September 29, 2009

Me, the Newspaper Junkie

There's another book being released every second! As much as I would love to buy a new book every week it's just not monetarily feasible, but more importantly it's simply not necessary. I like to remind myself that books are not a one time experience. It's the yetzer hara that likes to convince oneself that you need "new," and assuming that a book interests you, it's meant to be read more than once. Between all the book shelves in our house I could read and reread from now until the next Birchas HaChamah (4/9/2027- put it on your calendars) but . . . there is something nice about purchasing some fresh material.

This is where the newspapers come in.

I love newspapers.

My two favorite weekly's are the Hamodia and the Mishpacha magazine. Both of them are, in my opinion, the leaders among religious Jewish publications in quality and substance. Besides for the typical news items that are reported everywhere, they also are able to find original interesting stories that are fun and inspiring to read and news items that interest me as a Jewish person. The Hamodia is significantly cheaper (in price, not quality) than the Mishpacha so I am able to buy it every week, but when a particularly good Mishpacha comes out I make an effort to go and get it. And when I say effort, I mean effort. To get the Mishpacha requires strategic coordination on my part because for some reason it is not sold at newsstands or seforim stores in either of my two residences. The closest it is offered is about 45 minutes away so my choices are between finding an excuse to, say, go to Brooklyn, or calling up someone who lives in those locations and asking them to please pick me up a copy. I actually just did that about 2 hours ago when I called up my lovely aunt and asked her if she could buy a copy of this weeks Mishpacha- it's one of the special expanded editions that are put out before Pesach and Succos!!!- which I will pick up when a next get a chance. But going back to the main topic, it's the opportunity to buy the newspapers each Thursday, whether it's the Hamodia, Mishpacha, Jewish Press, etc. that helps feed my addiction for new material. The benefits are twofold. I save money since, for example, the Hamodia only costs me $2, and the papers are long enough to make me feel like I'm getting something new to read while at the same time remaining short enough that I can then go back to the books sitting on my shelf waiting to be finished. You can even save the Mishpacha and Hamodia Magazines and reread those too.

Ah, now that I've just spent a half hour thinking about the papers, come Thursday I think I'm going to be one very pumped up Hamodia buyer. Watch out!

September 24, 2009

The Week in Books

New Releases:

-Angel of Orphans:
The Story of R' Yona Tiefenbrunner and the Hundreds He Saved, by Malka Weinstock
-Speak of Hashem's Wonders: Miracles in the Midbar, by Rabbi Zev Yehuda Shain
-Faith in the Night, by Rebbetzin Rivka Wolbe
-A Time to Laugh, A Time to Listen, by Rabbi Yehoshua Kurland
-Triangle of Despair- Circle of Hope, by Yaffa Farbstein
-Six Constant Mitzvos, Based on a Series of Lectures by Rabbi Yitzchok Berkowitz
-The Essential Malbim, by Rabbi Reuven Subar

Upcoming Releases:

-Aleinu L'Shabeiach- Bereishis, by Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein
-Chizuk: A Primer on Bitachon, Coping, and Hope, by Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
-Mother's to Mother's: Women Across the Globe Share the Joys and Challenges of Jewish Motherhood, by Julie Hauser
-Moonlight: Stories that Illuminate the Landscape of Our Lives, by Yael Mermelstein

Review: "Search Judaism"

When I am back in my hometown I often have the opportunity to work in one of our local seforim stores, which is a dream come true for a Jewish bibliophile like myself. Despite the fact that you do have to tend to customers, more often than not there is still plenty of time to take a look at all the books lying around and see what looks good. My bosses are great and on my last work day at the store this past summer I was told that I could pick out a book for free. It was a tough decision (iy'h it should be the toughest I am ever faced with), and I finally chose the subject of today's book review, Search Judaism by Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer.

