Thursday, October 29, 2009


I just want to scream. I am trapped in a library every Wednesday afternoon. And if this keeps up, I’ll be broke before the New Year.

Unlike Haley Joel Osmont in The Sixth Sense, I see books, books, books everywhere and there are so many I want to read AND buy. But there are only so many hours in a day and so much my bank account can handle.

I tutor kids for their bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies part-time for a local synagogue, and our Wednesday sessions are held in the library of the local Jewish community center, JCC.

While my students chant, chant, chant their way toward Jewish ritual nirvana, I gaze out at the shelves lined with thousands of fiction and non-fiction books on assorted topics. A few caught my eye yesterday: first, When Children Ask About God by Rabbi Harold Kushner, who also wrote the bestseller When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Just because I am an avowed agnostic (yes, I know, kind of weird to be teaching Judaism when I doubt God) doesn’t mean I should refrain from exposing Miguel and Maya to God and other theologically appropriate issues.

Another book that piqued my interest was Business Mensch by Noah Alper, who developed Noah’s Bagels and the Bread and Circus health food stores, and then sold them for a very hefty profit. Alper believes one can be successful in business and life by employing Jewish ethical practices.

Yet another book was Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb, about how a small cadre of Holocaust survivors and spies captured the notorious Nazi criminal. I’ve always been fascinated by the Holocaust and stories of ordinary people who did extraordinary things during that time or after.

For the past few weeks I keep perusing Thomas Keneally’s A Family Madness, a powerful novel that links together three narratives. Keneally is the author of Schindler’s List.

Then I was reacquainted with A Bintel Brief, a collection of actual Dear Abby-like advice letters published in The Forward, the leading Jewish newspaper in immigrant Jewish America. I own the book and used it extensively when I taught American Jewish history to fifth graders. Glancing at the book the other day made me realize I could recommend it for use in a high school English class where I speak about Judaism each year. The teacher uses some poorly written Jewish immigrant fiction that merely stereotypes the early Jewish experience. Bintel Brief, with its real world examples through compelling personal stories, would be an excellent alternative.

I did buy two books in the past few weeks that I first saw in the library. One was My Jesus Year by the son of an Orthodox Rabbi who is now married to a Christian woman. He spent a year traveling mostly through the Deep South, acquainting himself with Bible Belt Christianity and as a result rediscovering his passion for Judaism.

The other book was Becoming a Jewish Parent by Daniel Gordis, someone I studied with years ago at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Now that Miguel and I are preparing for his bar mitzvah ceremony in August 2011, I needed extra resources to help guide the Jewish side of our parenting.

As an aside, I noticed yesterday that the library contains eight books by Phillip Roth, a damn good writer, but not his literary spoof of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, The Breast, about a man who wakes up one day and is a six-foot mammary. I found the book in my high school library in the mid-70s and I literally devoured the book, from a scholarly interest, of course.

So my dilemma continues: too many books and too little time and money. I already have at least 20 books in my queue lined up on one bookshelf in the living room. I have two more waiting for me in the library. And then there are the ones Miguel’s recommending after I finished all the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy. Next up he wants me to read the latest installment of Hiccup the Viking-in-training. Miguel seems quite excited about having me read his personal suggestions.

And, as the library and a cornucopia of books beckons each week, I am poised to scream once more. Wait, I just ordered Keneally’s book on Amazon for a penny with $3.99 shipping. OK, there, I feel better. I just got my daily fix. But the madness continues. Will it ever end?

Let’s hope not. I am blessed to be drowning in a sea, OK, a stream of books.

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