Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Mensch-Marks Featured by the Jewish Community Voice of Southern New Jersey

A roundup of new Jewish books teach life lessons for character growth, just in time for the new year


The New Year brings new books for adults and children. We gathered recently to discuss some of the standouts.
IRENE: As we approach this time of year, we think about t’shuvah – repentance – and how we can live a better life. Rabbi Joshua Hammerman gives us “Mensch-Marks: Life Lesson of a Human Rabbi,” bringing together 30 years of personal, professional, and spiritual insight. There are 42 brief essays organized into categories of character, or “mensch-marks,” each one leading toward spiritual development. Hammerman writes, “If by sharing what I’ve learned, I can add a modicum of generosity, honesty and human connection in a world overflowing with cruelty, loneliness and deceit, then I’ll have done my job.” Here is a guide to being both human and a mensch at the same time.
MINNA: Sarah Hurwitz spent a decade as a political speechwriter for the Obamas and Hillary Clinton, but in “Here All Along” she speaks in her own voice. At age 36, after a difficult breakup, the author, an unobservant Jew, took an introductory class on Judaism that changed her life. Captivated by the rituals, ethics, social justice, and meaningful insights that she never gained in Hebrew school, Sarah Hurwitz wrote this book to share what she learned while inspiring other Jews to make Judaism their own.
AMY: Edmund Case believes it is time for the Jewish community to stop simply engaging in the mitzvah of welcoming the stranger. Instead, he advocates for a new way of approaching the “other,” the non-Jew. He suggests we need to practice radical engagement, and he describes what this looks like in his new book, “Radical Inclusion, Engaging Interfaith Families for a Thriving Jewish Future.” Case, founder of the Center for Radically Inclusive Judaism and retired founder of Interfaith Family, offers three invitations to interfaith couples to experience Jewish life and community; he also offers three guides, or roadmaps, to Jewish leaders and organizations.
MINNA: For younger readers, I recommend an historical fiction chapter book set on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century. “Rachel’s Roses” by Ferida Wolff follows third grader Rachel Berger as she tries to earn twenty-five cents to buy buttons to decorate her new skirt for Rosh HaShanah. Sibling rivalry is another theme as Rachel wishes to outshine her little sister, Hannah. Reminiscent of the All-of-a- Kind Family series, this will appeal to the elementary schoolage group.
AMY: Saralee Siegal is ten years old and has an extraordinary sense of smell. She is the executive assistant to her Zadie, the chef. The only smell she cannot identify is the secret ingredient in Zadie’s famous apple cake. With orders for the cake coming in quickly as Rosh Hashanah approaches, Zadie has an accident that affects his memory and Saralee must use her skills to discover that special ingredient in “Once Upon an Apple Cake, A Rosh Hashanah Story” by Elana Rubinstein. Seven-to-ten-year-olds will surely enjoy this holiday tale.
IRENE: We can visit Israel’s most fun places – a kibbutz, the beach, a market, and more and discover each spot’s special sound in this rhyming tribute to the sounds of Israel. Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh along with illustrator Steve Mack has produced a colorful 12-page board book, “Listen!: Israel’s All Around,” that introduces toddlers to many new sounds while acquainting them with the land of Israel. Sure to be a favorite with such rhymes as, “Crisp falafel, munch, munch, munch. Stuff a pita, crunch, crunch, crunch!”
AMY: I’m glad to see a new children’s book about the practice of tashlich. “Jackie and Jesse and Joni and Jae” by Chris Barash helps young children learn its meaning. In this picture book for 4-6 year olds, a group of children bring bread as their rabbi leads them through a forest to a river, where they recall the hurtful things they have done to their friends and throw their breadcrumbs into the water.
MINNA: “The Elephant in the Sukkah” by Sherri Mandell will entertain and educate preschoolers with its story about Henry, the retired singing elephant, who joins the Brenner family to celebrate Sukkot. When the elephant can’t fit inside the sukkah, young Ori finds a way to include the lonely pachyderm using a surprising Talmudic ruling that an elephant can make up one wall of a Sukkah!
IRENE: Rabbi Marx slurps spaghetti and throws his socks on the floor according to little Lena, the kid detective in the humorous account of the ins and outs of a Rabbi’s daily routine presented in “The Rabbi Slurps Spaghetti” by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by Sharon Davey. This picture book is just right for 4 – 8 year olds who are curious about a Rabbi’s life from teaching Torah to attending a tea party.
For more information, contact us: Irene Afek at the Sanders Memorial Library of the Katz JCC ( and Congregation M’kor Shalom (; 7Minna Siegel at Temple Beth Sholom (; and Amy Kaplan at Congregation Beth El (

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