Tag Archives: Jewish Life

Book Diva Review: If You Awaken Love

If You Awaken Love, by Emuna Elon, is a wonderfully written novel, dealing with rejection and acceptance, love and loss, and other underlying, issues, within the pages.

The story line takes place during turbulent times, a thirty years span from the Six-Day War up until the day Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated. Although politics is not the primary theme in If You Awaken Love, it is there, underlying within the pages. We are given glimpses of life through those who lived in Israel before its statehood, glimpses of the Left and Right Wings, the Orthodox and the secular, the elderly and the young, the liberal and the staunch, and so on. The reader sees both sides of the issue within the vivid images that Elon depicts, from those Jews who are in favor of a dual land, and those who are more restrictive in their thinking.

The narrator is a woman named Shlomtzion Dror, who by all accounts seems to be supportive of the Israeli Left Wing. She lives in Tel Aviv and is a forty year old divorced woman. Shlomtzion is a woman who has been rejected by her childhood sweetheart, Yair Berman. Her unrequited love has transcended the decades. She has a daughter named Maya, who happens to be in love with Yair’s son, and they plan to marry. This comes as a shock to Shlomtzion. Shlomtzion is left wandering through the years of her past, journeying back in time to what once was, as she slowly makes her emotional, physical and political journey forward.

Shlomtzion is consumed by the past, unable to let the fires of history burn, allowing them to continually refuel. Which is much like the political and religious situation in Israel, with the embers continually flaring up into a constant and eternal flame. Elon writes with precision, is cognizant of the issues at hand, and her descriptions are beautiful works of prose.

Suffice it to say that the story is filled with a roller coaster of emotions, emotions that fluctuate from moment to moment, memory to memory. Within the emotional elevator ride, the reader is given impressions of daily life in Israel, impressions of religious life and the political balance of a nation, over a thirty year period. Is there forgiveness and/or redemption at the end? You will need to read it yourself in order to find out. But, when you do, don’t skip over sentences and word images, as each one is specific to the whole of the novel.

On the surface, If You Awaken Love might seem to be a drab or unsaturated story. But, its’ beauty is within the illuminations that Elon so aptly and masterfully brings the reader. Her words are dynamic, strong, yet filled with a sensitivity to both sides of the issue. Elon uses biblical passages to enhance the story line, which make the novel all the more profound. She doesn’t have answers, and doesn’t have a final judgment, and leaves it up to the reader as to whether a judgment is even necessary, or if sides need to be taken. I found If You Awaken Love to be a brilliantly written novel. I applaud Emuna Elon for her endeavors in documenting history, combined with a story of love and war, in her first novel.

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Review: Rich Boy

Class and wealth dominate the pages of the novel Rich Boy, and the reader is cognizant that it is a primary concern for the protagonist, Robert Vishniak, as he aspires to gain favors that will allow him to move up in the societal stratum.

Vishniak is from a working class Jewish family who live in Philadelphia. He is self-indulgent, and with his handsomeness, charm, and superficial exterior. His mother, Stacia has continually hammered into him the fact that he needs to make money in order to become a respected person, and in order to move up in society’s ladder.

He is constantly embarrassed by his mother, and her old school ways and train of thought. Yet, those words do prove helpful to him in his quest for success and identity in a world where money and financial gain speak volumes. He works at odd jobs, and drives a cab to earn money in order to make his way through college. Nothing is too menial for him.

Vishniak manages to forge his way into the upper end of the social echelon. This occurs during his time at university where meets others who come from respectable upper class families, families whose wealth can buy them anything, and families whose American roots are firmly planted in the ancestral realm.

He is quick with the verbalizing, and fast with the conveyance of a charming attitude. One of his fall backs is the fact that he doesn’t exhibit the manners befitting those who belong to the upper class circle. His roommate at college teaches him the proper etiquette to be used in varied situations. From there he is presented with new opportunities.

He has several superficial relationships, some that end due to his immaturity. He is good at seduction, to his own undoing. He falls for a young woman with angelic charm, and a woman who he doesn’t truly know, emotionally. His feelings stem from the external appearance she presents to him. The fact that he can not see what is occurring before his eyes is what coats this relationship with doom (I won’t go into the circumstances, as it will spoil it for you). He does marry, eventually, to a woman of great wealth, and a woman whose father has dictated her every move, financially. He is hired to work for his father-in-law’s law firm, where he literally begins to work from the bottom up.

