JNS.org editors and writers analyze Jewish literature and review the best Jewish books. This section offers interviews with Jewish authors, Jewish book analysis, recommendations, features, op-eds and other literature-related content. To select another topic, choose from the other content “categories” in our navigation bar.
Having paid their dues on the Brooklyn food scene, emerging young chefs Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz are on a mission to reclaim and revolutionize Ashkenazi cuisine. The millennial duo’s mission starts with their book, “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods,” which was released in September and could make for the perfect Hanukkah gift as the holiday approaches this month. Alpern and Yoskowitz, who were featured in Forbes’s “30 Under 30” list for food and wine in 2014, are drawing praise from prominent chefs. “It’s no small feat to retain the character of an old, emotionally held culinary culture while imparting fresh life to the standards,” said Mollie Katzen, a bestselling author-illustrator of vegetarian cookbooks. “Jeffrey and Liz nailed it, not only with outstanding recipes but also with history and stories and context, impeccably written.”
In the era of e-books, tech and publishing companies compete aggressively for market share. Writers, artists, and readers often get caught in the fray. While new media innovations empower individuals to experiment, creative works are readily exploited. In 2013, this situation prompted Israeli innovator and children’s book author Prof. Mel Rosenberg to found Ourboox.com. Described as “the world’s simplest platform for uploading and sharing digital picture books of any genre, in any language, for free,” the Ourboox community is growing rapidly in Israel. “We have books on 70 different genres, including biographies, picture books…you name it, and we’ve got it,” Rosenberg tells JNS.org.
“Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, “As Close to Us as Breathing.” The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times, W Magazine, NPR, People, Good Housekeeping, and Washingtonian. Poliner, who thought of her book idea more than 10 years before she started writing it and then took six years to pen the novel, says that she held the idea at bay because of the number of characters involved. “It was a difficult writing process because there were so many characters to develop and they had to wind their way through the story,” Poliner tells JNS.org.
Dozens if not hundreds of books have been written about the childlessness of Jewish women—and the stories are told from their perspective. But in his recently released volume, “The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness,” Elliot Jager explores a topic that to his knowledge has never been deeply examined before: childlessness from the vantage point of Jewish men. “Pater” is the Latin word for father. The author, a former editor at The Jerusalem Post, tackles his relationship with his father, as well as his own inability to become a father, in a way that critics describe as brave, poignant, and sentimental. “Men sort of brush it (childlessness) aside or make believe it is of no consequence. What I try to do is really lift the lid on how many feel about this,” Jager says in an interview.
Speaking with JNS.org in between his 55th and 56th speaking engagements for “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World,” author Seth M. Siegel laments how the Barnes & Noble retailer places his book in the wildlife section. There isn’t a single animal mentioned in the volume. “They have me in the wildlife section because they don’t have a context,” Siegel says. “I would love to see a day, and I think it’ll happen soon, that there’s a water section in the bookstore.” Indeed, at Siegel’s current pace, that day is fast-approaching. The New York businessman never thought he had a bestseller for any list, let alone the book’s eventual designations as a New York Times science bestseller and a Los Angeles Times nonfiction bestseller. He never expected his flood of invitations to speak nationwide—more than 300. Despite the natural Jewish interest in a book that tells a story about Israeli achievements, only a third of Siegel’s speaking invitations are from Jewish groups.
Comprising only 0.2 percent of the global population, the Jewish people have been disproportionately high achievers in science, medicine, business, politics, and other areas. In fact, Jews have won more than 20 percent of all Nobel Prizes to date. Author Steven L. Pease, a self-described “lapsed Presbyterian,” seems like an unlikely individual to discuss Jewish achievement. But throughout his career as a CEO specializing in turnarounds, Pease has had the chance to meet many successful Jewish businesspeople and leaders who have influenced his career. This led Pease to write two books on the subject, “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement” in 2009 and “The Debate Over Jewish Achievement” in 2015. JNS.org interviews Pease about his interest in the Jewish people and the discourse over what has led to their success.
In his latest sharp-witted work, the world’s perhaps best-known Jewish lawyer profiles the man he considers to the first-ever Jewish lawyer: the biblical patriarch Abraham. Retired Harvard Law School professor Alan M. Dershowitz, who has been called “the nation’s most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer” and one of its “most distinguished defenders of individual rights,” on Oct. 6 came out with “Abraham: The World’s First (But Certainly Not Last) Jewish Lawyer.” The attorney and Israel advocate says he has been working on the book for essentially 70 of his 79 years. “Abraham is the only biblical character that starts his career arguing with God,” Dershowitz tells JNS.org, referring to Abraham’s protest against God’s planned destruction of the town of Sodom.
