Favorite Jewliciousy Books of 2012

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As the secular year ends, let’s share the titles of our favorite Jewlicious books of 2012. In no particular order:

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The Middlesteins. A Novel by Jami Attenberg (Grand Central Publishing)
For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago. But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie’s enormous girth. She’s obsessed with food- thinking about it, eating it – and if she doesn’t stop, she won’t have much longer to live. Even as a child, she was solid and always wanted to be carried around by her father and mother. Sure, she is a lawyer, but do we have to sue her to get her to keep her diabetes and weight in check? When Richard abandons Edie, it is up to the three adult kids to take control, including Rachelle-the-perfectionist, who is busy with her twins’ b’nai mitzvot party.

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The Other Talmud. The Yerushalmi. Unlocking the Secrets of The Talmud of Israel for Judaism Today. By Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams, PhD (Jewish Lights) Today’s Judaism is based on the Babylonian Talmud, the Bavli. All the law codes we have are based on this Talmud. But what if the other Talmud, the Yerushalmi– the “Talmud of the Land of Israel”–had become the dominant text? What would that mean for the practice of Judaism today? This engaging look at the Judaism that might have been breaks open the Talmud of the Land of Israel, which is growing in popularity. It examines what the Yerushalmi is, how it differs from the Bavli, and how and why the Bavli is used today.

Did PROHIBITION help to acculturate American Jews to America? Did it make them more American?
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JEWS AND BOOZE: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition By Marni Davis, Phd
(NYU Press) is a study of how American Jews and prohibitionists viewed one another with growing suspicion. Jews believed that all Americans had the right to sell and consume alcohol, while prohibitionists insisted that alcohol commerce and consumption posed a threat to the nation’s morality and security. In 1920, Jews discovered that the 18th Amendment that prohibited alcohol had anti-Jewish sentiments mixed into the anti-alcohol ideological cocktail.

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UNORTHODOX: THE SCANDALOUS REJECTION OF MY HASIDIC ROOTS. BY DEBORAH FELDMAN (Simon and Schuster) is Feldman’s memoir of growing up in Williamsburg Brooklyn as a member of the Satmar Hasidic movement. At the age of 23, she left the community with her son. Her mother also left many years prior, but did not take Deborah with her. Feldman writes that her father had a personality disorder and that after her parents divorced, she was raised by her paternal grandparents. She was married off at 17, and was a mother by 19. An interesting story that some say is totally non-fiction and others say is filled with a lot of lurid nonsense and outlandish fiction and an accusation of murder.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories By Nathan Englander (Knopf) Eight new stories from the celebrated the novelist and short-story writer grapple with the great questions of modern life. In the title story, inspired by a Raymond Carver masterpiece, the Holocaust is played out as a devastating parlor game. In “Camp Sundown” vigilante justice is undertaken by a group of geriatric campers in a bucolic summer enclave. “Free Fruit for Young Widows” is a small, sharp study in evil, and “Sister Hills” chronicles the history of Israel’s settlements from the eve of the Yom Kippur War through the present, a political fable constructed around the tale of two mothers who strike a terrible bargain to save a child.

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Second Person Singular by Sayed Kashua (Grove Press) A fascinating and satirical essay that addresses the split identity of Arab Israelis. Sayed Kashua, the creator of the groundbreaking Israeli sitcom, “Arab Labor,” has been widely praised for his literary eye and deadpan wit. His new novel is considered internationally to be his most accomplished and entertaining work yet. Second Person Singular centers on an ambitious lawyer who is considered one of the best Arab criminal attorneys in Jerusalem. He has a thriving practice in the Jewish part of town, a large house, speaks perfect Hebrew, and is in love with his wife and two young children. One day at a used bookstore, he picks up a copy of Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata, and inside finds a love letter, in Arabic, in his wife’s handwriting. Consumed with suspicion and jealousy, the lawyer hunts for the book’s previous owner—a man named Yonatan—pulling at the strings that hold all their lives together.

