Review of The Jewish Dog

March 15, 2016

by Jeff Fleischer, Foreword Reviews

The Jewish Dog9780983868538Kravitz’s canine narrator describes the events around him without understanding their full impact, offering a new perspective on the Holocaust.

With The Jewish Dog, Asher Kravitz succeeds in the difficult task of finding a new approach to a Holocaust story by telling the tale through the first-person perspective of a family pet. Kravitz treats the material with the appropriate respect while using the dog’s changes in ownership as a clever way to flesh out history and provide an additional perspective.

The story opens with the dog, Caleb, introducing himself and explaining his circumstances, as one of several puppies born in the household of a Jewish family in 1935 Germany. Kravitz drops in hints about what’s on the horizon, whether through Hitler’s voice on the radio or another dog owner bragging about his pet’s pure breeding,

Because of the real-life Nazi decree that banned Jews from owning dogs, the family has to give up Caleb, handing him over to a German with a fondness for the animal. Caleb eventually passes through several owners, who range from kind to cruel, including some involved in the worst crimes of the Nazi era. At various points in his journey, the dog is on the run with a pack of strays, being molded into a prison guard by Nazi trainers, or taking part in a prisoner uprising. At times, Caleb, whose name changes throughout his ordeal, even takes part in atrocities, following the orders of new masters. In doing so, he offers a window into the soldiers or citizens who committed similar crimes, without excusing their behavior. He is haunted by an incident when he was a puppy, when he stood by while a fellow dog hunted and killed a harmless kitten, and thinks about that experience whenever he fails to do right.

Kravitz has some fun with the dog’s food-driven motivation, and the humor does not undermine the story’s tragedy. Because Caleb’s circumstances change so often, the story maintains its suspense, as it’s never obvious which parts of history the dog will experience directly.

This review originally appeared on Foreword Reviews.


Review of The Jewish Dog

August 27, 2015

By Barbara M. BibelThe Jewish Dog9780983868538

Caleb, a remarkable dog, was born in Germany in 1935. He lived with his loving Jewish family until the Nazis forbade them to have a dog. A Nazi family adopts him and gives him to the SS, where he is trained to be a guard dog at a concentration camp. Caleb performs his duties admirably while acting as a keen observer of history and human nature. He sees the cruelty of the Nazis and the suffering that it caused, but he also witnesses the courage, loyalty, and friendship of the prisoners and those who aided them. He never forgets his original family. Read the rest of this entry »


Judging Book Covers

July 9, 2015

By Shlomo Greenwald

I’ll admit it. I sometimes choose to read a book based on its cover. I know. I know. I’m breaking a cardinal rule of…well…of life, of one that we’ve all been taught, at least as a metaphor, since pre-school.

Whether the rest of us admit it or not, covers draw our attentions and create the initial impressions we have with books. Which is why I’ve long bemoaned the state of book covers in the Orthodox publishing world. There had always been exceptions, but in general the covers were boring and cookie-cutter.

In the last five to 10 years, though, Jewish book covers have gained some vitality and personality. On this page are a few of the new titles whose covers have won
my attention and praise.The Jewish Dog9780983868538

The Jewish Dog by Asher Kravtiz

Designer Shanie Cooper says:

The Jewish Dog is a translation of a novel published in Israel in 2007 to great success. I like the basic design of the original cover and wanted to retain its flavor (a cartoon image of a dog on a solid blue background), but I made several significant changes. I chose a different image for the dog, Caleb, that more closely matched how I imagined him – intelligent and gazing up as if trying to communicate with the reader.

“This was important because this powerful book is uniquely narrated by the dog himself as he lives through the years before, during, and after the Holocaust. I chose a grungy font and added texture to both the font and the blue background to make the cover feel more complex and layered, like the ideas grappled with in the book.

“A further issue affecting this book cover was how to best translate the Hebrew title, Hakelev Hayehudi. The publisher and distributor debated whether a strict translation, although potentially provocative, would be best, or whether to avoid possible controversy by selecting a less derogatory sounding title – for example, The Hebrew Hound, The Yiddish Hound. Also discussed was whether to add a subtitle to the book for clarification, i.e. “A Novel.” In the end, the publisher chose the most accurate translation of the title, simply, The Jewish Dog.”

This originally appeared in The Jewish Press


Portland Book Review The Jewish Dog

June 23, 2015

Asher Kravitz writes from a unique perspective of a Jewish dog in 1935 Germany. From the first chapter, the reader will know this will be a The Jewish Dog9780983868538delightful little book, even given the topic of Nazis and the Holocaust. Caleb, the Jewish dog, has an immediate love for his Jewish family. Caleb is smart and understands love and loyalty. When his family’s fortunes turn, due to an increasing number of rules against Jews, Caleb is given away. His next family is less than loving and Caleb realizes his own fortune has changed, too. He runs away and ends of with a Nazi family and then as a stray. Finally Caleb becomes a dog trained to smell out Jews and is relocated to Treblinka. Caleb wrestles with his Jewish past, as well as, his own need to survive while being fed by the Nazis. Read the rest of this entry »


Review of The Jewish Dog

June 17, 2015

Review by Miriam Kates LockThe Jewish Dog9780983868538

The Jewish Dog tells the story of the Holocaust from a point of view that has presumably never before been explored. In this curiously original tale, Caleb, an intelligent and pensive pup, is born in the home of the Gottlieb family, a traditional Jewish family living in Germany in the 1930’s. From the very beginning Caleb is sensitively aware of his surroundings and tries to figure out the world around him. He is particularly interested in humans, their language and the role they play in his life. He loves the Gottliebs and is relieved when he is the only one of his mother’s litter who is not separated from her. Unfortunately, he ultimately does get separated from her and from the Gottliebs as well, as the events taking place in Germany begin to affect not only the lives of Jews but even the lives of dogs.

