A Boy Named 68818 by Israel Stark

A Boy Named 68818, by Israel Stark, is an exceptional memoir of a little boy who survived the Holocaust.

A Boy Named 68818Geared for children 10 to 14 years old, this is a book that readers of all ages can learn from.

It is the true story of Srulek Storch, whose hometown of Podhoryan  was invaded by the Nazis when he was fourteen years old. Everything Srulek had known was stripped away from him. How this young boy survived, not only physically, but spiritually, is an awe-inspiring tale.

What makes this book unique is not just the inspiring story, but the way it is presented. With beautiful illustrations by Gadi Pollack and Alex Firley, maps, an extensive vocabulary section and an appendix that is as fascinating to read as the story, A Boy Named 68818 is meant to be an intensive, fascinating and engaging learning experience.

For a long time now, whenever I would run into the co-author, Miriam Stark Miller, she would tell me she was working on her father’s memoirs. I was delighted when we met earlier this year to hear the memoir was finally published. But it wasn’t until I held the book in my hands and started leafing through that I fully appreciated what a monumental task Mrs. Miller and her father had undertaken. It’s a stunning labor of love, designed to teach the next generations that it is possible to hold on to one’s emunah even in the darkest of times.

As Harav Israel Meir Lau writes in his haskamah, “Aside from telling the story of the author’s personal encounters throughout this era, A Boy Named 68818 teaches future generations an important lesson: How Jews sacrificed their lives in sanctification of G-d’s Name, as well as how they knew how to live in sanctification of His Name … even in the harshest situations… .”

The book also garnered praise from Harav Shmuel Yaakov Klein, director of publications at Torah Umesorah.

It’s hard to imagine teachers not falling in love with this book. To make their task even easier, the authors have set up a website with additional resources and suggestions to help teachers use the book in classrooms. Dr. Danny M. Cohen, Assistant Professor of Instruction at the Northwestern University’s School of Education noted that “what makes this book outstanding as an educational text is the extensive supplementary materials that can be found at the back of the book … The supplementary materials include maps, historical timelines, family photographs, primary documents, images of real artifacts, suggested classroom activities, and reader questions, which will no doubt make this book a pleasure to teach.”

The authors have created something really remarkable. This is really a Holocaust memoir unlike any other.

Buy now from Amazon.

Published by Feldheim

We received a review copy.


Wheat, Wine & Honey by Yaffa Ganz

Wheat, Wine & Honey, by Yaffa Ganz, is a rarity: a book of poetry.

Yaffa Ganz, of course, is famous for her children’s books. With this slim , powerful volume of poems, she shares a completely different facet of her writing talent.

Reading through Wheat, Wine & Honey is exhilarating.

I chose that word carefully, because no other could quite describe the experience of being lulled by beautiful imagery and then jarred wide-awWheat, Wine & Honey by Yaffa Ganzake by a blazing insight.

This is a journey of gently, dry wit and searing pain, of agonizing questions. It is part love song to Hashem’s world, and to Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalyim in particular, and part reflection. Uncomfortable, thought-provoking challenges and lovely contemplations of a spring day follow each other, intertwined as they are in real life.

The author shares with us deeply personal questions and dilemmas (such as the poem titled “To Be, To Do, or Not To.”)

And she gifts us with gorgeous moments, snippets of time captured in her words, as in the poem “The Wind,” sixteen words of sharp clarity.

It’s a book to read in one sitting — because you won’t be able to put it down! — and then to be savored again, more slowly, to allow each poem breathing room in which to bloom. These are poems to reflect upon, to discuss, to challenge or argue with. In short, this is a work that deserves full engagement.

It’s been two decades since the last time I found a book of poetry I treasured this much. (That was the stunning Memo to Self — if you can still find a copy anywhere, grab that one, too!)

Buy now at Amazon.


We received a review copy.

Yaffa Ganz is the author of dozens of children’s books, including the famous Savta Simcha series and one of my children’s all-time favorite books: The Little Old Lady Who Couldn’t Fall Asleep.

She has also published a Jewish history for young readers, in collaboration with Rabbi Berel Wein —  Sand and Stars, the Jewish Journey Through Time —  three collections of essays for women, Cinnamon & Myrrh, A Different Dimension, and All Things Considered; and the incredibly useful The Jewish Factfinder.




