Monthly Archives: October 2015

“The Commentators’ Bible, The Rubin JPS Miqra’ot Gedolot: Numbers” by Michael Carasik— The Third Volume

numbers

Carasik, Michael. “The Commentators’ Bible, The Rubin JPS Miqra’ot Gedolot: Numbers”, JPS, 2013.

The Third Volume

Amos Lassen

First published 500 years ago as the “Rabbinic Bible,” the biblical commentaries known as “Miqra’ot Gedolot” have inspired and educated generations of Hebrew readers. With this edition, the voices of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Nahmanides, Rashbam, and other medieval Bible commentators come alive once more, speaking in a contemporary English translation annotated and explicated for lay readers”.

Each page contains several verses from the Book of Numbers, surrounded by both the 1917 and 1985 JPS translations, and by new contemporary English translations of the major commentators. The book also includes an introduction, a glossary of terms, a list of names used in the text, notes on source texts, a special topics list, and resources for further study.

This is an absolutely wonderful study Bible and it is great to have so much information on each page.Although I have no problem with studying the text in Hebrew, it is so nice to have so much information in English and it is totally and easily accessible. What I really love is being able to read on one page

what the great medieval commentators thought, and particularly how they disagreed with each other. It is as if the reader joins in the conversation. The books are quite expensive but when we that the writings have survived so much time, this is really a bargain and an investment.

 

“Descent into Paradise by P. Sinclair— After the War in 1976

des

Sinclair, P. “Descent Into Paradise”, Clink Street Publishing, 2015.

After the War in 1967

Amos Lassen

“Descent into Paradise” is a historical novel about Israel during the period from the last days of the Six Day War through the 1980’s. The story is related to the reader through several different characters. Author Sinclair explores the nature of the human condition as we read of the problems that faced the Middle East and we learn how the characters’ lives were influenced by religion and politics. They live against a background of terrorism and war that influence everything that they do.

We meet Shasa, a Palestinian orphan who becomes an assassin for Israel. She is a beautiful woman who is torn between two men—Pete Watson is a major in the United States services and the head of the most dangerous and lethal anti-terrorist organization and Zev Megrid, his Israeli counterpart, a major in the Israel Defense Forces and the director of the Mossad, Israel’s feared secret service. Then there is Abu, who has been forced to live in the slums of a Palestinian refugee camp and who has only one thing left to live for; revenge against Israel for the displacement of his people. He feels the only way he will find satisfaction is through the spilling of Jewish blood. Juan Rios is running his family’s Chilean drug company that he inherited when his parents were murdered. He is not about to join them and spends his time making sure that he stays alive. He makes his first trip abroad to Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile Sheik Bashir, a very rich Saudi and former freedom fighter in Afghanistan has decided to take his men with him and goes to northern Iran where he and his men will join the thousands of fighters already training in at camp Murat. He is there because the fight is not over between the Americans and the rest of the world it seems and he hates America who put the Saudi ruling family into power.

So we see that this novel is a global experience moving back forth between locations from Tel Aviv to Tehran, Washington DC. to London, and Miami Beach to Santiago and there is a reason for this movement—we see a world that is filled with violence and lies. Many of us claim to have some understanding of what is going in the Middle East—I certainly did having spent so much of my life there. What author Sinclair seems to me to be doing is to show us how passionate people are about both the Arab/Israel conflict and Islam fundamentalism.

At the center of the story is a very beautiful and feminine Mossad assassin, an American special forces operative, and a Palestinian freedom fighter and all of these find themselves torn between loyalty and love. We go back in time to 1967 to the final days of the Six-Day War in Israel where we meet Shasa as a young girl is the only survivor of an attack on her village. She is then adopted by an Israeli family yet she is not part of the other children in her village. She has only one friend— Zev who is also an orphan. They meet again as adults with Zev, as commander of Israel’s most elite special forces unit and Shasa, who has become one of Mossad’s most accomplished operatives. An army captain from the United Sates, Pete Watson comes to Tel Aviv after his commanding officer manages to set up an alliance with Israel to do something about terrorism that is growing rapidly in the area. Our three major characters here form a bond that is both romantic for Watson and Shasa and political for Watson and Zev.

