Bagels and Books - Kehillath Shalom Synagogue's Longest Running Committee
Come join us for a good read, a better discussion and even better food.
It is hard to believe, but Bagels & Books, by far one of the most successful programs KS has ever had, has been going strong for over a quarter of a century.
We started in the Fall of 1989, with our first selection, Lovingkindness by Anne Roiphe; since then we have read more than two hundred books – fiction and non-fiction (history, political science, sociology, philosophy, biographies and more), by authors both well-known and obscure, books set in every period from the Biblical era to the Middle Ages to the Holocaust to the present day. Our books have taken us around the world: to Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, India, Latin America, and, of course, the US and the very familiar milieu of New York Jews.
We have read books we loved and books we had to force ourselves to finish, as well as books we never would have read but for the group, but somehow we always have managed to wring interesting discussions out of them.
Must be the bagels, lox, and coffee stimulating the brain cells on Sunday mornings!
Our guiding principle has always been to find books “by Jewish authors or of Jewish interest.” Each summer we put together our list of books for the coming year, based on recommendations and reviews. Our avid readers are looking forward to the next quarter-century and would love to have you join us.
My Jewish Year by Abigail Pogrebin
The much-dissected Pew Research Center study of 2013, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” revealed that most U.S. Jews locate their Jewishness in their ancestry and culture―not in religion. Abigail Pogrebin wondered if perhaps that’s because we haven’t all looked at religion closely enough.
Although she grew up following some holiday rituals, Pogrebin realized how little she knew about their foundational purpose and current relevance. She wanted to understand what had kept these holidays alive and vibrant, in some cases for thousands of years. Her curiosity led her to embark on an entire year of intensive research, observation, and writing about the milestones on the Jewish calendar.
My Jewish Year travels through this calendar’s signposts with candor, humor, and a trove of information, capturing the arc of Jewish observance through the eyes of a relatable, wandering―and wondering―Jew. The chapters are interspersed with brief reflections from prominent rabbis and Jewish thinkers.
Maybe you’re seeking an accessible, digestible roadmap for Jewish life. Maybe you’d appreciate a fresh exploration of what you’ve mastered. Whatever your motivation, you’ll be educated, entertained, and inspired by Pogrebin’s unusual journey―and by My Jewish Year.
Peony; A Novel of China by Pearl S. Buck
A young Chinese woman falls in love with a Jewish man in nineteenth-century China in this evocative novel by the Nobel Prize–winning author of The Good Earth.
In 1850s China, a young girl, Peony, is sold to work as a bondmaid for a rich Jewish family in Kaifeng. Jews have lived for centuries in this region of the country, but by the mid-nineteenth century, assimilation has begun taking its toll on their small enclave. When Peony and the family’s son, David, grow up and fall in love with one another, they face strong opposition from every side. Tradition forbids the marriage, and the family already has a rabbi’s daughter in mind for David.
Long celebrated for its subtle and even-handed treatment of colliding traditions, Peony is an engaging coming-of-age story about love, identity, and the tragedy and beauty found at the intersection of two disparate cultures.
Disobedience by Naomi Alderman
Ronit has left London and transformed her life. She has become a cigarette-smoking, wise-cracking, New York career woman, who is in love with a married man.
But when Ronit's father dies she is called back into the very different world of her childhood, a world she thought she had left far behind. The orthodox Jewish suburb of Hendon, north London is outraged by Ronit and her provocative ways. But Ronit is shocked too by the confrontation with her past. And when she meets up with her childhood girlfriend Esti, she is forced to think again about what she has left behind.
If All the Seas Were Ink - A Memoir by Ilana Kurshan
At the age of 27, alone in Jerusalem in the wake of a painful divorce, Ilana Kurshan joined the world’s largest book club, learning daf yomi, Hebrew for “daily page" of the Talmud, a book of rabbinic teachings spanning about 600 years and the basis for all codes of Jewish law. A runner, a reader and a romantic, Kurshan adapted to its pace, attuned her ear to its poetry, and discovered her passions in its pages. She brought the Talmud with her wherever she went, studying in airplanes, supermarket lines, and over a plate of pasta at home, careful not to drip tomato sauce upon discussions about the sprinkling of blood on the Temple altar. By the time she completed the Talmud after seven and a half years, Kurshan was remarried with three young children. With each pregnancy, her Talmud sat perched atop her growing belly.
This memoir is a tale of heartache and humor, of love and loss, of marriage and motherhood, and of learning to put one foot in front of the other by turning page after page. Kurshan takes us on a deeply accessible and personal guided tour of the Talmud, shedding new light on its stories and offering insights into its arguments―both for those already familiar with the text and for those who have never encountered it. For people of the book―both Jewish and non-Jewish―If All the Seas Were Ink is a celebration of learning―through literature―how to fall in love once again.
