Post­ed by Nat Bern­stein

Image: Edel Rodriguez, from Fas­ci­nat­ing: The Life of Leonard Nimoy

Each year pro­duces a fresh crop of fic­tion, non­fic­tion, poet­ry, and mem­oir address­ing the Jew­ish High Hol­i­days and the themes they embody: reflec­tion on the past, for­give­ness and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, spir­i­tu­al cleanse and per­son­al redemp­tion, and tran­si­tion­ing into a new phase of life — both as an indi­vid­ual and as a com­mu­ni­ty. Build­ing on our rec­om­men­da­tions from pre­vi­ous years, here are ten rec­om­men­da­tions for the first ten days of 5777.

Fas­ci­nat­ing: The Life of Leonard Nimoy 

Even diehard Trekkies might not know the full extent of the Vul­can Salute’s Jew­ish ori­gins, but Richard Michelson’s new children’s biog­ra­phy of Leonard Nimoy takes young read­ers straight to the source. Edel Rodriguez’s glow­ing illus­tra­tions of Cohan­im with their hands raised dur­ing Rosh Hashanah ser­vices at the Boston shul eight-year-old Lenny” attend­ed with his father depict the images Nimoy would con­jure from his child­hood mem­o­ries when he came up with Mr. Spock’s icon­ic ges­ture and greet­ing, Live long and prosper.”

Among the Liv­ing: A Novel 

The pro­tag­o­nist of Jonathan Rabb’s nov­el, a young man named Yitzhak Goldah, sur­vives the Holo­caust and lands in Savan­nah, Geor­gia, where cousins and their Con­ser­v­a­tive Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty wel­come him with open arms. But Yitzhak’s dis­com­fort among them becomes mutu­al when he courts a wid­ow belong­ing to the neigh­bor­ing Reform tem­ple, and ten­sions between the two frac­tious con­gre­ga­tions come to a head over tash­lich ser­vices held on the same beach. Things get even more com­pli­cat­ed for Yitzhak from there, but that’s all I’ll give away here!

White Walls: A Mem­oir About Moth­er­hood, Daugh­ter­hood, and the Mess in Between 

Some of the most piv­otal moments of Judy Batalion’s mem­oir occur on the Jew­ish High Hol­i­days: she invites the man who would become her hus­band to her apart­ment for the first time for a Rosh Hashanah din­ner with friends; she meets his par­ents ten days lat­er, end­ing Yom Kip­pur in their Hamp­stead home, where Judy dis­cov­ers that her bash­erts moth­er, too, is a hoard­er much like her own — a moment she recalls years lat­er to the day, return­ing home from ser­vices with her hus­band and daugh­ter as a family.

Ren­dezvous with God: Reveal­ing the Mean­ing of Jew­ish Hol­i­days and Their Mys­te­ri­ous Rituals 

Why do we cel­e­brate Rosh Hashanah? Why does it fall at such an awk­ward time on the cal­en­dar, and how do we inter­pret its def­i­n­i­tion in Leviti­cus as a remem­brance of of the sho­far blow­ing, zikhron tru­ah, as the Jew­ish New Year? Why are we meant to observe Creation’s anniver­sary in a mood of fear and trem­bling,” and could it be that Yom Kip­pur was intend­ed as a joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion? Where did the Kol Nidre and Ne’ila ser­vices come from, with no par­al­lel cus­toms for any oth­er hol­i­day? Rab­bi Nathan Laufer address­es these and oth­er ques­tions in clear, text-based expla­na­tions for read­ers of all backgrounds.

Mur­der, Inc. and the Moral Life: Gang­sters and Gang­busters in La Guardia’s New York 

Read­ing Robert Wel­don Whalen’s study of real gang­sters and reel gang­sters” expos­es how Amer­i­can pop­u­lar cul­ture has been — and con­tin­ues to be — influ­enced by the 1940 and 1940 series of tri­als pros­e­cut­ing mem­bers of Abe Reles’s Brownsville gang for mur­der, tor­ture, and essen­tial­ly any ille­gal activ­i­ty from which a rev­enue could be derived:” car theft, bur­glary, assault, rob­bery, fenc­ing stolen goods, drug trade… The hear­ings and their out­come sparked a fas­ci­na­tion with orga­nized crime and its arbiters as a grit­ty but glo­ri­fied sym­bol of moral evil, the eth­i­cal con­se­quences and imprint of which Whalen explores chap­ter by chap­ter in this aca­d­e­m­ic by thor­ough­ly engag­ing read.

