Category Archives: Judaica

Books and movies of interest to the Jewish community

“Queer Jewish Lives Between Central Europe and Mandatory Palestine: Biographies and Geographies, 1870–1960”— Coming in January

Krass, Andreas, Moshe Sluhovsky and Yuval Yonay, editors. “Queer Jewish Lives Between Central Europe and Mandatory Palestine: Biographies and Geographies, 1870–1960 (Historical Gender Studies)”, Transcript Publishing, 2021.

One to Look For

Amos Lassen

I want to mention here a very important book that is coming our way in January.

“When queer Jewish people migrated from Central Europe to the Middle East in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they contributed to the creation of a new queer culture and communality in Palestine. This volume offers the first collection of studies on queer Jewish lives between Central Europe and Mandatory Palestine (1870–1960). While the first section of the book presents queer geographies including Germany, Austria and Palestine, the second section introduces queer biographies between Europe and Palestine including the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935), the writer Hugo Marcus (1880–1966), and the dance critic Giora Manor (1926–2005).”

“Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks— Reconstructing Virtues and Values

Sacks, Rabbi Jonathan. “Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times “, Basic Books, 2020.

Reconstructing Virtues and Values

Amos Lassen

We are living in strange times— the world is engulfed in  pandemic, there are extreme racial issues in the United States and respect for government is at an all time low. Liberal democracy is at a crossroads, the word toxic describes public discourse, there is a rise in depression, the family seems to be breaking down, drug abuse is on the rise and we are afraid of what the future might bring. We see to be floundering, searching for the virtues and values that were once integral parts of our lives. The timing could not have been better for the eminent Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to publish “Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times “ and present a case for reconstructing a shared framework of virtues and values.

Rabbi Sacks “traces today’s crisis to our loss of a strong, shared moral code and our elevation of self-interest over the common good.” Morality seems to have escaped our daily lives and the time has come to look to the past to understand that without morality there is no liberty and that freedom depends upon responsibility. We must all must play our part in rebuilding a common moral foundation. Here is a look at a world in which we can all find our place and not fear the future.

We face unprecedented challenges today –social, political, economic, and above all, cultural and here is a wake-up call to “a world that has become self-obsessed, self-centered and lonely, and whose moral standards have withered as a result.” The world today has become
based on ‘we’ and not on ‘I.’

We once looked at morality as being objective, both real and part of the external world but that was in the past. Morality was beloved to be no more than the expression of emotion, or subjective feeling, or private intuition, or autonomous choice. Today, however, morality has become whatever one chose it to be and to Rabbi Sacks, this is the  breakdown of a civilization.
Morality has been split and outsourced to other institutions. This means that there are moral choices and there are the consequences of those choices. Morality itself is just a set of choices in which right or wrong have no meaning beyond fulfilling or frustrating desire. It has become difficult to understand why the things we want to do, can afford to do, and have a legal right to do, are not done because they are not honorable and unjust.

Because of our choices, morality has been sent to the State to govern. In this way, it becomes the job of government to deal with the results. Marriage has ceased to be a sacred bond between husband and wife, and the State should take responsibility for any negative consequences. Because welfare has been outsourced to government agencies, we no longer need community volunteering. Our consciences have been taken over by regulatory bodies and moral choice is now part of economics and politics. The impact on society is profound as is the interaction between people.

What has happened to tolerance today? Traditional values are of the past and we feel that we have no direction. Social media has become a way of life. Freedom came into being as a result of the religious wars in the 1700 and 1800s. Living in freedom is the result of having achieved a morality through our speech, ways of doing things and how we act. Morality comes from within each of us and it cannot be sent to other agencies to control. In doing so, the sense of freedom is lost. Rabbi Sacks does not judge—he presents and it is up to us to do the rest.

“Finding My Father: His Century-Long Journey from World War I Warsaw and My Quest to Follow” by Deborah Tannen— An Intimate Memoir

Tannen, Deborah. “Finding My Father: His Century-Long Journey from World War I Warsaw and My Quest to Follow”, Ballantine, 2020.

An Intimate Memoir

Amos Lassen

In “Finding My Father”, author Deborah Tannen traces her father’s life from turn-of-the-century Warsaw to New York City and brings us a memoir about family, memory, and the stories we tell.