One of the first things that drew me to Search Judaism was that it bills itself as another book in an ever growing category of attempts to answer some of the often posed tough theological questions, such as whether there is a G-d, are we inhabited with divine souls, and does mankind truly have free choice. I believe that these and the other questions in the book, which relate to fundamental tenets of the Jewish belief system, are important for everyone, especially frum Jews to know. I personally try to solidify my commitment as a religious Jew by attempting to learn that which is within my capacity to understand about Judaism, Hashem, and the Torah, and this book is an appropriate catalyst towards that mission. Other topics that were addressed by Rabbi Fingerer that interested me were how the Torah and science can be compatible and insights into the subject of reincarnation. Each chapter is filled with delightful stories and anecdotes that expound on the designated topic, and all answers are referenced to leading Rabbi's and secular authorities. Actually, there is a strong emphasis on secular references which is great because it's no chiddush to back up Jewish beliefs with Jewish sources, rather when the outside world also comes to the same conclusions that the Torah does, that is impressive.

This book is similar in subject style to "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" by R' Shmuel Waldman and "The Eye of the Needle" from Aish HaTorah. For those of you have read similar books some of the sources and arguments may be a little old but there is fresh material here as well. Search Judaism stands out in that is is very easy to understand and could be read comfortably read by Jews of all kinds. Rabbi Fingerer really does a great job posing tough questions and giving good answers. Something that really showed me how much this book is meant for everyone to be able to learn is that on the last page there is contact information for Rabbi Fingerer and links to websites for furthering Jewish education. As I mentioned before, I believe that it is important for frum Jews to review this material because it is through doing so that we can also try to transmit this information over to our less knowledgeable brothers and sisters so they too can come to an understanding about what a wonderful gift it is to be a Jew.

September 16, 2009

Review: "It's Never Too Little, It's Never Too Late, It's Never Enough."

"You better knock my socks off." Thus said my 9th grade English teacher at the start of every class in the hopes that we would be on better behavior. If I had to use a phrase to describe the impact that, "It's Never Too Little, It's Never Too Late, It's Never Enough" is capable of I would have to borrow her phrase and say "it knocks your socks off." Anyone who is familiar with Rabbi Yissocher Frand's previous works, whether his essays or his Divrei Torah, knows that his eloquent style and poignant sense of humor have the power to both inspire and make you smile. This book is no exception.

"It's Never Too Little etc." is a breath of fresh air, an enlightening perspective of Torah amidst the turbulent world around us. Day after day we are subject to voices of foolishness, misguided priorities and false promises. One of Rabbi Frand's essays takes on the so called Shidduch crisis, a crisis that is largely of our own making through improper goals and requirements from young boys and girls. Another essay talks about interpersonal relationships and how we are to understand the seemingly impossible task of truly loving another person as we love ourselves. A third essay discusses the financial meltdown and how important it is for us to reevaluate our priorities. Do we earn money as a means to an end, or is the money the end itself? We are shown through real examples of the gadlus and chesronos of our broad communities what our mistakes are, how great our potential really is, and how simple introspection is something we could all make use of.

Here is a little vort from " It's Never Too Little, It's Never Too Late, It's Never Enough" to give you some inspiration as we go into the Aseres Yemei Teshuva.

Have you ever noticed that all of the berachos in Shemoneh Esrei end by defining Hashem as One Who can provide the specific form of salvation that we seek: He is the Chonein Hada'as- the Gracious Giver of knowledge; the Rofeh Cholei Amo Yisrael- the Healer of the sick of His nation, Israel; Bonei Yerushalayim- the Builder of Jerusalem. Only one beracha stands out. We ask Hashem, "Hashiveinu Avinu l'Sorasecha- Bring us back, our Father, to your Torah, and bring us near, our King, to your service, and influence us to return in perfect repentance before You. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who desires repentance."

Why is this beracha different from all the rest?

The answer is simple. Hashem can do everything for you. He can give you knowledge, He can heal you, He can build Jerusalem- all without your input. But He cannot do teshuvah for you.

There is one thing He does do, however. He profoundly desires your teshuvah, and eagerly awaits the day when we will choose to return to Him. (p.137)

Rabbi Frand's latest book is a gem and I encourage others to take a look at it. Even as an avid reader there are few books that are just too much to take a break from and put down. This was one of them and I enjoyed every minute of reading. It is very hard to give this book a good read and not come away wanting to strive for improvement and to grow closer to Hashem. If you are looking for a book to help you start the New Year off on the right foot look no farther and go read "It's Never Too Little, It's Never Too Late, It's Never Enough."

