The ProsenPeople

New Children's Reviews

Thursday, February 28, 2013 | Permalink
Find the full list of children's reviews found in the Spring 2013 issue of Jewish Book World here.


Fall Jewish Book World

Thursday, September 22, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Most subscribers should have already received their fall issue of Jewish Book World, but for those patiently still waiting, here’s what you should be looking for in the mail (I love this cover!):

New Reviews from Winter JBW

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Check out a few sample reviews from the winter issue of Jewish Book World:

Jews and the Civil War: A Reader 
Jonathan D. Sarna & Adam Mendelsohn, eds.
Reviewed by Carol Poll

Kosher Nation: Why More And More Of America’s Food Answers To A Higher Authority
Sue Fishkoff
Reviewed by Barbara M. Bibel

Life as a Visitor 
Angella M. Nazarian
Reviewed by Saba Soomekh

Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood 
Martin Lemelman
Reviewed by Gary Katz

Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt 
Robert Gottlieb
Reviewed by Maron L. Waxman

Moses Mendelssohn: Sage of Modernity 
Shmuel Feiner; Anthony Berris, trans.
Reviewed by Maron L. Waxman

The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election 
Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz
Reviewed by Bob Goldfarb

Dolly City 
Orly Castel-Bloom; Dalya Bilu, trans.
Reviewed by Judith Felsenfeld

Yael Hedaya; Jessica Cohen, trans.
Reviewed by Dani Crickman

Foreign Bodies 
Cynthia Ozick
Reviewed by Beth Kissileff

The Road 
Vasily Grossman
Reviewed by Danielle Mindess

Super Sad True Love Story 
Gary Shteyngart
Reviewed by Joshua Daniel Edwin

To The End of the Land 
David Grossman; Jessica Cohen, trans.
Reviewed by Maron L. Waxman

Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England 
Anthony Julius
Reviewed by Jack Fischel

When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry
Gal Beckerman
Reviewed by Bob Goldfarb

Old Jews Telling Jokes: 5,000 Years of Funny Bits And Not-So Kosher Laughs 
Sam Hoffman with Eric Spiegelman
Reviewed by Tami Kamin-Meyer

The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership 
Yehuda Avner; Martin Gilbert, intro.
Reviewed by Jane Wallerstein

A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth In Holocaust Fiction 
Ruth Franklin
Reviewed by Bob Goldfarb

Jewish Book World Review: To the End of the Land

Friday, November 05, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

In honor of David Grossman making Amazon’s top ten this year, and with the winter issue going in the mail next, we thought we’d offer a little preview from the issue (more online reviews to follow over the next few weeks).

To the End of the Land
David Grossman; Jessica Cohen, trans.
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. 592 pp. $27.95
ISBN: 978-0-307-59297-2

Reviewed by Maron L. Waxman

1967. Three ill teenagers—flame-haired Ora; Avram, wild with imagination and exotic knowledge; and Ilan, later his companion in all exploits—meet in the isolation ward of a hospital. Young, vulnerable, eager for themselves and one another, they come together nightly in the almost dreamlike prologue to this powerful and memorable novel.

2000. Thirty-three years later, Ora is alone. Ilan has recently left her, and she has just dropped their younger son at his army unit’s meeting point for an emergency call up. In a rush of magical thinking, she decides that she can protect her son by taking a hike in the Galilee that she had planned for the two of them. She will disappear, and the notifiers, the bearers of the unbearable news, will not find her. As she makes the final preparations for the hike, the phone rings. Avram, Avram who has not spoken with her for three years, Avram who crawled into a shell decades ago after surviving horrific torture as a prisoner in the Sinai campaign. Literally dragging him from his apartment, Ora takes Avram to the Galilee with her.

Over their long days and nights together, walking through bright spring blooms with valleys opening before them, Ora and Avram reel back through their lives, apart and together. Slowly, moving backward and across time, the story of the three intertwined friends and lovers unfolds. It is a story of complex and intimate connections marked by multiple loves—love that creates a family, sensual love, love between inseparable friends, love for army comrades, love of the very earth Ora and Avram are treading—all shaped by inescapable war and the tensions it imposes.