As a girl, Tannen adored her father even though he was often absent during her childhood. He had a special gift for writing and storytelling. As she grew up and he grew older, father and daughter would sit together for hours,  recording conversations for his biography that she had promised him she would write. It was when he gave her journals that he kept in his youth that she discovers letters he saved from a woman he might have married instead of her mother and she is forced to rethink about her father’s life and her parents’ marriage. 

Tannen puts the puzzle of her father’s life together. She begins with his memories of the Hasidic community in Warsaw, where he was born in 1908, and then she follows his journey from arriving in New York City in 1920 to quitting high school at fourteen to support his mother and sister. We are with him as he goes through many different jobs and ultimately he establishes the largest workers’ compensation law practice in New York and runs for Congress. Tannen begins to better understand her father’s, and her own, relationship to Judaism as  she learns about parts of his life that were beyond her imagination.

This is  a memoir of Eli Tannen’s life and how it reflects the time when he lived. It is also the story of a of a daughter’s struggle to understand her father and to know him more while finding a more truthful story about her family and herself.

The family history is absolutely fascinating. It is an unusual family making it all the more interesting. We read of her father’s childhood  and his life which Tannen was able to glean from letters, journals, documents of every kind that he’d saved and from the memories he wrote and  along with hours upon hours of conversations that they shared. In her desire to understand her father and she was able to see how he influenced her life and her parents’ marriage. She brought her  father back and spent time with him again and has been able to keep him with her.

Hisfather died from TB when her father was very young. He came to America in 1920 with his mother and sister when he was twelve. He quit high school at 14 and went to work in a factory and studied on his own to pass equivalency tests for high school subjects and then went to law school at night while working 10-hour days at the factory. He got a Master’s degree in law, and passed the bar on his first try. The Depression was taking place and he could not find work in law. He wasn’t able to support his family as a lawyer until he was 50 years old. This haunted him, for thirty years he struggled before he was able to practice law.

Tannen’s focus is on the family that he father grew up in, his marriage, his children. But when he began to write his memories, he viewed his bad luck was because he had no father. He was proud of whatever he could doto support his family.

My father was raised in an ultra-orthodox household and community but became an atheist and a Communist (with which he became disillusioned yet remained a devout atheist till the end. As she read about Hasidism and Orthodox Judaism, Tannen realized that although he rejected formal religion, his approach to life shows his upbringing. He was about equality, justice, and improving workers’ lives, to repair the world. This brought Tannen to think about her own relation to Jewish identity. And with this came an awareness and expectation of anti-Semitism that was a constant in her father’s life. He gave up a job he loved and a life that made his whole family happy partly because he believed a Jew could never be promoted, despite his boss’s insistence that he would.

Later when her father read Tannen’s first scholarly article, he called up to tell her how much he admired it and that it reminded him of the hours he’d spent studying Talmud—the book of Jewish law as a young Jew. He hated being confined to religious study when he was a boy while his friends were out playing. This reminds her how much she loved laughing with him everything she has done in her career is both because of him and a tribute to him. 

“Evening” by Nessa Ropoport— Two Sisters

Rapoport, Nessa. “Evening: A Novel”, Counterpoint, 2020.

Two Sisters

Amos Lassen

As two sisters sit shiva (the traditional Jewish period of mourning), memories of lost youth and obsessions surface and they deal with the paradoxes of love, ambition, siblings, and how the past can become present, especially when we do not want it to do so.

Eve who is in her thirties is called home to mourn the premature death of her sister, Tam. This forces her into an encounter with her past. Eve has a secret: Two weeks before Tam died, she and her sister stopped speaking as the result of a nasty argument. Tam was famous as a TV journalist and was known for her devoted marriage. But Tam also had a secret that came out the day after the funeral and this secret  changes the story Eve has told herself since their childhood. As a result, Eve is forced to see her version of her fractured family, her sister’s accomplishments and marriage, and her own impeded ambition in work and love and revise it. 

As the stories unfold, we see how the past​shapes the present.Here is“the dissonant love” between sisters, the body that desires , the pride we take in keeping alive our illusions, and the redemption that comes only when lies give way to truth.  As Eve is reminded of her first sexual liaisons with her friend, Laurie, we have erotic wit and sensitive deep feelings. Here are also truths about family dynamics and we see just how messy and complicated these can be. We read of the inner lives of women, from how they love to how they find their ways in the world. Eve brings us three generations of a family through conflicted eyes and we learn of secrets and mysteries within the family. The prose is gorgeous and the story is spellbinding making this such a satisfying and eye-opening read. When I finished reading, I immediately began to read it again knowing that there was so much more than I saw in the first reading.

