Tag Archives: Jewish Traditions

Book Diva Review: Doublelife

Doublelife2

Doublelife: One Family Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope, by Harold Berman and Gayle Redlingshafer Berman, is a book that is inspiring and paints a vivid portrait of the religious journeys the authors took within their interfaith marriage.

From the moment they met, Harold and Gayle knew they were meant for each other despite their different religious outlooks. Harold was a secular Jew, Gayle was Christian. They did not let that deter them in their relationship. Once they decided to marry, their plans included a ceremony that would include aspects of both religions.

Their story is told through letters written to each other, letters that include the year leading up to their marriage. The letters written in that first year are filled with questions, hesitations, apprehensions regarding religion and religious life, and emotions that ebb and flow. Their letters are infused with their thoughts, blending logic and emotion, yet, always trying to come to a resolution that is shared.

For Gayle, Christmas was a big issue. For Harold it meant nothing in the realm of religion or Christmas trees. For Gayle, whose music career was important, church attendance was primary in her life. For Harold, renewing his Judaism and attending a synagogue was becoming a primary factor.

They had both decided that they would attend a local synagogue. Gayle did not want Harold to feel excluded from Judaism, and also wanted to learn more about the service and celebrations. From there, Jewish ideals took root in Harold, and the reader can see him change from one written correspondence to the next. He was beginning to ask questions, ponder issues, and he became involved in Jewish practice from baby steps to large strides. The building blocks were in force, and each step cemented his beliefs and caused him to seek more knowledge. He set a religious foundation for himself. Gayle followed along.

And, with that act of following, we see her grow and come into her own regarding Judaism. She fasts on the first Yom KIppur that they share. A small step for some, a large step for her. She becomes knowledgeable on various Jewish holidays, and the more she learns the more she wants to educate herself. She slowly evolves, and at one point even questions how she can be involved in a church music program when her Christianity beliefs are beginning to fade.

In the beginning of their marriage, they did not want children. That eventually changed, and it was Harold who initiated that change. Once they decided to have a child, they knew that an interfaith religious background would not suit them. Gayle was receptive and supportive of that concept.

I enjoyed Gayle’s transition over the years. And, more so, once she and Harold adopted their first child. They had decided that their son would be raised Jewish. They both felt that one religion should be a dominating factor, and that two religions might be confusing to him. From that moment on, the change in Gayle was dramatic. Her searches lead her to question more. They also bring her discomfort with herself, as she flounders within a religious realm, not realizing who she is or what she is.

Harold also transitions, and Orthodox Judaism becomes his choice, and within that choice, discussed with Gayle, their child will be raised as such.

Doublelife is a story that shows the determination of two people to accept each other’s religious backgrounds, and work towards an understanding that will blend their views together. And, through that acceptance, they remained in constant communication with each other regarding their fears. Communication was the cement that bound them together.

There is so much to glean from reading Doublelife: One Family Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope. It is a story whose journey has religious depth and meaning, and has multitudes of questioning on Judaism. The reader can learn a lot from this family, who began their married life as an interfaith couple. The trials of keeping a Jewish home, especially for Gayle, shows the religious force depicted in great detail. Her spiritual outlook became defined in ways she could not have imagined. The story unfolded, and this reader was swept away by the frankness, and the sense of love that sparked two individuals to change, not only for themselves, but for each other and those around them.

I highly recommend Doublelife: One Family Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope. There are lessons within the pages that everyone can find meaning in. It is not simply a story regarding Judaism. There are many more aspects to it that will appeal to everyone. From acceptance and understanding to hope and inspiration, the messages are ones we can all learn from and appreciate.

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Book Diva Review: The Rarest Blue

therarestblue Have you ever wondered how “Tekhelet” is created, or where it originated? Do you know the meaning of Tekhelet? Baruch Sterman, with Judy Taubes Sterman, have brilliantly written about “Tekhelet”, or Tyrian Blue in their book, The Rarest Blue: The Remarkable Story of an Ancient Color Lost to History and Rediscovered.

The story takes the reader on a journey, not only through time, but through thousands of miles, literally trekkiing to find sources of a particular snail, the murex snails. These snails are the foundation for the dyeing process that produces the particular Tyrian Blue color.

