Books and Other Goodies

My son started kindergarten this week. At our Havurah, we did a ceremony for him and the other new kindergartner in our little community. The other little girl’s mom baked cookies in the shape of the Hebrew alef-bet. Each set of parents came up and said the blessing on part of the Torah reading.Then our resident blesser-stock photo of children reading-we don’t have a rabbi in our lay-led group, but we do have members with special talents, like the ability to make bilingual puns in Hebrew and English–said a blessing on our families in honor of the milestone of starting formal education. As part of the ritual, my son got the first Hebrew letter of his name with honey drizzled on top.

This is a Jewish folk custom that I wanted to do with my son, but probably would have forgotten in the rush to get out the door the first day of school. In Eastern Europe, Jews sent their little boys to school at a young age, and used to put honey on the slate they would be using to learn the letters, or even, on the cover of a book. Reading and writing should be sweet.

Yesterday my son was home sick–yes, on the third day of school–and was watching an Elmo video on Youtube. I overheard a little story from the computer screen about a girl whose house was made of books, whose bed was made of books, who read while she walked around and who had books everywhere. I thought, “That’s supposed to be funny and absurd but that’s what our house is like.”

Soon my desk is going to look as bad as my house. (It doesn’t yet, coworkers.) I get books here at work, a steady stream of books for us to review on the site. Whatever publishers don’t send us, I request. I’ve made friends with some of the people who send out the review copies from the Jewish publishers. We all ooohed and aaahed over a beautiful cookbook, The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur, with its gorgeous photos of pomegranates, halvah and stuffed vegetables. We’re going to review it. One of our frequent book reviewers, Jayne Cohen, just came out with a great-looking book called Jewish Holiday Cooking, which we’re also going to have reviewed.  It was hard to let these yummy-looking books go.

We probably won’t review Rethinking Jewish-Latin Americans, a new academic anthology about a subject that I personally find interesting but might be too obscure to most of our readers. I’m excited to read it over the weekend: I wrote some papers on Argentinian Jews in college and would love to learn what the current thinking is about their history and culture. Dial Press sent me the newly released trade paperback of Reva Mann’s memoir The Rabbi’s Daughter, and I’ve already read most of it–very compelling. I have highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow books, religious books in more than one faith tradition–we get Christian and Buddhist books sometimes–graphic novels, advance copies of literary novels, parenting books, children’s books, cookbooks and other things that are harder to classify. Let me know what kinds of books interest you and we can have more of them reviewed here.

At home, we signed up for The PJ Library, a program that sends Jewish books to Jewish children, when I started working here, in spite of my recent resolution to get more of our books from the public library. If you are thinking about a way to get good Jewish books into your house without working for a Jewish publication, this is one. This is a good time of year to start, at the beginning of a new school year and a new Jewish year.

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