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JBC Bookshelf: 8 New Books for Passover 5777

Tuesday, April 04, 2017 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

With Passover just around the corner, it’s time to start stocking your bookshelves for the holiday! Slip away from your seder and sink into poetry, memoirs, and new fiction about someone else’s dysfunctional Jewish family at Passover:

Tell Me How This Ends Well

by David Samuel Levinson

David Samuel Levinson imagines a near-future in which antisemitism runs rampant and Israeli refugees roam the Globe after the world stood by and watched the annihilation of the Jewish State at the hands of its neighbors.

Ten years into the future, three siblings reunite in Los Angeles to “celebrate” Passover as a family and carry out an ill-conceived plot to murder their dad. There’s Jacob, visiting from Berlin with his German boyfriend and a sinister spare suitcase he intends to keep hidden; Edith, divorced, unstable, and facing sexual misconduct charges from an undergraduate student dissatisfied with his grade from her Ethics course; and Mo, husband, father to a set of twins and triplets each, and failed-actor-turned-reality-star in his forties hosting Passover in a mansion maintained by the network company that will be returning to film an encore of his family’s Passover seder—unbeknownst to any of his guests.

The Zookeeper’s Wife

by Diane Ackerman

Niki Caro’s movie adaptation of Diane Ackerman’s 2007 bestseller hit theaters just in time for the holiday—and the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which broke out, significantly, on the first night of Passover, 1943. Inspired by the Passover seder held by the Jews hidden in the Warsaw zoo—and its coincidence with the start of the revolt—Jewish Book Council’s new custom book club kit for The Zookeeper’s Wife features a special Passover haggadah supplement compiled in collaboration with humanitarian relief agencies—the International Rescue Committee (IRC), HIAS, and CARE—and leading Jewish organizations around the country to commemorate the the struggle for freedom that the holiday represents. Click here to download the free reading guide!

Moses: A Human Life

by Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg

What better time than Passover to read a biography of Moshe Rabbeinu—written by renowned scholar and lecturer Dr. Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg, no less—than Passover? Accessible and illuminating, Zornberg’s recent contribution to the Yale Jewish Lives series brings her signature cross-application of Jewish texts, world literature, and psychoanalytic examination to one of Tanakh’s most complex characters.

We Were the Lucky Ones

by Georgia Hunter

Based on the true story of her family’s survival of World War II as Polish Jews, Georgia Hunter’s debut novel begins and ends with two Passover seders, eight years apart. In early March of 1939, Addy Kurc—Hunter’s maternal grandfather—meanders the streets of Paris in the wee hours of the morning, turning over a letter from his mother begging him to stay in France for the upcoming holiday rather than risk the closing borders of German-occupied Poland. He writes back to answer that he is resolved to return home to Radom, but even as his parents and siblings gather around the seder table no further word arrives—and neither does Addy.

The next eight years follow the separated factions of the Kurc family from German-occupied Radom and Toulouse to Soviet-occupied Lvov and Vichy France; across the Mediterranean to Dakar and Casablanca, across Siberia to Kazakhstan and Tehran, across the Austrian Alps to the Adriatic Coast (and Allied military camps) of Italy; on to Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, Tel Aviv, Illinois, and Rio de Janeiro, where the whole family—all three generations miraculously intact—reunites for their first Passover seder together since Kristallnacht. Of the 30,000 Jews living in their hometown of Radom, Poland before the Holocaust, fewer than 300 survived—and “luckily,” every member of the Kurc family among them.

The Dinner Party

by Brenda Janowitz

Sylvia is planning the perfect Passover seder. Everything from the table settings to the menu to managing her helpless husband and hapless children—a son run off to Doctors Without Borders, a daughter who left medical school (and a Rothschild suitor) for the beach, a non-Jewish boyfriend dating the professionally successful one—has been accounted for. But guests comes with problems and intrigues of their own…

My Jewish Year

by Abigail Pogrebin

Abigail Pogrebin’s new personal exploration of the Jewish holidays is a wonderful companion year-round, but I was especially curious to read her reflections on Passover, given her family legacy around the holiday—her mother, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, convened the first feminist seder together with E. M. Broner, Phyllis Chesler, and Lilly Rivlin, and Abigail grew up attending this annual gathering as a “Seder daughter” over the subsequent years, seated among Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Bea Kreloff, Edith Isaac-Rose, and others.

