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A dream come true

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Dr. Solomon Grayzel had a dream.

"American Jewry is slowly waking up to the fact that it can survive only by drawing strength from its spiritual heritage," Grayzel said at a May 17, 1950, meeting of the Jewish Book Council. "In our efforts to create a wider interest in Jewish books, we know full well that we will not bring about a cultural revolution overnight, but we also know that we dare not neglect this work."

Grayzel was editor of the Jewish Publication Society and was retiring as president of the council. He was also a historian and author in his own right, including the nearly 900-page "History of the Jews."

"The past 10 years of our activity," he continued, "have indicated that our message is being heard and that our interpretation is fairly effective." And he added: "But we need more human and material resources; and sooner or later the community will give them to us. It must if the Jews of America are to live up to their challenge and make articulate the eternal spirit of our people."

Grayzel, who died in 1980, would be pleased with what is available on bookshelves today.

Books of Jewish interest long ago even reached the "coffee table book" category — those large, beautifully printed tomes with exquisite photographs and works of art. Most are expensively priced precisely because they are so expensively produced. One of the most recent entries into the field, however, costs only $40 and is a treasure to behold. It is called "The Book of Exodus," and is published by Welcome Books of New York City. The book — the artist Sam Fink’s vision of the second book of the Torah — relies on the Jewish Publication Society’s 1917 translation for its English text. Its Hebrew text is found embedded on beautiful rendered paintings by Fink. This is a work of art that does not need to remain on a coffee table, however. Printed on ‘’"x16" pages, each painting — complete with hand-lettered Hebrew text — can be removed from the book and framed. [Editor’s note: Jewish Book Month begins Nov. 4.]

The Jewish Publication Society is responsible in part for the phenomenal growth in Jewish publications. The JBC and the National Jewish Welfare Board that sponsors it are also responsible in part.

So, too, is the ArtScroll series. These are works that often are beautifully printed and lovingly produced. The only drawback is that the series is geared for an Orthodox audience and, in content, follows a more rigidly Orthodox line than many people, especially the non-Orthodox, will feel comfortable with.

JPS and ArtScroll are the major players, but there are many smaller publishers who either specialize in or who make "Jewish books" a major part of their lists of offerings. A number of them even have ties to our own Bergen-Passaic-Hudson community.

One of the most interesting from a sectarian perspective is Yashar Books, located in Brooklyn and the brainchild of Gil Student, who grew up locally and who graduated from the Solomon Schechter Day School and the Frisch high school. Yashar publishes what it calls "Orthodox Jewish books for the contemporary reader," but the books have a far greater appeal than that.

Yashar tends to be daring in its offerings. Take, for example, "Between the Lines of the Bible," by Yitzchak Etshalom. It is a commentary on the Book of Genesis, but it dares to go where other "Orthodox" commentaries fear to tread — into the world of modern biblical scholarship. It is, in fact, an outgrowth of a small, but growing trend within Orthodox erudition to bring history, archeology, linguistics, and literary criticism to bear on the Torah text.

Yashar also publishes a number of books by Rabbi Natan (Nosson) Slifkin, a brilliant scholar whose works were banned by several prominent haredi rabbis in ‘005. That is because Slifkin dares to suggest that modern science provides a more accurate picture of the universe and all that is in it than the Sages of blessed memory.

Not every author Yashar publishes is Orthodox. One on its list is Rabbi David Feldman, rabbi emeritus of the Jewish Center of Teaneck. His book "Where There’s Life" offers readers "a comprehensive exploration of abortion, euthanasia and the right to die, martyrdom, the mandate to heal, the mind-body connection, embryonic stem cell research, organ transplants — including the controversial questions of heart transplantation," according to Yashar.

Two Teaneck-based publishers are Ben Yehuda Press and Holmes & Meier Publishers.

Ben Yehuda was formed by Eve and Larry Yudelson and delivers books of Jewish interest exclusively. Since ‘005, it has amassed an eclectic list. One of the most unusual is "From the Coffee House of Jewish Dreamers: Poems of Wonder and Wandering," which presents poems on the weekly Torah portions, written by Isidore Century. The volume also contains poems Century wrote over the last four decades that recall his life, from being the child of immigrants during the Depression to his continuing game of hide-and-seek with God.

There are also such titles as "Torah and Company," by Rabbi Judith Abrams; and a novel from Burton L. Visotsky, the Nathan and Janet Appleman chair of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, entitled "A Delightful Compendium of Consolation: A Fabulous Tale of Romance, Adventure and Faith in the Medieval Mediterranean." That one is due out within weeks.

Holmes & Meier specializes in Jewish studies, but publishes other books, as well. It has an impressive list. Among its Jewish offerings are two books dealing with the problems besetting the State of Israel. "From Herzl to Rabin: The Changing Image of Zionism," by Amnon Rubinstein, has a foreword by current Defense Minister Ehud Barak and a preface by the late Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg.

