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Summer page turners

Summertime … what better time to sit down in the shade with a good book? Here are summer reading selections from some folks throughout Connecticut…

Susan K. Boyar, Book-group discussion facilitator, Weston
A member of the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Fairfield County, I have been a professional book-group discussion facilitator for about 15 years at the Cos Cob, Greenwich, and Wilton public libraries, as well as private groups in Westport, Greenwich, Westchester County and Manhattan. During much of that time, I have put out a summer reading list. Two highly recommended books from my 2009 list, with Jewish content, include:
“Away” by Amy Bloom: The story of a Jewish immigrant woman who travels across America in search of her missing daughter in 1924.
“A Pigeon and a Boy” by Meir Shalev: Two interwoven love stories, one set in 1948 against the backdrop of the Israeli War of Independence, and one in the present.

Francene Weingast, Connections Coordinator, The Emanuel Synagogue, West Hartford
A friend recently gave me a copy of Dara Horn’s “All Other Nights.” I loved her last book, “The World to Come.” It was rich in every way – fascinating story, good character development, historical setting, beautiful words, lovely sentences and haunting imagery that enticed me to read it again as soon as I finished it. I am hoping that this book will be equally engaging.

Pam Ehrenkranz, Executive Director, UJA Federation of Greenwich
I have not yet completed my reading goals for this summer, but two books that are on the MUST READ list are Dara Horn’s “All Other Nights” and Sarah Darer Littman’s “Life, After.” Horn is one of my favorite contemporary novelists, and her latest book is set during the time of the Civil War. I have lately become a fan of historical fiction, so I am really looking forward to this and hope it is as enjoyable as her first two books. “Life, After,” is really a novel for young adults. The author, a Sydney Taylor Book Award winner, lives in Greenwich and has written some wonderful books specifically targeted at young women. Littman’s latest novel centers around a Jewish Argentinian girl who moves from Argentina to the States after the terrorist attack on the AMIA building. Both authors have something in common: a way of weaving Judaism into compelling tales.

Rabbi Jeff Glickman, Temple Beth Hillel, South Windsor

The book of Job, and the rabbinic commentary on it, seem to get more and more fascinating each year. The story of an upright man who, with God’s blessings, has tragedy upon tragedy befall him sheds light on our relationship with God, the role of evil the reason for disasters. Rabbi Harold Kushner’s most famous book is a commentary on Job called, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”
The questions start from the beginning. Was Job Jewish? Was he a “helicopter parent,” overly worrying about his children? Just the question of “Who is Satan?” is deliciously vague. In Torah, “satan” is a verb roughly meaning to “take the opposing side for the sake of betterment.” You find it in the Balaam story. Twice in Job we read, “The divine beings approached God, and Satan was with them.” Is Satan a divine being?
There are more wonderful quotes in this book than in the movie “Casablanca.” Be prepared for some long, long stretches (you should be spared such “friends” as Job has), but there are gems. Look closely at the unknowable stuff that God cites to show how we are so much less than God. You will see that we are in a very different place to know than we were two and a half thousand years ago. What do you think that means?
Also, the resolution is something that most people forget, but I find myself quoting over and over again. Don’t worry, I won’t give away the ending.
So, this summer, get a Job!

Rabbi Jack Bloom, Founding rabbi, Congregation Beth El, Fairfield
If you want to read a book this summer that will challenge, educate and respect your sophisticated, adult commitment to our tradition, “Hineni, Here I Am.” by Rabbi Herman Schaalman is meant for you. It certainly was for me. It is a great book, thoroughly thought through, magnificently presented and very readable. A book that will introduce you to the best in Jewish thought, astonish you and make you proud to be a Jew
That Herman is a gift to American Jewry from Adolph Hitler is one of history’s ironies. He was one of the “Berlin 5” saved in1935 from Nazi Germany by Hebrew Union College. The 5 were astonishing gifts to U.S. Jewry. Herman remains perhaps the greatest gift of all. A rabbi who could shepherd a congregation superbly and teach and write impeccably. And be understood by one and all. And at 94, remains sharp as a tack.
“Here I Am” is an introduction for Jews educated in western civilization to the very best in modern Jewish thought. Discover that Herman is special, that you are special, and we are all part of a very special people as you realize that Jewish theology, miracle of miracles can be read and appreciated by you and other regular folks, just like you. Get it!

Stacy Kamisar, Campaign and Event Associate, UJA/Federation, Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk
I just finished a great book on the Kurdish Jewish community, “My Father’s Paradise” by Ariel Sabar, and “Cutting for Stone,” about Ethiopia, which was phenomenal. I just started “A Tale of Darkness and Love” by Amos Oz. There was an article in The New York Times about this book, which a Palestinian lawyer paid to have translated into Arabic as a tribute to his son, who was murdered by Palestinian gunmen. After reading the book, the lawyer understood that the plight of Israeli Jews and Palestinians is closer than he had realized. I thought, If he’s doing this, how can I not read the book?