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UNTERZAKHN. A graphic novel by y Leela Corman (Schocken). Many friends found this novel horrifying. I enjoyed it. A mesmerizing, heartbreaking graphic novel of Jewish immigrant life on New York’s Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of twin sisters whose lives take radically and tragically different paths. In drawings that capture both the tumult and the telling details of that street life, Unterzakhn (Yiddish for “Underthings”) tells the story of two sisters: as wide-eyed little girls absorbing the sights and sounds of a neighborhood of struggling immigrants. As teen, Esther working for a woman who runs both a burlesque theater and a whorehouse; and Fanya works for an obstetrician who also performs illegal abortions. How will their lives turn out?

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ESAU’S BLESSING
How the Bible embraces those with Special Needs
By Ora Horn Prouser, PhD

Ben Yehuda Press
Did Esau have ADHD or diabetes and need to eat promptly? Did Jonah have a learning disability? Were Isaac and Yosef traumatized? What about the speech impediment of Moses? A fresh look at Biblical characters through the lens of disability. Ora Horn Prouser of the Academy of Jewish Religion in Riverdale, The Bronx, NY, shows how the symptoms of ADHD, depression, speech impediments, gifted learning, and physical disabilities appear in the Bible, and shows how the Bible teaches us how to respond with acceptance and compassion, but NOT give a blank check of forgiveness to any bad actions blamed on pathology.

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Oddly Normal. One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality. by John Schwartz (Gotham) NYT reporter John Schwartz and his wife notiched that their youngest son liked Barbie dolls, Build a Bear workshops, fabulousness, and the color pink. He read voraciously and his gifted vocabulary was off the scales. They gave him love and support and counseling, and hinted that being gay if great. John consulted the experts and even their family rabbi (Mark Kaiserman) who is gay. But still, John got a call one day that his son had attempted suicide after school, after coming out as gay to his classmates in a liberal school in a liberal accepting town. This is a heartfelt memoir by the father of a gay teen, and an eye-opening guide for families who hope to bring up well-adjusted gay adults.

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Kin by Dror Burstein. Translated by Dalya Bilu (Dalkey) In prose both minimal and subtly off kilter, acclaimed Israeli novelist Dror Burstein introduces us — through the shifting relationships between an adopted child and his two sets of parents — to an Israel that is as peculiar and to Emil, the unwanted child of two young parents, who is adopted by Yoel and Leah, a childless couple. Yet, as the years pass, it becomes clear that Emil doesn’t bear much resemblance to the parents who’ve loved and raised him. Kin traces the movements of Emil and his four parents as they walk through the same city, nearby but apart, searching for each other in the faces of passersby.

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I AM FORBIDDEN. A Novel by Anouk Markovits (Crown)

A family saga set among a group of Satmar Hasidic Jews, spanning seven decades from pre-WWII Transylvania to Paris in the 1960s and contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Tradition, love, commitment, and Torah law collide when Josef Lichtenstein, 5, survives the murders of his family at the hand of the Romanian Iron Guard in 1939. He is saved by the Florina, the family’s non-Jewish maid, and raised by her as a Catholic. Five year’s later, in the fields at age 10, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila Heller, after her parents are killed while running to the Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum, who is aboard the Kasztner train. Josef helps Mila reach the home of Zalman Stern, a community leader and scholar, where Mila is taken in and raised like a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. After WWII, Zalman, Mila, and Atara flee to Paris, and Josef is sent to America to the newly planted Satmar community. As you would expect, Mila moves to Brooklyn to marry Josef, while Atara seeks independence. Alas, after a decade of marriage, Mila and Josef are childless and Mila, who is fervently pious, must try to get pregnant using another method. Guess what happens next?

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Learning From the Octopus. How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease. By Rafe Sagarin, Arizona State Univ (Basic Books). Did you know that octopi can change their eight tenticles separately. What can we learn from this for security. Why is the Israeli-Hamas suicide bombing issue like that of a salmon? Despite the billions of dollars we’ve poured into foreign wars, homeland security, and disaster response, we are fundamentally no better prepared for the next terrorist attack or unprecedented flood than we were in 2001. Our response to catastrophe remains unchanged: add another step to airport security, another meter to the levee wall. This approach has proved totally ineffective: reacting to past threats and trying to predict future risks will only waste resources in our increasingly unpredictable world. Ecologist and security expert Rafe Sagarin rethinks the seemingly intractable problem of security by drawing inspiration from a surprising source: nature.