Think about it, where in nature do you normally find a blue color? The sky, certain seas or lakes take on a blue tone, and even a few flowers have blue tones to them, but it is not normally found in nature, never mind the particular Tyrian Blue used in Tekhelet. It was also used in the High Priest garments and in the Tabernacle’s tapestries, and a few other items. Blue, surprisingly, is not normally a color found in nature’s environments.

I enjoyed reading about the adventure that was undertaken in order to find the murex snails and in order to find documentation of the dyeing process. It was fascinating to read. It was also inspiring on several levels. For me, it was especially intriguing and inspiring concerning the precious Tzitzit threads, the knotted fringes that are attached to the corners of the Tallit/Jewish prayer shawl, and how Tekhelet, the biblical blue dye, is created and used in the shawls.

The authors are brilliant in their descriptions, and the word-paintings within the pages are masterfully depicted. Other than the scientific and the technical inclusions, I found the pages infused with beautiful prose, almost poetic at times. The scientific blends perfectly with the religious within the story line and the historical factors. Torah and science coexist on this adventure through time and place.

The biblical references that were mentioned reinforced the ancient use of Tekhelet, but also conveyed the deep-rooted Jewish tradition of using the color that was considered to be sacred.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Rarest Blue: The Remarkable Discovery of an Ancient Color Lost to History and Rediscovered. I learned so much about Tekhelet, and the historical factors that went into producing it centuries and centuries ago. I will look at my Tallit with more profoundness, and will never take Tyran Blue for granted.

Bravo to Baruch Sterman and Judy Taubes Sterman for their extreme endeavors and devotion to uncover the mystery of the ancient knowledge of Tekhelet.

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Book Diva Review: Bread Givers

bread givers Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska is a compelling book, not only in its vivid descriptions of life in Manhattan during the 1910s-1920s, but also its look into an Orthodox Jewish family, and its standards. It is a coming of age story, of the youngest of three children.

The familial patriarch is Rabbi Smolinksy, and his wife is Shenah, who is in awe of him, despite her nagging manner. His interactions, decisions and doctrine influence his daughters, Fania, Bessie, Mashah, and Sara in ways that mold their lives, in a negative manner. The three older daughters go along with his dogmatic and fanatical whims and attitude. His manipulations, rants and raves eventually cause them to give in to his dictates. The youngest daughter, Sara, learns at the age of ten, about the family dynamics, and how each daughter was expected to turn over their entire income to support the family. She learns what she wants early in life, due to her father’s looming presence and demands. She is very strong-willed. Family life is seen through her eyes, and they are the eyes of a three-dimensional person, a person of substance and depth.

She begins to sell herring at the age of ten in order to help support the family. In the back of her mind she is determined to be independent, and not to be lead through life by her father’s decisions. His decisions are often determined due to the fact that he is ignorant in the ways of American life. Rabbi Smolinsky is ignorant in the area of business dealings, and the dealings of life in general. He is bound by Eastern European tradition, and religious tradition, which he enforces with his harsh vocalizations. No man is good enough for his older daughters, despite the fact that they want to marry particular individuals. He finds fault with all of them, and he ends up choosing who they marry, and they do not live happily ever after. His determinations and final edicts are not necessarily positive ones for his daughters, but somehow decisions that gain him some monetary dowry or enhancement.

Rabbi Smolinsky lives by the text of the Talmud, in every aspect. In fact the Talmud is quoted through much of the book to justify why he acts the way he does. He uses religion to enhance his decisions, and is fanatical about vocalizing the teachings, to the extent that hourly and daily life is disrupted. He is a tyrant, a bully, a man of many words, words that are emotionally disgruntling. He hangs on tightly to every thread of his Eastern Europe culture and life style, unable to adjust to change, unable to assimilate into the modern world. While his wife and four daughters struggle to earn money to survive with the basics, he deals with his studies, unaware of the reality of life. They beg him to work, even part time, he refuses, and goes back to his studies, even if it means they go hungry. He is a pampered individual, and his every desire is what rules the family. He is not a responsible person, and his family suffers greatly. I found him to be pathetic, in the way he used and manipulated his daughters for his own benefit.

Sara, meanwhile, has decided she will not succumb to her father’s domination, and his demands. She will not let him marry her off to someone she doesn’t love. She leaves home at the age of 17, finds a dark room to rent, works, saves money, and puts herself through college. She is a woman of strength and determination, which is what allows her to reach her goals. She has an identity, at a young age, and is discontent with the way the females of the family are treated. Yet, with her independence, she is often bound to her familial ties. Love hate relationships were strong within the pages.