Meanwhile Abu is pondering how to get back at the Israelis who he feels have taken his home and put him and his people into refugee camps. He can only think abut retribution and he leads a raid into the very same village that Zev and Shasa had lived as children.

We are taken on this journey in the Middle East and see things through the eyes of our characters. I truly admire author Sinclair for undertaking this project and trying to tie loose ends together. Unfortunately for all of us, there is so much going on behind the scenes that we will never realty understand the situation.  Across the border in Lebanon, Abu is living in squalor in one of the overflowing Palestinian refugee camps. As retribution for the continued injustices measured out to his people by the Israelis, he will lead an audacious raid into the small settlement Shasa and Zev once called home. Sinclair admirably explores the human condition through his characters and he gives us an idea of how they are motivated and by what.

I often wonder if we will ever see this resolved and the moment that I find a little faith that it will something happens and the whole business moves in a different direction. Some of you know that I lived in Israel for many years and served in the Israel Defense Forces. I have seen firsthand what the problems are and I have absolutely no idea as how to solve them. “Descent into Paradise” is quite an intense read that is extremely well written and contemporary. Fiction here resembles truth and it is one of those books that is more than just a read—-it is a total experience.

“The Blind Angel” by Tovia Halberstam and Joshua Halberstam— The Storytelling Tradition

the blind angel

Halberstam, Tovia and Joshua Halberstam. “The Blind Angel”, Toby Press, 2015.

The Storytelling Tradition

Amos Lassen

Storytelling has always been an important part of Chassidic culture. Important to these stories is the “tzadik”, the righteous man or woman who emphasized serving God through joy and the stories dealt with ordinary life. Many were about poverty and livelihood, illness and health, matchmaking and divorce ad of course sin and repentance and what awaits in the afterlife.

For twenty-five years, Rabbi Tovia Halberstam, one of the leaders of the of the Chassidic movement, told riveting Chassidic tales to an audience of thousands on the Yiddish radio in New York. These legends were heard by many before the Holocaust and are rich in description in plot. They have been preserved today in their original Yiddish by the Chassidic community; the tales capture culture that is very much alive with animated characters, humor, wisdom, human struggle, and moral lessons. In The Blind Angel, Rabbi Halberstam’s son, Joshua Halberstam, renders these tales in English for a modern audience and he has been able to keep the full charm, rhythm, and authenticity of the original tales. As the author retells his father’s stories, we enter a world that is unfamiliar and intriguing to many. Not only do we get the wonderful wit of the rabbi but also Chassidic teachings and stories that are filled with emotion. Halberstam, the son, has managed to preserve the “religious sensitivity and folk tale tradition of the originals in the thirty-seven stories in this collection.

“Arendt and America” by Richard H. King— Thirty Years in America

arendt and america

King, Richard H. “Arendt and America”, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Thirty Years in America

Amos Lassen

German-Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906–75) came to New York in 1941 after fleeing Nazi Germany and during the next thirty years in America, she wrote her best-known and most influential works, such as “The Human Condition”, “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, and “On Revolution”, to name just three. In this new book, author Richard H. King tells us that even though

a substantial portion of her work was written in America and not Europe, no one has directly considered the influence of America on her thought and that is what he does here. King argues that while all of Arendt’s work was haunted by her experience of totalitarianism, it was only in America, her adopted homeland that she was able to formulate the idea of the modern republic as an alternative to totalitarian rule.

By placing Arendt within the context of U.S. intellectual, political, and social history, King shows how Arendt developed a fascination with the political thought of the Founding Fathers. King recreated her exchanges with friends and colleagues, including Dwight Macdonald and Mary McCarthy, and shows how her understanding of modern American culture and society comes from her correspondence with sociologist David Riesman.

In the last part of the book, author King looks at the context in which the Eichmann controversy took place and he looks at Arendt’s “banality of evil”. He validates his thesis that Arendt’s work, regardless of focus, was shaped by postwar American thought, culture, and politics, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War. America was a stimulus to look once again at political, ethical, and historical traditions of human culture. The books combines intellectual history and biography to give us a unique approach for thinking about the influence of America on Arendt’s ideas and also the effect of her ideas on American thought.