"A Small Place In Galilee: Religion and Social Conflict in an Israeli Village," by Zvi Sobel, offers a penetrating analysis of one of the most difficult problems Israeli society must equitably resolve if it is to continue to survive and flourish.

Then there is "Tropical Synagogues: Short Stories by Jewish-Latin American Writers," edited and with an introduction by Ilan Stavans, a Mexican novelist and critic. The book will open the reader’s eyes to Jewish worlds few realize exist south of the border, including Guatemala, Peru, and Venezuela.

Indeed, Grayzel’s dream has been realized. American Jews have lived "up to their challenge [to] make articulate the eternal spirit of our people."

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This time, the victim is to blame …

We do not blame the victim.

At least, we should not. The perpetrator alone is guilty.

That is as true in the recent attack on the offices of a French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, as with any other crime.

In the Charlie Hebdo case, 12 people were murdered at the magazine’s office; a rookie female police officer was shot the next day while responding to a routine traffic accident one block from a Jewish school, and four people were killed as they shopped for Shabbat in a kosher market, including the 21-year-old son of the chief rabbi of Tunis.



2014 — Year of the Bully

2014 will be remembered as the year of the bully. The just-past 12 months have been characterized by the ferocious bullying of the international community by rogue governments, oppressive dictatorships, and evil regimes.

By now, the word “Putin” has become a synonym for “bully,” and indeed the year started with the Russian dictator invading Ukrainian Crimea and rattling the sabers of war. The episode devolved in eastern Ukraine until a Malaysian civilian jetliner would be downed over Donetsk in mid-July, with all 298 of its passengers and crew murdered. Putin, as usual, blamed the Ukrainians even while every shred of evidence pointed toward his pro-Russian separatist thugs.

In the middle of the year, we witnessed the arch-bully Hamas attempting to terrorize Israel into submission by firing thousands of rockets at Israeli cities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly stood up to the bullying, launching an aggressive invasion designed to limit Hamas’ capacity to intimidate Israel and murder innocent civilians using rockets and infiltration-tunnels. But just as soon the war was over, pro-Palestinian forces around the world unleashed their army of campus bullies in the form of Students for Justice in Palestine, who bully Jewish students with their laughable Israel-apartheid walls and eviction notices and bully universities with their coercion campaigns for a boycott of Israel. Sadly, all too many universities capitulate.



When Jews are accused of being Nazis

The announcement last summer that Canadian academic William Schabas was being appointed head of the new U.N. Gaza Commission continued a long U.N. tradition of open bias against Israel.

Schabas was a terrible, deeply prejudiced choice.

When asked who most should be tried at the International Criminal Court for war crimes, Schabas answered brazenly that Benjamin Netanyahu would be his “favorite” to indict. Not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who shot his own citizens in the street in the Green Revolution of 2009. Not Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who killed more than 100,000 Arabs to date. Not Khaled Mashal of Hamas terrorist infamy.




Dear Rabbi


Elie Wiesel, Bibi Netanyahu, and me

Elie Wiesel and I took out ads in America’s major newspapers supporting Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right to speak to the American congress about the Iranian nuclear threat.

The ads were beautiful and biblical, retelling the story of Esther and the choice she was given between alienating her king by speaking up for her people or remaining silent. She chose to save her people from annihilation.

This week, I traveled with Professor Wiesel and his wife Marion and my wife Debbie to the prime minister’s speech as guests of Speaker John Boehner. The speech was magnificent and did much to vindicate those who put their reputations on the line to support it.

The day before Prime Minister Netanyahu’s masterful oration to Congress, our organization, This World: The Values Network, held one of its most moving events yet, “The Meaning of ‘Never Again’: Guarding Against a Nuclear Iran.” Elie Wiesel joined me, along with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, to discuss the genocidal threats from Iran and the rise of global anti-Semitism.

While the event sought to lend support to his campaign for a tougher stance against the Iranian nuclear program, particularly in light of its genocidal threats against the Jewish State, it was Elie Wiesel at his most eloquent. We had scheduled the event to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the murder of Anne Frank, who died in the first week of March, 1945, in Bergen-Belsen. The exact date is not known.



If it snows on Purim, then what?

What crazy weather this is in New Jersey. It will be raining for tonight’s reading of the Megillah, but tomorrow morning may see us (or at least some of us) buried in several inches of snow with more falling.

Just in case it does snow on Purim morning (or even if the temperature drops and it snows by this evening), the big question is, “What happens if I can’t get to shul to hear the Megillah? May I listen to it on a recording and fulfill the mitzvah? May I listen to it over the Internet?”Even the simplest answer to these questions is not that simple.
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