Some of Vishniak’s success has depended on interactions with others, yet, most of it is due to his own resources, endeavors and capabilities. He is a quick learner, an avid and hard worker, and is striving to meet his goal of making a salary that will qualify to support his wife as an equal in contributing to the family finances. He is not secure in that fact, and often feels that his success lies on the actions and directions put forth by others. He has a definite ability in the legal maneuvers and management of real estate, and great potential in becoming future partner in his father-in-law’s law firm. This, is all on his own merit.

Pomerantz’s prose is spot on, direct and strong, and she adeptly manages to convey the working class Jewish American experience brilliantly. She masterfully portrays the characters, and this reader felt that they were realized in every aspect. The wealthy background of some of them, doesn’t help them succeed as far as their emotional intelligence is concerned. They appear as insecure as some of their less wealthy counterparts. Their mindsets, emotions, successes and failings are all depicted in vivid word imagery, and depicted with realistic personality traits, in all their variances.

Vishniak has the brains and the good looks, and can present an excellent appearance, but it takes him years to realize that he has actually made it as far as he has on is own, through his own expertise. It takes his having a child for him to understand and realize what is truly important in the scheme of life. Money does not necessarily buy contentment and happiness. It might be a means to an end, as the euphemism goes, but it can also turn out to be the end of meaningfulness.

Rich Boy is an excellent coming of age story, and a novel that emphasizes the journey of one Jewish American man to find identity and acceptance on his own, in a world of social status and extreme wealth. I applaud Sharon Pomerantz for this well-written, poignant and insightful story.

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Review: The Liberated Bride

The Liberated Bride by A.B. Yeshoshua is a study on the meaning of borders, boundaries, and crossings. It is also a story about relationships and interactions, from familial to friendship, student, professor to writer.

Although it has comic moments and visuals of comic relief, it is not a comedy, but is a serious and insightful novel. Yet, it can be defined as somewhat of a farce (I know, I know, that sounds like a bit of an oxymoron), as the pace of the book is somewhat frantic and filled with anxious and tense moments, much like the actions of Yochanan Rivlin, the main character. Yehoshua deftly conveys a roller coaster of emotions in The Liberated Bride.

The novel winds from first person to second person, more than once, but always from Rivlin’s perspective. He has recently retired as a Near-Eastern Studies Department Chair. He is obsessed with the fact that he has no answers as to why his son (who lives in Paris) is divorced from his bride of one-year, and he intrudes in every aspect in order to find out the answer. He steps outside of acceptable privacy boundaries with his manipulative behavior, past the point of no return, and past the possibility of stepping back to assess and admit the truth of his actions to himself.

The book opens at a Palestinian wedding, where Samaher (the bride) has invited Jewish professors to attend. In fact, the wedding is being put on strictly for them, as she already has been legally married within her Arab environment. Samaher is a student, working on her degree, and she eventually suffers from depression (a form of dropping out on reality, which in some weird sense can be viewed as liberating). He hates attending weddings, as they remind him of his son Ofer”s marriage and divorce five years earlier.

Rivlin wants to leave the wedding early, but his wife (a bride of sorts), Hagit, encourages him to stay. They have had a long and successful marriage, but his wife is constantly trying to discourage him from trying to find out why his son divorced, and is quite assertive through her attitude and verbalizing to Rivlin regarding his absurd escapades and fiascos (some of them she doesn’t find out until after the fact). That facet of his personality irritates her.

Hagit is a well-respected and successful district judge, independent woman. Her job requires her to make difficult decisions and rulings when people cross the boundaries of the law, much like a Biblical Deborah. She also understands the need for privacy, as she handles top-secret cases. She believes in structure in life, whereas Rivlin seems to dismiss them. He is in a constant state of obsession, always searching for the unknown answers, as the historian in him emerges at every turn, to the dismay of others.

Rivlin’s own family members travel worldwide, from city to country to continent, back and forth, crossing borders, internationally and culturally. They almost always attend a wedding in their travels. Rivlin himself travels the highways and roads of Israel, crossing borders, both physically and emotionally, as he manipulates everyone in his life, in his unyielding search for answers.

The book details much of daily life in the Middle East, and our senses are filled with activity, smells, tastes, sights and sounds, and also the conflicts within different cultures residing in the same country (the book was written before the current problems and situation). Each culture is dependent on each other, intradependent, and interdependent on each other within the cultural independence. Each person is dependent on their own culture, and also other cultures for survival. Each person is seeking truth. Yehoshua brings strong human elements to the characters. Parents from one culture do not necessarily fit the mold of the other culture.