Arendt was difficult and uncompromising, but she was also one of the great interpreters of “modernity in all its tragic complexity”. Now some forty years after her death, she continues to enlighten us about the human condition.

 

“The Fray” by Lourdes Skye— Two Brothers Dealing with Humanity

the fray

Skye, Lourdes. “The Fray”, Wilde City Press, 2015.

Two Brothers Dealing with Humanity

Amos Lassen

Two brothers who were both born in sin and two years apart were left to find their ways through life have a hard time dealing with humanity. Scythe is a vampire and his brother, Aric is a werewolf. Actually Scythe has an easier time than his brother who is totally destructive of the entire human race. After having been in the world for some seven hundred years, Scythe is in Atlanta where he has found his human partner, Kuster Kyndeli. Aric will have nothing to do with any of it.

The brothers cannot help wonder if they are spawn of Satan. Both of them are able to change who they are—Aric can become a wolf at will while Scythe can turn into a bat. They do not know how this came about but suspect that this ability as punishment for the kind of life their prostitute mother led and who had abandoned them.

Aric tends to be hateful and distrustful; Scythe tries to work with him on this but they end up parting ways because of his volatile nature. Scythe is determined to find out more about himself and as he does, he spends a hundred years with Azreal, a vampire where he learns all about being a vampire and how to use his powers. After breaking away from Azreal, he spends six hundred years saving up whatever money he can and trying to learn more yet all the while staying on the lookout for Azreal and Aric.

Ultimately he gets to Atlanta, meets Kuster who boyfriend had just walked out of their relationship and he and Scythe come together. It is here that craziness begins. Together the two have to deal with the themes of the paranormal world of vampires and shape shifters, werewolves, familial relationships and sex. We also get a look at male pregnancy. Granted the subject of vampires and werewolves has been overdone so Lourdes Skye, the writer, had to find a new approach to write about them and she does so brilliantly.

There is nothing serious here bit it is a fun read, Great literature it is not but not every book has to be such.

“Portrait of the Artist as a Young Swamp Thing” by Ann Zeddies— A Gay Teen

the portrait

Zeddies, Ann. “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Swamp Thing”, Lethe Press, 2015.

A Gay Teen

Amos Lassen

Instead of having the freedom to do what he wanted during summer vacation, Shane finds himself in a lakeside house with his parents and sharing a room with family friend Chase. He never considered that Chase might be an interesting person but he has noticed that he has gotten to be quite good-looking. What Shane did not understand is that the two have a great deal in common but as the summer passes, he understands that there is something they can share.

Shane wanted badly to be a member of the cool kids but he also knows that he is different. This is Shane’s story of a young guy trying to be a member of the cool gang even though he knows that he is not the kind of guy that the others would want to be around. He does not yet understand the concept of being who he is and so it seems that his identity is not yet fully formed.

Because this is such a read I had the feeling that there was much more that I wanted to know about Shane but then again that could have been the author’s reason for not fully developing him. Readers could then project themselves into his character and think about how they might have acted in the same situation.

I see the seeds here for developing this into a much longer story and I really wanted to know more about Shane’s romance but there are only thirty-three pages to the story. The writing is fine throughout and the plot is something that many of us can identify with.

 

“REBEL SCUM”— The Bible Belt and Rock Music”

rebel scum poster

“Rebel Scum”

The Bible and Rock Music

Amos Lassen

“Rebel Scum” chronicles two years in the life of Knoxville white trash punk band The Dirty Works. With its focus on self-destructive front man Christopher Scum, we get a chance to see something “of the seedy underworld where mental illness, addition, violence and family dysfunction fuel creative vision”. It is akin to watching God and man going to it.

Watching the film expands the boundaries of traditional rock documentaries in a manner that is not always comfortable, but is always fascinating. One of the characters that does not speak but that is always involved is the Bible Belt of the southern United States. The basic themes of the documentary include mental illness, addiction, relationships, family dysfunction, and the struggle for artistic expression.

