A sentimental journey through Judaic practice and thought.

MY JEWISH YEAR

18 HOLIDAYS, ONE WONDERING JEW

A Jewish writer takes an educational journey through the feasts and fasts of the religious calendar.

Former 60 Minutes producer Pogrebin (One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I've Learned About Everyone's Struggle to Be Singular, 2009, etc.) embarked on a rigorous program celebrating, for a full year, the grave holy days and happy holidays her faith prescribes, even those that eschew electronic devices. Living a year by the prayer book, she found personal possibilities and universal implications, beginning her year of learning one autumn with the theological New Year. That was quickly followed by a fast day recognized only by the most observant. Then came a solemn Yom Kippur, a major fast day and the most serious day of reckoning. The author also chronicles days appealing to the senses, days celebrating the reception of the Holy Law, and more minor fasting days. There’s a proto-Earth day and a day for masquerading to commemorate an escape from annihilation. For Passover, the author attended a feminist observance. The most important holiday comes not annually but weekly: the day of rest when all manner of work and all mundane concerns are set aside. Regarding the ancient holidays, there are reorchestrated and new ones to commemorate the establishment of the state of Israel, its lost defenders, and the Holocaust. For the book, Pogrebin, a bit of a religious tourist, traveled to various synagogues and consulted scores of rabbis and scholars—though none in the Orthodox right wing of Judaism. She offers homilies, elaborate similes, and other illustrative figures of speech that will engage like-minded readers. The text, however, won’t enjoy ready acceptance with those who do not find room in the tradition for touchy-feely sentiments, such as “mindful walking” or “mindful sweating.” The graceful value of Pogrebin’s tract is the deep faith and rich vitality evident in her up-close and personal Jewish year.

A sentimental journey through Judaic practice and thought.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941493-20-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Fig Tree Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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