Book Suggestions

I keep my eyes open for books on Jewish history and culture. Here are a few I've read in the last few weeks.

--Theresa Newell, D.Min.

The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath

by Senator Joseph Lieberman, an observant, Sabbath-keeping Jewish man (co-authored with David Klinghoffer). In The Gift of Rest, Lieberman tells how the Sabbath has blessed him and his family.

Gift of Rest book cover
Star of David

Being a US senator, it was not always easy to take 24+ hours of rest out of his week. While emphasizing that it takes a level of discipline to set down all the electronic equipment that has become part of the lives of modern, western folks, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. 

Lieberman tells personal stories of having to work late at the Capitol on Friday evenings when crucial votes were being taken and walking (sometimes in rain or snow) with his security men back to his D.C. home since driving would not be permitted after sundown. He takes his readers through the details of how he and his wife Hadassah and their family celebrate this sacred day – from Erev Shabbat dinner on Friday night through each synagogue service, the prayers and reading of Torah in community and fellowship with their Jewish friends.

Along the way, he shares stories of political campaigns, especially when he ran for Vice-President in 2000 on the Al Gore ticket, which included many weekend speaking events. Torah makes room for life, he writes, and he often consulted with his rabbis about such Sabbath activities.

He makes it clear that a Sabbath rest of one day out of the seven is not only based on God’s creation in six days after which He rested, but that ceasing from all regular activity on the seventh day has profound benefits. Among those benefits he includes health, relationships and even career advancement for people of all religions.

Each chapter ends with practical suggestions on how we overactive humans can begin to implement levels of rest such as turning off the television set and unplugging from computers and smart phones. Our bodies, minds and souls were created to rest regularly. Above all, Lieberman tells of how this special day aids his relationship with God – making time to read the Bible, worshipping in synagogue with others and hearing Torah read. Such a day gives time to also reconnect at the heart level with spouse, children and friends, usually over a meal or two during the Shabbat hours. The footnotes point to some of Lieberman’s favorite writers on the subject such as one of my favorites, The Sabbath, by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

I am glad that this public servant took time to write this book to encourage his readers of all or no faith to obey God’s word and keep the Sabbath. It is a great aid for non-Jewish readers to come to learn and appreciate what Sabbath observation looks like in an observant Jewish family and how it blesses them week to week.

The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath, by Joseph Lieberman, with David Klinghoffer (New York: Howard Books, 2011)

Another Sabbath book I recommend is by a Jewish believer in Jesus, Rich Robinson, who wrote Christ in the Sabbath, published by Moody Press in 2014. Robinson gives a thorough biblical look at the divine call to Sabbath rest. This book serves as a commentary on the various scriptures, Old and New, regarding the Sabbath and defines terms which may not be familiar to a non-Jewish reader eager to understand the Jewish roots of their Christian faith.

Christ in the Sabbath book cover
Star of David

Two Novels set in Holocaust Days

When I read horrific stories of the atrocities perpetrated against the Jewish people and other minorities under the Third Reich, I often wonder, "How did individuals make it through such times?” “What kinds of jobs were they forced to do in order to survive?” These are two books, written as novels but based on true stories of some of the real people that my questions bring to mind.

At the Wolf's Table by Rosella Postorino (translated by Leah Janeczko) tells the story of Rosa Sauer, a woman in 1943 who leaves Berlin to seek refuge with her in-laws in the German countryside. She is twenty-five, a Gentile and married to a German soldier who is serving in Hitler's army.

At the Wolfs Table book cover

Once in the rural area, Rosa was conscripted to be one of Hitler’s food tasters – a group of ten women who were forced to taste the Fuhrer’s food each day to test it for poison! She had not realized when she left Berlin that Hitler’s secret hideout, called the Wolf’s Lair, was in the area.

Some of the women in her group were loyal to the Nazis, and others were secretly against the regime. But all were subjected to possible poisoning at any meal. Learning of Hitler’s diet was intriguing. He was a vegetarian from at least after 1938. The book testifies to this fact though there are various theories about why this was so. Some historical transcripts record that his not eating meat was because he hated cruelty to animals – while ironically showing antipathy toward groups of humans! The tasters attest to the fact of his vegetarianism and also that his special chefs were very creative in preparing each meal. Hitler neither smoked nor drank alcoholic beverages. Richard Wagner, whom Hitler admired, had put forth an historical theory which connected the future of Germany with vegetarianism – that such a diet increased energy and endurance. 

This piece of Third Reich history is told in a readable novel format which involves themes of love, forgiveness and survival – and one Jewish taster.

At the Wolf's Table, by Rosella Postorino (New York: Flatiron Books, 2018)

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is another true story told as a novel. Written by Australian novelist Heather Morris, the book made it to The New York Times best-seller list. Lale, whose story this is, was chosen to be a tattooist or the Tatowierer at Auschwitz-Two Birkenau. He arrives at the camp with other young Slovakian Jewish men in the spring of 1942.

Tattooist of Auschwitz book cover

One day he tattooes the number 34902 on a young woman’s arm, their eyes meet and Lale is smitten from that moment. He is determined that together he and Gita would survive. Their love for each other would be the motive. So, in many ways, this is a love story in the midst of the worst imaginable horrors. But survive they do for years – through typhoid, cruel guards, starvation and cold, a near death interrogation and beating and the loss of so many they try to help. 

Lale is industrious and bold, setting up a network of smugglers within Auschwitz and bribing (for food) the village workers who come into the camp as builders of chambers of death on the premises. He befriends a community of Romany people who are lodged in his block at the camp. He entertains their children, and they make him an honorary member of their clan. He meets up with Doctor Mengele, the monster who used inmates for human experimentation.

When the Russians move in and oust the German guards, Lale and Gita, his love, are separated. But Lale makes his way to post-war Bratislava where he finds her. The author gives historical facts of how the story ends happily with Lale and Gita immigrating to Melbourne and having a son named Gary. Gary adds an afterword with reflections on his remarkable parents and their love for one another.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris (New York: Harper, 2018)

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