Hanukkah Book-Buying Ideas

For the book lovers on your Hanukkah gift list, reviewers Rabbi Goldie Milgram and E. Bub offer the following suggestions:

dreidels-on-the-brainGive Dreidels on the Brain by Joel ben Izzy on the first night of Hanukkah, and then discuss it on the eighth night. A delightful short volume based in the lifetime of most living grandparents. It’s perfect for grandchildren and grandparents as a shared experience. Through this story, they will love and get to know each other – and Hanukkah – in new and delightful ways. -Rabbi Goldie Milgram
 

mathematicians-shivaA simultaneously delightful and poignant novel, The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer pulls the curtain back on the competitive nature of academia. Discover how a prominent, fictional female mathematician gets the last laugh in a field of envious male colleagues. The Jewish mourning practice, known as shiva, which ensures those in mourning are softly supported and not isolated, serves as the backdrop for the shenanigans in this spicy offering. -Rabbi Goldie Milgram
 

cover 08122014New Mitzvah Stories for the Whole Family, edited by Goldie Milgram and Ellen Frankel, inspires good Jewish values across the generations through contemporary stories by over 40 authors. The book covers the full spectrum of Jewish life, personal orientation and family structure. Each tale is paired with a stimulating guide for reflection, discussion and action. -E. Bub

A Tale of Two Presidential Menorahs

By Alanna Sobel

sagamore_menorah_front_npsNear Oyster Bay on the North Shore of Long Island, you can walk in the footsteps of the 26th President of the United States. Theodore Roosevelt’s “Summer White House,” as it was affectionately known, is called Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in the park world. Heirlooms, hunting trophies, and souvenirs light up the 23 rooms of this house and fill visitors’ minds with ideas about who President Roosevelt was and what was important to him and his family.

In one of these rooms, you step through an archway of two African elephant tusks and find yourself surrounded by treasures. Measuring 30 feet by 40 feet, this space is called the North Room and was added to the home in 1905 to host social gatherings and special events.

Among those treasures are two golden menorahs. I’ve read that a 1909 photograph shows the menorahs on top of the bookcase in the front of the North Room and a 1948 photograph has them placed on top of the bookcase in the back of the same room.

The fact that President Roosevelt valued these menorahs so much that they were out on display and are now part of a park is incredibly special to me. Time and time again, national parks and their programs show me that the National Park System is as diverse as we are as individuals. I had no idea that a park honoring the life and legacy of President Roosevelt would have a connection to my Jewish faith.

The story goes that the two menorahs were given to President Roosevelt by Mrs. Leavitt of New York City, who is described in park records as a close friend of Martha Bulloch Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. For artifact-lovers like me, here is a letter dated September 4, 1883, from Theodore Roosevelt to his mother, Martha, in which he asks his mother to send his Aunt and Mrs. Leavitt his regards.

While Mrs. Leavitt and her husband were descendants of many generations of theologians, abolitionists, and Congregationalist ministers, and were known to care deeply about religion and theology, there is no indication that they were Jewish.

Having said that, the two seven-armed menorahs are symbolic of the Jewish religion. I specify seven arms because this style is different than the nine-armed Chanukiahs, which are lit when celebrating Chanukah.

While not much else is known about Mrs. Leavitt nor the menorahs, their existence is enough to help me feel like I’m part of the story too.

Maybe someday someone who is admiring all the home’s furnishings will recognize the menorahs and add their knowledge to this story. That is one of my favorite things about our national parks: every time we visit, we enrich these places and help the park community tell a more complete story.

Published in National Park Foundation.

“Denial” Puts Holocaust Denial on Trial

Movie review by Deborah Baer Mozes

There can come a time in life when a person must take a stand, be a leader, or as in Deborah Lipstadt’s case, become Boadicea, the Warrior Queen from British history. This is the core of “Denial,” David Hare’s riveting courtroom drama and screenplay adaptation of Deborah Lipstadt’s book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier. [Read more…]

Gettysburg Address Applied to the Election

Gettysburg applied to Election. Credit: Pablo Arcuschin.

Gettysburg Address applied to Election. Credit: Pablo Arcuschin.

The words of the Gettysburg Address together with fascinating whiteboard illustrations are applied to the Presidential Election in this video. It is a thought provoking take on the divisions in our society. “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The video for the presidential elections has been prepared by a young Israeli animator, Pablo Arcuschin, 31. His firm, Whiteboard Animation of Tel Aviv, brings Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to life to encourage Americans of all political persuasions to get involved and make their voices heard on election day.

