TBA Book Groupwith Rabbi David Z. Vaisberg, M.A.R.E, M.A.H.L.
The B’nai Abraham Book Group will have engaging, meaningful, and edifying conversations about different books each month. Books are available for purchase on Amazon and other booksellers. Each discussion will be on a Wednesday, 7:30-9 p.m., via Zoom. Check your TBA weekly email for the Zoom link.
Free as a Jew: A Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation by Ruth R. Wisse – February 8
First came parents with the good sense to flee Europe in 1940 and the good fortune to reach the land of freedom. Their daughter, Ruth, grew up in the shadow of genocide—but in tandem with the birth of Israel, which remained her lodestar. She learned that although Jewishness is biologically transmitted, democracy is not, and both require intensive, intelligent transmission through education in each and every generation. They need adults with the confidence to teach their importance. Ruth tried to take on that challenge as dangers to freedom mounted and shifted sides on the political spectrum. At the high point of her teaching at Harvard University, she witnessed the unraveling of standards of honesty and truth until the academy she left was no longer the one she had entered.
Ruth R. Wisse was Professor of Yiddish literature and Comparative Literature at Harvard University from 1993–2014 and before that, helped found the Jewish Studies Department at McGill University. Currently a senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund and recipient of its Herzl Prize, she has written widely on cultural and political subjects for the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, National Affairs, and other publications. Her books include The Schlemiel as Modern Hero, The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Literature and Culture, No Joke: Making Jewish Humor, If I Am Not for Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews, and Jews and Power.
Eternal Life by Dara Horn – March 8
Rachel is a woman with a problem: she can’t die. Her recent troubles—widowhood, a failing business, an unemployed middle-aged son—are only the latest in a litany spanning dozens of countries, scores of marriages, and hundreds of children. In the 2,000 years since she made a spiritual bargain to save the life of her first son back in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, she’s tried everything to free herself, and only one other person in the world understands: a man she once loved passionately, who has been stalking her through the centuries, convinced they belong together forever.
But as the twenty-first century begins and her children and grandchildren—consumed with immortality in their own ways, from the frontiers of digital currency to genetic engineering—develop new technologies that could change her fate and theirs, Rachel knows she must find a way out.
Gripping, hilarious, and profoundly moving, Eternal Life celebrates the bonds between generations, the power of faith, the purpose of death, and the reasons for being alive.
Dara Horn, the author of the novels All Other Nights, The World to Come, and In the Image, is one of Granta’s “Best Young American Novelists” and the winner of two National Jewish Book Awards. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four children.
By the Waters of Babylon by Christopoher Farrar – April 19
When twelve-year-old Ya’el is taken prisoner by the -Babylonians, her ability to write saves her life. A girl scribe, unique in the Empire, she’s destined for slavery in the palace of king Nebuchadnezzar. Days later, her ruined city of Jerusalem is far behind. She struggles to survive on the long brutal trek, while strange dreams disturb her sleep. Her impulsiveness and passion for learning earn her hostility from fellow prisoners and murderous hatred from Babylonian guards. Desperate to avoid her looming fate, she’s forced to confront her own complicity in the vitriol directed at her. And the dreams are getting stranger.
Christopher Farrar brings the period of the Bible alive with stories of ordinary people caught up in the world-shaping events of the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament). He does this with the use of scholarly works, popular books, TV programs, trips to Israel with tours of Biblical sites, learning Hebrew, attending archaeology conferences and taking university courses. He hopes to help people get a feeling for life in Biblical times, for how the people who lived then saw their world and how, out of that world the Bible emerged.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – May 10
It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.
The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.
Chloe Benjamin is the author of The Anatomy of Dreams, which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. A graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin, Chloe lives with her husband in Madison, WI.
The Sensualist by Daniel Torday – June 14
Winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for Outstanding Debut Fiction. Raised in Baltimore in the ’90s, 17-year-old Samuel Gerson is ready to be rid of his high school baseball team, his protective upbringing, and the tight-knit Jewish community in which he’s spent his whole life. But when he befriends enigmatic Dmitri Zilber, a recent Russian Jewish immigrant who is obsessed with the works of Dostoevsky, Samuel’s world begins to shift. In the wake of his grandfather’s suicide, as his life increasingly entangles with that of Dmitri and his beautiful sister Yelizaveta, it sets in motion a series of events that culminates in a disturbing act of violence. A quietly devastating portrait of late adolescence, The Sensualist examines the culture we inherit as it collides with the one we create.
This book is fast and warm, fraught and intimate–and no slouch in the funny department, either. Daniel Torday’s voice is entirely his own. Baltimore is his. Dmitri Zilber is a brilliant character.