Beautifully written and fully realized, this is a novel of great depth and artistry. David Grossman, one of Israel’s most honored writers, conveys the vitality and humanity of every character, etched against the intensity and pain of life in the daily presence of an enemy. There is not a page of this book that does not call out for an end to war.

Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club. She also leads editorial workshops.

High Holiday Reading

Tuesday, September 07, 2010 | Permalink

Jewish Book World reviewer Eric Ackland examines three new books from Jewish Lights that tackle different aspects of the High Holidays experience (this review will appear in the winter issue of Jewish Book World).

Making Prayer Real: Leading Jewish Voices on Why Prayer is Difficult and What to Do About It
Rabbi Mike Comins
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010. 200 pp. $18.99
ISBN: 978-1-58023-417-7

Repentance: The Meaning & Practice of Teshuva
Dr. Louis E. Newman
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010. 224 pp. $24.99
ISBN: 978-1-58023-426-9

Who By Fire, Who By Water: Un’taneh Tokef
Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, ed.
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010. 253 pp. $24.99
ISBN: 978-1-58023-424-5

For many Jews, religious services, and particularly the High Holidays can be very alien and intimidating. Lack of familiarity with prayer (both formal and informal), lack of familiarity with Hebrew and with the order of the services, and even discomfort with the notions of God and of sin only compound the boredom and discomfort that the long services may cause even those who have the knowledge and skills to appreciate them. These three books tackle different aspects of the High Holidays experience and the religious experience in general.

Making Prayer Real: Leading Jewish Spiritual Voices on Why Prayer is Difficult and What to Do About It by Reform Rabbi Mike Comins and with 53 other contributing Rabbis and leaders/thinkers, mostly from the liberal Jewish sects, is a wonderful introduction to the world of prayer, giving the skeptical and the unfamiliar a broad outline of understanding and a sensitive and generous permission from which to begin to experiment and explore.

Rabbi Comins and his contributors offer strategies for approaching both private and communal prayer that take into consideration many of the obstacles that moderns struggle with in terms of understanding prayer’s purpose, and in embracing its process. Even more compelling, the Rabbis share their personal experiences and thoughts about prayer with a refreshing sincerity that I confess, surprised me, as I recall the (as least to me) dry, very unspiritual Reform Hebrew school and synagogue of my youth. Rabbi Comins writes that his experience as a child was similar. I don’t know if the preponderance of congregants in the liberal Jewish world have become as earnestly spiritual as many of their leaders currently clearly are, but Jews of any background—from the unaffiliated to even the Orthodox—who are seeking to connect more deeply with God and with their heritage, and who wish to experience the transformative power of prayer will find a lot of wisdom and inspiration in this book.


All of us have done (or omitted to do) things we regret, and fallen short of what would be morally ideal; for many of us, these may be ongoing patterns of behavior. Some may stifle their consciousness of wrong-doing and bury it deep within, while others may only be too aware and overwhelmed with guilt and despair. Judaism has long provided a process by which we can atone for our sins and start afresh in the eyes of God and ourselves. In Repentance: The Meaning and Practice of TeshuvaDr. Louis E. Newman, a professor of religious studies at Carleton College, begins by identifying teshuvah (repentance) as one of the “central religious-moral” teachings of Judaism, and takes a rigorous analytical approach to understanding what teshuva is and how it is done.

In 49 short chapters (none more than a few pages in length and thus perfect for reading in daily doses), Newman eloquently examines the various ways that Judaism has historically looked at sin, freewill, responsibility, fate, and atonement, before explaining the components of the teshuva process, and exploring some of the subjective factors that people encounter and struggle with in the process. Following the classic Jewish philosophers he breaks down the process of true atonement into components, which he identifies as: accepting culpability, feeling remorse, confession, apologizing, making restitution, making an accounting of one’s soul, and transformation: committing to forgo the same behavior in the future.