Being a parent doesn’t give you exclusivity into the lives of your child, and your need-to-know diminishes when they become adults. Yehoshua is brilliant in his insight regarding familial bonds and the ties that bind family members, and also brilliant in his assessment of familial boundaries and privacy, and what constitutes invasion of that privacy.

The Liberated Bride left this reader to question the definition of “bride”. Also, it had me thinking issues of liberation, and what it means socially, politically and personally. There are other brides, other aspects of liberation within the almost 600-page book that I won’t delve into. You need to read the book for yourself to find out its connections and complexities.

Yehoshua leaves us to wonder who or what exactly “The Liberated Bride” is, as the word “bride” takes on many connotations, including “bridge”. Is the bride a human being/s, state of being or mindset, a country, or is it a combination of all those factors. That is the brilliance of Yehoshua, his ability to convey and bring substance to the characters and the country in The Liberated Bride.

A.B. Yehoshua was born in Jerusalem, and his own understanding of Israel is intense and runs deep. That is clearly evident in his excellent and masterful writing, with his gift for weaving diverse fabrics and threads into a tapestry of life.

Read this book yourself and make your own judgements as to who or what the bride is or represents.

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Review-Kalooki Nights

Kalooki Nights, by Howard Jacobson is an excellent book, exploring Judaism in all of its facets, giving the reader much to think about.

A Jewish cartoonist, named Max Glickman, is the narrator of this story. The story touches on many issues, including childhood, identity, pain, assimilation, memories, and friendship. It delivers considerations about what it means to be Jewish, and about growing up in a family whose father is an atheist.

Max Glickman’s childhood friend Manny Washinsky appears to be a religious fanatic (in Glickman’s eyes), along with Washinksy’s family (his brother Asher, and his mother and father). His parents rule the household with a strict hand, causing both of their sons to be in a state of constant emotional distress. Above all else, they stress the fact that their sons must marry a Jewish girl. There is no exception to the rule, no leverage or straying from that. Asher becomes emotionally involved with a girl who is a gentile, not Jewish, and he is unable to contain his emotions. Whereas Manny is brooding and silent, with nervous tics, always in prayer, always feeling as if he is the protector, always mindful, always in remembrance of the Holocaust.

It is Washinsky who brings understanding of the Holocaust to Glickman. He spurs Glickman to draw a comic work entitled “Five Thousand Years of Bitterness”, depicting in comic/caricature form the events of the Holocaust.

Glickman’s mother is Jewish and a card game addict, specifically a card game called Kalooki, and only stops to play it on the High Holy Days. His father, a born Jew, is an aethist, and is extremely intent on issues of assimilation and avoidance. He is more Jewish in his heart than he is aware of and/or wants to admit, and his life revolves around his Jewish roots and ancestry (he speaks Yiddish, for one thing). Glickman’s father would not allow Max to have a Bar Mitzvah, and wanted nothing more than for him to marry a gentile.

Jacobson
weaves his story within the Jewish world, the Holocaust, and within the world of the gentiles. He leaves us to ponder what is Jewishness, Judaism, and what is the difference and the sameness between the fine line of those who consider themselves Jewish aethists, and the practicing Orthodox Jewish community. There is an intensity within the pages, that explores the Jewish community versus the gentiles, and the interactions of both, within the varied religious and cultural expectancies. He defines the characters with pain and humor, poignancy, flaws, and humanness. He is brilliant in illuminating the humanity that we all have within us, despite our backgrounds and religious beliefs.

I enjoyed reading this book, and went back and forth within the pages, digesting all that there was presented. Bravo to Howard Jacobson’s

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Book Diva Review: The Island Within

theislandwithin The Island Within, by Ludwig Lewisohn is a saga, a novel that depicts three generations of a Jewish family as their lives lead them from Vilna, Lithuania to America. The book deals with Jewish life, its traditions, religion, and with assimilation in Eastern Europe and in America.

The story line evolves through decades of the family generations, through political turmoil, and shows how each generation leaves religion and family traditions behind in order to fit into new cultural structures, and how they try assimilate.

Deep within their assimilation questions of religion and Judaism lie lurking. Each generation’s feeling of contentment, and discontentment flows through the veins of familial lines. Each family member feels the pull of Jewishness within them, and some deny their Jewishness, while others are demonstrative in their Jewishness.

One family member, the young Arthur Levey, a psychoanalyst, begins to feel the ebb and flow of his life begin to spiritually decline, to falter, more so when his son his born. He questions his existence and lack of spiritual strength, and begins a journey to find the meaning of religion and the role it should play in his life.