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A Sense of Direction. Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful.
By Gideon Lewis-Kraus
(Riverhead) Gideon Lewis-Kraus grabs his sneakers and goes on a pilgrimage and ponders the conflict between discipline and desire. He travels on the Camino de Santiago; a circuit of 88 Buddhist temples on the Japanese island of Shikoku; and with his brother and his father (a gay rabbi who was closeted for most of his adulthood) he goes to Uman, Ukraine with Breslov Hasidim.

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Text Messages. A Torah Commentary for Teens. by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin (Jewish Lights) Young people like to be included in the struggle for meaning, for the right questions to ask and the search for tentative answers. A collection of messages on each Torah portion, aimed specifically for teens and young adults.

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The World Without You. A Novel By Joshua Henkin (Pantheon)
A deeply engaging novel about love, loss, and the aftermath of a family tragedy. It’s July 4th, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday: the family is gathering for a memorial. Leo, the youngest of the four Frankel siblings and an intrepid journalist and adventurer, was killed one year earlier while on assignment in Iraq. His parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief. When Mr. Frankel tells people he only has three kids and not four, his wife is so angry she pursues a divorce. Clarissa, the eldest at 39 is unable to conceive a child and will have sex with her husband whever necessary to conceive, even if it is at a roadside motel on the way to the airport to pick up a sibling. Lily is angry about everything. Noelle, a ba’al teshuva and oleh is so religious now that she pisses off her parents by not eating even using their new plates. Also, Thisbe – Leo’s widow – has arrived from California, and she has a secret.

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The Fish That Ate the Whale. The Life and Times of America’s Banana King. By Rich Cohen (FSG) Rich Cohen, the author of Tough Jews, Israel is Real, Sweet and Lowdown, and more recreates the life (or lives) of Samuel Zemurray, a Jewish hero, kingmaker, Zionist, gringo, and secret agent that no one recalls. He arrived in America penniless, and died a rich man – a powerful man who controlled the United Fruit Company.

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My Life in Jewish Renewal. A Memoir By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (with Dr. Edward Hoffman of Yeshiva Univ) (Rowman & Littlefield)
Reb Zalman has changed much of American Judaism, conferring ordinations and building the renewal movement. Here is a story that includes his work with rabbis, leaders, Timothy Leary, Elie Wiesel, Thomas Merton, the Dalai Lama, and more.

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The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. By Professor Yoram Hazony, PhD (Cambridge University Press) Love it or hate it, it was much discussed. What if the Hebrew Bible wasn’t meant to be read as “revelation”? What if it’s not really about miracles or the afterlife – but about how to lead our lives in this world? The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture proposes a new framework for reading the Bible. It shows how biblical authors used narrative and prophetic oratory to advance universal arguments about ethics, political philosophy, and metaphysics. It offers a different way to interpret Abel, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David, and the speeches of Isaiah and Jeremiah.

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Spies Against Armageddon. Inside Israel’s Secret War. By Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman (Levant) A vivid history of Israel’s intelligence services — led by Mossad — from the country’s independence in 1948, right up to the current Middle East crises. Chapter 1 is titled “Stopping Iran,” focused on nuclear threats, and then readers are taken through the entire history. Best-selling spy novelist Daniel Silva writes: “Buyer beware: Once you crack the cover of Spies Against Armageddon, you won’t be able to put it down. It is much more than simply the most authoritative book ever written about Israeli intelligence. It is storytelling and drama of the highest order.”

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JEWISH JOCKS.
Edited by Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy (Hachette)

Franklin Foer of soccer fame, and brother to Jonathan Safran Foer and memory king Joshua Foer, teams up with Tablet honcho, Marc Tracy, to look at Jewish Jocks.

