‘The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values’ a must-read

February 10, 2016

by Alan Jay Gerber

The literary work thEncyclopediaofJewishValues9789655241631at is my subject for the next few weeks is entitled, “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values” (Urim Publications, 2015), a series of essays on some of the most provocative subjects of contemporary interest, by Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel.

Rabbi Amsel is graduate of Yeshiva University, ordained a rabbi by HaRav Joseph B. Soloveitchik,zt”l, whose career centered for over 30 years on the enhancement of Jewish education all over the world. This book goes a long way in helping us to understand issues that confront us in our daily lives and are regularly discussed and debated in the public arena (including gun control and legalized gambling and the use of lotteries, will be my focus in upcoming columns).

This week I will focus on my interview with Rabbi Amsel wherein you will get a measure of his intellectual prowess.

Read the rest of this entry »


Lola Lieber: Faithful Holocaust Heroine

January 31, 2016

a_world_after_thisWhen Lola Lieber’s husband, Mechel, was arrested by the Nazis during the Holocaust, she did the unthinkable. Pretending to be a gentile, she walked into Gestapo Headquarters and asked to speak to whoever was in charge. She was taken to the office of SS Lieutenant-Colonel Adolf Eichmann, Gestapo Chief and overseer of Hitler’s “Final Solution” – the extermination of European Jewry.

She told Eichmann her husband wasn’t a Jew, had been picked up by accident, arrested by mistake. When Eichmann picked up the phone to call the jail where Mechel was being held, it became obvious the ploy wouldn’t work. All the jailers would have to do to determine if a man was Jewish, was check if he was circumcised. Understanding how badly things would play out, Lola turned and as calmly as possible, strolled out. Miraculously, no one stopped her. Mechel escaped later and reunited with his beloved bride. Read the rest of this entry »


The Silence Breakers

January 27, 2016

In an article in The Jerusalem Post on January 17, 2016 titled “The Silence Breakers,” Orit Afra writes:

In 2011, New York-based psychologist, researcher and author Dr. Michael Salamon came out with the book Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims (Urim Publications) to both community praise and “hate mail.” He felt compelled to write the book after his private practice in the Five Towns in New York received many victims of abuse from Jewish and Catholic communities alike.

Abuse in the Jewish Community

You can read the entire article on lifting the veil of silence over the issue of sexual abuse in The Jerusalem Post Magazine.


Review of Nefesh HaTzimtzum and Interview with the Author

January 25, 2016

NefeshHatzimtzumTwo1By Alan Brill

The famed Yeshiva in Volozhin  (founded 1803) stands as an emblem of complete devotion to Torah study. According to Prof. Imamnuel Etkes, the yeshiva had three principle qualities when administered by Rabbi Hayim (d.1821). First, the Yeshiva in Volozhin studied Torah round the clock in mishmarot (watches or shifts) of study because the study of Torah maintains the world. Second, they had an uncompromising approach to the true and simple meaning of the text of the Talmud, avoiding pilpul. Third, was the value of fear of God (yirat hashem) defined as control of one’s passions, Kabbalah, and devotion.  Rabbi Hayim wrote his work Nefesh Hahayim The Living Soul presenting this path. Read the rest of this entry »


Review of Living in the Shadow of Death

January 24, 2016

LivingInTheShadowOfDeath9789655241709Synopsis: Living in the Shadow of Death: A Rabbi Copes with Cancer is a heartfelt account of how Rabbi Weinblatt confronts cancer after receiving this devastating diagnosis, this memoir traces his journey from beginning to end. It deals with his emotions, fears, and treatment and offers comfort, encouragement, and inspiration from a Jewish perspective. Using humor and coupling it with the wisdom of Jewish and Biblical sources as reflected in his sermons and other communications and writings, his words are a vehicle for sharing his experience and insights as he battles this disease. As a comforter to others, as well as a recipient of comfort, support, and love from family, friends, and members of his congregation, Living in the Shadow of Death is also a valuable tool for clergy and health care professionals who interact with and counsel individuals in similar situations.

Critique: Candid, informative, and ultimately inspiring, Living in the Shadow of Death: A Rabbi Copes with Cancer is a compelling read from beginning to end. Rabbi Stuart G. Weinblatt (founder of the Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland) has done a tremendous service to others having to face similar threats of terminal illness. Living in the Shadow of Death is very highly recommended for personal reading lists, as well as community and academic library collections.

This review originally appears on Midwest Book Review.


Review of After the Holocaust the bells Still Ring

January 20, 2016

Review by Eleanor EhrenkranzAftertheHolocustWeb1

Another book on the Holocaust? Yes and no; this book is about a different Holo­caust—the one that survivors of concentration camps endured after April 1945. That is when survivors began to experience the horrific and persistent memories of what they had lived through, according to Joseph Polak, who entered the camps when he was just a toddler.

