This book takes place in two different eras- the first in a small, out-of-town Jewish community in modern America, and the second in the Second Temple...moreThis book takes place in two different eras- the first in a small, out-of-town Jewish community in modern America, and the second in the Second Temple period in a small courtyard in Jerusalem. Ayelet Shtayner is a perfectly nice girl, raised by her loving father after her mother's death, but she cannot find the right person to marry. In fact, many girls are having trouble finding someone, and the town resorts to a drastic solution to try and end the shidduch crisis- pay off the shadchanim, or anyone who successfully makes a match. Events begin to fall into place just as Ayelet takes action to stand up for what she believes in, before a large crowd of people, when a van full of yeshiva boys crashes into the building. Surprise surprise. And guess what- they have no way to get to their destination before sundown and the start of Shabbos (when religious Jews don't drive) so they must spend the day in a town full of unmarried girls. Hmm, I wonder what will happen. Gee. Rabbi Shtayner, Ayelet's father, makes a difficult choice to be generous to another and lets the boy who looks the most impressive out of the bunch go to someone else's house, and to trust that Ayelet will somehow find the right person to marry without his interference. Luckily for Ayelet, there is one man left that no one else wanted- the van driver. Heshy shows up at the Shtaynmans' home after a half hour walk in the rainstorm, making him appear like a large, wet poodle. The father and daughter begin to sense the simple driver has hidden depths, but they can't seem to get him to open up. The book then goes into a flashback to the time of the temple, in a Jerusalem full of dangerous assassins and political turmoil. The Temple is running low in its supply of parah adumah ashes- the ashes of a red cow that are necessary for the Jews to live their lives the way they are supposed to and restore their purity. One kind-hearted shoemaker, a wealthy but childless couple, an old rabbi who must call upon the strength of a much younger man in order to fulfill his task, a virtuous high priest from a family of scoundrels, must each play their role to protect a child who has had something special about him since before he was born, and keep him within a protected courtyard until he is eight years old. Yehuda is the boy, and Yehuda ya'aleh (Yehuda will go up). He is the one who will play a role that no one else can, even though many others live in the courtyard waiting for the day that they are needed. Yehuda must survive the enemies who wish to stop him. Ayala expects to marry Yehuda, but she is kidnapped by her father's enemy. No one can find the girl, but the old rabbi had promised that he would dance at her wedding. How long will it take until the two matching souls are reunited? The story of Ayala and Yehuda, and Ayelet and Heshy, are really one and the same. As the book concludes, it is clear that the author meant the story of invidual souls to be also the story of a nation, waiting for the day to come when all the promises will come true.(less)
Very good Jewish book. Character development happens! The Jewish community is portrayed sensibly! only one major typo! ("go" is not spelled "gp" alas)...moreVery good Jewish book. Character development happens! The Jewish community is portrayed sensibly! only one major typo! ("go" is not spelled "gp" alas) but I do recommend this book I enjoyed it very much.
Plot: Jason is the son of parents whose marriage is falling apart, due to their inability to overcome personality differences and majorly different backgrounds. In the divorce, the baby is given up for a closed adoption through a Jewish adoption agency. The childless couple rename him Yonasan and raise him religious (and twin girls, who are born a few years after the adoption). He is never really curious about his origins, preferring to act as though he is a regular member of the family so no one will be reminded he is different.
Then, at age 20, he runs into a man who looks just like him at a highway truck stop, and after five years of emotional confusion, secrets and deceit, love and marriage, and such, everything gets resolved (in a rather abrupt way, in my opinion, but never mind.)
I like how Yonasan learns to work on his flaws and not be so caught up in questions of genetics, but to make his own choices and turn to others for help when he needs them. Its also nice how he and his wife work on their communication issues in a realistic way. I thought the decision they made near the end of the book made no sense, though. And why couldn't his wife be a little more open to meeting new people? Despite the quibbles, it was a good book.(less)
The wonderful Dr. Blau offers insights into the American Jewish community in the 20th century and the founding of a unique community on the American s...moreThe wonderful Dr. Blau offers insights into the American Jewish community in the 20th century and the founding of a unique community on the American scene. Her father, R. Pinchas Mordechai Teitz, was a great Rav, powerful leader, and brave pioneer who saw farther ahead than most. He was able to build a thriving Orthodox community and yeshiva that outlasted all the naysayers; save Jews from the Holocaust by helping them get out of Europe and also rescuing the survivors from the DP camps after the war; going behind the iron curtain to the USSR 22 times to bring out sparks of Judaism and help the Jews there; create programs for Jewish students on college campuses; and more. This book is both a story you won't forget and a moral lesson of what one person can accomplish.(less)
Considering that the topic was a teenager suffering from a challenging mental/physical health problem, this made me laugh a surprising number of times...moreConsidering that the topic was a teenager suffering from a challenging mental/physical health problem, this made me laugh a surprising number of times. Tzipi Caton manages to put a positive spin on the toughest situations, in her real life as well, as I learned when I read her autobiographical book Miracle Ride. This book, Invisible Me, is so cute! Despite the darker and difficult and painful moments. I just kept going "awwww!" as I read it. When kids were cute or nice things happened or funny jokes were made- or when an emotional moment was done just right.