Daniel Torday is a two-time National Jewish Book Book Award recipient and winner of the 2017 Sami Rohr Choice Award for The Last Flight of Poxl West. Torday’s work has appeared in Conjunctions, The New York Times, Paris Review Daily, Tin House, and on NPR, and has been honored in both the Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays series. He is the Director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College.
Books read previously in 2022-23
This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew – September 14 (pre-HHD)
The Days of Awe encompass the weeks preceding Rosh Hashanah up to Yom Kippur, a period in which Jews take part in a series of rituals and prayers that reenact the journey of the soul through the world from birth to death. This is a period of contemplation and repentance, comparable to Lent and Ramadan. Yet, for Rabbi Alan Lew, the real purpose of this annual passage is for us to experience brokenheartedness and open our hearts to God.
Rabbi Alan Lew was the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco for over a decade and was the founder of Makor Or, the first meditation center connected to a synagogue. He was also the author of Be Still and Get Going: A Jewish Meditation Practice for Real Life; One God Clapping: The Spiritual Path of a Zen Rabbi, which won the PEN Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence; and numerous works of poetry.
Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams – November 9
“Your problem is you have a Russian soul,” Anna’s mother tells her. In 1980, Anna is a naïve UConn senior studying abroad in Moscow at the height of the Cold War—and a second-generation Russian Jew raised on a calamitous family history of abandonment, Czarist-era pogroms, and Soviet-style terror. As Anna dodges date rapists, KGB agents, and smooth-talking black marketeers while navigating an alien culture for the first time, she must come to terms with the aspects of the past that haunt her own life. With its intricate insight into the everyday rhythms of an almost forgotten way of life in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, Forget Russia is a disquieting multi-generational epic about coming of age, forgotten history, and the loss of innocence in all of its forms.
L. Bordetsky-Williams is the author of Forget Russia, which was chosen as an Editors’ Choice Book by the Historical Novel Society. She has also published The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf, Letters to Virginia Woolf; and three poetry chapbooks—The Eighth Phrase, Sky Studies, and In the Early Morning Calling. In 1980, she studied in Moscow at the Pushkin Institute. She is a Professor of Literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey and lives in New York City.
The Memory Monster by Yishai Sarid, Yardenne Greenspan (Translator) – December 21
Written as a report to the chairman of Yad Vashem, our unnamed narrator recounts his own undoing. Hired as a promising young historian, he soon becomes a leading expert on Nazi methods of extermination at concentration camps in Poland during World War II and guides tours through the sites for students and visiting dignitaries.
The Memory Monster confronts difficult questions that are all too relevant to Israel and the world today: How do we process human brutality? What makes us choose sides in conflict? And how do we honor the memory of horror without becoming consumed by it?
Yishai Sarid is an Israeli author, novelist and lawyer. His second book, Limassol, became an international best-seller. His fourth book, The Third, became a major subject of public and literary discussion in Israel and won the Bernstein literary award. Sarid works full-time as an attorney, formerly as a public prosecutor and now privately.
Click here to purchase Memory Monster on Amazon.com
Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew by Michael Twitty – January 11
In Koshersoul, Michael W. Twitty considers the marriage of two of the most distinctive culinary cultures in the world today: the foods and traditions of the African Atlantic and the global Jewish diaspora. To Twitty, the creation of African-Jewish cooking is a conversation of migrations and a dialogue of diasporas offering a rich background for inventive recipes and the people who create them.
Michael W. Twitty is a food writer, independent scholar, culinary historian, and historical interpreter personally charged with preparing, preserving and promoting African American foodways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South. He is also a Judaic studies teacher from the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area and his interests include food culture, food history, Jewish cultural issues, African American history and cultural politics.
Books covered in 2021-2022
The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen – June 8
Corbin College, not-quite-upstate New York, winter 1959-1960: Ruben Blum, a Jewish historian – but not an historian of the Jews – is coopted onto a hiring committee to review the application of an exiled Israeli scholar specializing in the Spanish Inquisition. When Benzion Netanyahu shows up for an interview, family unexpectedly in tow, Blum plays the reluctant host to guests who proceed to lay waste to his American complacencies. Mixing fiction with non-fiction, the campus novel with the lecture, THE NETANYAHUS is a wildly inventive, genre-bending comedy of blending, identity, and politics – ‘An Account of A Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Incident in the History of a Very Famous Family’ that finds Joshua Cohen at the height of his powers.
Joshua Cohen (born September 6, 1980 in New Jersey) is an American novelist and writer of stories.
Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger – May 11
Despite her parents’ struggles with addiction, Lilly Dancyger always thought of her childhood as a happy one. But what happens when a journalist interrogates her own rosy memories to reveal the instability around the edges? Dancyger’s father, Joe Schactman, was part of the iconic 1980s East Village art scene. He created provocative sculptures out of found materials like animal bones, human hair, and broken glass, and brought his young daughter into his gritty, iconoclastic world. She idolized him—despite the escalating heroin addiction that sometimes overshadowed his creative passion. When Schactman died suddenly, just as Dancyger was entering adolescence, she went into her own self-destructive spiral, raging against a world that had taken her father away. As an adult, Dancyger began to question the mythology she’d created about her father—the brilliant artist, struck down in his prime. Using his sculptures, paintings, and prints as a guide, Dancyger sought out the characters from his world who could help her decode the language of her father’s work to find the truth of who he really was.
Lilly Dancyger is a contributing editor at Catapult, and assistant editor at Barrelhouse Books. She’s the author of Negative Space, a reported and illustrated memoir selected by Carmen Maria Machado as a winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards; and the editor of Burn It Down, a critically acclaimed anthology of essays on women’s anger from Seal Press. Her writing has been published by Longreads, The Washington Post, Glamour, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and more.
The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein – April 13
From a star theoretical physicist, a journey into the world of particle physics and the cosmos — and a call for a more just practice of science. In The Disordered Cosmos, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein shares her love for physics, from the Standard Model of Particle Physics and what lies beyond it, to the physics of melanin in skin, to the latest theories of dark matter — all with a new spin informed by history, politics, and the wisdom of Star Trek.
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is an American and Barbadian theoretical cosmologist, and is both an Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy and a Core Faculty Member in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of New Hampshire.
Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel by Matti Friedman – March 9
Matti Friedman is an Israeli Canadian journalist and author. Friedman was born in Canada and grew up in Toronto. In 1995, he made aliyah to Israel and now lives in Jerusalem. Between 2006 and the end of 2011, Friedman was a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press (AP) news agency. During his journalistic career, he also worked as a reporter in Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Moscow, and Washington, D.C.
When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains by Ariana Neumann – February 9
Ariana Neumann was born in Caracas, Venezuela. She has been researching her family history, tracing people, uncovering untold stories and solving the mysteries of her father’s past for over a decade. Ariana studied History and French Literature at Tufts University and received an MA from New York University in Spanish and Latin American Literature. She also has a degree from University of London in Psychology of Religion.
The Quiet Boy by Ben Winters – January 12
From the bestselling author of Underground Airlines and Golden State, a sweeping legal thriller about a sixteen-year-old who suffers from a neurological condition that has frozen him in time, and the team of lawyers, doctors, and detectives who are desperate to wake him up. Told from alternating perspectives, The Quiet Boy explores the tensions between justice and compassion, in heart-pounding prose. With clever plotting, and a knack for character, Winters expertly weaves a group of misfits together in a race to save themselves and an innocent life.
Ben Winters is the New York Times bestselling author of Underground Airlines and the Last Policeman trilogy. The second novel in the trilogy, Countdown City, was an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick award. The Last Policeman was the recipient of the 2012 Edgar Award, and was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Amazon.com and Slate.
The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross – October 13
What if there was a town that history missed? For decades, the tiny Jewish shtetl of Kreskol existed in happy isolation, virtually untouched and unchanged. Spared by the Holocaust and the Cold War, its residents enjoyed remarkable peace. It missed out on cars, and electricity, and the internet, and indoor plumbing. But when a marriage dispute spins out of control, the whole town comes crashing into the twenty-first century.
Max Gross is a former staff writer for the New York Post and the Forward and is currently the Editor in Chief of the Commercial Observer.
The Messiah of Stockholm by Cynthia Ozick – November 17
A small group of Jews weave a web of intrigue and fantasy around a book reviewer’s contention that he is the son of Bruno Schulz, the legendary Polish writer killed by the Nazis before his magnum opus, The Messiah, could be brought to light.
Cynthia Ozick was the recipient of the first Rea Award for the Short Story in 1976, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award in 2008. Upon publication of her 1983 The Shawl, Edmund White wrote in the New York Times, “Miss Ozick strikes me as the best American writer to have emerged in recent years…Judaism has given to her what Catholicism gave to Flannery O’Connor.”
-June 9, 2021: Beyond the Ghetto Gates by Michelle Cameron
-May, 2021: Dangerous Religious Ideas: the Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Rachel Mikva
–April, 2021: The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman-November, 2020: Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander
-March, 2021: The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City by Scott D. Seligman (author spoke at to the Book Group).
-February, 2021: Caste: the Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
-January, 2021:Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret
-December, 2020: Homesick by Eshkol Nevo