The revered Rabbi Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus, long-time [seventy years!] Professor of Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati – and founder of the American Jewish Archives – remarked in his address to newly-ordained colleagues: …without learning there is no Judaism. Count that day lost in which you have not opened a Jewish book…[The Larger Task, June 1974, p. 7]. Such are words that I endeavour, notwithstanding life’s frequently-hectic pace, to take to heart. Each day I strive to learn from a book incorporating Jewish themes, ideas and sensibilities. The task requires diligence. But it is a task from which I might emerge – in the best of possible worlds – as a better rabbi and person.
In anticipation of summer and more-leisurely days, listed below is a selection of literature, films and music from which might flow a more-profound understanding of our Jewish view of the world.
The Sacrifice by Adele Wiseman: A heart-rending portrait of the Jewish immigrant experience in Canada. Winner of the Governor-General’s Award.
The Assistant by Bernard Malamud: A compelling story of one’s transformation to Judaism. From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Fixer.
The Hill of Evil Counsel by Amos Oz: A stirring autobiographical narrative of a young boy in pre-state Israel by one of that country’s greatest writers.
Response to Modernity by Michael A. Meyer: Arguably the best current history of the Reform Movement in Judaism.
A History of Israel by Howard M. Sachar: An outstanding chronicle of the Jewish homeland, beginning with Theodore Herzl and the Zionist Movement.
Growing Up Jewish – Canadians Tell Their Own Stories: Edited by Rosalie Sharp, Irving Abella and Edwin Goodman: Memoirs of the Canadian-Jewish experience; includes many photographs.
Night by Elie Wiesel: The great work by the‘guardian’ of Holocaust memory.
Three valuable texts, representing the major persuasions of Judaism – and that I consult regularly:
Jewish Living: A Guide to Reform Jewish Practice by Mark Washofsky – Reform
A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice by Isaac Klein – Conservative
To Be A Jew by Hayim Halevy Donin – Orthodox
The Jewish Publication Society Hebrew-English Tanakh
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Edited by Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut
Crimes and Misdemeanors: Woody Allen’s unique blend of comedy and drama, imbued with a provocative Jewish viewpoint. With Martin Landau, Angelica Huston, Jerry Orbach and Alan Alda.
Judgment at Nuremberg: A riveting cinematic rendering of the Nuremberg War Crime Trials. Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell and Judy Garland at their best.
The Music Box: Jessica Lange in an emotional drama about guilt, reconciliation, and the burden of one’s past.
Gentleman’s Agreement: Gregory Peck, Dorothy Maguire and John Garfield in the landmark Hollywood film that dared to pull back the curtain on anti-semitism in 20th century America.
All are valuable additions to one’s library of Jewish music and song:
Leonard Cohen; Debbie Friedman; David Broza; Noa; Craig Taubman; Matisyahu
These works of literature, film and music, however arbitrarily selected, will arouse one’s imagination, while allowing for many summertime [and beyond!] hours of learning and reward. And like the most-enduring examples of our culture, they will both broaden and deepen our Jewish view of the world.