Sydney Perry, Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, Woodbridge
It’s going to be a busy summer, with the weddings of two of my sons, and I still have a few books piled up next to my bed from last year. I haven’t finished Teddy Kennedy’s “True Compass” but will do so before reading John Heileman’s “Game Change” about the 2008 election and Jonathan Alter’s new book, “The Promise,” on the first year of the Obama administration . I look forward to reading Aviva Zornberg’s new book, “The Murmuring Deep” on biblical analysis, and tackling Simon Mauer’s novel of a Czech Jewish family, “The Glass Room,” which covers six decades of European history. I am very interested in the British author Anthony Julius’ anatomy of anti-Semitism in England, “Trials of the Diaspora,” recently reviewed by Yale professor Harold Bloom. For a biography, I’m going to delve into Hillel Hankin’s latest enterprise, a study of the poet-philosopher of 11th century Spain, Yehuda Halevi. Without a new book by Faye Kellerman or Daniel Silva, I’ll probably resort to “Innocent,” the old/new Scott Turow book, perfect for reading at the beach or if I am feeling more adventurous, I’ll try the thriller “Operation Mincemeat” by Ben Macintyre.

Fred Leder, Ph.D., former oil company executive and frequent Ledger contributor

I recently read George Gilder’s book, “The Israel Test.” In it he expresses his admiration for the Jewish people who have been so much a part of the accomplishments of the western world. He spends a great deal of space on examples of Jewish entrepreneurs who, he feels, fit naturally into the concept of creative destruction. By this it is generally meant that old technologies have to be destroyed periodically and replaced by new ones. He believes there is something in the Jewish experience that makes us particularly adept at this and therefore often found in the vanguard of new technologies. Computers are an example he spends a lot of time on.
He also believes that those societies that cherish their Jewish citizens and support them will prosper and those that abhor their Jewish citizens will fail. There are many examples from twentieth century history. Therein lies the Israel Test. George Gilder is a gentile who comes from the commercial world. His admiration for the accomplishments of the Jews in western society as well as the State of Israel are evident throughout the book.

Rabbi Ilana C. Garber, Beth El Temple, West Hartford
I am in the middle of reading the most beautiful, poetic, and musical novel I’ve ever read. It’s called “Pictures at an Exhibition,” and it is the debut novel written by my dearest childhood friend, Sara Houghteling. It’s the story of Max Berenzon, a young man in post-World War II Paris, who tries desperately to fill the shoes of his father while recovering his family’s stolen art collection that was looted by the Nazis. It’s a story of love and friendship, of history and drama, of art and music. It is so magically written – you’ll feel like you’re on the streets of Paris as you read. Sara Houghteling is the winner of The Edward Lewis Wallant Award from the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, which is presented annually to an American writer whose published creative work of fiction is considered to have significance for the American Jew. She is the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship to Paris, first prize in the Avery and Jules Hopwood Awards, and a John Steinbeck Fellowship. She currently lives in California, where she teaches high school English.

Bobby Klau, “Exercise Your Mind” lecturer and teacher, Simsbury
Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year was “The Help.” I’ve recommended it to so many people. I thought Chris Bohjalian’s “Skeletons at the Feast” was truly unusual with its focus on the last six months of World War II, but from the standpoint of a Prussian German family on the run from the Russians. Because I found that book absorbing, and was so impressed by Bohjalian’s talk at the Jewish Book Festival, I picked up “The Double Bind” by the same author. Complex and very disturbing; it deals with homelessness, mental illness, and a shocking act of violence … it stayed with me for many days. Right now I have three books on my night table: Meir Shalev’s “A Pigeon and a Boy,” Abraham Verghese’s “Cutting for Stone,” and “Welcome to Your Brain” by Aamodt and Wang…an interesting combination, I guess, but my reading tastes are generally quite eclectic.

