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01/30/2024 02:30:22 PM


Music, War, and Memory

By Robin Jacobson

The great German poet-playwright Goethe had a deep fondness for a grand oak tree in the woodlands near Weimar.  One autumn morning in 1827, he famously picnicked beneath its shade.  A century later, when prisoners were felling trees in the area to make way for a concentration camp, the guards told them to be sure to spare that particular tree.   Soon, Buchenwald buildings...Read more...

01/30/2024 02:30:16 PM


When Your Child Becomes a Stranger

By Robin Jacobson

There’s an old Jewish story about two women sitting on a park bench together.  One sighs.  Her friend reproves her, “I thought we agreed not to talk about the children!”  

The tsores and worries of parents are the subject of two thought-provoking new novels by celebrated Israeli authors. How to Love Your Daughter, by Hila Blum, won the prestigious...Read more...

01/30/2024 02:30:08 PM


The Cost of Free Land: Jews, Lakota, and an American Inheritance

By Robin Jacobson

“Pa pleaded. "We can get a hundred and sixty acres out west, just by living on it . . . If Uncle Sam's willing to give us a farm . . . I say let's take it.”  Laura Ingalls Wilder (By the Shores of Silver Lake)

In 1862, Congress enacted the Homestead Act, hoping to encourage settlement of America’s Western territories.  This...Read more...

10/05/2023 09:29:26 AM


Beneath the Roman Arch

By Robin Jacobson

Intimate Strangers: A History of Jews and Catholics in the City of Rome by Frederic Brandfon tells the epic story of Jews in Rome across more than two millennia.  It’s perfect for anyone planning to travel to Italy, armchair tourists, or history lovers. 

The book is a treasure trove of intriguing historical nuggets – Jews of Michelangelo’s time enthusiastically visiting...Read more...

08/30/2023 11:45:28 AM


Summoning the Family Ghosts

By Robin Jacobson

The Postcard by French author Anne Berest is a remarkable true story of a Jewish family told in the form of a novel. It opens with the arrival of a mysterious postcard at Berest’s childhood home in the Paris suburbs in 2003. The front of the postcard shows the Opéra Garnier, a famous Paris landmark, and the back has four handwritten names – “Ephraïm, Emma, Noémie, Jacques.”...Read more...

08/30/2023 11:44:55 AM


Jewish Dynasties

By Robin Jacobson

Fans of multi-generational tales of Jewish families have three new non-fiction options, each fascinating: The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire by Joseph Sassoon; The Women of Rothschild: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Famous Dynasty by Natalie Livingstone; and Morgenthau: Power, Privilege, and the Rise of an American Dynasty by Andrew Meier.

The...

05/12/2023 10:09:39 AM


Martinis and Memories in a California Garden

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

Early in 2020, Julian Künstler receives an unexpected phone call from his 93-year-old grandmother, Salomea (“Mamie”) Künstler. Mamie invites Julian to stay with her in California for a few weeks while she recovers from a broken wrist. She and her elderly housekeeper-companion, Agatha, need a short-term...Read more...

05/11/2023 01:01:28 PM


New Life from Ancient Seeds

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

“The righteous bloom like a date-palm . . .”  Psalm 92:13

Among the glories of ancient Israel were its flourishing Judean date palm trees, celebrated for their beauty, shade, and sweet fruit. Long extinct, the Judean date palm is experiencing a miraculous rebirth, thanks to two remarkable Israeli scientists who saw potential in...Read more...

04/03/2023 10:01:19 AM


A Mysterious Murder in British Palestine

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

The Times of Israel calls it “the great whodunnit of Zionist lore.” In 1933, Chaim Arlosoroff was murdered in Tel Aviv. Only 34 years old, Arlosoroff was head of the political department of the Jewish Agency in Palestine and a prominent lead­er in David Ben Gurion’s Mapai Par­ty. Who killed him?  And why?  The...Read more...

02/23/2023 09:43:50 AM


A Weird & Whimsical Inheritance from Ukraine

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott is a rollicking adventure story of magical realism, a spellbinding blend of old and new folklore.  Comical yet profound, the novel explores serious subjects – inherited trauma, the roots of mob violence, and the power of folklore to preserve cultural history.  Widely...Read more...

01/19/2023 02:29:28 PM


Families, Love, and Renewal in New Fiction

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

During an unwelcome visit from Covid-19, I dosed myself with soup, lemon drops (good for masking that metallic Paxlovid taste), and three novels:  The Cost of Living by local author Saul Golubcow (detective fiction), Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum (science fiction), and Eternal by Lisa Scottoline (historical...Read more...

12/30/2022 10:03:37 AM


Dinner with Felix Frankfurter

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

Which three persons, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?  The New York Times Book Review regularly asks this question in interviews. After reading Georgetown Law professor Brad Snyder’s fascinating biography, Democratic Justice: Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court, and the Making of the Liberal Establishment, I propose...Read more...

10/26/2022 10:36:23 AM


Rescuing Freud

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

With 20/20 historical hindsight, it can be unbearable to read stories of European Jews in the 1930s who turned down opportunities to flee Europe.  If only we could reach back in time and insist that they start packing. Tragically, they didn’t know then what we know now about the danger, destruction, and death that lay ahead. 

Even...

