At the customary Seder dinner celebrating the Jewish festival of Passover, the evening's youngest participant, usually a child, recites the Ma Nishtana, the Four Questions, which begin with, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" In her lovely and thoughtful new gift book, Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights? The Four Questions Around the World, Ilana Kurshan uses these traditional Four Questions to explore the astonishing variety and diversity of Jewish settlements throughout the world and throughout history.

This slim but informative volume focuses, in turn, on nearly two dozen languages used by Jews throughout history, from Afrikaans to Yiddish. Each section poses the Four Questions of Passover in a different language (with transliterations as necessary), and follows these translations with a two- to three-page history of the Jewish people who use (or used) this language. Accompanying photographs, prints and other artwork provide either contemporary or historical glimpses into Jewish life around the world.

Given the worldwide history of Jews' suppression and persecution, it's not surprising that many of the included anecdotes are somber ones, particularly as the text outlines the numbers of European Jews before and after the Holocaust. Kurshan balances these sobering accounts, however, with discussions of how Jewish people - both singly and collectively - have affected culture, economy and civilization in virtually every corner of the world. Many stories also find comfort and hope in Zionism, as many historically persecuted Jewish minorities have found safety by immigrating to Israel.

Anyone interested in the rich and fascinating history of Jewish culture will find something to treasure here. Perhaps the best audience for Kurshan's book, though, are those young people who are ready to ask more than just the traditional Four Questions of Passover, ready to explore their people's abundant and diverse, troubling and rewarding history.

comments powered by Disqus