Yezierska
is brilliant in her writing, strong in her ability to depict tradition and assimilation into the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Tradition and modern America do not blend together in a positive fashion, in this novel. Sara is not the ideal of the Rabbi’s daughter.

Yezierska weaves a story that incorporates struggles, both emotional and mental, within the pages. Women are considered to be less than life, to be used, manipulated and abused for the gain of the family patriarch. Female identity and immigrant assimilation are major forces that Yezierska evokes within the pages. The conflicts are vividly written, and the reader feels the emotions behind the words. It is a look into the early twentieth century, and Jewish life within the confines of immigration and steadfast ideals.

Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers is a masterpiece, and an inspiring one at that. Linguistics is a force within the pages, and Sara literally works her way through high school, and learns to speak correct English. Yezierska brings honor, determination and strength to Sara, and shows how through all of Sara’s sacrifices, she was able to reach her dream. She rose from poverty to a position of respect, and did it on her own. She was able to conquer her fears and accomplish her goals. The masterful writing of Anzia Yezierska has given us an inspiring character to admire. The book has much historical value, giving the reader a perspective on the Jewish immigrant experience, and bringing the reader insight into the life of Jews trying to assimilate. The past is ever present, no matter how hard we try to leave it behind. One world was trying to compete with another, and not always successfully, as culture clashes were abundant.

I highly recommend Bread Givers. It is an extremely illuminating novel, on many levels.

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Does the Soul Survive?

Does the Soul Survive?” (A Jewish Journey to Belief in Afterlife, Past Lives & Living With Purpose) is Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz’s extremely thought-provoking book. We travel with him on his steps towards awareness.

Does the Soul Survive? is a compilation of experiences from firsthand accounts that were told to him by others, from experiences his own wife had, to his own experiences with a friend who is dying, and other experience of his own, the book will leave you considering the role that the “afterlife” and the role that “past lives” play in your current life.

Through Rabbi Spitz’s own observations and his participation with individuals (both living and dying), he has documented events that border on the conscious and subconscious levels of these individuals. Their souls are brought forth. Through his exploration of whether immortality of the soul is actual, his writing is stimulating, yet written with sensitivity to the issues within Judaism, regarding eternal life. Rabbi Spitz manages to combine emotions, subconscious thinking, spiritual beliefs and logic within the pages.

He doesn’t force his opinion or his finding on anyone, but rather gently tries to evoke us to consider his information with an open mind, and not with a narrow one. The pages are filled with inspiration and purpose. For him, the end result would be for each reader to search for meaning, both in Judaism and daily life. He realizes the problems within the theory of soul-survival, yet, in my opinion Elie Kaplan Spitz has achieved his goal with his insightful, and inspiring Does the Soul Survive?.

“Elegantly written . . . Rabbi Elie Spitz’s ‘journey’ will inspire its readers to follow his example and search for what is meaningful in Jewish life and learning.”…Elie Wiesel

I personally own and have read this book. Does the Soul Survive? was given to me by a friend in 2004, during the period when my mother was dying.  After his wife had died, it had been given to him by a friend. After reading the book, I returned it to him, and bought my own copy.

~~Book Diva

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The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, by Lucette Lagnado

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family’s Exodus From Old Cairo to the New World, by Lucette Lagnado is a vividly written book, descriptive of the plight of the Egyptian Jews from Cairo during the 1940s through the early 1970s. Lagnado writes from the perspective of her childhood memories, memories of a loving daughter, one who adored her “boulevardier” father, Leon, who she felt gave her more attention than her mother, Edith.

Leon was much older than Edith, and expected Edith to wait on him hand and foot, leaving her more like a doormat. She was a wife who was not viewed as an equal in any aspect, and was a compliant, passive, demure, tragic figure in their lives. Edith hardly had time for herself. Lagnado’s father, Leon, was in his own mind, a legend in his own time, while living in Cairo, demanding respect and devotion wherever he went. The man who liked to be known as a “boulevardier” (repeated many times throughout the book, as if it was a title fitting a king, rather than that of a man who walked the streets of Cairo wheeling and dealing) felt he was a worldly man, although he never did travel the world (other than to flee with his family to Paris, before emigrating to the U.S). He didn’t actually work to earn a living, but gambled daily, and also played the stock market, and even kept that a secret from his wife, until he was hospitalized and she needed to access funds to pay rent, etc. Lagnado said that gambling was Leon’s passion, not really understanding it was much more than a passion, and it was an interference in his family life. He enjoyed his nickname “The Captain”, and dressed sharply in white sharkskin suits, staying out until dawn.