Parenting by Design: The 5-Level Method for Raising Younger Children, by Rabbi Yisrael Kleinman, LMSW

Parenting by Design, published by ArtScroll as part of its Pocket Scroll series of easily portable books, is a small tome with a big message.

parenting by design coverParenting expert Rabbi Kleinman shares the five-step approach he’s developed to help parents raise their children more effectively, calmly — and happily for all concerned.

Unlike some books that discuss philosophies of childrearing or offer sweeping generalizations, Parenting by Design is straightforward and practical.

Rabbi Kleinman teaches parents how to categorize an interaction with a child quickly, figure out an appropriate immediate response, and plan a long-term strategy to address the issue.

Throughout the book, he offers examples that most parents will recognize. He presents us with a fictitious family — parents and several young children, each with his or her own issues — and walks us through how the parents apply the 5-Level method to each of the children’s various problems, changing their approach to reflect the changes in their children.

The method is fairly easy to understand and practice. The chapters include worksheets for parents to apply the 5-Level method to the specific concerns they may have regarding their own children.

After spending some time teaching the method, the book then addresses specific topics, such as teaching truthfulness and dealing with the inflexible child. Perhaps one of the most important chapters is the one in which Rabbi Kleinman shows how parents can use the method on themselves, to deal with their anger.

Some readers may initially balk. Faced with overwhelming pressures of work, housekeeping chores, making Shabbos and Yom Tov, tackling laundry, paying bills, fielding kids’ arguments and trying desperately to get their offspring to behave or go to bed, parents may wonder where in the world they’re supposed to find the time to learn the method and plan their strategies. But Rabbi Kleinman’s examples clearly show how the initial investment is likely to pay off, with a family that runs more smoothly with a lot less stress and more joy.

As the book’s tagline says, it is aimed at parents of young children. What even a parent of older children can take away from Parenting by Design is the reminder of just how mindful, thoughtful and deliberate parenting must be. There is no instant, just-add-water method of raising happy, functional, emotionally well-adjusted children who will be a source of nachas.

The method will work only when parents — ideally, two of them working together to develop a strategic plan — take the time to reflect on a child’s issues and develop tailor-made protocols for both the short and long term. In other words, parenting by coasting along, or winging it, probably isn’t going to work that well.

It takes parenting by design.

Fortunately, Rabbi Klein is there to provide parents with the blueprint and the tools.

Buy now from Amazon.

Published by ArtScroll.

We received a review copy from the publisher.

The Missing Peace by Esther Gendelman and Rochel Stein

The Missing Peace is all about relationships.

Relationships. Can’t live without them, but they sure can be hard to live with sometimes…

the missing piece cover

·       Have you ever had an argument with someone and felt like they just weren’t getting it?

·       Did someone ever suddenly explode at you, and yet you can’t figure out why in the world they were upset?

·       Do you know what it’s like to have a best friend let you down and then have the incident leave a grain of resentment that just won’t go away?

The Missing Peace addresses a wide variety of possible interactions between two people. At some point while reading this book, most people will come across one, and probably more, chapters that will make them wonder when the authors were eavesdropping on them.

We’ve all had relationships — with parents, bosses, spouses, kids, neighbors, mothers-in-law — go a little haywire occasionally. Even in those cases when it seems there’s nothing to do, Esther Gendelman and Rochel Stein think exercising our imaginations a little bit may help a great deal.

Unlike most self-help books, this one reads like a novel. The bulk of the book consists of chapters that present both sides of a situation in which there is conflict between two people. The characters are drawn with such empathy that I often found myself reaching for tissues. And there were some chapters that I wished could have kept going, because I wanted to find out “the end of the story.”

There is no end to the story. 

Even when everyone loves each other and has everyone’s best interests at heart, conflicts and crises arise and we can’t pretend they won’t happen. For example, some of the chapters raise the following hard situations:

·       The married kids, debating whether or not to ask their parents for financial help for the grandkids.

·       The harried mother perplexed by her sixteen year old’s explosion because no one thought to save her a slice of pizza — while she was off having lunch elsewhere.

·       The human resources person who has to lay-off a good employee.