Indeed, a full chapter of My Jewish Year is dedicated to "The Feminist Passover: A (Third) Seder of Her Own." In the chapter before, Pogrebin sticks to the traditional seder—and pre-holiday cleaning, gaining as much from the ritual of bedikat chametz and cooking with her children as the seder itself. She shares some favorite party tricks to spark meaningful discussions around the Passover story and how it translates to the present moment, including the homemade haggadah she has compiled over the last several years—”a collection of questions rather than readings[…] that meets all the seder requirements, while inviting constant participation.” Maybe that will be her next book…

The Book of Separation (Coming September 2017)

by Tova Mirvis

Bedikat Chametz emerges as a compass of unexpected resonance for Tova Mirvis in her forthcoming memoir, as well. Celebrating Halloween for the first time at age 40, the foreign experience of trick-or-treating with her children reminds her of searching for bread crumbs with a candle, a feather, and a wooden spoon with her father the night before Passover every year.

Mirvis’s story of leaving the Orthodox world of her upbringing and marriage cuts to the quick—with especially sharp poignancy as the Jewish holidays cycle through her life. Early in her married life, Passover stood as a symbol of the balance in her relationship, and her role within it: seders spent with her parents in Memphis, in exchange for the autumn holidays in Boston with his, “squelching” challenges to her faith with religious routines—vacuuming the the mini van for any traces of chametz before the Festival of Matzah. But it is toward the end of the book, in a chapter devoted to Passover, the holiday takes on its strongest significance: recounting the story of Exodus at a small seder with only her parents and children, Mirvis begins to think of her own liberation: her divorce. At the end of the official ceremony before a Jewish court of law, she remembers, the presiding rabbi encouraged her to embrace this new start to her life, to “become the person you need to be,” and wished her mazal tov.

Open My Lips

by Rachel Barenblat

This is a story about change.
Look: the seas are parting.
It’s happening now. Open your eyes.

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt
but God brought us out of there.
This is a story about change.

Rachel Barenblat’s poetry on “Pesach to Shavuot” continues the literary fixation on preparing for Passover from women writers.Listing everything to be done before the holiday begins—from buying canned macaroons to calling her mother “to ask again whether she cooks / matzah balls in salted water or broth, because you can”—Barenblat combines wry humor with heartbreaking memories, adding, “Realize that no matter how many you buy / there are never quite enough eggs at Pesach,” right after a memory of her grandfather confused over the loss of his wife only weeks before another Passover years ago. Another poem eulogizes the Arab Spring, and in the interim before Shavuot Barenblat meditates on counting the Omer: “Humility and splendor in a single day, / two opposites folded into one. / Roots strengthen us as we count.”

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Let My People In: Bringing Children and Adults with Disabilities to the Seder Table

Monday, April 18, 2016 | Permalink

Liane Kupferberg Carter is the author of Ketchup Is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism. This week she continues her exclusive series on celebrating the Jewish holidays in a family with special needs as a Visiting Scribe guest contributor.

Each Passover, I struggle with the Hagaddah passage about the Four Sons. We’re told there is the Wise Child, the Simple, the Wicked, and the Silent. I know they’re meant to be symbolic, but would you want someone labeling your child as the smart one, the stupid one, the trouble-maker, or the one who has nothing to say?

Admittedly I’m sensitive when it comes to labeling children. My son Mickey has special needs. People have been labeling him for more than twenty years. Mickey is autistic. He has epilepsy. He didn’t learn to speak for a long time. So you can see why I cringe when we read that bit about the Simple or the Silent Child. My son is disabled, but he’s not silent, and he’s certainly not simple—in fact he is astonishingly complex: he makes profound observations, and asks startling questions. When his brother Jonathan first left for college, Mickey was disconsolate. “My brother doesn’t live here anymore? We’re divorced?” he asked.

