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.
Primarily written by podcast hosts Mark Oppenheimer, Liel Leibovitz, and Stephanie Butnick, this book is more than your standard encyclopedia. It contains images, charts, and illustrations, it is the story of Judaism, past, and present.
The thing that I loved about this book is that though it is an opportunity to learn, it does not feel like the reader is learning something. It is a fun read and a wonderful opportunity to open hearts and minds, regardless of one’s knowledge or level of practice of Judaism.
There is an old inside joke about Jews: For every two Jews, there are three opinions. From my perspective. is the backbone of Unorthodox. Created by Tablet Magazine, the podcast is hosted by Mark Oppenheimer, Stephanie Butnick and Liel Leibovitz. Every week they talk about news relating to the Jewish world and have two guests: one Jewish and one not Jewish. What I appreciate about this podcast is that Mark, Liel and Stephanie not only mesh well together, but their unique world views allow all three to stand out in their own way. I’ve been listening for a couple of years; it’s a pleasure to wake up on Thursday morning knowing that the week’s episode is waiting for me.
Can I Just Say
Pop culture podcasts can sometimes get a little dull. Either they can veer too much into the fan boy or fan girl lane or they are just a tad too intellectual.
Thankfully, Can I Just Say is the perfect pop culture podcast. Hosted by Daphne Olive and Elizabeth Stevens, the ladies have unique and stimulating conversations about everything from Star Wars (their newest podcast about The Last Jedi was very interesting) to novels and their various adaptations (their comments about Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility got me thinking) to a hand-picked selection of Baz Lurhmann films opened my eyes to his abilities as a filmmaker. They also host a podcast entitled Fathoms Deep: A Black Sails Podcast, an equally interesting podcast about the television series Black Sails.