10/26/2022 10:36:19 AM


Scientist in the Shadows

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

My pharmacist dad reveled in books about epic breakthroughs in medicine and science. On my bookshelf, I found his copy of The Double Helix (1968), a memoir by James Watson of his discovery with Francis Crick of the structure of DNA, a feat for which they won a Nobel Prize in 1962. This discovery paved the way for stunning scientific...Read more...

09/09/2022 11:43:20 AM


Snapshots of Israel

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

Israeli author Omer Friedlander, only 28 years old, made a stunning entrance onto the literary stage this past spring. Big-name publisher Random House published his debut short story collection, The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land, and announced that it would also publish Friedlander’s upcoming novel. To add to the excitement,...Read more...

08/04/2022 12:57:51 PM


While the Pope Stood Silent

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

Early Shabbat morning, October 16, 1943, Nazi soldiers stormed Jewish neighborhoods in Rome, rounding up terrified Jews. They imprisoned them for two days in a military college near the Vatican before dispatching over 1,000 Jews to Auschwitz. Famously, Pope Pius XII made no protest. 

Two fascinating new books look at...

05/24/2022 01:05:55 PM


When the Poet Went to War

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

On October 6, 1973, air raid sirens shattered the solemn quiet of Yom Kippur afternoon in Israel. Egypt and Syria had launched a two-front surprise attack. Within a few days, Israeli casualties were skyrocketing, and the state had lost alarming numbers of planes and tanks. Fearing for Israel’s survival, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan...Read more...

05/24/2022 01:01:42 PM


Remembering the Cold War

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

As I write this, Ukraine remains under siege. News programs feature a nightly parade of diplomats, retired generals, and political historians speculating about a new global world order, comparing and contrasting today’s state of affairs with the Cold War period.  For young people (ages 10-14) curious about the Cold War, three...Read more...

03/22/2022 02:05:48 PM


The Sleazy Side of Life

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

Here are two unusual – and terrific – crime thrillers to jumpstart your summer. For a comic, warmhearted romp, try The Prison Minyan by Jonathan Stone. Want a darker, more complex tale? Read How to Find Your Way in the Dark by Derek Miller.

The Prison Minyan

This delightfully original, witty novel opens in Otisville Correctional, a...Read more...

03/22/2022 02:01:59 PM


Our Parents’ Choices

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

Every day, children benefit or suffer from their parents’ choices. Such is life, and such is the stuff of literature, especially when a parent’s options are radically shaped by societal upheaval.

Two recent, thought-provoking novels trace the far-reaching consequences of parents’ choices during tumultuous times:  More Than I Love My...Read more...

01/07/2022 12:42:56 PM


Passover Picks

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

When it comes to Passover children’s books, you could cover a Seder table many times over with wonderful choices. Here are five favorites, a mix of new and older titles, starting with ones for the youngest Pesach celebrants.

Dayenu! A Favorite Passover Song by Miriam Latimer (age 1 and up, 2012)

This exuberant sing-along board book presents four...

01/07/2022 12:42:19 PM


Beneath the Earth: Archeological Adventures in the Land of Israel

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

Inhabited for millennia, Israel sits atop layers upon layers of a rich, buried past – long irresistible to archeologists. For a lively, colorful history of archeological expeditions, read Under Jerusalem: The Buried History of the World’s Most Contested City by Andrew Lawler, an acclaimed science...Read more...

01/07/2022 12:35:09 PM


Revelations in Children’s Books

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

The Jewish book world is celebrating a bumper crop of excellent nonfiction picture books for children. My three personal favorites are: Dear Mr. Dickens by Nancy Churnin, The Singer and the Scientist by Lisa Rose (both for ages 5-10), and No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon’s Battle for Women’s Rights in Japan by Jeff Gottesfeld...Read more...

12/06/2021 12:13:26 PM



Abraham Joshua Heschel: An American Prophet

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

On Bloody Sunday – March 7, 1965 – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel watched in horror as...Read more...

11/11/2021 01:47:48 PM



Tracing History in Family Treasures

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

Two painted Japanese vases rest atop bookcases in my living room. According to family lore, my...Read more...

11/11/2021 01:17:24 PM


Quirky Novels

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

Two new novels, Antiquities by Cynthia Ozick and The Vixen by Francine Prose, are well worth reading, even if they leave you shaking your head. Antiquities is a charming comedy-drama, but it is hard to make sense of it. In contrast, Vixen is easy to understand, but the novel is an eclectic mash-up of genres and styles: a coming-of-age story, historical novel,...Read more...

08/19/2021 10:50:04 AM


A Fresh Look at Ethel Rosenberg    

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

In 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg went to their deaths in New York’s infamous Sing Sing prison, convicted of...Read more...

08/19/2021 10:44:41 AM


A Haunted Museum in Paris    

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

To Edmund de Waal, world-renowned ceramic artist and award-winning author, art objects are never just objects. They...Read more...

07/06/2021 10:00:57 AM


Empathy Diaries    

By Robin Jacobson, Library & Literary Programs Director

If you catch yourself or see your child obsessively checking devices for texts or emails, or living much...Read more...

04/14/2021 01:29:33 PM


Books & Beyond     Anyone Out There?

By Robin Jacobson

The bestselling new science memoir, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth by Avi Loeb, probes a thrilling...Read more...

Thu, February 22 2024 13 Adar I 5784