Although he does speak of God, Dr. Newman’s thinking is grounded in psychological reality and functionality, and thus, even those not-so-comfortable with the God-concept could derive real value from the book. However, Dr. Newman only briefly alludes to (and then essentially dismisses) the traditional Jewish understanding that there is a world-to-come to which this world is just a passageway, and that reward and punishment for earthly deeds is meted out not just in life, but, more crucially, afterwards as well. This is something which virtually all, if not all, the classic sources he cites (as well as contemporary Orthodox leaders) took/take as axiomatic and as central to understanding the full consequence and moral weight of our deeds, and thus of the potent corrective power of teshuva as well. To put the omission in context, Dr. Newman devoted a chapter (a rewarding one) to philosophically tangling with the idea of animal sacrifice as teshuva’s historical antecedent, while brushing aside this still-vital belief in a world-to-come in just a few paragraphs (he only refers to it in the past-tense), and without clearly indicating that his dismissal is neither universal nor authoritative. This is a serious omission from a historical and theological perspective, and ultimately, a disservice to readers, especially those who won’t notice the sleight-of-hand. That said, I reiterate that I found the book an otherwise worthy introduction to the subject.


One of the great discomforts of praying from a siddur (Jewish prayer book) or Machzor (prayer book for a specific holiday) is not understanding Hebrew, but an even greater one can be actually understanding it. For liberal-religious Jewry in particular, this has long posed a problem. As Reform Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD. candidly describes in the insightful introduction to Who by Fire, Who by Water: Un’taneh Tokef, when prayer books began appearing in translation, many Jews, both leaders and laity, were distressed by the content and meaning of the prayers. So editors,“ . . . changed the Hebrew, so that the English would come out ‘decently’; they purposefully mistranslated the originals to avoid ideas that ancient authors had no trouble with but that modern worshipers found horrifying; they composed alternative prayers in the vernacular—prayers on the same theme as the original, but saying what modern people were likely to appreciate; they called for the prayer to be sung, so no one would pay much attention to the words; or they omitted the troublesome prayers altogether.” Rabbi Hoffman neglects to mention one necessarily complementary strategy, which may or may not have been similarly deliberate: that of not adequately educating the liberal Jewish laity to be able to read and comprehend Hebrew, leaving it for the Rabbinate alone to undemocratically mediate and interpret the classic texts for the laity, much as the Catholic Church preferred for its clergy to do prior to the Reformation. (At the second Reform rabbinic conference in Frankfurt in 1845, according to Conservative movement Jewish historian Neil Gillman, fifteen conference members “voted that Hebrew should not be “objectively necessary,” thirteen voted that it should be, and three abstained.” One, Rabbi Zechariah Frankel, walked out over this issue even coming to a vote, and went on to become a forefather of the Conservative movement.)

Un’taneh Tokef, is one of the most powerful prayers in the Hebrew liturgy, and has long been central to both the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services. This book, like Making Prayer Real, features essays by an array of Rabbis and other (mostly) liberal-Jewish thinkers, who here, rather than dealing with prayer in general, are earnestly tangling with the meaning of this particular prayer, the core substance of which is that of God’s power of judgment over human-beings. The prayer addresses the idea that everything we think and do is observed and recorded by God; that we are judged on Rosh Hashanah, and that on Yom Kippur, depending on the severity of our sins and whether we’ve fully repented in the intervening seven days, God decides who will live through the next year, who will die, when, and how, “Who at their end and who not at their end, Who by fire and who by water, Who by warfare and who by thirst, Who by earthquake, and who by plague . . .” and it asserts that “repentance, prayer, and charity” can avert the judgment of death. Heavy, troubling stuff, no doubt.

The essays within the book encompass history, theology, psychology, autobiography, literary analysis, and more. The range of very strong feeling about this prayer amongst the collected authors is wide. One contributor, Rabbi Tony Blayfield, DD says that for him the concept of God judging and determining when and how we’ll die is “loathsome” and even “blasphemous” (!) while for Rabbi Ruth Langer, PhD the prayer is meaningful on multiple levels. She writes that, “rational understandings of its theology should not be the only legitimate criterion. Elements of its performance, our memories and associations with past performances, its music, and the beauty of its poetry all play into our relationship with a prayer text.” Others are less troubled and engage more directly with the text.

