Mom dies. Dad worries about who his son is going to marry. For a match, Dad reaches out to a family from his home town, and the girl is all too eager to escape an unhappy home, led by a distant, almost non-existent father, a somewhat helpless mother, and an overbearing, scheming big brother. Off she goes, to parts and husband unknown, but it's better than staying where she is.
And that's just "Chaye Sarah", Chapter 24 of Genesis.
Jewish Book Month always sends me right back to THE Jewish Book, the one we read every month. And I admit, I'm not as big on Jewish fiction as I used to be. I tend to read and collect Jewish non-fiction these days, reference books, commentary, analysis on THE Jewish Book. I know, I know-there's so much to read out there, and it's fairly daunting. What to read with the time allotted? So much to catch up on, so much to explore, I don't read as much as I want to.
And then I realize that almost everything I read is a Jewish book, because my eyes and my mind are Jewish. I'm in the middle of a short, beautifully written book called The Good Braider, by Terry Farish. It's written almost as poetry, concise and poignant. It's about a Sudanese girl who comes to America with her mother, her brother dies on the long journey, her grandmother is back in the old country, the language is strange, the culture is stranger-wait. We've heard this story before; just switch the country of origin and, well, you get the idea. Their story is my family's story, and it's all of our families' stories, especially here in America.
I find Jewish books even when there's no book to read. The other day, I was doing laundry and listening to the soundtrack of the musical, "Little Women." It's wonderful. I cried through the entire soundtrack, just like I did through the book-ok, at least the part about Beth. And Jo's dreams. And Marmee's loneliness. Jewish book? I'm not from Boston, the sisters weren't Jewish, and I certainly didn't have family in the Civil War. But I do have sisters, only sisters, and one of them is named Beth. In fact, family rumor has it that I was supposed to be Amy and my older sister was going to be named Jo. Mom loved this book, clearly. Jewish book? Yes-because it's about my family and I weep at the thought of how important my sisters are to me. (Now. Back then? Um….)
My son is almost done with Lord of the Flies. We all remember how THAT turned out. Jewish book? Well, I'm reminded of all the laws and social guidelines the Torah sets forth; how we set up a society, what and whom we value, and how we show it, and the importance of living in an ethical way, amongst a compassionate community, so sure, I guess that makes the Jewish connection for me.
This isn't some sort of game, like "six degrees of how to make a book Jewish." It's just that Jewish books are the ones that tell a good story, just like the one about Rebecca and Isaac in Chapter 24 in Genesis. Jewish books are the ones that make you care about the characters and what happens to them. Jewish books are the ones that make you want to write an epilogue of your own, in case there's not enough closure at the end. Ok, well, that may be just my mishegas-I'm uncomfortable with loose ends.
And a Jewish book is one that expands your horizons, sharpens your thinking, fills your heart and moves your soul. And maybe your feet, to get up and do something about whatever you just read: right a wrong, share the story, say "I love you," or just sit and witness the beauty of words, that great and glorious Divine gift.
Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com.