When Mickey was small and the diagnosis new and painful, I used to feel as if other, “typical” families were feasting in a great restaurant, while my family of four stood outside, our noses pressed longingly to the window. With time, that feeling abated, but it resurfaces every Passover, when I think about how many special needs families don’t feel welcome at the table, their synagogue, or in their community.

At the seder, we fill a cup with wine for the prophet Elijah. We set him a place at the table. Elijah, we’re told, roams the earth disguised as a stranger, so during the feast we open the front door. If we should find a stranger on the doorstep, we are told to welcome him in kindly. It’s a metaphor for inclusion: everyone deserves a place at the table.

Mickey loves Passover so much he talks about it for months before. He doesn’t need a calendar—for him, family celebrations and holidays punctuate the passing of the year. At the seder, he’s proud when it’s his turn to read aloud from the Haggadah. He scarfs down the matzo, the only traditional Passover food he tolerates. He’ll peek to see where the we’ve hidden the afikoman. His diet is limited, so my thoughtful sister-in-law always puts aside the plain meatballs he likes; his cousin Lauren bakes his favorite flourless brownies for him.

Still, Mickey has yet to make it through an entire seder. There’s too much noise, and too many people. The spirited singing drives him from the room. “I’m out of here!” he announces. He retreats to a sofa, fits headphones over his ears, and cocoons with his iPad.

I used to be embarrassed about that behavior. But one of the things we say in the autism community is, “Behavior is communication.” When he isolates himself, he’s letting us know his sensory system is overloaded, which can trigger a seizure. Fortunately, our family understands, accepts, and accommodates. His place at the table is secure.

I like to remind myself that Moses, the hero of the Passover story, had special needs, too. He stuttered. Sometimes he needed his brother, Aaron, to speak for him. Each of us, if we live long enough, will probably have special needs of our own. We may need a wheelchair, or a hearing aid, or, like Moses, someone to speak for us. Disability is part of the human condition.

Inclusion isn’t just something to talk about during Jewish Disability Awareness Month in February. Each year, as we end the seder with the words, Next year in Jerusalem, we give voice to the hope that tomorrow will be better. My hope for next year: a place for everyone at the table.

Liane Kupferberg Carter is a nationally-known writer and advocate for the autism community and a co-author of the Autism Speaks Advocacy Took Kit. 

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Internal Dialogue: What's With All the Social Justice Seders?

Thursday, April 09, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

I’m afraid to admit it, but I have little patience for Passover. Almost none. And the seder least of all.

Don’t get me wrong: I observe the holiday to the letter. I clean out the house, sell my chametz, and subsist on a standard diet of matzah, cream cheese, and eggs with the variable vegetable and odd protein for the entire week, and I not only endure but participate in both seders with my family as I have done since the good ol’ Ma Nishtana days. And I hate every minute of it.

Partly, I just don’t do well with structure. As both a product and proponent of alternative education, I struggle with the hours of prescribed “order” that we’re all forced to adhere to on this so different a night: stand up, sit down, lean to the left, say this, drink that, eat this, eat that, now sing… It feels more like a rigid second grade day school classroom than a meal, let alone a celebratory feast. And, much like that same second grade classroom, the strictly regimented agenda doesn’t yield proportionate efficiency—in fact, it feels, just the opposite.

Mainly, though, it’s the repetition that gets to me: the required regurgitation of the same story year after year. It’s gone from boring to insufferable and at some moments even oppressive—and that’s just the impatience, before the late hour or physical hunger sets in—but I bear through the retelling two nights in a row every year because that part is unquestionably essential to Judaism and Jewish identity—for, as we know all too well, in every generation one must see oneself as though they, too, left Egypt.

There are many in the Jewish community who have chosen to interpret that imperative as a summons to reflect on the events and ills of our lifetime and more recent history: college chaplains organize “freedom seders” joining Jewish and black students on campus; women convene on feminist seders and family members clash over current Israeli policies; rabbis at the pulpit bring up the uncomfortable realities of slavery in our time—on that note, if you read one other essay today, make it this one (although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t written by a rabbi).