As someone who has long struggled intellectually, emotionally, and even ethically with the content and meaning of many formal Jewish prayers (this one, not so much), I found reading the many raw, revealing, honest, and even profound essays in this book rewarding. Perhaps my greatest “take-away” from the book is the importance of not diluting the Jewish liturgy from on high so as to make it more comfortable and pleasing to modern ears. Even the contributors that felt the greatest discomfort with Un’taneh Tokef and who wish it would be censored, must engage with the concepts year after year, meaning that their moral radar must get re-engaged year after year. I remember my grandfather’s refusal to read parts of the Passover service that offended his sense of justice with fondness and admiration, but what I admired was his re-making the decision each year, as each year he was re-outraged. He would have been a lesser man for not having the opportunity. Everyone, not just an elite core of Rabbis and academics, should have the opportunity to be regularly discomfited in a way that makes them more cognizant of their conscience, the fragility of life, and of the enduring moral import of their deeds. A religion that is always comforting, that flatters and appeases and tells us we’re completely okay as we are, and that makes repentance an easy thing without great consequence if it isn’t sincere or complete isn’t one worth having. Better we should struggle and wrestle with God.

Eric Ackland is a freelance writer and editor.

The Poetics of Agnon from Syracuse UP

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

If you’re a Jewish Book World subscriber and enjoyed our 26:3 (Fall 2008) feature on S.Y. Agnon, one of the foremost Hebrew writers of the twentieth century, you may enjoy a new title on Agnon that’s being published this month by Syracuse University Press: Language, Absence, Play Judaism and Superstructuralism in the Poetics of S. Y. Agnon (Yaniv Hagbi). In the title Hagbi explores Agnon’s theological and philosophical attitudes toward language, attitudes that to a large extent shaped his poetics and aesthetic values. For more information on the title, please click here.

An excerpt from Barbara Andrews’ article on Agnon from JBW:

His writings are reminiscent of a literary Chagall. They portray a life in a world that no longer exists but yet exists in a dream-like state, neither real nor imaginary, but somewhere in between.

Agnon’s name is an illusion as well, being born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes in 1888 in the Eastern Galician town of Buczacz, which at the time was part of the Austro Hungarian Empire. He was educated in the world of Hasidic traditions by his father and private tutors, learning the Talmud and its Aggadic stories that were to have a strong influence in his writings. Young Shmuel was also influenced by his mother’s family, which was steeped in the learnings of the Mitnagdim, as well as German stories and fables his mother taught him. Later, as a young man living in Germany, he would read widely in German and French literature. While he would disavow that these later readings had influence upon his work, it is often said that his writings bear some resemblance to modern German literature. Agnon himself would say that his writings were most influenced by Sacred Scriptures, Torah, as well as the Mishnah and Talmud.

He renamed himself Agnon around 1908 as his writing became more prolific, and took his surname from the Hebrew word agunah. Agunah means a woman who is not free to marry because her husband has refused her a divorce by either leaving or abandoning her. Much has been made of why Agnon chose this particular name for himself and one wonders if it is not an allusion to the desertion of Israel by God. The metaphor as portrayed in the Torah pertains to when Israel has strayed and God laments Her waywardness. In His lament, God turns His face from Israel, leaving her abandoned and belonging to no one.

If you are interested in purchasing the back issue ($12.50), which contains the complete article, as well as an interview with Etgar Keret, an interview with poet Shirley Kaufman, part II of “People of the (Comic) Book,” book club recommendations, and dozens of reviews, please contact the JBC at

Sneak Peek…

Friday, February 06, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Spring issue of Jewish Book World is coming soon! To celebrate, we thought we’d share a sneak peek of the issue with an excerpt from Jaclyn Trop’s article “Book Trailers: Seen the Trailer? Now Read the Book!”:

Imagine sitting face-to-face with a potential reader, explaining why he or she should pick up your book. Add music, colors, animation, and a flash of plot to support your argument. Can you make the sale?

You have three minutes. Go!

Book trailers—short promotional videos that authors post to the Web—are a marketer’s dream, adding another tool to the sales arsenal while reaching an exponential audience. These videos, which are like movie previews but for the pixilated screen, can strike to the heart of a book’s premise in a way a traditional print advertisement can’t. Best of all, they can be replayed on command, e-mailed and shared among Web users with the click of a button.

“Once something goes up on the Internet, it’s there forever,” said Sheila Clover English, CEO of Circle of Seven Productions, which creates and distributes book trailers. English trademarked the term “book trailer” in 2002 and has seen business increase from 12 trailers in 2005 to more than 200 last year.