The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs
Raised in a secular family but increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to dive in headfirst and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He vows to follow the Ten Commandments. To be fruitful and multiply. To love his neighbor. But also to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers.
The resulting spiritual journey is at once funny and profound, reverent and irreverent, personal and universal and will make you see history’s most influential book with new eyes.
Jacobs’s quest transforms his life even more radically than the year spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for The Know-It-All. His beard grows so unruly that he is regularly mistaken for a member of ZZ Top. He immerses himself in prayer, tends sheep in the Israeli desert, battles idolatry, and tells the absolute truth in all situations—much to his wife’s chagrin.
Throughout the book, Jacobs also embeds himself in a cross-section of communities that take the Bible literally. He tours a Kentucky-based creationist museum and sings hymns with Pennsylvania Amish. He dances with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn and does Scripture study with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He discovers ancient biblical wisdom of startling relevance. And he wrestles with seemingly archaic rules that baffle the twenty-first-century brain.
Jacobs’s extraordinary undertaking yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges. A book that will charm readers both secular and religious, The Year of Living Biblically is part Cliff Notes to the Bible, part memoir, and part look into worlds unimaginable. Thou shalt not be able to put it down.
All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan
A chance encounter in New York brings two strangers together: Liat is an idealistic translation student, Hilmi a talented young painter. Together they explore the city, share fantasies, jokes and homemade meals, and fall in love. There is only one problem: Liat is from Israel, Hilmi from Palestine. Keeping their deepening relationship secret, the two lovers build an intimate universe for two in this city far from home. But outside reality can only be kept at bay for so long. After a tempestuous visit from Hilmi's brother, cracks begin to form in the relationship, and their points of difference - Liat's military service, Hilmi's hopes for Palestine's future - threaten to overwhelm their shared present. When they return separately to their divided countries, Liat and Hilmi must decide whether to keep going, or let go. A prizewinning bestseller, but banned in Israeli schools for its frank and tender depiction of a taboo relationship, this is the deeply affecting story of two people trying to bridge one of the most deeply riven borders in the world.
Pumpkin Flowers - A Soldier's Story by Matti Friedman
It was just one small hilltop in a small, unnamed war in the late 1990s, but it would send out ripples that are still felt worldwide today. The hill, in Lebanon, was called the Pumpkin; flowers was the military code word for “casualties.” Award-winning writer Matti Friedman re-creates the harrowing experience of a band of young Israeli soldiers charged with holding this remote outpost, a task that would change them forever, wound the country in ways large and small, and foreshadow the unwinnable conflicts the United States would soon confront in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Pumpkinflowers is a reckoning by one of those young soldiers now grown into a remarkable writer. Part memoir, part reportage, part history, Friedman’s powerful narrative captures the birth of today’s chaotic Middle East and the rise of a twenty-first-century type of war in which there is never a clear victor and media images can be as important as the battle itself.
Raw and beautifully rendered, Pumpkinflowers will take its place among classic war narratives by George Orwell, Philip Caputo, and Tim O’Brien. It is an unflinching look at the way we conduct war today.
The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner
The Prime Ministers is the first and only insider account of Israeli politics from the founding of the Jewish State to the near-present day. It reveals stunning details of life-and-death decision-making, top-secret military operations and high level peace negotiations. The Prime Ministers brings readers into the orbits of world figures, including Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Written in a captivating literary style by a political adviser, speechwriter and diplomat, The Prime Ministers is an enthralling political memoir, and a precisely crafted prism through which to view current Middle East affairs. The Prime Ministers is the basis of a major documentary produced by Moriah Films, the Academy Award-winning film division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The Jew Store by Stella Suberman
For a real bargain, while you're making a living, you should make also a life.--Aaron Bronson
In 1920, in small town America, the ubiquitous dry goods store--suits and coats, shoes and hats, work clothes and school clothes, yard goods and notions--was usually owned by Jews and often referred to as "the Jew store." That's how Stella Suberman's father's store, Bronson's Low-Priced Store, in Concordia, Tennessee, was known locally. The Bronsons were the first Jews to ever live in that tiny town (1920 population: 5,318) of one main street, one bank, one drugstore, one picture show, one feed and seed, one hardware, one barber shop, one beauty parlor, one blacksmith, and many Christian churches. Aaron Bronson moved his family all the way from New York City to that remote corner of northwest Tennessee to prove himself a born salesman--and much more. Told by Aaron's youngest child, THE JEW STORE is that rare thing--an intimate family story that sheds new light on a piece of American history. Here is ONE MAN'S FAMILY with a twist--a Jew, born into poverty in prerevolutionary Russia and orphaned from birth, finds his way to America, finds a trade, finds a wife, and sets out to find his fortune in a place where Jews are unwelcome. With a novelist's sense of scene, suspense, and above all, characterization, Stella Suberman turns the clock back to a time when rural America was more peaceful but no less prejudiced, when educated liberals were suspect, and when the Klan was threatening to outsiders. In that setting, she brings to life her remarkable father, a man whose own brand of success proves that intelligence, empathy, liberality, and decency can build a home anywhere. THE JEW STORE is a heartwarming--even inspiring--story.
