Celebrate Jewish identity and culture
Jewish Holidays Cookbook: Festive Meals for Celebrating the Year serves up the snappy style, weighty content and yummy photos characteristic of publisher DK. Author Jill Colella Bloomfield, a specialist in picky eaters, pairs with a foodie rabbi to take kids on a culinary tour of the calendar. After a brief description of each holiday, traditional foods are noted and explained. Why, for example, is challah bread round at Rosh Hashana, why do Israelis eat jelly doughnuts at Hanukkah, and why is cheesecake de rigueur at Shavuot? Each dish looks fun to make and fun to eat. If keeping kosher is a concern, note that all recipes are labeled dairy, meat or pareve (neutral). If keeping kosher is an absolute mystery, note the delightfully brief, accurate and evenhanded explanation. This cheerful introduction to Jewish cooking makes a great gift for kids who know their kreplach from a kishke, and kids who don't - yet.
Preserving history and culture
Large and small, old and new, struggling and thriving - Jewish museums on six continents are represented in the enormous Jewish Museums of the World: Masterpieces of Judaica. Abundant photographs highlight exemplary artifacts or architectural details from each institution. The author, renowned Judaic scholar and curator Grace Grossman, provides an engaging introduction to the history and meanings of Jewish - themed museums, as well as accessible and informative essays for the major geographic regions. The task of selecting representative artworks must have been daunting, but it has made that of selecting a gift for anyone interested in Judaica, museum culture or Jewish history quite easy.
The most effective Jewish museums (or museums, period, for that matter) blur the boundaries between past, present and future. They urge active participation from the visitor by facilitating a journey through carefully orchestrated works and spaces. No one does this with more dash and controversy than "starchitect" Daniel Libeskind, the man responsible for the Jewish Museum Berlin: a startling construction with inaccessible voids, underground "axial routes" and an intentional dead end. With four Jewish museums now to his credit, it is time for the first published survey: Daniel Libeskind and the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Filled with gorgeous photographs, essays, sketches and texts by Libeskind, it is an invaluable guide to the ideas behind designs in which every feature is infused with meaning and intent. Particularly highlighted is the recently opened Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Both hailed and scorned by critics, here it is convincingly presented as the latest proof that Libeskind truly honors the unique spirit of a location.
Keeping the faith
Jonathan D. Sarna's A Time to Every Purpose: Letters to a Young Jew is an art book of an entirely different sort: it deals with the art of mentoring. Starting with 13 letters ostensibly written to his teenage daughter, Sarna uses Jewish holidays, one per letter, as a springboard for life lessons. Lest one imagine this is another holiday how - to book, remember that Sarna is arguably our most acclaimed scholar of American Jewish history. He may begin with a particular festival, but he ends up with 13 forays into the hows and whys of living an authentic Jewish life. Unafraid of the complexity of contemporary Jewish identity, he addresses topics both relevant and pressing: intermarriage, the environment, Israel, social action and other hot buttons. The book's comfortable mix of scholarly chops, fatherly warmth and writerly prose goes far in making a convincing argument that "doing Jewish" is more valuable than simply "being Jewish."
A Jewish Woman's Prayer Book is precisely as simple and as complex as the title suggests. At first glance, one wonders who has the chutzpah to assume a single book can serve the spiritual needs of all Jewish women. With different denominations, types of spirituality, levels of religious observance and Hebrew facility floating around out there, how can one book manage? Surprisingly well, actually. This is no slim volume of platitudes: it is rather a massive tome of assiduously researched material culled from centuries of women's public and private prayers. Each prayer is presented in English and Hebrew with commentary below. Arranged by the type of occasion that might warrant supplication or praise, the book includes lifecycle events, holidays, rituals, times of crises, fertility issues, motherhood and prayers for peace. The editor, Aliza Lavie, an Israeli professor, combines the rigor of scholarship with grace and warmth. Her initial inspiration came from a personal need to respond to the catastrophic terrorist attacks around her. Where were the prayers that could even begin to address that kind of unbearable pain? Lavie found them, as well as prayers for events in all shades of pain and joy, contemplation and activity. The comprehensive result makes a welcome and useful gift to a Jewish woman of faith.
Rounding off this collection of Jewish books is Resurrecting Hebrew, by Ilan Stevens. Was Hebrew dead?, you may ask. As an everyday spoken language, yes, for about 2,000 years. At the end of the 19th century, when the country now known as Israel was reinventing itself, one man played a huge role in bringing Hebrew back: Eliezer Ben - Yehuda. Reviled and celebrated in his own time, he is the undisputed father of modern Hebrew. The story of Ben - Yehuda is central here, but along the way, the author takes readers on an unexpected, addictive ride: a travelogue of personal landscapes, academic asides, historical treasures, touristy pilgrimages and political insights. The true hero of the story, however, is the miracle of modern Hebrew: the history, uses and meanings of the language itself.