Production time varies—from a couple of weeks to less than a day—and costs can range from several thousand dollars to pennies, depending upon the author’s degree of involvement. But distribution is free of charge, and trailers can be posted anywhere, from YouTube and to author blogs and reader forums.

Unlike the ephemeral power of a radio or television spot, a book trailer is “actively working for you,” English said. “It’s always selling your book.” A new author can expect his or her trailer to be viewed between 10,000 and 50,000 times in a two-week period. On average, between 30 and 60 percent of viewers make a direct purchase after watching, English said.

To read the complete article, be sure to check out the Spring issue of Jewish Book World. To subscribe, please click here.

Preview some of the trailers featured later in the article:



Free Hors d’Oeuvres & Drinks + Anya Ulinich and Harry Bernstein

Friday, December 12, 2008 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

In the D.C. area? If so, don’t miss the opportunity to attend the awards reception honoring the winners of the Goldberg Prize for Emerging Fiction by Jewish Writers and Handelsman Prize for Jewish Nonfiction from the Foundation of Jewish Culture and Moment Magazine, Anya Ulinich (Petropolis) and Harry Bernstein (The Invisible Wall), respectively.

This free (and open to the public) reception will be held at:

Grand Hyatt
1000 H Street in Washington, D.C.
Room Independence I
Monday, December 22, 2008, beginning at 6:30 pm

More information is available here.

From the Fall 2008 issue of Jewish Book World. . . here’s reviewer Juli Berwald’s review of Harry Bernstein’s The Invisible Wall:

Reading The Invisible Wall is like having a grandfather spend several relaxed evenings entrancing you with the story of his childhood. This debut memoir, written by Harry Bernstein at the spry age of 93, is at once a deeply personal memoir, a historical document, and a love story. With wonderfully readable language, Bernstein brings to life the colorful characters who inhabited one street in a small English mill town just before and during World War I.

The title refers to an invisible, but no less tangible division between Jews who live on one side of the street and the non-Jews who live on the other. But if two people on opposite sides of a wall touch the wall, instead of acting as a separator, it is a connector.

And so it happens, that the people who live on either side of the separated street are in fact inextricably bound together. As the trials and devastation of world war make their way along the street, neighbors find profound connections they never knew they had. Bernstein takes the reader on a powerful journey through a book in which emphasis in the title shifts from Wall to Invisible.

People of the (Comic) Book

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our Summer and Fall issue of Jewish Book World featured a piece on the history of Jewish graphic novels and comics books. You can now access the article here.

If you enjoy this article, you may want to check out the new Jewish Publication Society title From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books, by Arie Kaplan.

Sneak Peek...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Winter issue of Jewish Book World is in the mail! To celebrate, we thought we’d share a sneak peek of the issue with an excerpt from Jewish Book World‘s interview with Danit Brown, author of Ask for a Convertible:

One of the major themes of your story collection is Israel. Tell me a bit about your personal relationship with Israel.
My background is pretty similar to Osnat’s (the main character in the book) in that I was born in Israel and moved here when I was ten. We’ve always had a close connection to Israel. I was in school in Israel from first to fourth grades and I was taught that Israel was a place to go back to. I went back as a Returning Minor in my 20’s but I was never able to make the adjustment.

You have several other themes that flow throughout your narrative, including family and a sense of belonging. One of the minor yet consistent themes is that of running. How much of a metaphor is that for any underlying motifs of running toward something or running away? Or do you just like to run?
I do love to run. I’m not good at it at all. But if it’s functioning as a metaphor, it’s not something I was actually aware of.

We understand, of course, that your protagonist, Osnat, is a fictional character. You’ve already told us she shares much of your background. How much does she reflect your feelings?
I would have to say that while some biographical elements are similar, I would have to give a typical writer’s answer that all of the characters reflect my feelings in some way through their positions. All the characters are caught between conflicting feelings or situations or cultures.

Have any of those conflicts been resolved?
For some of the characters, they have. Harriet and Noam have found a way to resolve their contradictions and Osnat is well on her way.

To read the complete interview, be sure to check out the Winter issue of Jewish Book World