“Why Jews Do That: Or 30 Questions Your Rabbi Never Answered” by Avram Mlotek— Answering Questions

Mlotek, Avram. “Why Jews Do That: Or 30 Questions Your Rabbi Never Answered”,  (illustrated by Faby Rodriguez, and Jenny Young, Skyhorse, 2020.

Answering Questions

Amos Lassen

Judaism is a religion that is filled with questions and these are questions that, for whatever reason, we are afraid to ask and, therefore, we don’t. I have often wondered why we need to have ten people in order to pray but I have never asked, for example. With ideas such as this in mind, Rabbi Avram Mlotek gives us “Why Jews Do That”. He answers the questions we have been afraid to ask. While this is a book about the Jewish religion, however, it is for everyone. We have the usual questions about whether Jews believe in Jesus, what kosher really is, and how we keep our yarmulkes secured to our heads. Then there are questions like:  

  • What’s with Jews and candles?
  • Do Jews have confession like Catholics?
  • Why are Jews obsessed with food?
  • Is sex kosher? What about marijuana?

Whether“you’re a devout follower, a casual observer, someone marrying into the faith, or just interested in buffing up your Bible knowledge, Rabbi Mlotek will guide you through the challah, mitzvahs, and shiksas that make Jewish life so…lively.” This is a fun read as well as an educational experience. Rabbi Mlotek speaks us as if we are friends and he holds nothing back as he explains basic Judaism.

He shares his enthusiasm, his warmth, his music, and his understanding thus letting us understand so much.
The book is written entirely in questions and this lets us think before we get the answers. We have the basics of Judaism presented in a very modern and thought-provoking way. This is a book we have needed for a long time.

“Queen of Jerusalem” by Arie Lev Stollman— Wife and Mother of a King

Stollman, Arie Lev. “Queen of Jerusalem”, Modan, 2020.

Wife and Mother of a King

Amos Lassen

Naama is the wife of King Solomon and the mother of Rehoboam, who inherited the crown and in whose time the kingdom of Solomon was divided into the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. The bible does not give us much information about her except that she is was from the Ammonites the wife of Solomon and the mother of his son Rehavam. Author Aries Lev Stollman connects the fate of this Naama to the fate of the entire Christian people and incorporates this into the story of her life.

The book opens with the arrival of Eniger, the adopted daughter of the king of Ammon, King Or Molech, the twin brother of her father King Snake Molech who passed away. Eniger grew up most of her life with her mother who became disabled at birth, alongside the two daughters of King Or Molech and his wife. At first her father considers the offer of the king of Ammon, to marry her to one of the kings but her mother’s refusal leads to her marrying King Solomon. When she gets to the royal court, she is rescued by Batsheva, the king’s mother, who helps her make the experience enjoyable. King Solomon her the Hebrew name: “Naama”.

Naama and King Solomon approach each other and despite his many wives, he prefers her to most of them. The arrival of Pharaoh’s daughter, whose marriage to King Solomon had been arranged many years earlier, makes her his favorite. Naama and Pharaoh’s daughter become friends, and Naama goes with her on her journey back to Egypt to visit her ailing father.

The stories we read here are based on tales from different nations of the time and Naama’s life story unfolds a different perspective on the world of marital alliances as a tool for preserving peace and promoting trade. We see the gap between image and reality and the place of women and we view the world is through the eyes of men and the men who documented them.

Naama never dreamt that she would be the queen of Jerusalem and the mother of a king and her marriage to King Solomon changed everything and actually erased her past. She gives birth to their daughter Tefet and their son Rehavam but her  status is undermined when Solomon marries Pharaoh’s daughter and declares that she is his first, supreme and eternal wife. In order to take care of her sick father, she takes Naama with her as a companion and the two women are forced to cooperate in order to survive the conspiracies and intrigues of Pharaoh’s palace.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter banishes Naama and sends her back to Jerusalem and this questions who will be the mother of the next king and the fate of Naama.

The novel is set during one of the turbulent periods in the chronicles of the Kingdom of Judah: the wars of David, the establishment of the kingdom in the days of Solomon, and a split in the days of Rehoboam. Stollman challenges the way Bible stories were set.

