This was actually incredibly inspiring. I was hesitant at first but the author's voice won me over- Aharon Margalit is someone I wanted to root for anThis was actually incredibly inspiring. I was hesitant at first but the author's voice won me over- Aharon Margalit is someone I wanted to root for and learn from and think in a new way about life.
As a young child spending five years almost entirely immobilized and alone, rather than letting it defeat him, Aharon learned to live in his imagination and became stronger in ways you wouldn't think possible. After miserable years of this constrained existence, thanks to the tears and prayers and struggles of his devoted mother, he defies the odds and regains mobility and returns home (one of 3 survivors, out of the 2000 in Israel struck with polio of that degree of severity! I had no idea how badly the polio epidemic struck Israel, indeed I had no idea it had at all.)
He still faces harsh bullying, verbal and physical, a severe stuttering problem that keeps him cut off from the world, but he beats all the odds time after time and goes through incredible struggles with grit and persistence. The speech therapist is harsh and kind of a jerk- doesn't stop him from going back again because he is determined to heal. His brother dies in army service in the war of Attrition- he and his family are deeply devastated, but he still joins the army in a dangerous position in the Yom Kippur war even though his polio left him with an exemption but he wants to prove to himself that he can defend his country. (Disliked the cop-out disclaimer pandering to chareidim who think army service is automatically evil- don't apologize for a decision you are not ashamed of, and clearly think was the right thing to do. I wonder if it was the same in the hebrew and english editions of this book.)
In the end, Margalit gets married, recovers to the point were he can live a basically normal life and raises a beautiful family- only to be struck again by disaster- cancer. not once but three times.
And still he fights! Like a crazy man. (I mean actually crazy, I kept shaking my head as I read, like, who DOES this stuff. It was intense!)
I learned something new about the meaning of faith, hope, and strength. Margalit balances trust in God with fighting for his life with all his efforts and strength. This is the dichotomy that we debate in philosophy classes yet this man literally lives it and shows you how it works in practice. The Jewish concept of "bitachon" makes a lot more sense to me now.
This book didn't resolve for me another question I've been grappling with, but rather threw it into sharper relief: Judaism's view on obedience to rabbinic authorities and how deeply that extends into our lives. People who profess to live entirely in accordance with the dictates of our sages sometimes are deluding themselves by their lack of consideration to logical inconsistencies in their own choices of when to listen to who, a truth I've started to pick up on (thanks a whole lot, Rabbi Slifkin's blog) and Margalit's father is a prime example. He will stick to his traditions NO MATTER WHAT in many cases (sending his son to a random chassidish school because the rebbe said so! without thinking about if it fits his son's needs!?) and yet he is active in the frum-moshavnik political party for the Knesset elections- against the strictures of the Satmar rebbe who he otherwise follows (and similar examples). He picks and chooses, clearly, but talks as if his traditions are unchanging. He's not alone in that, in the Jewish world, and I remain confused about the topic. I have Daniel Eidenson's Daas Torah: Source Book I guess I should actually try reading it.
Also I learned about the history of what life was like in Israel in the early scarcity years in small town settlements (stupid government throwing a bunch of new Morrocan immigrants who resent Ashkenazi dominance into a farming setttlement of Hungarian Holocaust survivors with no support or mediation systems between the parties...how did you think that was going to go).
Read this book. Appreciate faith. Appreciate persistence and people who overcome their life obstacles. Appreciate life....more
my rating is a little unfair to the book, it's really quite well done, but in general I read really fast, so it went by too quickly for me to feel likmy rating is a little unfair to the book, it's really quite well done, but in general I read really fast, so it went by too quickly for me to feel like it had enough content, it should have included more letters and more subplots. another thing, my bar for liking graphic novels is really high, my default is to dislike them and this one didn't overcome that tendency of mine. if you like graphic novels and early American Jewish history and advice columnists and imaginary ghosts of the past, you will love this book and it is very well done for what it is trying to do. I'm not sure how many people fit into that rather specific box. unfortunately those are really not my thing although I did like the history aspect of it.
Glad I read it but probably won't re-read... I am also not sure if I would like to read more of the original bintel letters in any of the anthologies that have been collected of them. it's too hard to read all these painful expressions of grief and loss and longing and have no way to find out what happened to the people in the end....more
After long silence is a good title for this book, which deals with the silences of a family and the toll it takes on their relationships when the secrAfter long silence is a good title for this book, which deals with the silences of a family and the toll it takes on their relationships when the secrets finally come out into the light. It's funny to think how much sooner they would have all learned the truth if only they talked to each other! Helen's aunt had told her cousin Renzo a completely different family origin story than her mother had told her. both were short of course since they didn't want to talk about it much but the few things they did reveal were complete opposites. But Helen didn't catch it because no one talked about the past with each other, it was all about the silence. Her writing style annoyed me a little, she jumped around between characters and time periods at a sometimes dizzying speed. And she would launch on these weird interruptions about the scenery way too often, and I was like, hello, let's move on, what happened next, I don't care about the puddles of sunlight spilling onto the red tulips and pink daisies with petals like a lady's dresses or whatever terrible similes she used constantly, for half a page. I don't remember the last time I read so many terrible similes and metaphors. but sometimes she would write very good, powerful sentences that made me pause and read them again very impressed or moved by the ideas she was expressing. So, mixed rating. I read this right after reading The Nazi Officer's Wife. Good combination to read together, I recommend it. it was interesting to compare and contrast the characters, their choices, even their narration styles and respective trustworthiness. Also today is Yom HaShoa so it was a very timely read....more
difficult book. certainly well written and moving. but it raised some really difficult ethical questions and complex value judgements. I'm still not sdifficult book. certainly well written and moving. but it raised some really difficult ethical questions and complex value judgements. I'm still not sure if I trust Edith as a narrator, this book brought me back to high school English class when I had to write a paper about an unreliable narrator. I was left with a lot of questions. why did she really marry Werner? was it the right thing to do? should she have had a baby? was it truly necessary to leave the little orphan girl behind (Gretel I think her name was) why take her in the first place if that's how you'll treat her? And more philosophical questions too, like, what is suffering, really? what is justified in the name of survival? did she sell her soul to save her life? how can any of us today truly judge her, anyway? also Pepi is a bad person but only sort of... was he a dutiful son doing his best despite being manipulated by a control freak histrionic mother...or a weak wimp who betrayed his love by not saving her and also preventing her from leaving the country and saving herself? (so romantic though, how he still had that picture on his desk in 1977, as the caption on the picture in the center of the book informed the reader. I couldn't help but be impressed despite my dislike for him at that point in the book.) And Werner- unbalanced and insane anti-semite or brave hero saving a Jewish life under the Nazi regime at risk to himself (his admiration and affection for his Jewish step uncle possibly the reason for his tolerance?) I am left with many questions and doubts and moral quandaries....more
Takes difficult concepts and puts them into simple, easy-to-understand stories and mashalim (parables/metaphors) so you can internalize the ideas. LikTakes 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......more
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 HeThe 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!...more
Historical fiction about the Holocaust in Hungary. Intense, gripping read that gives you compelling characters and dramatic scenes that help you underHistorical 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....more
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 withThe 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....more
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 lifThis 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....more
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-raceA 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....more
Considering that the topic was a teenager suffering from a challenging mental/physical health problem, this made me laugh a surprising number of timesConsidering 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....more
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 sThe 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....more