 Christopher Scum, shares his continuous drive to create art despite the barriers imposed by society and his own self-destructive tendencies. What we see here is something between comedy and tragedy as the film moves forward.

The film also takes a look at other Knoxville-based artists like Disobedients, and The Cornbred Blues Band, as well as musicians/producers Carl Snow, and Vadim, and poet Rus Harper as well as Dropsonic from Atlanta, and Asheville-based Monsters of Japan. The film has been two years in the making and it al began with filming Dropsonic on tour. Director, Video Rahim, of Worldstorm Arts Lab, from Atlanta, caught an opening performance of The Dirty Works at that concert and thought there was a story to be told. Francis Percarpio, Producer and Owner of WorldStorm Arts Lab, later saw the footage and independently found a way to bring The Dirty Works story to film. After spending time on the festival circuit early this year and most recently received the Audience Choice award at the Y’Allywood Film Festival in September.

rebel ad Since the completion of the film, Christopher Scum was involved in a major car accident and over three quarters of his body was badly burned. His long-time girlfriend, Donna Renee Bailey, also featured prominently in the doc, did not survive the crash. This is certainly not a film for everyone but for those who get to see will be surprised at what it has to say.

“The Bible on Location: Off the Beaten Path in Ancient and Modern Israel” by Julie Baretz— The Historical Books and their Sites

the bible on location

Baretz, Julie. “The Bible on Location: Off the Beaten Path in Ancient and Modern Israel”, Jewish Publication Society, 2015.

The Historical Books and their Sites

Amos Lassen

Julie Baretz brings us a guidebook that is innovative and it takes us to twenty-one sites in Israel that are somewhat off of the beaten path—locations where, it is said, that Bible stories happened. At each site—The Valley of Aijalon, Zorah, Geshur, Shunem—to name just four of the twenty-one in this book, the scene is set by having the historical context as part of the test as well as the biblical text and Baretz’s commentary. The biblical characters come alive and we learn of the social, ethical, and spiritual dilemmas they faced that are not so different from our own today. Baretz’s narratives draw on history, archaeology, academic scholarship, and rabbinic literature for interpretations and these enhance the meaning of the biblical events. Each story is told in the voice of Baretz as the tour guide in a friendly and knowledgeable manner. 

The book, as a whole traces, the chronology and narrative arc of the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. We begin with Egypt and the arrival of the children of Israel and go on with arrival in the land of Israel (following the exodus from Egypt and the forty years of wandering). This then continues for more than six hundred years, until the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon to their homeland.

The book contains colorful maps and photographs and each location gives us a new episode and narrative that provides inspiration and commentary. that will enhance visits to the various sites. Baretz knows about what she says and she combines that an aesthetic perspective and “credible imagination” which makes us feel like we are on a very special tour. One thing special is that although this is a guidebook, it can be read just for fun—I have visited most of the places in the book and the information is not only correct but a wonderful read. It was written with passion and love and this comes through every page. We receive excellent orientations about place and time and it is as if the ancient texts are doing the speaking.

“hopefulROMANTIC”— The Relationship

hopeful romantic

“hopefulROMANTIC”

The Relationship

Amos Lassen

Most of us have been there—-in and out of love. In only seventeen minutes, with little dialogue. Matt Zarley takes us through the first date, to moving in together, exchanging rings, watching television together. And then the boyfriend says, “I don’t love you anymore”.  When the romance is gone there are several alternatives— fall apart, get over it, move on or beg him to return? Matt was lucky in that his best friend hooks him up with a Life Coach (George Takei) so he, and the music, help guide us through the rest of the journey.

There is a charmer of a film and completely original. It was obviously a project of passion in every sense for its creator and star and the fact that it is sung makes it much more endearing.

hopeful romantic1

This is the story about the break-up of a long-term relationship that comes as a surprise to one of the guys who had been completely happy and completely in love. Following this, he becomes very depressed. Ultimately, however, he obtains a life coach and slowly works towards accepting this loss and getting on with his life.