Avinoam J. Patt, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Philip D. Feltman Professor of Modern Jewish History, The Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies University of Hartford, West Hartford
My summer reading will fall into three categories: reading for research, for teaching, and if any time is left, some reading for pleasure. I’m working on a review of “Christopher Browning, Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave Labor Camp,” a new work that tries to combine sources created by Jewish survivors, Nazi authorities, and neighboring Poles to reconstruct the history of forced labor in Starachowice. I will also do some reading in preparation for a new class I’m teaching with local film-maker Steve Shaw, called “Documenting Jewish History.” We’ll focus on how Jewish history is remembered and created, and train students to make short films about the Holocaust. The first assigned reading for this class will be “The Lost” by Daniel Mendelsohn. I’m writing an article on Jewish chaplains and survivors in postwar Europe and just received a copy of a fascinating memoir by an especially active chaplain, Rabbi Abraham Klausner, “A Letter to My Children: From the Edge of the Holocaust.” Any time that’s left over will be devoted to my version of pleasure reading: reading submissions for this year’s Edward Lewis Wallant Award – hopefully the judges will find a book to meet the standard set by last year’s winner, Sara Houghteling for “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Lisa Lenkiewicz, former managing editor, Connecticut Jewish Ledger, West Hartford
A few books I’ve recently read and recommend are: “Skeletons at the Feast,” by Chris Bohjalian – Inspired, in part, by a real diary, this is a wonderful historical novel based on the exodus of Germans escaping the Soviet Army’s advance at the end of World War II.
“Sarah’s Key,” by Tatiana de Rosnay – This novel exposes the little-known story of the roundup of thousands of French Jews and their children, in July 1942, the days of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ in Nazi-occupied Paris.
“The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett – I think this book would be an excellent book club selection; it is a fascinating look into 1960s Mississippi and the relationships between well-bred Southern white women and their black maids.
“Game Change,” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin -I recommend this book to political junkies; it takes the reader behind the scenes of the 2008 presidential campaign.
“Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer – We all know how Israelis are motivated risk takers; these traits contribute to making Israel one of the world’s high-tech hubs; the authors track Israel’s economic prowess in the midst of the on-going chaos of the Middle East.
This summer, I plan to read “Devotion,” by Dani Shapiro; “The Invisible Bridge,” by Julie Orringer; and “Caught,” the latest Harlan Coben mystery novel.

Elena MacGilpin, director, Chai Center, Simsbury
With a 1-year old and a 5-year old I don’t have too much time to read but this summer I am planning to read two modern Jewish classics written by Jewish female novelists – “The Septembers of Shiraz” by Dalia Sofer and “The World to Come” by Dara Horn. After hearing Geraldine Brooks speak last year I am also planning to read “The People of the Book” and “March,” her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. At the end of May I am attending the Jewish Book Council NETWORK conference in New York City where members of the Mandell JCC Jewish Book Festival committee and I will hear from over 200 Jewish authors as they present their newest books. This trip will help us choose our authors for the 2010-2011 Jewish Book Festival and will also give me a whole new list of books to put on my reading list.

Jeanette Kuvin Oren, Judaic artist, Woodbridge
My husband and I have been members for 14 years of a couples’ book group we like to call “People of the Book.” We just finished reading and discussing “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” We all loved this book (even the few non-physicians in our group). Rebecca Skloot is a wonderful story-teller. She brings to life a story about science, slavery, class struggle, the South and modern medicine. Henrietta, for whom HeLa cells are named, literally opens doors to subjects I did not know were so interesting. Even “Jewish” topics came up in our discussion of the book. How do we apply Jewish ethics to human studies, cloning and intellectual property? I usually choose fiction but this is a fascinating and engaging non-fiction read.

Gail Ostrow, Adjunct Professor, Fairfield University, Bridgeport
I teach Freshman English at Fairfield University and I coordinate a peace program one day a week at a local elementary school. Race and class are core interests of mine, as I believe they form the basis of our social justice issues here and abroad. And, of course, sexism as well. As a result of reading Kelfa Sanneh’s article in the New Yorker, “Beyond the Pale: Is White the New Black?,” I plan to read “Searching for Whitopia” by Rich Benjamin, “The History of White People” by Nell Irvin Painter, and the following books by David Roediger: “The Wages of Whiteness” and “Working Toward Whiteness.” This is all in preparation for teaching in the fall. For fun, I read lots of mystery books and whatever other beach books people pass on to me.

Estelle KaferExecutive Director, Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford, West Hartford
I prefer to read non-fiction or historical fiction and enjoy learning something in the limited time I have to read for pleasure. An old favorite is “The Last Jew” by Noah Gordon, set during the Spanish Inquisition; my entire family found it captivating. A new favorite is “The Invisible Wall” written by Harry Bernstein at the age of 93, a memoir of a young boy’s experiences and observations growing up in a mill town near Manchester, England before and after World War I. On my reading list for this summer, I hope to read: “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, a saga about love, medicine and exile following twin boys born in an Ethiopian mission hospital as they search for their father; “The Girl from Foreign” by Sadia Shepard, a memoir about a young women’s roots with the Bene Israel community in Israel, and “Holocaust by Bullets” by Father Patrick Desbois, a priest’s journey to the Ukraine to locate every mass grave and site at which Jews were killed during the Holocaust. To date, 800 of an estimated 2,000 such locations have been identified. Father Desbois will be speaking at the University of Hartford this September.

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