Jun 222010
 

As a Hampshire College student in the late 70s, Lansky decides to learn Yiddish. At that time Yiddish, having barely survived the murderous rampage of the Holocaust, was being finished off by assimilating Jews anxious to distance themselves from their ghettoized past. Lansky found himself a teacher, an old textbook, and I.B. Singer’s Satan in Goray. Then he could not find any other Yiddish book in print. He puts an ad in the paper searching for extant Yiddish books and starts collecting. Outwitting History is the story of how he saves more than a million Yiddish books and in so doing probably also saves a language and a culture from extinction. He does it, too, with enormous modesty. July 2008

Jun 222010
 

This short collection of short stories is a wonderful piece of honey cake with a glass of tea. A Jewish Russian immigrant to Toronto describes the transition he makes with his parents and uncle and aunt as they climb from helpless newcomers to weary acceptance of life in the new world, without ever losing the cultural imprinting that Russia plants within its citizenry. The book is full of smiles of recognition, truthful while remaining fictional–but who knows where autobiography is replaced by a little relish — and I think quite accessible even to people who neither know Russians or Jews. In fact, it’s probably a wonderful introduction to both. The book is short, the stories chronological, the characters continue to grow from one to the next, yet it’s not quite a novel with contiguous chapters. July 2005.

Jun 212010
 

Nearly sixty years after the author’s great-uncle, wife, and four daughters disappeared in the Holocaust, the author searches for their memories. Beginning with his grandfather’s (his great-uncle’s brother) stories, some letters and finally to several of the 48 survivors of the 6,000 Jews of his great-uncle’s Ukrainian-Polish town, Daniel Mendolsohn exquisitely crafts one of the most memorable, humanizing, personal and universal searches for his roots. In so doing he asks all of us to pause and consider the memories and lives of senior generations who have led us to who we are today. One of the most expertly constructed and readable books I’ve read. July 2009.

Jun 212010
 

A fluky book by on the of the world’s greatest Holocaust historians. Gilbert gathers dozens of newly uncovered personal histories of November 10, 1938 when more than a thousand German and Austrian synagogues were attacked and burned. The accounts of burned synagogues seem trivial compared to what we know follows. Moreover, the personal histories are all from survivors so their cumulative impact is to make it seem like escaping the Holocaust was not so hard. At first the personal stories seem randomly distributed through the text, but as the stories intermingle with the sound of country doors slamming shut to Jews trying to escape Germany and the war and extermination machines power up to full throttle this highly readable, short book with a British perspective turns terrific. August 2006.

Jun 212010
 

An assistant Reform Rabbi slowly loses touch with God while she falls in love with the son of a Holocaust survivor who slowly finds God while the two of them find one another. A nice portrait of the essential tenets of Reform Judaism that what matters most are your actions in life and how the adherence to ritual can help you maintain your religiosity even when – as all Jews do – you must wrestle with the utility of believing in God. The story and the characters seemed real, but the writing was a little stiff. I could put the book down whenever I wanted. December 2004.