The seder also becomes a fertile millennial arena for the social justice bender Jews in their twenties and thirties are on with renewed fervency at the approach of every holiday. This year more than any other (yet), social media housed countless queries and responses for social justice haggadot and supplements—Jewschool.com, for example, assembles their top ten picks of new social justice-themed Passover resources each year—and that’s a wonderful thing. But even with the obvious parallelable narratives of freedom and oppression, there’s something curious about an entire generation insisting on telling a multitude of other peoples’ stories on a night we’re supposed to focus entirely on our own one. Is the Exodus somehow less meaningful, less critical to Jewish history or the modern experience, if it isn’t directly relatable to the world around us and its victims? Why on this night do we continue to layer stories on top of the one we’re required to tell?

Reading The Lost Book of Mormon (it’s a Jewish book—very Jewish, I promise, bear with me here) I was inspired to think of the social justice seder phenomenon in terms of a book—more accurately, in terms of a book series, or any narrative-driven franchise. In relating new stories and new struggles to the Passover narrative, these supplements create a sequel to the Exodus. Seder participants take one of our most glorious tales and stretch it across centuries so as to continue to enjoy the original by connecting with not only to the story but the storytelling itself. As Avi Steinberg observes in in his new memoir:

Maybe our tendency to make sequels is somehow embedded in how we think. Just as we want and need a story to end, we also want and need a story to never end. We make sequels as a way of bringing our stories closer to life. As a matter of convention and convenience, stories have endings, but if we were to tell them honestly, stories would never end, just like life, whose dramas dip in and out of time and memory, are recalled, shared, stolen, reprised, recovered, revised—anything but neatly concluded. A sequel may well be a deformed kind of story, a pale likeness—as its critics have long charged—but even if it’s silly or tragic or nobly deluded or tainted by a shameless profit motive, or, more likely, all of these at one, then all the more is it like life.

Steinberg’s rumination on the sequel began with watching new episodes of The Simpsons at his laundromat and realizing that in two decades since the show premiered, nothing in the animated world of Springfield had ever changed, its denizens stuck in a bright, eternal Groundhog Day:

Sequels don’t necessarily believe in progress, but they do insist on the passing of time, or at the very least a change of place. By contrast, a serial like The Simpsons can remain in a state of animated paralysis for eternity.

Critic Terry Castle has described sequels as tragic because they are motivated by a desperate human need to reproduce the original sensation of some pleasurable experience, an impulse, a “mad hope,” she says, that is fated to miserable disappointment. But when I saw Bart still throwing spitballs at Springfield Elementary over twenty years later, that to me seemed like the tragedy of repetition: Sisyphus on a skateboard.

At the Passover seder each year, Judaism makes that same attempt to reproduce the original sensation of one of the greatest miracles ever witnessed by our ancestors: the Israelites’ liberation from slavery, by the hand of God. But the haggadic retelling isn’t a sequel; it’s a loop; it’s Bart Simpson’s same old antics week after week; it’s forty years circling the same patch of desert. We know that experience all too well—and how it can lead to communal loss of faith, rebellion, kvetching, and even idol worship [see: Golden Calf].

In finding a sequel to the Passover story—in the histories and current issues of Civil Rights, feminism, and modern social justice movements—perhaps we restore our faith by breaking out of that cycle, just enough to bring it closer to life. It reifies that the story didn’t end—that the story of the Jewish people didn’t end—with Exodus, that it is an evolving legacy rather than an outgrown or outgrowable childhood tale. We want to relive the experience of leaving Egypt without despairing of it, without growing bored, without losing appreciation for this among the narrative pillars of Jewish history.

The power of the sequel, Avi Steinberg discovered, “meant that the old biblical saga wouldn’t simply replay forever but somehow, some way, find a way out, maybe even a way forward. It boldly reentered the original and steered it in a different direction. Maybe the sequel isn’t the tragedy of repetition: it’s a solution to it.”

So maybe I just need to find my Passover sequel. Maybe one day I’ll write my own.


