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Reading Pesach: 5 Favorite Passover Books

Gentiles may be forgiven for thinking Chanukah is the biggest holiday of the Jewish calendar. Certainly it gets the biggest billing in mainstream culture, no doubt because it usually occurs around Christmas. But for practicing Jews, Passover is one of the holidays that looms largest. Beginning on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Nissan – typically sometime in April – it lasts seven days and is a festival to celebrate the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian enslavement. The name “Passover” is derived from the Hebrew word Pesach, which in turn is based on the root “pass over” – a reference to the belief that God “passed over” the Jews when punishing Egypt; essentially, it’s a festival that celebrates the Old Testament story of Moses and the Exodus. It often dovetails with the Christian holiday Easter, and Jesus’s final supper is widely accepted as a seder, a Passover meal eaten by Jews everywhere since Moses’s time. For Pesach this year, I’ve assembled a menu of our own – one comprised of books about the holiday. Chag Pesach Sameach!

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
One of my favorite young adult series of all time, the All of a Kind Family was a fictional Jewish clan living in a small railroad apartment on New York’s Lower East Side around the beginning of the twentieth century. All the Jewish holidays figure prominently in the books, but Pesach plays an especially important role in the first one. In it, all five children are stricken with scarlet fever except second-oldest Henny. The family tomboy, Henny must ask the questions traditionally posed by the youngest child at a Seder while her quarantined sisters listen from their bedroom piteously. Like the rest of the book, this chapter is plaintive, sweet, and funny, and it breathes life into a timeless tradition like few YA (or adult) books ever have. Continue Reading →

Mercy, Mercy and ‘Hallelujah Anyway’

Anne Lamott may be one of the most high-profile progressive Christians in America today, but she’s better known as the author of such bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction as Imperfect Birds and Some Assembly Required, not to mention the beloved writing guide Bird by Bird. This may change with her newest book, Hallelujah Anyway. Though all her essay collections have centered on themes of faith and compassion, this one is her most explicitly Christian. In it, she wrangles with biblical stories, and not just the ones that make everyone comfortable. Ruth, Mary, Martha, Jesus, and controversial Paul dance through this book about mercy and self-reckoning. It’s wonderful, and not just because her combination of leftist politics and Christian beliefs bridges a looming gap in our country.

Lamott acknowledges that her sources of strength may put some people off. “Where do I look for answers when I’m afraid, or confused, or numb?” she writes. “A dream-dancing Sioux grandmother with a tinkling laugh? No, more often than not, the North Star that guides me through the darkness is the Old Testament prophet Micah [who said] ‘What doth God require of thee but to do justice and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ Oh, is that all?” Continue Reading →

The White Bronco He Rode In On

It has been said that the health of a democracy can be gauged by the integrity of its voting system. By this measurement, the United States may have terminal cancer. But there’s another, equally meaningful measure of a democracy’s health: freedom of press. Scratch that: integrity of press. In this regard, the biopsy results of our increasingly fraught country are merely inconclusive. It is true that the press helped elect President Trump, if “elect” is the right word. But it also is true that, as of this writing, the press, along with the U.S. courts, are all that stands between the American people and a complete dictatorship.

These are fighting words, of course, but we are in a cultural moment in which even acknowledging our fraught political landscape is bound to cause conflict. Not since the O.J. Simpson trial has there been such a pronounced division in the allegedly United States of America. It seems no coincidence that, as the subject of both an Emmy-winning American Crime TV series and an Oscar-winning documentary, the former football star has recently been reintroduced to the cultural zeitgeist. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy