts calories like the world is ending and can be found after work at the gym, furiously working off whatever she eat earlier that day. Following up on her therapist’s recommendation, she cuts of all communication with her mother for 90 days. Since she was little, Rachel has been constantly reminded to watch what she eat.

Shortly after, she meets Miriam, the zaftig employee behind the counter of one of Rachel’s favorite frozen yogurt places. Miriam is more orthodox in her practice of their mutual faith and intent on making sure that her soon to be new friend is well fed. Taken by Miriam, Rachel goes on a journey of family, faith, sex, and learning to love yourself.

I loved this book. Instead of being one of those obnoxious skinny women who makes the rest of us feel unattractive, Rachel is human, complicated, and completely relatable. I loved her emotional trek as she opened herself up to eating, Miriam (and everything Miriam represented), and learning to let go of the parental criticism that makes itself too comfortable in our consciousness.

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely.

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The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir Book Review

Our names are more than just a random scrambling of letters. They are our identity, both internally and externally. They also have a say in our fate and the way we live our lives.

Noted writer and technology psychoanalyst Sherry Turkle published her memoir earlier this year. It is entitled The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir. For a good part of her life, Turkle lived with a secret that only those within her immediate family knew. Born in the late 1940’s in Brooklyn to a Jewish family, the man the world knew as her father was not her father. The man who contributed to half of her DNA was out of his daughter’s life. Knowing that she could never speak the truth, she learned to be empathetic to others. As she grew up, attended college, and became a full fledged adult, she learned to deal with her past, the growing addition of computers to our lives, and find her own way in the world.

I am going to be blunt. I was not impressed with this book. While I was very much hooked into the drama regarding her family, I was bored by her career path and various steps she took to get to where she is today professionally. Normally, this would be an enticing topic, given that she came of age during 2nd feminist wave in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But not even that or recognizing certain locations in borough we both grew up in was enough to make me like this memoir.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos Book Review

When we think of war, we generally think of men on the battlefield and women keeping the home front going. But the reality is that women have waged war, but not in in the way we perceive it to be.

The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos by Judy Batalion, was published earlier this year. The book tells the story of a group of young Jewish women who actively fought against the Nazis in the Polish ghettos during World War II. Told in vivid detail using interviews, archival information, and written accounts, the author brings to light an aspect of this era in history that has been overlooked.

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.

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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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.
Matzo Ball Wine GIF by Chabad.org - Find & Share on GIPHY

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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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Thoughts On the Funeral Service for RBG

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.

Z”l.

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Deborah, Golda And Me Book Review

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.

I recommend it.

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