A Tale of Two Readings: Lisa Grunberger to Read From Her Work

Philadelphia’s arts and culture life is, to use Ernest Hemingway’s felicitous phrase, “a moveable feast.” Writer and award-winning poet Lisa Grunberger has contributed to this life of art and culture since she moved to Philadelphia nine years ago.

Lisa Grunberger

Lisa Grunberger

Grunberger, the Arts & Culture editor of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, is an assistant professor of English at Temple University. She has published two books: the poetry collection Born Knowing, and the modern Jewish folktale Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie’s Adventures in Love, Loss and the Lotus Position. Grunberger will be presenting her works in Philadelphia at both a poetry reading (October 8) and a book reading (October 15). [Read more…]

Philip Roth’s “Indignation” Now a Film: An Interview With Director James Schamus

By Lisa Grunberger (with research support by Robert G. Margolis)

“Nobody has anything to worry about from a book.” — Philip Roth, in a conversation about his novel “Indignation”

“Take care, philosophers and friends, of knowledge, and beware of martyrdom!” — Friedrich Nietzsche in “Beyond Good and Evil”

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

I said to screenwriter and director James Schamus, as we began to discuss his directorial debut, a theatrical film version of Philip Roth’s novel Indignation: “The movie deserves the disclaimer: ‘No words by Philip Roth were harmed during the making of this movie.'” [Read more…]

Theater Review: ‘The Christians’ Has Little More Than Atmosphere

the christians-421

Erika LaVonn and Paul Deboy in “The Christians.”

Lucas Hnath’s “The Christians,” directed by Timothy Bond, is a juvenile undramatic portrait of a mega church and its Pastor. Playing at the Wilma Theatre through May 29th, the play tells the story of Pastor Paul, the founder of a successful super church who delivers a sermon (perhaps not incidentally on the day the church, after 10 years, is debt-free) wherein he changes his theological belief on the existence of hell.

After telling a story about a young boy, not a Christian, who heroically saves his own sister by running into a burning building, Pastor Paul concludes from this parable, that this boy will live on in heaven. Hell, Pastor Paul teaches, from the original Greek, is a dumping ground, not an actual place of eternal damnation.

This sermon, delivered by actor Paul Deboy, to his chorus, his congregants (the audience), his wife, (Erika LaVonn) and assistant Pastor Joshua (Delance Minefee), catalyzes his downfall as church membership declines and Pastor Joshua starts his own successful church. The rest of the play vaguely explores this theological controversy in a decidedly dilettantish manner, throwing around biblical verses in a cursory way that does not reflect deeply on the issues Hnath raises.

During the play’s opening sequence, the audience is entertained by a chorus of 19 singers (all local Philadelphians under the direction of Michael Keck) who sing evangelical songs (indeed I saw one audience member sing along clearly comforted by the play so far) with lyrics such as “build your hopes on things eternal/hold his hand, God’s unchanging hand.” The set, artfully designed by Matt Saunders, reproduces the super church environment.

But Hnath’s investigation of the theological concepts of hell, heaven, belief and faith fall short, lacking much substance. There is little, if any genuine drama in the play – Pastor Paul knows exactly what he wants and seems fearless and even arrogant in his manner. His tone and voice are reminiscent of Garrison Keillor from the Lake Wobegon live radio show – a preternaturally calm tone with a sing-songy cadence that does not suggest any struggle with his new belief on sin and the after-life. Pastor Paul seems almost too sure of his theological beliefs and feels talk-show-hosty and condescending to his parishioners.

Hnath too easily settles for a high concept to the detriment of much substance in this undramatic portrayal of a minister and his church. When his wife leaves him at the end of the play, because she does indeed believe in hell and finds his beliefs anathema, there is no pathos, the characters remain hollow, not even rising to the level of ideological talking heads.

The play is more often than not manipulative in its use of music and religion and relies too heavily on them to achieve some higher emotional effect. Nothing seems to be at stake for Pastor Paul who seems at peace in his newfound theological convictions, willing to pay the price (his church, his family) for his beliefs. When he repeats the line “I have a powerful urge to communicate with you, but I find the distance between us insurmountable,” it sounds more like an advertising slogan or something easily blurbed by a reviewer than a deeply felt piece of writing.

“The Christians” is playing now through May 29 at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad Street. Tickets are between $10 and $25. Information: 215-546-7824.