The ideal Bar Mitzvah gift for the coming decade. Jews were barred from being jocks for centuries. Even the ancient Greeks were not keen on Jews. But in the past few hundred years, Jews have been emancipated and entered sports as players and not just writers, managers, coaches, and owners.

Foer and Tracy has corralled top writers (not all of them are Jewish) and asked them to write about Jewish Jocks. White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers writes on tennis star Harold Solomon (a top ten tennis player in the Seventies). Best-selling author Steven Pinker’s subject is basketball coach Red Auerbach. Booker Prize-winning novelist Howard Jacobson has picked ping-pong legend Marty Reisman to write about.
Other contributors include New Yorker editor David Remnick on Howard (Cohen) Cosell, “Friday Night Lights” author Buzz Bissinger on boxer Barney Ross (born Beryl David Rosofsky), and “Freakonomics” co-author Stephen Dubner on a baseball player who was hit in the head in his only major league at-bat. Also David Margolick, tough Jews expert Rich Cohen (on Sid Luckman), and Judith Shulevitz (on Mark Spitz) weigh in. Topics include Art Shamsky, Kerri Strug, Harold Solomon, Sandy Koufax, Shirley Povitch, and many, many more.

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the signal and the noise. why so many predictions fail – but some don’t. by nate silver (Penguin) Silver, the NY Times contributor and genius prognosticator of the 2012 elections once responded to the question “What is your favorite body part (on yourself) and why?” with “My Nose. I’m half Jewish and it strikes a nice Jewish, Gentile balance.” When not contemplating his nose, Nate Silver built an innovative system for predicting baseball performance, predicted the 2008 election within a Jew-fro hair’s breadth, predicted the 2012 presidential race for 49 of 50 states, and became a national sensation as a blogger — all by the time he was thirty years old. Now 34, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data. Most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too. This is the “prediction paradox”: The more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in planning for the future.

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The Book of Job. When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person. By Rabbi Harold S. Kushner (Schocken). From one of our most trusted spiritual advisers, a thoughtful, illuminating guide to that most fascinating of biblical texts, the book of Job, and what it can teach us about living in a troubled world

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The Zohar. Pritzker Edition. Volume Seven. Edited by Daniel Matt (Stanford University Press) This seventh volume of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition consists of commentary on more than half the book of Leviticus, its animal sacrifices, grain offerings, and priestly rituals. How does The Zohar spiritualize the laws and procedures and transform them into symbols of God’s inner life in the absence of a Sinai Tabernacle or a Temple in Jerusalem

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Pitching in the Promised Land. A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League. by Aaron Pribble (University of Nebraska Press) It was the first (and last) season of professional baseball in Israel. Aaron Pribble, 27, had been out of Minor League Baseball for three years while he pursued a career in education when, at his coach’s suggestion, he tried out for the newly formed Israel Baseball League (IBL). Of Jewish descent and a former pro, Pribble was the ideal candidate for the upstart league. This is the story of his Yemeni girlfriend and America’s pastime in Israel

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Jerusalem. A Cookbook. by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press). Following up on Yotam’s cookbook, PLENTY, the two celebrated London chefs present this collection of 120 recipes that explore the flavors of Jerusalem and its diverse flavors. Both men were born in Jerusalem in 1968 — Tamimi on the Arab east side and Ottolenghi in the Jewish west. Both ended up in London, gay, and working in restaurants. Between them, they have five restaurants in London and two cookbooks, and they are known for their exactness. Is it a political book? Yes and No. Sami and Yotam told me that everything is political sooner or later. For example, the naming of a dish or the naming of an ingredient is political and needed to sometimes be discussed and debated. But the book is not overtly political. Nor are they naïve enough to believe that food will bring political ideas, destinies or foes together. It is food. But who knows.