“Hopeful Romantic” is a non-conventional film. There is no dialog in the short film–just singing. And, in many ways the short plays a lot like a story and a music video merged into one. I loved the film and leading man, Matt Zarley, is simply amazing. He has a fantastic voice and he sings throughout the entire short film. Zarley also, incidentally, wrote the story. Benjamin Pollack’s direction is wonderful and everything comes together so well.

“MY NAZI LEGACY” (“WHAT OUR FATHERS DID: A NAZI LEGACY)— Inherited Guilt

what our fathers died for

“My Nazi Legacy” (“What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy”)

Inherited Guilt

Amos Lassen

Human Rights lawyer, Philippe Sands, looks at the complicated relationship between two men whose fathers were very high-ranking Nazi officials and who have contrasting attitudes toward them. As he does this, he delves into the story of his own grandfather who escaped the same town where the men’s fathers carried out mass killings. The three embark on an emotional journey together, as they travel through Europe and talk about the past, examining the sins of their fathers and providing a unique view of the father-son relationship. They ultimately coming to some very unexpected and difficult conclusions. As they travel across Europe together, they face difficult memories and we watch as the three men share their pasts emotionally and psychologically.

Sands came across the two men when he was doing research for a book he was writing about crimes against humanity. One was Niklas Frank whose father was Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer and, from October 1939, governor-general of Nazi-occupied Poland, which came to include Galicia. The other man was Horst von Wächter, whose father was Otto von Wächter, one of Hans Frank’s deputies, and governor of Krakow and then Galicia. Between 1939 and 1945 the two men were responsible for actions that led to the deaths of millions of Jews and Poles.

what1

The only member of Sands’ family to escape execution was his grandfather who refused to talk about events that led up to the annihilation of all his relatives.   Sands wanted to find the details of how his own past had been shaped by his grandfather who would not speak about it. After persuading both von Wächter and Frank to open up to him about what they knew of their father’s crucial roles in the Nazi hierarchy, he took them on a journey to Ukraine where his family had perished.

Frank has channeled his feelings about his father by writing two no-holds barred books about his father’s exploits as ‘the Butcher of Poland’ as he was known, and has spent a great deal of time talking to schoolchildren about his father’s very important role in the Holocaust. With Sands he is equally blunt about his childhood with a cold distant father and his total distaste for the genocide that he acknowledges he had been responsible for.

Horst, on the other hand, is clinging bitterly to the past living in his old unheated dilapidated home and is still in total denial that his father was a mass murderer.  He grasps at straws like the fact that his father escaped after the war and given safe refuge by an Austrian Cardinal within the Vatican where he lived until he died thus escaping a Nuremburg War Crimes Trial that had found Frank and other senior Nazis guilty of mass-murder.

At first, Sands and Frank argue with Horst gently and we think that perhaps he is just mistaken or confused or both but then he adamantly refuses to accept any of the evidence that he is shown and that proves that father was the Region’s Governor who was personally responsible for all the killings in the camps that he help set up and we understand that this is much more than stubborn denial, and shows that he probably is much more of a Nazi himself than he will ever admit too.

Near the end of the documentary, Sands, who has been calm and dispassionate throughout, takes the two men to the very synagogue and the field outside where his family and several other thousand Jews were killed one afternoon in cold blood.  As they stand together and Sands reveals exactly why they have come there, even then neither he nor a very subdued Frank can persuade Horst to finally accept his father’s guilt.

The documentary was directed by David Evans and written and narrated by Sands. What is so interesting that its power comes from the clam and the reason of the film and in the way that Horst was dealt with by the use of dignified patience. He does not deserve especially when he talked on about having empathy for Jewish people.  This is certainly not an easy film to watch but it is an important film.

what2

To deal with a topic such as the Holocaust with two children of Nazi generals is a strong and different look at their terrible period of history. It could have easily been sensationalized, yet Evans’ simple, but effective approach gives us a composed and heartbreaking movie. This is a story of denial, acceptance, desperation and sadness— a persuasive film that presents something important, unique and affecting.

Sands’ research, and the film itself, thus remind us of how keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, and preventing another one from happening again, will require constant vigilance. It also reinforces not only the scale of the devastation wrecked by the Nazi war machine, but also that of the legacies left to the descendants.