·       The doctor’s wife, trying to protect what little family time her husband has from the real needs of patients in the community

·       The widowed mother whose son-in-law has just found the perfect kollel — half-way round the world.

·       Friends who do favors for each other, but are hurt when they feel the other friend doesn’t respond in the same way in turn.

There are many more chapters. It isn’t hard to see these are situations fraught with emotional challenges.

What makes this book special is how it presents both sides to every dilemma from inside each character’s head.

Because the material is presented in this way, just reading the chapters in Parts I and II, without any resolution to the problems, is already eye-opening. It’s a vibrantly graphic, emotionally gripping way to remind us that there are always two sides to a story. Before flying off the handle next time, or retreating into a wounded sulk, maybe we, too, can exercise our imaginations to see our incident from the other person’s point of view. Doing that for a moment or two can sometimes be enough to turn the flame down on anger or hurt.

Part III, “Reclaiming the Missing Piece,” is where the authors pull it all together by offering a step-by-step approach on how some of the situations could be handled in a way that increases growth and shalom.

They outline what they call “ICARE: Internal Compassion and Relationship Enhancement,” through a series of questions individual can work through as they try to get an emotional handle on a challenging situation. As we can only ever change ourselves, not other people, the questions are designed to lead readers toward greater self-awareness, with a focus on achieving shalom and using challenging experience to develop their middos.

 And for those who are still desperate to know the ending of some of the stories in the chapters, the authors illustrate how the questionnaire works by using it to interview a few of the characters we’ve met in the book. We see them struggling through their issues and trying to figure out what triggered their hurt or anger and why, and how they can develop more compassion, not just for the other person in their conflict, but for themselves, too.

A very creative book, with the potential to help people navigate and grow through their relationships with greater shalom and compassion.

Published by Menucha Publishers.

We received a review copy from the publisher.



Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan, by Rebbetzin Danielle S. Leibowitz with Devora Gliksman

Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan, the Founder of the Bais Yaakov Movement in America, is a massive book in every sense of the word—and it ought to be required reading.

rebbetzin vichna kaplan coverThis biography of the founder of the Bais Yaakov movement in the United States is also much more than the story of one person’s life. Beneath the covers lies a tapestry of fascinating stories reaching back two hundred years.

Rebbetzin Liebowitz, who was one of Rebbetzin Kaplan’s early students, has us meet Vichna Kaplan in context. That is, she paints a portrait of the world in which Vichna Kaplan was born and raised, bringing to life the homes of gedolim of previous generations.

It is also a window into the daily lives of Yidden in Poland in the pre-war years, poor in material goods, perhaps, but immeasurably rich in ruchnius. We are not painted a false idyllic picture, however. The early Bais Yaakov teachers in Europe and in America faced challenges teaching Jewish girls that many modern parents, unfortunately, will relate to only too well.

Along with watching Vichna Kaplan grow up, we meet legends: Rav Elchanan Wasserman, the Chofetz Chaim, Sarah Schenirer, Dr. Judith Gruenfeld, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rabbi Yosef Yakov Herman, Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, among many others who shaped the young woman’s outlook on life.

The story of Rav Baruch Kaplan, Rebbetzin Kaplan’s husband and partner in building Bais Yaakov in America, is as interesting as hers. 

The authors make us feel the difficult move the young Rebbetzin Kaplan made, traveling to America to get married, leaving behind her large network of family and friends, knowing that many of them she would never see again.

And then, of course, there is the incredible story of how, together, Rebbetzin Kaplan and her husband built an entire educational movement from an initial group of four girls, some of whom didn’t even want to be there, meeting around a dining room table.

We get to meet these girls—and many others—throughout the years. There are moments of triumph, such as when we learn that people only started to take notice of the school when they realized that every single one of the graduates of the 1938-40 classes

The stories read like a novel but the material is so meticulously researched that it must have taken years to assemble. The copious footnotes indicate the authors’ uncompromising efforts to fact check and verify even the tiniest of details.

Don’t let the size of this book (579 pages) dissuade you. Beneath the covers lies a fascinating story, so meticulously researched that it must have taken years to write.

Buy now from Amazon.

Published by Feldheim.

We received a review copy from the publisher.