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This is a Cookbook. Recipes For Real Life. by By Max Sussman, 26, and Eli Sussman, 29
(Weldon Owen) Get into the kitchen. Use what’s in there. And don’t be worried about eff’ing it up. James Beard Foundation 2012 Rising Star nominee Max Sussman and his partner in crime, Eli, are over perfection. They care about cooking good food that tastes like you made it. These 2 brothers – now based on Brooklyn – have 60 recipes that demystify the cooking process for at-home chefs. Chapters are organized by occasion, eating habits, and time of day so readers can enjoy lazy brunches, backyard grilled grub, a night in, dinner parties, midnight snacks, and sweet stuff. Each chapter boasts special projects like home-curing bacon; pickling; making pasta from scratch; mixing cocktails, and “what’dya got sandwiches.” They thank nana and papa, ema and abba.

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The Lawgiver. A Novel by Herman Wouk (Simon and Schuster) A spry man of only 97, Wouk finishes a novel he started over 50 years ago, before he wrote The Caine Mutiny. He has found an ingeniously witty way to tell the tale of Moses. But in this case, Hollywood is trying to make to make a movie about Moses. At the center of The Lawgiver is Margo Solovei (as in Soloveichik, hint hint), a brilliant young writer-director who has rejected her rabbinical father’s strict Jewish upbringing to pursue a career in the arts.

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The People of Forever Are Not Afraid. A novel by Shani Boianjiu (Crown) Shani Boianjiu’s stunning debut gives us a world where girls in the Israeli Defense Forces wait, endlessly–for womanhood, orders, war, peace. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view.

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In Sunlight and in Shadow. A Novel by Mark Helprin (Houghton Mifflin) Can love and honor conquer all? Mark Helprin’s enchanting and sweeping novel springs from this deceptively simple question, and from the sight of a beautiful young woman, dressed in white, on the Staten Island Ferry, at the beginning of summer, 1946.
Postwar New York glows with energy. Harry Copeland, an elite paratrooper who fought behind enemy lines in Europe, has returned home to run the family business. Yet his life is upended by a single encounter with the young singer and heiress Catherine Thomas Hale, as they each fall for the other in an instant.

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The Art Forger. A Novel by B.A. Shapiro (Algonquin) On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

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The Forgetting River. A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition. by
By Doreen Carvajal
(Riverhead)

Raised a Catholic in California, New York Times journalist Doreen Carvajal is shocked when she discovers that her background may actually be connected to conversos in Inquisition-era Spain , Jews who were forced to renounce their faith and convert to Christianity or face torture and death. With vivid childhood memories of Sunday sermons, catechism, and the rosary, Carvajal travels to the south of Spain, to the centuries-old Andalucian town of Arcos de la Frontera, to investigate her lineage and recover her family’s original religious heritage. In Arcos, Carvajal is struck by the white pueblo’s ancient beauty and the difficulty she encounters in probing the town’s own secret history of the Inquisition. She comes to realize that fear remains a legacy of the Inquisition along with the cryptic messages left by its victims. Back at her childhood home in California, Carvajal uncovers papers documenting a family of Carvajals who were burned at the stake in the 16th-century territory of Mexico. Could the author’s family history be linked to the hidden history of Arcos? And could the unfortunate Carvajals have been her ancestors?

2 Comments

  1. themiddle

    12/14/2012 at 9:14 pm

    Obviously, some of us are partial to The Middlesteins.

  2. Joel Katiff

    12/15/2012 at 8:53 pm

    I found a book on Amazon. It was covered in Nazi symbols, the blurb seemed anti semitic but it was oddly interesting. I bought a copy to read, The Final Solution by Kris Robbins. The author seems to have done a great amount of research but his claims are extraordinary, a Jewish girl, a prostitute in Vienna was, according to him, the incidental cause of the Holocaust! Hitler, survived the war, his suicide being staged by a double that had undergone extensive surgery to make his body, teeth and mannerisms identical to him.
    With the Nazi riches he moves into British society and sets up a dynasty that is dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish people, the Nazi’s, Final Solution.
    The book left me in anguish, it could all so easily be true! The ending is fantasy but the facts match in so many places. Anti semitic, definitely but I think the writer himself is Jewish!
    It should probably be banned, nonsense but it is very provocative and could fuel a backlash!

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