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Rabbi Charlie Mahashavoth
As we approach summer, I thought I would once again recommend a number of books for your reading list. These books are not necessarily "light" reading – though they benefit from the talent and skill of outstanding teachers – but since summer is generally a more relaxed time, it offers us more opportunity for thought and reflection. Besides, "Talmud Torah keneged kulam," the study of Torah is the most basic of all our mitzvoth!
History is a topic of interest for many people, so here I will recommend two books.
English speakers have long been without an accessible one volume history of Israel. That need has now been filled by Daniel Gordis’s recent publication, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn. An understanding of Israel is crucial for contemporary Jewish identity, and with the distortions of many anti-Israel voices in our world, it is even more important that we are informed and knowledgeable on this topic.
Another important book is Yossi Klein Halevi’s Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. Few individuals can present the issues of modern Israel in as balanced, realistic, and passionate a manner as can Halevi.
Summer is a good time to renew our Jewish souls, as it will prepare us for the upcoming Yamim Nora’im ("Days of Awe"). Our fall holiday season (and the rest of the year!) will be much more meaningful if we remind ourselves what Judaism is all about, what are the core ideas and values that distinguish our tradition and make it so significant. Arthur Green’s Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas: A Brief Guide for Seekers is a nice place to start, though, as the title suggests, it is brief. Even better – and a definite next step – is a relatively recent book by one of our movement’s great teachers. Reuven Hammer’s The Torah Revolution: Fourteen Truths that Changed the World is a far more substantial presentation of some of Judaism’s most important ideas in a clear, concise, yet passionate and erudite expression.
Of course, the books I have mentioned here are idiosyncratic choices that are not meant to represent the latest and greatest of contemporary Jewish literary production, and all of these authors have written other works that are also important. Nonetheless, these are worthwhile reads, appropriate to the summer, and capable of opening our minds and expanding our Jewish hearts.
I wish for everyone a pleasant summer, filled with fun and relaxation. But I also hope we will be refreshed of soul as well as body, growing in the knowledge of our tradition and its influence on our daily living.