Words of Faith
No matter how many times I just glance into it, I get something vitally new each time.
Due to trepidation at losing the essence of Rav Bender's words via translation, the book's English version is a very literal translation of the original Yiddish. This means that it doesn't flow as well as a standard translation, but what you lose in eloquence, you gain in essence and authenticity, which is preferable in my opinion.
If you'd like a sampling of his wisdom, this blog has stories and wisdom from his book, if you click on "Rav L.Y. Bender" under "Categories" in the sidebar.
Consisting of transcribed lectures Rav Bender gave over the years, Words of Faith is filled with essential spiritual advice, spiritual truths, and fascinating heart-stirring stories you'll never hear anywhere else, I really feel that this book is a must-read for every Jew.
A Daughter of Two Mothers
I've written about this book elsewhere on this blog:
Scaling that Steep Mountain
Miriam Cohen's other non-fiction book, Behind the Walls, is excellent too.
Open When You Are: Discovering the Forgotten Secret that Makes Life Make Sense
(Just for knowing, I loved "Illusions" when I was just transitioning into adulthood, but "Open When You Are" far surpasses it. Wish Ackerman's book had been around then!)
This novel is actually authentic non-fiction Jewish spirituality and explanations of several core mitzvot in compelling fiction format.
It lifts the curtain to reveal what's going on behind the scenes of this matrix we call life. Using quirky characters and flavorful metaphors, It explains certain metaphysical realities in ways I hadn't heard before with simple clarity and a lot of appeal.
Lots of snappy dialogue and snappy descriptions, like when the love interest, Nina, was speaking with a drunk, it says, "He leaned forward, strafing Nina with 80-proof spittle as he spoke."
Ooh, I wish I'd come up with that line.
It also includes genuinely helpful cooking tips.
Definitely worth a read.
One in a Generation
But then Rivka Levy started writing about him at Emunaroma.
At first, I didn't know what to think. I live in the charedi world, so how could someone not well known outside of Breslov be such a profoundly important rabbi?
Even odder to me, I once lived in a neighborhood with a large Breslov population, and I never remember hearing him mentioned even once. And was it really true that these accusations were merely part of a greater conspiracy against him?
But as I followed the research, I discovered that the most highly regarded rabbis from almost every group within the ultra-Orthodox world not only knew him, but also held him in high regard. (And these rabbis are down-to-earth types who aren't easily impressed.) Furthermore, I learned that the slander against Rav Berland simply didn't jive with his personal history, his behavior and philosophies, nor with the impressions of the people who actually know him.
Also, for anyone who's aware of the rabidly secular Leftist elitist Israeli justice system (and who do NOT represent your average wonderful Israeli Jew), the conspiracy against Rav Berland is quite realistic.
Finally, this book is also a stand-out among "Gedolim biographies." It contains stories and anecdotes that you never hear about anyone else, documented with the real names of people involved (as opposed to anonymously told legends).
So whether you're looking for well-documented information to make up your mind about Rav Berland's innocence or whether you are looking for a one-of-a-kind "Gadol biography," this book provides a unique and fascinating read.
I'm already looking forward to the next volume of this saga.
Day Trips to Jewish History
Being a history buff – especially of women’s and Jewish history – I had my eye on Day Trips to Jewish History for a long time, even though I knew I'd already read most of these articles in Mishpacha already.
But I finally bought it anyway and was not disappointed.
For me, it's material I enjoy re-reading.
Libi covers all sorts of stuff that isn’t widely known, but is very intriguing. For example:
- What really happened to the Jewish children kidnapped to the Portuguese-African island of Sao Tome and whether they were really eaten by the giant lizards that inhabited the island at that time as other sources had mentioned.
- Or what was really going on with Shylock’s portrayal in the Merchant of Venice?
- Jewish female doctors, Jewish female moneylenders, etc...
- And was Hebrew truly close to becoming the official language of Colonial America?
And for some reason, I’m always very interested in what people ate at different times and in different cultures, so happily, Libi covers this too.
The book also addresses a wide variety of periods, topics, and cultures in Jewish history:
- Regency England
- early Spanish-Jewish settlement in the Americas
- and much more.
It’s very well-written and the research she invested is incredible. Getting her hands on early source material, consulting with experts and officials, and even visiting many of the places about which she writes lends solid credibility and delicious detail to her writing.
This book is a real gem in the Jewish history genre.
(Note: Libi has also been quite prolific in writing high-quality, deeply researched, Jewish-themed historical novels that are worth checking out.)
Fall of the Sun God/A Stranger to My Brothers
Also, Henye has many other books available. She even has a novella being serialized at Sasson Magazine HERE.
And yes, it's another fiction book, even though I don't read fiction so much anymore (although for some reason, I find myself making exceptions for Frances Hodgson-Burnett).
Anyway, Henye's book is brilliant. You get caught up in it from page 1 and the action-packed plot and compelling characters just keep on going. One of its strongest points is its humor. The dialogue is often laugh-out-loud witty. The last line of the book is one of the best I've ever seen.
It has obviously been well-researched as you get a strong sense of the time. The different Jewish communities are colorfully distinct and there are cultural details showing the transition from pagan worship to Christianity. For example, some pagan-turning-Christian characters go to church to offer a sacrifice to the god, Thor. You get a strong sense of the effect of the Crusades, the well-organized care of the Jews toward their destitute fellows, and more.
The characters are complex and realistic and colorful. I think a lot of teens would be able to identify with the main character.
This is a good example of a "crossover" novel because adults enjoy this book as much as younger readers. One friend I lent the book to returned it to me with the comment, "I just wish it had gone on and on. I never wanted it to end."
It is also very well-written and a fascinating read.
(If you'd like it for the Omer, then best to order it now. I just ordered my copy from Book Depository.)
I think it would be interesting to fill this out each year, then compare the previous with the current to gauge certain aspects of one's spiritual growth.
Inspiring, exciting, riveting, this book makes great reading, whether you're looking for great fiction or great non-fiction. Written in a fiction format, the stories within are actually true. I loved it and my teenagers (who read it in Hebrew) loved it too.