 

“THE DANCING DOGS OF DOMBROVA”—A Grandmother’s Final Wish

“THE DANCING DOGS OF DOMBROVA”

A Grandmother’s Final Wis

Amos Lassen

Wanting to bring a little bit of joy to their dying grandmother, a brother and sister from Canada go to Poland to find the remains of their grandmother’s dog. They face the heritage that was left behind, the strain of confronting emotions with siblings, and the desire to escape into fleeting moments of happiness.

Sarah (Katherine Fogler) and Aaron (Douglas Nyback) — as distant but familial. They argue with one another, find common ground, and reveal a lot of truths they were not aware existed. As they head to find their grandmother’s dog’s remains, their relationship unravels and grows stronger because of it.

There are quirky characters hiding away in each city and village of Poland. The culture and traditions feel embedded in the film and this becomes a peculiar road trip movie with ideas that impress more in theory than execution.

Their grandmother abandoned her dog when the Nazis invaded Poland and now she wishes to be buried with the bones.. Much of the film is inspired by director Zack Bernbaum’s grandmother, who is a Holocaust survivor. (In fact, Bernbaum’s real 98-year-old granny acted in the movie as the ailing grandmother).

The siblings find themselves surrounded by the strange customs of the Polish village. A cab driver that never speaks, a teen translator who describes himself as a “human detective” and Polish mobsters are just some of the characters that aid or block their quests.

There’s also a quiet sense of surrealism to the film. The siblings are the most bundled up to face the freezing temperatures while the Dombrova natives only wear one or two layers. The film lightly uses absurdist humor and nothing is ever quite what it seems and very few things go according to plan.

The relationship between the Cotler siblings propels the film. The two know exactly what buttons to press, how to cheer each other up and what the other is willing to do for their quest. Through the journey, the complexities of the siblings’ personalities are gradually revealed. Aaron is an overly serious bureaucrat that memorizes statistics and numbers for any situation, while Sarah is a carefree and easygoing alcoholic.

We do not only watch brother and sister find the remains of a dead dog; we see that they are part of a larger whole. Bernbaum focused heavily on creating the right tone for the movie, because he wanted to make sure the audience could feel what Aaron and Sarah go through. Subsequently, there’s an almost oppressive sense of coldness throughout the movie that has nothing to do with the location.

As Aaron and Sarah wander a frozen wasteland, they find that their presence in this odd town isn’t particularly welcome, something that brings out both the worst and best of the siblings.

“The Memory Monster” by Yishai Sarid— Back to Poland

Sarid, Yishai. “The Memory Monster”,  translated by Yardenne Greenspan, Restless Books, 2020.

Back to Poland

Amos Lassen

Yishai Sarid invites us to journey back to Poland with a doctor of Holocaust history and a travel guide. The doctor becomes overpowered with “the monster of memory” as he reflects on the past. He questions the resistance to fate and in doing so, he adopts his own Holocaust character and is reminded of Israeli society as a culture based on the admiration of power, militarism and what he calls “herding”. Yishai Sarid writes about with the darkness in the heart of Israeli society making this a parable of how we deal with human horror and the memory of the Holocaust.

Our unnamed narrator suffers with his own undoing. As a young historian, he became a leading expert on Nazi methods of extermination at concentration camps in Poland during World War II and he now guides tours through the sites for students and visiting dignitaries. He hungrily devours every detail of life and death in the camps and takes pride in being able to recreate for his audience the excruciating last moments of the victims’ lives.

His job is both a mission and an obsession. He spends so much time immersed in death that he loses his connections with the living. He resents the students who are preoccupied with their iPhones who are not sufficiently outraged at the genocide of the Nazis. He even begins to discover  that in the students and he. himself, have a bit of admiration for the murderers and their efficiency, audacity, and determination. He feels that the only way to deal with force is by force, itself, and that we must all be prepared to kill.  We soon confront very hard questions on how to deal with brutality, how sides are chosen in a conflict, and how the memory of horror is dealt with it without our being consumed by it.

On his last assignment, he is to take a German director who wantsto make a film about “Auschwitz” to the Polish camp. He explains how the trips to the former camps have weighed heavily on him and how he sees his students, how he dealt with the Poles, how the separations from his wife and child hurt his family. He soon realizes that these trips have forced him into  a bitterness that did not stop at his own people, his own people and his own religious community. He describes how the Holocaust has increasingly become a kind of label from which everyone can derive the position that is appropriate for himself. He also admits that he himself has not only become a wearer of this label, since his travels have given him a good income but that he has become dependent on his employer – the Yad Vashem memorial. Here he found the recognition he wanted, he who never wanted to become a historian of the Shoah. He became a good narrator of the horror that he did not have to experience but which is also a narrative for him, that is made up of pages of knowledge.