Dini is a well-drawn character, very relatable even though I don't know much about Selective Mutism. Reading her story helps you be more understanding of people who are different from you, and the importance of communication to our lives, and how we all live in our own worlds and never really know what someone else is thinking and going through. Really enjoyed.(less)
A lovely book. The characters face a lot of obstacles and hardship, but the ending is sweet and satisfying. Margo, her brother Hanan, and a mixed-race...moreA lovely book. The characters face a lot of obstacles and hardship, but the ending is sweet and satisfying. Margo, her brother Hanan, and a mixed-race orphan named Joey, form a perfect trio of friends alone in the world except each other. They bravely fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa, fighting injustice through a mixed-race rock band with lyrics that challenge the government, even when they suffer for it. They are all separated by tragic events, and the plot turns in unexpected directions.
Margo, forced to flee the country, ends up in Israel in seminary, and discovers her Jewish heritage (this is not your typical starry-eyed baalas teshuva story either- "oh the kotel is so moving now ive found god all my problems are solved" no, it is much more interesting and nuanced than that.) There is also a lot of philosophical discussionthroughout the book (the author is obviously familiar with R' Noach Weinberg, Rabbi Keleman, and similar hashkafot), but the Jewish thoughts are not always heard from the characters you think it'll be.
For all the people who complain about all Jewish novels being the same, all my friends who've read this agree with me that this is one of the most original ones out there. Read it and see.(less)
This book tells the story of Zionism (the political movement) and the rise of the state of Israel, via a series of interconnected characters whose lif...moreThis book tells the story of Zionism (the political movement) and the rise of the state of Israel, via a series of interconnected characters whose life stories tie together just as Israel is on the brink of being declared, and through flashbacks, the reader learns how it all happened.
I'd really been looking forward to reading Exodus, and felt like I should have gotten around to it sooner, but now, having read it- even after staying up all night to finish it- I'm really not impressed. I never got over the feeling that the characters were plot devices with backstory, not people. A fiction book shouldn't just be a thinly veiled excuse trying to catch the people who wouldn't read a history book and educate them, it should have an existence as a work of literature in its own right- a minimum standard of quality...
I also found the blurry line between fact and fiction too confusing. Many of the characters were actually historical figures with different names and a few details changed. I'm pretty sure Akiva was Menachem Begin, for example. But I know a lot of the history of the period, so for someone less knowledgeable, they'd be hopelessly lost as the book miseducated them. yes, you'd get the right general historical patterns. But this skated closer to alternate history than to historical fiction.
The entire romance plotline was fake, un-believable, and annoying. Kitty was a mild anti-Semite. It didn't work that she would love a Jew! As a lover and even for a parent-like love to a daughter- it rang false. She would have had at least some qualms or something, it's not natural for anti-Semites to get over it that fast.
Ari's mother Sarah didn't complain at all that her son was interested in a non-Jew, she was even enthusiastic- even tried to push things forward with them. Some Jewish mother!
All in all, I am very displeased with this book. I left it 3 stars because it did teach a lot of history about the Holocaust, about European Jews who came to Israel, and the founding of the state, and did a good job at that.(less)
The mysterious history of the Jews of Kaifeng! This book made me even more fascinated with them than I was before, after I talked about the topic with...moreThe mysterious history of the Jews of Kaifeng! This book made me even more fascinated with them than I was before, after I talked about the topic with my Chinese history professor last semester.
Overall I found the book very enlightening, about a Jewish community that existed for hundreds of years (closer to a thousand, but there's a whole chapter on the debates over when they actually arrived in China so hard to be precise) almost completely isolated from the larger Jewish communities in the rest of the world. there are a lot of lessons to be learned about jewish history, tradition, halacha, and relationships to an outside culture which are relevant in our own thoughts about our society.
The book debunked my professor's theory (in my opinion anyway) about the cause of their assimilation and disappearance- but I suppose it's still controversial. She thought they had assimilated into the Hui Muslim communities because of their similarities and how they both didn't eat pork. I think it was an oversimplification and not the proximate cause or even the ultimate cause of the disappearance of the Kaifeng Jews, although perhaps true for some individuals. Xin Xu's version of events seemed a lot more likely, to me. The community was hit badly by various tragedies which probably played a role as large if not more so as the forces of ordinary cultural assimilation- the Yangtze river flooding in 1642 and wiping out a huge percentage of the entire population. Only 200 Jewish families were known to have survived- out of a community of at least 5,000 families. that's quite a hit. and many survivors moved to other cities. Other crises like the Taiping rebellion took a major toll as well. This devastation (demographic, economic and infrastructure) disrupted education and transmission of Judaism to the next generations, until only old people could understand Hebrew and finally, no one at all remembered anything. It was a very sad ending to a long and profound story.
There were lots of interesting facts about the kaifeng jewish society. The Chinese called the Jews 'the sect who cuts out the sinew' refering to how we don't eat gid hanasheh, the sciatic nerve in animals. it was a community which put a huge emphasis on Kashrut in defining itself against the larger culture, which is an interesting study in contrast with other communities throughout time and around the world, to see what happened to each one.
On a related note, I liked the author's comment- as an outsider, s/he(I have no idea which, I don't speak Chinese) is able to be very blunt- pointing out that the Kaifeng Jews in later years having lost almost everything still were careful to keep kosher- unlike the reform jews of america "who seem less authentic as Jews in that way." haha s/he is chinese and doesnt need to be politically correct! nice.
Jews dressed like Chinese but wore a blue skullcap (the Muslims wore white skullcaps) and were called "the Hui (Muslims/westerners) in blue hats". Ancestor worship- but with no images, so it wouldn't be idolatry, just respecting their roots. Intermarriage- what was it really about? Not as clearcut as I had assumed! Chinese patrilinear-ism had a huge impact and the author claims that most Chinese women who married Jews would likely convert first, but that women who married out were lost to Judaism.
The description of the Kaifeng community's evolving relationship with Christian Jesuit missionaries was fascinating. At first they thought of them as sort of quaint cousins of Jews- "hey, they know the bible too! lets ask them for news about other Jews, for help with hebrew learning, etc. Their thing about the Messiah, eh its just a little disagreement a quirk we can ignore." (I couldn't help but think of Chabad when I read this section...ok now I'm the one not being PC) But eventually they caught on and started kicking the missionaries out, believing their very presence contaminated their holy synagogues, and not letting them stay in contact with the Jews. Phew.
Having taken Chinese history helped me appreciate this book much more. Knowing how the society worked, who the Ming were and some of the more famous emperors, how the examinations and officials were the basis of societal advancement and merchants were looked down on- explains a lot. For example, that Jews were able to become officials and many did so- so I had an inkling of the implications which were not always spelled out in the book- that scholarship was valued, that Jews were very accepted in society and must have spent many years learning Chinese scholarship and becoming experts in the culture.
Ok, I can't say I read every single page- normally I'm pretty strict about marking books as read on goodreads- but I got pretty close considering that I was only standing in the bookstore and I think I got a pretty full sense of all the chapters and even the footnotes.(less)
Historical fiction about the Holocaust in Hungary. Intense, gripping read that gives you compelling characters and dramatic scenes that help you under...moreHistorical fiction about the Holocaust in Hungary. Intense, gripping read that gives you compelling characters and dramatic scenes that help you understand what the situation was like for Jews living at that terrible place and time.(less)
The authentic Jewish perspective on the role of women in Judaism. Best book I am aware of on the topic- the author consulted with Rebetzin Tziporah He...moreThe authentic Jewish perspective on the role of women in Judaism. Best book I am aware of on the topic- the author consulted with Rebetzin Tziporah Heller, Rabbi Mordechai Tendler, and Rebetzin Faige Twerski (so you know this book is pretty legit). Aiken goes through the sources and covers all the topics- tackles the biggest controversies with a genuine and unafraid tone that helps you understand Judaism's real perspective.
I wish some people would read this book rather than wondering, for example, "What are those Orthodox Jews thinking that don't want women to be rabbis/read from the Torah/learn gemara?" or "The agunah problem shows that Judaism is misogynist." No, not really. Answers exist that make sense, thank you very much. You just need to understand Judaism as a holistic picture rather than a religion that consists solely of prayers in the synagogue. Lisa Aiken does a beautiful job at explaining the topic without pandering to the reader but also making it comprehensible for a reader with little prior knowledge about Torah Judaism. I highly recommend this book for religious and nonreligious-but-curious readers!(less)
Takes difficult concepts and puts them into simple, easy-to-understand stories and mashalim (parables/metaphors) so you can internalize the ideas. Lik...moreTakes difficult concepts and puts them into simple, easy-to-understand stories and mashalim (parables/metaphors) so you can internalize the ideas. Like Mesilas Yesharim for the modern day reader, if you want to understand Judaism's take on basic philosophical questions like, what's the meaning of life, how do I figure out my purpose in this world, what happens after death, etc. I've been sort of having a lot of existential crises lately so it was nice to hear a fresh perspective on the topic, in such a straighforward and engaging style. Some of the ideas were actually new to me and I would have liked a few footnotes with his sources so I could look it up, but there weren't any (except some chapters he started off with an epigraph from Mesilas Yesharim or Chovos Halevavos-type of works). I feel like I should buy this and keep it around and reread it periodically- like other mussar works, even when you think you know it, i think it would be fresh again at different points of my life when I can take different types of insights out of it. And also just to refresh its lessons in my mind- its all too easy to get caught up in day to day living and forget the bigger picture, without reminders of what really matters.
Then again, I probably should just learn mesilas yesharim...(less)