What did the prophets say and why does it matter today? Rabbi Dr. Peter Rosenzweig, a clinical psychologist and former professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, provides the answers in his new two-volume series. Rosenzweig’s book “What Did the Prophets Say?” is the first of its kind to tackle the lessons gleaned from all 48 Jewish biblical prophets and seven prophetesses.
What do basketball player and coach Larry Brown, swimmers Jason Lezak and Mark Spitz, and gymnast Mitch Gaylord have in common? They’re among a group of 25 individuals who have won medals in both the Olympic Games and the Maccabiah Games, as revealed in a chart at the back of sports-minded Jewish journalist Ron Kaplan’s new book, “The Jewish Olympics: The History of the Maccabiah Games.” While Spitz competed in the 1965 Maccabiah Games before winning nine Olympic golds, Lezak first took part in the Maccabiah Games in 2009, after he had already been to the Olympics three times. The same path was taken by Lenny Krayzelburg, who tasted Olympic gold a year before he swam in the 2001 Maccabiah Games. “It’s like walking on the Moon. What do you do for an encore?” Kaplan said, referring to winning an Olympic medal. For Krayzelburg and others, the Maccabiah Games provided the answer. Kaplan, the sports and features editor of the New Jersey Jewish News and author of the award-winning blog “Kaplan’s Korner on Jews and Sports,” provides what he calls the first “definitive history” of the Israel-based sports competition that since 1932 has grown from 390 athletes across 14 countries to 9,000 athletes from 78 countries during its most recent iteration.
The night the Iran nuclear deal was announced was a sleepless one for retired Harvard Law School professor and pro-Israel activist Alan Dershowitz, who was utterly distraught by the terms of the agreement. “I got up and emailed my eBook publisher and said, ‘I have an idea. What if I do an eBook that could be out in time for the congressional debate?’ He thought it was a great idea,” Dershowitz said in an interview with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. “He gave me two weeks to write it. He got it in 11 days.”
Baseball fans might most vividly remember Hank Greenberg for his chase of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1938 and his other impressive exploits on the field. The smaller universe of Jewish baseball fans may remember him for sitting out a crucial game on Yom Kippur decades before Sandy Koufax would do the same. But John Klima wants readers of any background to know the unsung story of Greenberg’s World War II service. “What you found out about Hank Greenberg was that he really represented everything to everyone, and he represented everything to the Jewish people before the war, during the war, and after the war. And then the rest of the country, even though they knew about him as an American League MVP and a big slugger, kind of embraced him, I think, the same way that the Jewish population had in the 1930s,” says Klima, author of the new book “The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenberg, Pete Gray, and the Great Days of Baseball on the Home Front in WWII.”
Seemingly lost in all the debate over U.S.-Israel relations is that Member of Knesset Michael Oren’s new book, “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” is a memoir—and the memoir covers more than the author’s four years as Israeli ambassador to the U.S. from 2009-13. “Very few people have actually read the book and seen what’s in the book, and the book is an American Jewish Zionist story,” Oren said in a phone interview with JNS.org. “It’s about a young man who grows up in the post-Holocaust generation, whose father landed on Normandy and fought all throughout World War II. It’s a total American story. I grew up in this working class neighborhood, and I was the only Jewish kid, and I experienced a lot of anti-Semitism as a kid.”
It’s safe to say that in the coming weeks you’ll be reading a great deal about the forthcoming memoir, “Ally,” authored by Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. As we head towards the ostensible climax of the Iran nuclear talks on June 30, the timing of Oren’s book couldn’t be better. JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen's advice is to ignore the background noise, read the book, and decide for yourself whether or not the smothering “chibbuk” (Hebrew for hug) in which the U.S., under President Barack Obama, has placed Israel is in the best interests of the world’s only Jewish state.
Depression is laughable. It’s a bold statement. But it is one that Jewish author John Shuchart of Leawood, Kan., thinks could positively impact the 14.8 million American adults who suffer from depression. Shuchart, a successful entrepreneur and insurance salesman, retired and put any future career ambitions on hold to focus on a fight that is near to his heart. Four years ago, Shuchart himself was in such a deep depression that he nearly attempted suicide. His recently self-published book, “You are not the brightest of my four sons,” demonstrates how he uses humor and reframing in his struggles with mental illness, its stigma, and the words that hurt.