Our narrator reports on his experiences in first-person as he investigates historical questions. He knew that the Allies knew about the concentration camps, but did not bomb any rail tracks to prevent the transports and probably because the Allies did not particularly like Jews. The hatred of young Israelis for Poles, but not for Germans, was a new idea for me. Again and again, he advises the young people that the Holocaust was initiated by Germans, not Poles. However, the camps were built in Poland. He is an expert who is confronted with horror over and over again.

Sarid brings us all the horror of the subject of Holocaust remembrance and its impact on a society and a people and this is frightening. It demonstrates how focusing on the contents of the atrocities and the technical details of the extermination, in fact, poisons our souls, while we are unwilling to face the real lessons that will require us to behave completely differently in the world and within us. His mind is shaken as he is required to refrain from talking about the really painful and important topics and messages, and so he focuses his guidance on matters that are easier to digest. Discovering that the details of the atrocities are much easier for his listeners than the dilemmas and moral questions that arise as a result of Holocaust research, he is forced to choose. The need to moderate his words eats at him causing him to understand that it is much harder for us to hate the Germans than to take out the frustrations of not being able to resist, fight back or deal with our Holocaust-era cooperation.  Sarid uses sophisticated literary tricks to share his sharp and important insights into what is happening to us here and now.

 

 

What we have here is a consideration of memory and its risks, and a critique of Israel’s use of the Holocaust to shape national identity.

Many writers have asked the question of where, or if, humanity can be found within the profoundly inhumane, and we see here that preoccupation and obsession with the inhumane can take a toll on one’s own humanity. In a sense, he offers an indictment of memorializing the Holocaust and a consideration of its layered politics. He does not apologize for Jewish rage and condemns the forms it sometimes takes. He explores the banality of evil and the nature of revenge as this is certainly a controversial look at the past.

 

This is an imaginative novel that is so based on the reality of our lives and breaks up the collective soul.

“A TRAMWAY IN JERUSALEM”— The Rhythm of the City

“A TRAMWAY IN JERUSALEM”

The Rhythm of the City

Amos Lassen

Israel is a complex nation of multiculturalism and we really see this in Amos Gitai’s new film “A Tramway in Jerusalem”. The characters seem to be trapped on a journey to nowhere, going round and round on seems to be an endless trip but they’re all in the same boat: gentiles, Hasidic Jews, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Jews. Gitai shows us  the chaotic nature of these Semitic as they argue, laught, console, sing and debate.

The film begins with a woman singing an aria while a man plays the oud. In the backseat we see a man and his son who are visiting Jerusalem for the first time. At the same time, a group of Hassidic men chant a religious chorus. Made up a series of sketches, the film gives us a taste of Israel. The tram follows a path along the city and starting from the different points of view of the various protagonists that follow one another.

Gitai introduces us to strangers  who we get to know during their ride. The tourist (Mathieu Amalric) loves the sun and light and he is taking his son to visit the places where Flaubert had been, revealing however how in a more serious confrontation on the country he is unable to bring his interest in focusing on the reality of things there is the couple who must decide whether to divorce, a priest (Pippo Delbono) who speaks of God, a girl is going to her lover for a spicy encounter; a talkative woman provokes an Orthodox Jew, inviting him to look out the windows at the beautiful city instead of continuing to study the Talmud; a departing soldier greets his girlfriend trying to hold back the tears and there a girl who feels threatened by an Arab just because she is Arab.

There is another very important nonhuman character— the music. The different musicians who alternate along the way (the Palestinian rapper, the banjo player, the singer) are indeed characters who demonstrate a further way of living public transport. The path of the tram takes the different musical genres from one area of ​​Jerusalem to another, allowing them to come into contact with an audience that may not be used to them (including us). Music is a passenger on the tram as well as a  vehicle for a message of integration. Gitai knows how to transform this abstract element first into a concrete one and then into a metaphorical one— the various musical styles make up a sound backdrop of Israeli multiculturalism.

Traditional Palestinian music alternates with the songs of Orthodox Jews and pop sounds, while in the background the announcement of the various stops becomes a spatial counterpart to the time scan performed by the timetables.