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Passover Roundup

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Jackie Anzaroot

Passover is only two weeks away! For Passover book recommendations, check out our list of our Passover favorites as well as our list of children's Passover books. Our longer Passover reading list can be found here.

For some more ideas on Haggadot to use, here are some that we've featured on our ProsenPeople blog over the years: the artistic Passover Haggadah by Dov Bleichfeld; In Every Generation, the JDC Haggadah; Alef Betty's Urban Family Haggadah; and Slate's highly condensed version of the Haggadah, "A Passover Service for the Impatient." Also check out last week's Visiting Scribe posts by Jan Aronson, where she discusses illustrating the new Bronfmann Haggadah.

If you're still unsure about your choice of Haggadah or are looking to try something new, we've asked some of our readers about their choices for this year and the most popular Haggadah seems to be Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander's The New American HaggadahOther popular choices include the classic Maxwell House Haggadah, A Passover Haggadah: As Commented Upon by Elie Wiesel and Illustrated by Mark Podwal and A Night to Remember by Mishael and Noam Zion.

You can also take advantage of the offer at the top (and left) of this page for a 20% discount off of Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family.


2013 Children's Passover Favorites: New and Old

Monday, March 11, 2013 | Permalink

JBC children's editor Michal Malen compiled a list of children's Passover books below, including new and recent titles, as well as older favorites. Feel free to comment and let us know your own favorite Passover books for children!

Recently Published


Older Favorites


 

Passover Giveaway!

Friday, March 23, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Looking for a great afikomen gift? Well, we've got it. It's Lesléa Newman's newest book, A Sweet Passover, which features Miriam, who is "sick, sick, sick, of matzah," until she learns "why we eat unleavened bread during the eight days of Passover"...

We're giving away one signed copy of A Sweet Passover, which you can win by posting your favorite Passover recipe below (or a link to one), a link to your favorite Passover recipe on Twitter using hashtag #JBCBooks, or on our Facebook page. A winner will be chosen at random on Tuesday, March 27th. 

And, to get the juices flowing, we've included the recipe for "The Best Matzoh Brei in the World," as told to the author by her father:

This is a fun meal to make with the help of an adult. Always make sure an adult helps you when you are cutting items and using the stove or other hot surface.

This recipe makes one large matzah brei.

Ingredients:

7 pieces of matzah
warm water
3 eggs
¼ cup milk
pinch of salt (optional)
2 tbsp butter

toppings such as applesauce, sugar and cinnamon, maple syrup, sour cream, and salt and pepper

Utensils:

Large mixing bowl
Small mixing bowl
2 large plates
fork or whisk
measuring cup
mixing spoon
frying pan
spatula
knife

Break up seven pieces of matzah into small pieces and soak in warm water in the large bowl for one minute. Then drain by covering the bowl with a large plate and tipping it to let the excess water run out.

Using the fork or whisk, beat three eggs together in the small bowl with the milk and a pinch of salt (optional), and then add this mixture to the crumbled, drained matzah. Mix together well.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter

Pour the matzah brei mixture into the frying pan. Spread it out evenly so that it resembles a large pancake. Cover and cook over a very low heat for about ten minutes, until crisp and brown on one side (raise the edge of the matzah brie with a spatula to check if it’s crisp and brown).

When the matzah brei is cooked on one side, turn it over by placing the other large plate over the pan and then flipping the whole thing over. While the matzah brei is on the plate, add more butter to the frying pan, if necessary. Then slide the matzah brei from the plate back into the pan to cook the other side. Again, cover and cook over very low heat for about ten minutes.

When the second side of the matzah brei is crisp and brown, it is done. Cut into wedges and serve with applesauce, sugar and cinnamon, maple syrup, sour cream, or salt and pepper. Essen In gezunt!

The Chosen Passover Books

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 | Permalink
Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

See below for a few of our Passover recommendations and click here for a complete list (which includes children's books). Plus, check out some of our featured Passover books from past years:  JDC's Haggadah and Urban Family Passover Haggadah. More recommendations will follow in the next week. And, if you have any to add to our list, please comment below!