K'siva V'Chasimah Tovah!


Today I heard a shiur from Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser and one of the topics that he brought up was the importance of checking haskamos when you buy a sefer or a book that represents itself as expressing Torah ideas and values. I thought it would be worth it to reiterate this message again here as our main focus at the Jewish Book World is, you guessed it, Jewish books. When you are purchasing seforim with which you are not familiar it is very important to see who wrote it and whether the writer's ideas are supported by the Gedolei HaTorah and leaders of our respective communities. Just like we are careful about the food that goes into ours mouths, the things our eyes see and the words that we speak we must also be careful about what we read and learn in the name of Torah.

September 13, 2009

The Week in Books

New Releases:

-Torah for your Table, by Rabbis' Osher Anshel and Yisroel Jungreis and Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
-Festivals of Life, by Rabbi Zev Leff
-Nefesh HaChaim, a new translation by Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Finkel
- The Legacy of the Mashgiach, compiled by Rabbis' Alter and Tzvi Gartenhaus, edited by Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner
- Delivery From Darkness: A Jewish Guide to Prevention and Treatment of Postpartum Depression, by Rabbi Baruch Finkelstein, Michal Finkelstein and Doreen Winter
- The Yellow Notebook: A Novel, by Devorah Rosen
-Musawi: A Novel, by A. Shalom
-The Daily Halacha, by Rabbi Eli Mansour
-Grow! Inspiration, Stories, and Practical Advice, by Rebbetzin S. Feldbrand

Upcoming Releases:

-Mother's to Mother's: Women Across the Globe Share the Joys and Challenges of Jewish Motherhood, by Julie Hauser
-Six Constant Mitzvos, Based on a Series of Lectures by Rabbi Yitzchok Berkowitz
-The Essential Malbim, by Rabbi Reuven Subar

September 10, 2009

Review: Malei Olam

Malei Olam is Shlomo Katz's latest release, following the successful debut of V'hakohanim as well as a joint project on K'shoshana with Aaron Razel and Chaim Dovid. The influence of Shlomo's self-stated spiritual mentor, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, can be seen through his style of music which also encorporates Israeli rhythms and accents, differentiating his style from his brother and another great singer, Eitan Katz. I'll tell you upfront that I was very impressed with this CD, so much so out of all the albums I own I decided to try and put out my first music review using this one. As I do not have the book jacket in front of me, 200 miles away from home, I may be missing information on guest appearances or composers (I know one song is a Carlebach song buy I'm not sure which). Either way, here we go:

V’af Al Pi: Shlomo starts off the album with a slow song; something that I’m seeing more and more with newer releases. This song is a brilliant composition and gives you the feel for what to expect from the rest of the songs. It’s soft, heartfelt and meaningful. The violin at the beginning adds a nice touch as does the rest of the instrumental accompaniment. This song was first released a couple months back (see here) and it definitely gave me something to anticipate from the rest of the album. The interlude at 3:01 is particularly moving. I don’t know why but every time I hear it, it reminds me of the African savannah. Strange, right?

Hazorim Bedimah: Another slow song. Not a big fan of the opening music but once the lyrics get started this song really starts to take off. Again, the essence of this song is the beautiful medley. It’s repetitive (yes, I know that Jewish music is repetitive but this one a bit more so than others) but it has beauty in it's simplicity. The higher and lower parts all flow into each other creating an enjoyable and singable zemer for an opportune time like the Shabbos table or long car rides.

Shma Koleinu: Wow, now we’re moving up the tempo! I love fast songs and while the first two songs we’re beautiful they’re nothing you can get up and dance to. Great electric guitar rock beginning! The chorus- v’kabel brachamim u’vratzon, has a pumped up beat while the shma koleinu part is a bit more soft rock Israeli. This song makes me think of something that Aryeh Kuntsler might perform. This is a fun song. Enjoy!

Ana Avda: Moving back to slow now. The lyrics begin with Ava Avda and then switch to the words from Asapra Lesudasah at 1:51. I love how the melody and the words flow together but I’m just not enjoying the choice of instruments. It's great when Shlomo is singing but the musical interludes are when it gets bothersome.