In the camps, the goal was simply to survive day to day. At night, the constant noises of people crying and climbing up and down the bunks to go to the bathroom, and the smells when they didn’t make it in time, did not give anyone time to meditate. So it was only after liberation that survivors who had physically recovered fully realized and relived the subhu­man lives they had been living.

That is when the nightmares began, mostly because of guilt; many knew they had behaved badly under duress. How many Dutch Jews, given a little authority, sent other people’s children off to Auschwitz to save their own, and how many inmates stole life-saving slices of bread from sleeping inmates? Who created those lists of people the Nazis used to round up the Jews in Holland? Why is it that 90% of the Jews in the Netherlands were slaughtered? These questions have obvious and disturbing answers.

Since this book is told from three different time periods, Polak asks many questions related to each of the periods, and not all of them have answers. At the beginning of the book, Polak is revisiting Troebitz (where his father is buried) in 1995 with a group of sur­vivors; his memories of what happened fifty years earlier surface and he recounts some of them. He wonders why he, a boy of three when he entered the camp, found a Nazi guardian who watched over him but asks why his father was so soon stricken with typhus and died. He intersperses these periods with a timeless, surrealistic philosophical discussion with an angel. And he asks the eternal ques­tions of the Angel of God: How did He allow the slaughter, especially of so many children? Why hasn’t He avenged this slaughter?

As an example of one atrocity, Joseph Polak’s beloved Uncle Anton, a widower, had the job of soothing people selected for deportation. And what happened to him? He, ”together with his four children, Isaac, age 11, Judith Hadassah, age 10, Shulamith Ruth, age 8, and Ben Zion Baruch, age 6—all were forced to run nude down the chute in Sobibor, where on July 9, 1943, they were gathered into the gas chambers. The powerlessness of it all—a father in his thirties, huddled naked with his four children, waiting for the gas.” Why?

This wrenching vision is only one of the stories Polak tells of the humiliation and de­struction of body and soul that went on daily and toward which Polak periodically questions God’s attitude.

And yet, there is something to be learned from the way in which two types of people survived in larger numbers than others. One group was composed of Zionist teenagers who kept planning to get to Palestine and sang their pioneer songs together. About 80% of them survived. The other group was com­posed of Orthodox Jews who spent over an hour a day in deep Torah study and met three times a day to pray together. These groups had one thing in common—they did not succumb to despair.

Another major point seems to be reflected most in a photograph most people have never seen before, of a seven-year-old boy on a sunny day, walking down a path in Bergen Belsen lined with dead, unburied bodies. He doesn’t look at them and seems unconcerned. Is this denial or is he following the dictates of Jewish law, which forbids one to look at a dead body? Perhaps the boy represents the world’s attitude toward what happened during the Holocaust.This is one of the many unanswered questions we are left with after reading this profound book.

This review originally appeared on The Jewish Book Council

 


Review of A Girl From There

January 18, 2016

By Charles WeinblattAGirlFromThere web2

Chava Nissimov was born into wartime Poland in 1939. She escaped from a Jewish ghetto with her mother and grew up “behind the wardrobe” in various places during World War II and later as a “golah-child” on a kibbutz in Israel. Today, Chava is active in communal affairs, and she assists Holocaust survivors with reparation claims.

A Girl from There is a book of poems that documents fragmented memories of a small child’s arduous struggle to survive the Holocaust. Torn away from her parents and grandparents, alone and at the mercy of the Polish family hiding her, she recalls being hidden away into the far reaches of dark attics, claustrophobic hiding places, and cold, damp basements.

Part memoir, essay, testimony, and expressive free-verse poetry, A Girl from There is a series of delicate, fragmented, and emotional descriptions about her early life hiding from Nazi Germany and those who would gladly turn her in to the Gestapo. Each page describes the turmoil and fear of a small child who must always be hidden. She struggles with the death of her grandparents and her father; and she tries to comprehend why her mother abandons her to a Christian Polish family.

Too young to grasp her appalling situation, Chava must never be seen or heard by anyone outside of the family hiding her. She may not sleep under the stars, enjoy the caress of a warm breeze on a summer night, or feel the softness of grass under her small body. She may not speak with anyone outside of the household in which she is hidden, or leave it. Nor can she count on love from these surrogate mothers. She is at the mercy of those hiding her and in constant fear of capture by Nazis. Survival is all that matters.

The author’s disjointed childhood memories spill out in clear, animated poetic verse and are linked together, carrying the reader chronologically from Chava’s earlies memories through a dark, silent childhood filled with sickness and fear until the end of WWII. She then enters Israel as it is born out of the ashes of the Holocaust.

This review originally appeared on the NY Journal of Books. 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 310 other followers