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Anita Diamant’s “vivid, affectionate portrait of American womanhood” (Los Angeles Times), follows the life of one woman, Addie Baum, through a period of dramatic change. Addie is The Boston Girl, the spirited daughter of an immigrant Jewish family, born in 1900 to parents who were unprepared for America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End of Boston, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine—a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, to finding the love of her life, eighty-five-year-old Addie recounts her adventures with humor and compassion for the naïve girl she once was.
The Bridal Chair by Gloria Goldreich
In this work of “biofiction,” we see Marc Chagall through the eyes of his loyally protective daughter, Ida — his peril as a Jew in Nazi-overrun Europe, his heated competitiveness, his contentiousness as husband and father, his consuming immersion in his work. Here is history as story-telling, and here also is the question, “Must the artist’s character match the enchantments of his art?”
Notorious RBG; the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knihzik
An original hybrid of reported narrative, annotated dissents, rare archival photos and documents, and illustrations, the book tells a never-before-told story of an unusual and transformative woman who transcends generational divides.
They Don't Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine
A hilarious novel about aging, family, loneliness. When Joy Bergman’s beloved husband dies, her children have no shortage of solutions for their mother’s loneliness and despair, but there is one challenge they did not count on: the reappearance of an ardent suitor from Joy’s college days. And they didn’t count on Joy herself, a mother suddenly as willful and rebellious as their own kids
Saving Sophie by Ronald H. Balson
Jack Sommers was just an ordinary accountant from Chicago — that is, until his wife passed away, his young daughter was kidnapped, and he became the main suspect in an $88 million dollar embezzlement case. Now Jack is on the run, hoping to avoid the feds long enough to rescue his daughter, Sophie, from her maternal grandfather, a suspected terrorist in Palestine, and also to thwart a major terrorist attack in Hebron in the process.
A Bride for One Night; Talmud Tales by Ruth Calderon
If Joseph Heller had served in Congress instead of the Second World War, he might have written this book instead of Catch- 22. Congressman Steve Israel’s tale of how the war on terror sweeps up an unassuming salesman from Long Island is both darkly hilarious and hilariously dark. Somehow Israel has combined his access to top secret national security briefings with a finely tuned sense of the absurd as he skewers Washington bureaucrats, Machiavellian politicians, and a certain Darth Vader-like Vice President.
Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
Neurosurgeon Eitan Green has the perfect life--married to a beautiful police officer and father of two young boys. Then, speeding along a deserted moonlit road after an exhausting hospital shift, he hits an African immigrant, sees that he is beyond help, and flees the scene. When the victim’s widow knocks at Eitan’s door the next day, divulging that she knows what happened, Eitan discovers that her price for silence is not money. It is something else entirely, something that will shatter Eitan's safe existence. “...a gripping, suspenseful, and morally devastating drama of guilt and survival, shame and desire…”
The Prime Ministers; An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership by Yehuda Avner
Join us for this special joint session of Bagels and Books and the Israel and Jewish Affairs Committee
Benjamin Netanyahu called this book “...a fascinating account of someone who was an eye witness to many historic moments in the history of the Jewish state.” In a joint session with the Israel Affairs Forum, led by Nissim Yeheskel, our specific topic will be Menachem Begin, Parts I and III of the book. Nissim suggests that, for purposes of discussion, participants may read any material/book about Begin.
After the Fire by Lauren Belfer
An intellectual thriller and a beautiful love story. What if you came into possession of an historical artifact with the power to alter history and change the world? An American soldier in 1945 Germany unknowingly purloins a controversial unpublished cantata by J. S. Bach, with lyrics based on one of Martin Luther’s anti-Jewish screeds, and it ends up in the hands of the soldier’s niece upon his death. The journey of this manuscript, from Sara Itzig Levy, a Jewish student of Bach’s eldest son, to America, details the strong currents of anti-Semitism that have existed in Germany for centuries.
Irena's Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo
Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler have become synonymous with saving Jews during the Holocaust. Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker who saved 2500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. Even if you have read volumes on the Holocaust, you will find this book harrowing, surprising, and riveting.
The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander
In the 1970s, Buenos Aires’ Jews live in fear of Argentina’s vicious military dictatorship. Against the backdrop of the dirty war conducted against leftists and activists, Kaddish Poznan scratches together a living vandalizing the gravestones of Jewish criminals who are embarrassments to their families, even in eternal slumber. Englander asks universal questions about remembering the dead, dealing with evil, and addressing assimilation, love, ritual, and generational gaps.