Yartzeit Niggun: It's hard to describe such a Niggun so I'll just use one word: stunning.

Od Yishama: I’ve spotted my new favorite song! I just can’t stop playing it. The music has this great folksy feel and the simcha just jumps right out. Everything from the beginning to the end is fun and leibedik. It has rhythm, a great choice of instruments and Shlomo’s vocals at 2:40 are the highlight of the song.. At first I wished that it would have been longer but then I realized that the length keeps you coming back for more instead of getting bored from it dragging on.

K'vodo: While this song is titled K'vodo, the title for the album, Malei Olam, can be found here as part of the lyrics. Gorgeous violin solo right off the bat. Then guest singer, Avshalom Katz, Shlomo's father and an accomplished singer and chazzan, begins to sing. I have never heard Avshalom before but his voice is so deep and rich. A great choice on Shlomo's part to include his father as it adds so much to the song. Shlomo appears at 2:04, letting his father have the spotlight until then. The two of them together afterward just make this song a hit. A++

Niggun Mitzpe: From what I remember reading on the book jacket this song was inspired from a place that Shlomo is very connected to in Israel, Mitzpe Nevo. His first niggun which became a huge hit, Niggun Nevo, was also from Shlomo's connection to this community, hence the names of the niggunim. I love Niggun Nevo but this has no similarities in any shape or form to it's predecessor. It just reminds me too much of cowboys and barnyard square dances. It's got a good beat but I'll pass on this niggun.

B’chayechon: Hmmm, how to classify this song . . . probably a medium tempo, like a slow song with beat. This is a good song and it’s got the same soft/sweetness that we’ve already come to expect but I’m not overly excited about it. Listen for the nice harmony at 00:51

Yom Shekulo: The final song and it's a great one to end off with. After a packed and uplifting CD this song sort of places you softly back down leaving you wanting to press play and start all over again. Thinking about it, all the songs just seem to blend right into each other, in a positive way, and that's what makes this CD all the more impressive. Yom Shekulo is slow and meaningful, powered with a sense of sweet simcha dripping from the words and voices. I think that's Aaron Razel I hear starting at 00:50. The whole song is just great.

So that's all folks. My final impressions are simply that this is an album worth giving a chance. As an avid JM follower I'm usually inclined to listen to fast and upbeat simcha music but the d'veikus of these compositions give the neshama a different type of boost and is a breath of fresh air when you just need something to calm down with. The simplicity of the compositions is really the essence of this album’s beauty. Some people need more to work with to create a better product but Shlomo takes simple verses and soft tunes and creates gems. A really nice job all around.

September 08, 2009

Mishpacha Interviews Authors

"A Shabbos Story at It's Best"

This past weeks Mishpacha Magazine (Issue 274) had an interesting interview with two big name Jewish authors, Yair Weinstock and Yeruchem Landesman. In They were asked some great and insightful questions and I was very impressed by the level of responsibility these two authors felt towards imparting their ideas and stories onto the klal, as well as the appropriate kavanos they have when they write their stories. In much of society writing is solely a means of earning a living but it's nice to see these two Chassidish authors who feel that it is also a way of Avodas Hashem. Rabbi Weinstock even gives some examples of people who were influenced positively by his stories, so much show that it further influenced their growth towards Hashem.

Here's one of the questions that was asked:

Reb Yeruchem, you're not daunted by the new computerized generation that has encroached upon the reading market?

"The Jewish People are the People of the Book. There is no substitute for a good story written black on white. The small setback in popularity is only marginal. Our youth grew up on books, not on computers. When I deliberated about publishing a book, it was Reb Yair (Weinstock) who pushed me to do so with his hearty encouragement."

September 04, 2009

Hey There!

Just got two new books today- "Search Judaism" by Rabbi Yitzchak Fingerer, and "It's Never too Little, It's Never Too Late, It's Never Enough" by Rabbi Yissochor Frand. Both are new releases and look great. I hope to give them a good read over Shabbos and report back to you ASAP. Also, look out for some of the music side of this blog with a review of Shlomo Katz's new CD, Malei Olam, coming soon. Those of you who aren't familiar with it yet, this is definitely an album that is worth giving a good listen. Be back soon!