From time immemorial, Jews have been concerned with the question of Jewish survival. But since the 1990 National Jewish Population Study and the more recent Pew Research Center study on American Jewry (2013), the issue of Jewish continuity—if not survival—has taken on much greater urgency. In a new thought-provoking book, “The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in the Jewish Tradition,” Roberta Rosenthal Kwall not only provides a unique framework for gaining a deeper understanding of this matter, but also for a better understanding of the evolution of Jewish law. Indeed, Kwall makes a major methodological contribution to the academic study of Jewish law and tradition, writes Richard D. Zelin.
Alan Dershowitz is fond of pointing out that, were a Martian to land in the middle of the United Nations, he would think that Israel was the worst place on the earth, which is otherwise perfect. In the recently published “Catch the Jew!” Tuvia Tenenbom is a German journalist playing the role of that Martian, but he lands in middle of the state of Israel. His publisher has given him the assignment of writing about Israel by interviewing its inhabitants over the course of seven months. What does Tenenbom find? People of all sorts, who are surprising, predictable, infuriating, self-serving, dedicated, funny, sad, uplifting, depressing, and enlightening. There’s something for everyone in Tenenbom's book, which is at once a breezily written travelogue and a voyage through the political landscape, spotted with ideological landmines at every step.
“Most Jews today never saw all of this... Only someone who looks at the entire 2,000 years and sees Jews being led into exile by Titus, sees the Crusades and pogroms—only someone who sees all of this understands the meaning of Jewish independence,” wrote Rabbi Yehuda Amital in 2010. Koren Publishers Jerusalem is hoping to change that through its new “Yom Ha’atzmaut Mahzor,” the first-ever translation into English of the Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) liturgies that were established by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. The mahzor (holiday prayer book) includes optional prayers such as Hallel and Al-HaNissim—which are mandatory on many biblical Jewish holidays—as well as a collection of essays by a diverse mix of leading scholars in the modern Orthodox and religious Zionist worlds.
When Haaretz approved writer Karni Eldad’s idea for an article on B&Bs (bed and breakfasts) in Judea and Samaria, the left-leaning Israeli newspaper probably didn’t envision that the assignment would be the precursor to an entire book on the subject. But after Eldad discovered the abundance of boutique tourist attractions in the area, that’s exactly what happened. While Judea and Samaria is often scapegoated by the international community—and by media outlets just like Haaretz—for being a territorial “obstacle” to peace, Eldad’s “Yesha is Fun: The good life guide to Judea and Samaria” explores a lesser-known dimension of the Jewish communities beyond the Green Line. Whether it be medallion-encrusted wines in Binyamin, branded olive oils in Samaria, a holiday cottage under the glow of the Judean desert’s sky, a restaurant on a farm in Gush Etzion, or the cheeses of the southern Hebron hills, Judea and Samaria’s treasures flew under the radar before Eldad published her book.
In “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic board game, players imagine empires and vie for world domination. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Bret Stephens’s new book, “America in Retreat, The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder,” reveals a real-life Risk board. In a vacuum of American leadership, modern nations compete for influence and resources, too often at the expense of Free World ideals. Stephens examines America’s present-day hand in a crumbling world order. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist—formerly editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post, currently deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, and a popular columnist among Jewish and pro-Israel readers—makes a compelling case that the U.S. not in decline, and that a strategy of retreat is both unnecessary and a terrible risk.
While visiting Israel in March to speak at Hebrew University’s conference marking 50 years of German-Israeli diplomatic relations, Tuvia Tenenbom—author of the recently published book “Catch the Jew!”—stayed clear of Ramallah. But Jibril Rajoub, the former head of the Palestinian Authority’s Preventative Security Force, had welcomed him as a VIP when Tenenbom arrived as “Tobi the German journalist.” Tuvia is now a wanted man. “I hurt [Rajoub’s] honor because he believed that I’m German,” Tenenbom told JNS.org at the seaside Fitzroy Lounge in Tel Aviv. “He did not for a second suspect me of being a Jew. It’s not nice for his self-respect.” Tenenbom’s story of his “undercover” foray into the disputed Palestinian territories breaks rank with politically correct, mainstream media-compliant analysis of Mideast politics.