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Jewish Book Month is every month

By N. Richard Greenfield ~

December 1941

Jewish Book Month begins Nov. 21 and runs through Dec. 21.  Not long ago, book fairs all took place during this month. In fact, Hartford had one of the ten most important Book Festivals in the country and other Jewish Community Centers around the state held many of their book events during this month, too. Now, though, the trend is to celebrate Jewish books throughout the year. Hartford still kicks off its book festival in November – this year marks its 19th annual event – with several events planned for the coming year.
Check the Ledger’s calendar of events on any given week and you are likely to find any number of programs featuring authors who visit our state to talk about their most recent works. In essence, every month of the year is Jewish Book Month.  Books are a common interest in our community. It is one of the things that hold us together. The people of the book, we truly are.

In The Garden of Beasts

With this in mind, we present this special book issue, featuring several recently published books on Jewish topics, by Jewish authors, all with Connecticut connections. We’ll follow that up in the next few weeks with more about Jewish books – including a look at some of the books included in Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman’s new, much acclaimed publication “One Hundred Great Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation.”
To launch Jewish Book Month, we too would like to add to the discussion this month by noting a few books that we’ve read of late that would make our list if we were doing one today.
■ Erik Larson’s current best seller, “In The Garden of Beasts,” is worthy of the praise the reviewers have given it. A reluctant and naïve academic appointee find himself and his family thrust into the maelstrom that was 1930’s Germany as ambassador from the Roosevelt regime to Hitler’s Third Reich. Well researched and presented, it portrays American innocence abroad that eventually recognizes the shape of evil before it.
■ There are times one comes across a fiction writer who may or may not have a current offering, but yet says things about the times we live in that are more relevant  today than when he wrote them. Alan Furst’s novels fall into that category. All of them set in middle Europe of the 1930s and 40s, they take us into the world of spying and active resistance.  But most importantly, they focus on courage: The courage of individuals to act in the face of tyranny. The author’s first books, written in the early 90s, are a starting point that take the reader through the Balkans, Spain and deep into the European struggle between the Soviets and the Nazis.  But much of his writing continually returns to occupied France. There are eight books in the series and, while they share some common themes and characters, all afford a different view of a place and time. Historical fiction at its best.
■ Two books also of an older vintage come to mind of late. Father Patrick DuBois has dedicated his life to the study of the Holocaust.  Not merely the Shoah of the headlines, but that of the villages and towns he scoured in search of the last live witnesses who could give testimony to that era. Father Dubois visited Connecticut this past year and talked about his important book, “The Holocaust by Bullets.”
And Brian Mark Rigg, who spoke in Connecticut several years ago, tells the unbelievable, but true story of Jews who fought in Hitler’s armies. He was discouraged from researching and writing this book when he was a graduate student at Yale, but persevered and produced a work that is deeply disturbing, but at the same time edifying, shedding light on just how deeply Jews were imbedded in the German culture and nation. Rigg is the commentator of a cable series now playing on the Military Channel that focuses on his work.
■ A book will be available this month by Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley called “December 1941.” While December 7,1941 is the day that gave the month importance, the abrupt change in the psyche of the nation and the move from innocence and isolation to reality and involvement is graphically outlined in this day by a compilation of events, moods and cultural change. Pearl Harbor awoke a sleeping giant in a way few could have imagined at the time, and this book gives the reader a sense of the many irrevocable changes that gripped America, along with the war that dominated the decade and the subsequent balance of the century.
■ Finally, Joe Lieberman’s book “The Gift of Shabbat” is a wonderful, uplifting little volume that says much and teaches more. It is the perfect read for Jews and non-Jews alike; for those who want to understand more about Sabbath observance and, especially, for those who just want to learn how to appreciate life a little more.

–nrg

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