The ending is poignant and lovely. We are left to ponder the issues of inter-marriage, issues of assimilation, political issues, the role of religion in modern society and the ancestral ties that bind us to our religious traditions and religious culture.

Ludwig Lewisohn writes eloquently, and with precise details, in an almost poetic fashion at times, bringing us a family saga, and excellent novel, which has something in it for everyone, Jewish or otherwise. The Island Within is a masterful saga, and its pages hold familial perception and illumination.

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Book Diva Review: The King of Schnorrers

the king of schnorrers The King of Schnorrers, by Israel Zangwill, is quite comical. The bantering back and forth really cemented the Schnorrer aspect, and gave it an in depth perspective on those who were schnorrers and how they defended and justified themselves, verbally. It also portrayed the territorial aspect of the schnorrer, and how strongly they had to discuss issues in order to gain money.

Attitudes are definitely illuminated. How one perceives themselves in regards to others is depicted vividly. One with airs is really no better than any other schnorrer. A schnorrer is a schnorrer, no matter what, although some tend to eke a better living than others.

De Costa, a schnorrer, was extremely confident, clever, sly, sharp-tongued, quick with responses. Yankel, was the same way, but had to struggle against the verbal strength of De Costa. And, so it went, on and on, almost nonstop, and the witticisms were brilliant.

Schnorrers used guilt in order to gain favors from those whose doors they knocked on, or those who they met on the street and managed to stop and corner. The wealthy Jews were hounded, and the poor were hounded, also, to “donate”.

Donations ranged from the monetary to clothes to household items. Usually the schnorrer sold whatever was donated, as far as material/tangible items went. This upped his financial ante for his household. Whether a family man or a bachelor, money was the link to survival.

The book is written with a large portion of it in broken English, or English written phonetically with an immigrant’s accent, as spoken by a Jewish man. Such words as “with” are pronounced “Vid”, or the word “will” is pronounced “vill”, for example. I am always mindful of the time period and the individuals speaking, so for me it was not an issue. This book was published in 1894, and I kept that in mind while reading it.

Also, euphemisms that are not used often in today’s world, were used then. Yiddish fills the pages, but the reader is given an English translation. One must take the variables into consideration, when reading this masterful novel.

I found myself laughing out loud while reading this book. Yet, within the humor, there is a serious undertone regarding Jewish society and its financial diversities. Responsibility for others is a strong theme.

Another thought that came to mind was the fact that the schnorrers of long ago are not so different in interactions than those who we see begging, holding up signs, and/or entertaining on the street in order to gain a coin.

I enjoyed The King of Schnorrers immensely.

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Book Diva Review: The Golden Willow

thegoldenwillow The Golden Willow: The Story of a Lifetime of Love, by Harry Bernstein is the third book he has written (the previous books are The Invisible Wall, and also The Dream).

I will not delve deeply into the story line of The Golden Willow, as I would then be giving much of it away. Suffice it to say that the memoir is one that reflects on Harry’s marriage to his wife, Ruby. It chronicles their life together, from their first meeting to their journey of love through the decades.

They fell in love at first sight, so to speak, at a dance, and that meeting took them through the trials and tribulations of marriage. They had a happy life together, at first living in a small rented room in Manhattan. From there they moved to Greenwich Village in order to be surrounded by those whose interests coincided with theirs…the cultural arts. Harry wanted to be a writer, and they both felt living within writers, painters, dancers, etc., might give him not only inspiration, but an advantage.

After approximately four years, they moved to the suburbs, and their life held new meaning, as they were parents of two children. The reader is taken through the phases of their life together, through the decades of political and social turmoil, through the decades in which their undying love for each other, and their dreams survived. Each one held the highest respect for the other, and both Harry and Ruby had a marriage full of the deepest and enduring love, combined with mutual interests, admiration and caring.

Ruby died at the age of 91, from Leukemia. Harry felt the loss deeply, after being married for so long. He eventually began writing, hoping to fulfill his long-held dream of having a book published. That dream came true in the form of The Invisible Wall.

The Golden Willow is a lovely book, and one that is a testament to their marriage, and a tribute to Ruby. It is also a tribute to Harry’s determination to try to move forward after Ruby’s death, and to tell their story. It is illuminating, filled with humor, and with much poignancy. It is not filled with the same details and lessons as The Invisible Wall and The Dream, held, as it is more of a story outlining Harry and Ruby’s marriage and deep love, and its endurance over decades. It is a memoir that will be a lasting legacy to their children, a legacy of undying love.

Harry Bernstein has written another inspiring book/memoir, and one I recommend to everyone.

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