Good on Paper: A Novel 

Rachel Cantor’s sec­ond book is the first nov­el she ever wrote, and a lit­tle less zany than the first one pub­lished — but every bit as steeped in Jew­ish his­to­ry and ideas: our hero Shi­ra Greene’s love inter­est is an ordained rab­bi who runs the local inde­pen­dent book­store and a fail­ing lit­er­ary mag­a­zine called Gilgul, named after the Kab­bal­is­tic con­cept of a person’s soul reborn in anoth­er body. But the strongest Jew­ish qual­i­ty of the sto­ry, as Can­tor high­light­ed in an inter­view about the nov­el, is the cen­tral­i­ty of for­give­ness in Shira’s devel­op­ment: My under­stand­ing of the Jew­ish con­cept of teshu­vah is about return­ing to one’s inno­cent self, although some call it repen­tance. Shi­ra is going through such a jour­ney. She must be coura­geous and allow peo­ple to be a part of her life again.”

One of These Things First: A Memoir 

Oh Brook­lyn, my Brook­lyn. Life could offer no rich­er les­son than to sim­ply grow up there.” Steven Gaines’s mem­oir begins on a pur­pose­ful route through his grand­par­ents’ lin­gerie shop, escap­ing the super­vi­sion of the sales ladies in his charge to slip out the back door and attempt to kill him­self at fif­teen years old. Admit­ted to the famed Payne Whit­ney clin­ic, Steven deliv­ers a note con­fess­ing I THINKAMHOMO­SEX­U­AL” to a young res­i­dent and begins treat­ment to cure” him­self of his sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion. The sto­ry ends with a dif­fi­cult apol­o­gy deliv­ered fifty years lat­er, which Steven strug­gles to accept, know­ing that even his for­give­ness will not be enough to enable the per­son seek­ing it to for­give himself.

Nine Essen­tial Things I’ve Learned About Life 

Rab­bi Harold S. Kushner’s suc­cinct reflec­tions on over half a cen­tu­ry of Jew­ish faith, prac­tice, and lead­er­ship is indeed an essen­tial” read for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kip­pur, with lessons includ­ing Leave Room for Doubt and Anger in Your Reli­gious Out­look” and Reli­gion Is What You Do, Not What You Believe,” con­clud­ing with A Love Let­ter to a World That May or May Not Deserve It.” Kushner’s chap­ter on for­give­ness — as a Favor You Do Your­self” — draws upon The Mer­chant of Venice, The Count of Monte Cristo, Joseph’s reunion with his broth­ers in Egypt, King David’s rela­tion­ship with his wife Michal, the move­ments led by Nel­son Man­dela and Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, and per­son­al anec­dotes from Kushner’s life and pas­toral career around the High Holidays.

Cast­ing Lots: Cre­at­ing a Fam­i­ly in a Beau­ti­ful, Bro­ken World 

Through­out my life and then even­tu­al­ly through my Jew­ish edu­ca­tion that, frankly, only start­ed in rab­bini­cal school, I had alter­nate­ly rebuked and implored God, despaired of and cel­e­brat­ed tra­di­tion, lord­ed my own right­eous­ness over some teach­ings and stood in humil­i­ty and even shame before the vast­ness and depth of the tra­di­tion. But now, my sis­ter, my new son, the care­givers, and the chil­dren in this orphan­age with me com­prised a micro­cosm of love, tragedy, hope, apa­thy, bro­ken­ness, and heal­ing — the shat­tered and the whole — the promise of Mount Sinai,” Susan Sil­ver­man shares at the moment she first meets her son Adar. And in it I wasn’t God’s judge or God’s bitch. I was God’s part­ner.” Under­ly­ing Susan Silverman’s sto­ry of rais­ing a fam­i­ly of bio­log­i­cal and adopt­ed chil­dren is a con­tin­u­ous theme of renew­al and ful­fill­ment, root­ed in reflec­tions on Jew­ish val­ues, rit­u­als, and proverbs. This mem­oir is a great selec­tion for read­ers look­ing for an acces­si­ble, feel-good med­i­ta­tion on Jew­ish faith and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty for the High Hol­i­days — just make sure to keep a pack of tis­sues handy.

Good Peo­ple: A Novel 

Israeli nov­el­ist Nir Baram’s Good Peo­ple fol­lows two char­ac­ters at the time of World War II, a Ger­man in Poland and the daugh­ter half-Jew­ish daugh­ter of intel­lec­tu­als in Rus­sia, each work­ing for their country’s gov­ern­ment and intent on sur­vival and suc­cess at any cost — even betray­ing those who saved them. Only in encoun­ter­ing each oth­er, rec­og­niz­ing a sim­i­lar genius between them, will they repent, but what does redemp­tion look like in a time when nations and indi­vid­u­als alike seek only pow­er and the destruc­tion of their enemies?

Jew­ish Book Coun­cil wish­es all our read­ers a Shana Tovah! Read a JBC Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Nao­mi Fire­stone-Teeter’s Rosh Hashanah let­ter from the JBC!

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