In Jerusalem, the tram connects different neighborhoods, from east to west, and we see their variety and differences. The film collects a mosaic of human beings from this city which is also the spiritual center of the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Gitai reflects on national identity and does so by inventing a limitation of a spatial nature (the film is shot entirely inside the tram that crosses Jerusalem 24 hours a day), and a temporal nature (every single scene is still in sequence shot, and in each sequence there are different characters, with only a few returning more than once).

“A Tramway in Jerusalem” shows us the progressive unveiling of the discourse: we move from apparently harmless dialogues around issues of banal everyday life, to then gradually understand that behind each of those dialogues, there is an obstacle, namely the arrogant belief on the part of the Israelis that they are second-class citizens, while everyone else is forced to adapt, even the tourists. The same anxiety about the control of one’s own territory is manifested within the tram, where there is always a guardian in uniform. The policeman – has the task of verifying order within a public vehicle, he is a militarized reality. We go from the Israeli assistant coach who does not let the new coach who came from Europe speak to the mother who complains of her son’s work and sentimental inanity. The dialogue between the French tourist and two citizens of Jerusalem with his compliments of Israel and their answers that include talk about the military  are meant to show that the forces of land support each other in perfect coordination.

There is a fragmentation of voices and languages ​​(including French, Arabic and Italian) that show that the ancient Jewish popular culture has been replaced  by the obsession

About Film Movement

 Founded in 2002, Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide including the Oscar-nominated films Theeb (2016) and Corpus Christi (2020). Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci, Ettore Scola and Luchino Visconti. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

Sorry—at this tie there is not a trailer with English subtitles.

”Tales of the Holy Mysticat: Jewish Wisdom Stories by a Feline Mystic” by Rabbi Rachel Adler— The Wisdom of the Feline

Adler, Rachel. ”Tales of the Holy Mysticat: Jewish Wisdom Stories by a Feline Mystic”, Banot Press, 2020.

The Wisdom of the Feline

Amos Lassen

After years of having dogs, I recently became a cat owner (or better said, I now have a cat that owns me). My Schatzi is fourteen-years-old and would have been put down if someone did not adopt her and I could not have that happen. Before I got her, she had lived in the same non-Jewish home for thirteen years and since Judaism is important to me, I realized that she might find it strange living in a Jewish home. But then, what do cats know from Jewish? We will see.

When feminist theologian Rabbi Rachel Adler, moved into a new apartment, she decided that the new place needed a cat and she visited local shelters where she noticed a cagedmale cat that seemed to be full of dignity and spiritual grace and beauty. That cat went home with the rabbi  and was soon named “Dagesh”. It turns out that this is a very special cat who felt right at home in the  library filled with Judaic and Hebrew books. He would even acknowledge the mezzuzot that hung on the doorposts of the apartment. Dagesh even meditated three times each day. He was “an old soul with many lifetimes of Jewish wisdom to impart, reincarnated to a higher level in the form of a gray tabby–the Holy Mysticat.” My Schatzi, however, sleeps through it all.

In the preface, Rabbi Adler tells us that Dagesh taught her “more about the faith limits of my own Jewish knowledge and the rich possibilities of a playful imagination” and we certainly see that in this delightful read. He was always there when she was learning (as rabbis do) and she sensed that the mysticat was aware of the different rhythms and rituals of the Jewish home. It got to the point that Dagesh was not only a mystic but one who was both scholarly and holy and that he depended on the rabbi for just his physical needs. He was also  a traditionalist who was well aware of Jewish mysticism, much more than his master.

The book is a collection of fables in which as Adler says, Aesop is replaced by a feline. The stories are outrageous as is the idea of a mysticat. The importance here, however, is that the rabbi and the cat learned together.

I truly enjoy reading Jewish texts and even before the virus, I studied for three yours a day and many times restudied things I had done before. While I gain great personal pleasure from this, I can honestly say that I had a wonderful time studying this book. (I also felt badly for the Jewish illiteracy of my cat). I love the illustrations and even though I have dabbled in Jewish mysticism, I never really got it or understood it until Dagesh filled in some of the gaps in my own thoughts.

The prose is gorgeous and engaging, the stories are fun and there is so much to be gained here about humanity, life and Judaism. As strange as it might seem to read about a cat’s morning and evening mediations and prayers, it all becomes very real.

For those who are not aware of Jewish holidays, terms and observances, there is an extensive glossary. In closing, I have just asked Schatzie to come sit with me as I study this week’s Torah portion but she let me know that she would rather sleep.