Leon considered himself a devout Jew, going to Synagogue early in the morning, afternoon and evening to pray. Yet, the patriarchal man who prayed, also strayed on his wife, often returning home in the middle of the night, after frequenting the gambling houses and bars, thriving within the fast, night life of Cairo. To him, religion, prayer, drinking, gambling, and other external pleasures outside the marriage could coexist. This behavior continued, even after they lost a daughter, and Edith was in mourning. Nothing could keep him home.

The first half of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit deals with their lives in Cairo and is well-written with its historical content. Lagnado writes with reverence for her father, but much of that adulation is from the point of view of a child, aged five through eleven. She doesn’t display the same sense of adoration for her mother.

The second half of the book deals with their emigration from Cairo to Paris, and eventually to their final destination in Brooklyn, New York. The family had to sell off all their furniture and belongings, and could only leave Cairo with a little over $200, due to Egypt law. We see Leon and the family go from riches to rags, immediately upon leaving Cairo. They were a family in transit, no country, and living off of the handouts of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in both Paris and Brooklyn. Leon sold ties, not earning much, and the “silk” ties he sold were not actually made of silk, and not made where the tags stated they were made. They were made in New York with phony labels, and not sewn in the exotic countries he claimed they were made in. He often took Lagnado with him when selling ties, introducing her as his granddaughter, not his daughter, in order to gain sympathy so he could sell a tie or two.

Lagnado writes of their difficult times in Brooklyn, and her father’s inability and/or refusal to assimilate into his new environment, causing stress on her mother and the rest of the family, who protested his attitude. Her father wanted to borrow $2000 to start a business, and was refused the loan. He complained to no end, and continually blamed his dire circumstances on everyone but where the blame belonged, on himself. There were medical issues, also.

Lagnado had been misdiagnosed with “cat scratch fever” in Cairo. This diagnosis lasted through the years. After moving to Brooklyn, and going to medical hospitals, she was finally diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease by one Dr. Lee, a specialist, and she was given a course of treatment. The family never failed to demean the hospital staff, the resident medical doctors, etc. Other than Lagnado, herself (she remains close friends to this day with Dr. Lee), the rest of the family never seemed grateful for the fact that Lagnado’s Hodgkins Disease had finally been diagnosed correctly and was given a treatment program (unlike the misdiagnosis in Cairo). It almost seemed as if they wanted to believe the doctors in Cairo. The family was, seemingly, in denial, unable to comprehend and cope with the situation.

The Lagnado family’s difficulty in assimilating, and Leon’s refusal to heed the HIAS’s instructions left me with no sympathy for them and their situation. They expected that everyone but themselves should pay for their wants and needs. They were a family in crisis who could not, or would not, help themselves. Their indecisiveness was often the root of their problems. They helped to create much of the chaos and emotional distress in their depressive lives.

When Lagnado returned to the old neighborhood in Cairo in 2005 for a sojourn, she realized how well off they actually would not have been, had they stayed, or if they had returned to live there, again. The same street today, now called Ramses Street is by no means the Malaka Nazli of her remembered childhood. Of course she initially wrote about their lives in Cairo from the perspective of a child, her formative years. And, she wrote from her father’s own stories. As an adult she viewed things differently, with the clarity of a grown woman.

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit was well-written, descriptive, vivid with word visuals, describing life in Cairo, and their lives in Brooklyn. Lagnado has a sense of time and place, and her research proved effective in conveying it to the reader. It is an excellent family historical accounting. Although the last half of the book left me feeling a bit empty towards the family and their circumstances, it was just as descriptive and well-written as the first half. Lagnado does illuminate the pages of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit with excellent word-paintings of the history of Jewish Cairo, of Jews in transit and stateless…Jews with no country, and Jewish immigration and assimilation.

I personally own and have read this book.

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