When a law is decreed that Jews can no longer own dogs, Caleb is taken in by a German family who mistreats him terribly. When this family passes him on to an SS officer whose young son is thrilled with him, at first he thinks he is lucky but later he runs away to look for  the Gottliebs. Eventually he is captured by Nazis who send him to be trained as a guard dog. Read the rest of this entry »


The Jewish Dog: Starred Review from Kirkus

April 15, 2015

In 1930s Germany, an exceptionally intelligent dog is born into a Jewish family.The Jewish Dog9780983868538

Caleb immediately notices that he has some inherent traits that set him apart. Not only is he unusually sensitive to humans’ emotions, he is determined to fully comprehend human speech. These talents, along with his highly developed canine skills, lead to heroism and heartbreak as he negotiates his way through World War II in Europe. All the love he knows comes from the Gottlieb family, as does his understanding of his distinctly Jewish attributes, the most important being his compulsion for survival. A Nazi decree forces the family to part with Caleb. He undergoes several name changes and increasing danger as he becomes ever more deeply involved in the war. At various times he is a stray, part of a wild pack, an SS Nazi guard and attack dog at Treblinka, and a member of an underground cell. Throughout his tribulations he yearns for reunion with the Gottlieb family. Kravitz employs harrowing, detailed imagery and fluidity of language, assuming that readers have more than a cursory knowledge of the era’s events and that they willingly accept and believe a canine narrator who hears heavenly messages from a divine being. The result is powerful and heart-wrenching, and Caleb is unforgettable.

A remarkable achievement.

This review originally appears in Kirkus Reviews


Unique Review of The Jewish Dog

April 15, 2015

By Sybil KaplanThe Jewish Dog9780983868538

As far as books go – especially books about the Holocaust – The Jewish Dog by Asher Kravitz (Penlight Publications, 2015), published in Hebrew in 2007, is certainly unique. The novel was awarded a citation by the Israeli Publisher’s Association and it is easy to understand why.

Kravitz is a Jerusalem-born physics and mathematics professor and photographer of wildlife. He has written three earlier books: two whodunits and a book about an Israeli soldier in an anti-terrorist unit. The narrator of this novel is a 12-year-old Jewish dog raised by a single mother (a dog, that is) in 1930s Germany.

When he is born, his mother lives with the Gottlieb family. Despite the family conflict about keeping any of the puppies, when the dog finds the afikoman at the seder, Herschel, the family’s son, declares that the prize is allowing the dog to stay. They name him Caleb.

Caleb is an exceptional animal. He learns to decipher human speech and can read the moods of the adults.

As the story continues, Caleb witnesses the rise of Nazism and the laws being forced upon the family – the housekeeper prevented from working for the Jewish family; the children prohibited from attending school; and Jews forbidden to own a dog.

Caleb is given to a Christian family, where the wife mistreats him, and the story follows his adventures joining a pack, his training as a facility guard dog at Treblinka, and more. All the while, we read Caleb’s philosophical commentaries and are given a great deal of food for thought on human and animal behavior.

Kravitz has produced a well-written novel that is poignant and compelling. Some might say The Jewish Dog is for young adults, but anyone wanting to read a distinctive presentation of the pre-Holocaust and Holocaust period will find this book absorbing.

***

After reading and reviewing this most unusual book, I was prompted to ask the author some questions about this work. When I asked him what prompted him to this type of novel, Kravitz recalled that, as a high school student, he participated in an international quiz about the Second World War, which focused on the Holocaust. One of the anti-Jewish laws enacted by the Nazis was that “raising a dog is prohibited for Jewish families.” He also remembered the images of the signs posted on restaurant and coffee shop doors, “No entrance for dogs or Jews.”

“This is almost a built-in symbol of the Holocaust that connects dogs and Jews,” he said.

Kravitz also related a conversation that he had with an elderly survivor of Auschwitz, who had a deep understanding of dogs and had been a dog feeder in the camp.

The novel began its life as a short story, which Kravitz then expanded. It took more than four years to complete. He said that he studied “the behavior of my own two dogs in order to learn their mannerisms and reactions so that The Jewish Dog would narrate as realistically as possible as a dog.”

Kravitz did not expect the novel to become so popular. “I attribute [its success] to the responsibility I felt for the seriousness of the subject matter and also to the aid I received from the editor who worked with me throughout the writing process,” he said.

Another writer and director adapted the book into a one-man play, which ran in Tel Aviv for almost three years, and The Jewish Dog is now required reading for high school matriculation exams in literature. It has been translated into French, Turkish and English.

This review originally appeared on Jewish Independent