Category Archives: Memoirs

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.

 

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.

 

 

A Doula’s Journey by Sarah Goldstein

A Doula’s Journey, Into the World of Birth, by Sarah Goldstein is a memoir.

A Doula's Journey cover

It is the story of a woman caught between raising her six children, caring for her ailing mother and also practicing a challenging vocation: that of helping other mothers bring new life into the world.

From the back cover:

Often torn between her life’s calling and her family, Sarah is further challenged by being in a “sandwich generation.” She is raising six children while caring for her degenerating Alzheimer’s mother. Yet with family support at the most trying of times, she experiences both the trials and triumphs of facilitating mothers in bringing their newborns into the world.

Self-published.

Buy now from Amazon.

Sarah Goldstein is also the author of Special Delivery (Targum) and More Special Deliveries.

 

Uncertain Tomorrows by Miriam Sachs

Uncertain Tomorrows by Miriam Sachs is one of those books that reminds us that behind the calm, quiet exterior of normal people we know may hide giants of extraordinary strength and emuna.

Uncertain Tomorrows  by Miriam SachsI’ve known the author for years. I could never have imagined what she and her family have experienced. (Miriam Sachs is a pseudonym.)

This autobiographical tale follows the author as an eleventh grader, with all the emotional upheavals and social concerns that most normal teenagers have. What she also has, as she juggles school, friendships and teen angst, is a younger brother who passed away, and two sisters who are fighting for their lives. While Miriam’s classmates are planning school events, she’s spending days at the hospital, relieving her parents at her siblings’ bedsides.

Three of Miriam’s siblings were affected by Fanconi Anemia (FA). One died when she was very young, two of them passed away when she was in high school. FA is a genetic disease that causes victims to develop cancer and bone marrow failure. Many of them also have congenital abnormalities of the limbs such as missing or extra fingers, endocrine problems, and sometimes learning disabilities.

The narrative is brutally honest, sometimes chronicling Miriam’s adolescence at its most self-absorbed, sometimes depicting her heroic stretching past her limitations to become “the nice person” she wants to be.

The author mentions that she wrote this memoir for her parents. And truly, they exhibit incredible reservoirs of strength and emuna, as they struggle through the suffering and eventual deaths of three children. Even more eye opening is how, in the midst of all this darkness, they also remarkably parent their “normal” teen as well.

You’ll need tissues for this one and one pack just won’t do. This is not an easy read, but it will linger in your thoughts long after you close the last page.

Published by Menucha.

We received a review copy of this book.

Purchase now from Menucha.  SPECIAL $5.49 SALE PRICE!

The Miracle Next Door by Yona Yakobovitz and Malka Adler

I spotted The Miracle Next Door on sale for the incredible price of $5.49 (instead of $21!) at the Menucha website today.

Miracle Next Door coverThe is a powerfully inspirational book that has given so much chizuk to so many people around the world.

The true story of a disabled mother of two disabled children, this book is told from two different viewpoints – that of the neighbor who volunteered to help (Malka Adler, also the author of a Second Helping of Sunshine), and the moving, poetical diary entries of Yona Yakobovitz, the first-time mom who after years of davening for a child, suddenly found herself spending years in hospitals at her son’s bedside.

Yona Yakobovitz was disabled by rheumatoid arthritis since the age of 19. After many childless years, she was blessed with a son, Yisrael Meir, who was born with severe Stickler’s syndrome and many physical problems. His problems were so challenging that some doctors even refused to treat the child!

She fought tooth and nail to save her son (who is today a delightful 20 year old young man.) When Yisrael Meir was 8 years old, his brother Eliyahu was born with Down syndrome and a variety of other physical problems.

It’s a tale of incredible hardship – but never a downer.  As the book reminds us, “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” In every new and difficult twist and turn, this family looked for the positive lessons to be learned.

One striking quote I’ve never forgotten – an excerpt from this mother’s diary, rejoicing upon finding out that her son was finally well enough … to have surgery:

There is one beautiful thing that keeps me hanging on, which is that I feel…I feel like a mom.  We waited so long for him and we worked so hard with him to heal and to be in this world – so busy keeping him alive that the time to just be a mommy was so scarce, so precious.

Amidst all the daily chores and hard work of being a mom, how often do we stop to appreciate that getting to do all that hard work is an amazing privilege?

Interwoven among the chapters is also the story of Tofaah, the first all-woman, Jewish rock band, which is this mom’s other “baby,” and the incredible kiruv work the band does.  There’s even a CD included with the book. (At least there was when the book was published by Targum.)

I’m so glad to see Menucha picked up this book and is making it available once more!

Purchase now from Menucha or used from Amazon.com.

If you’re a fan of the book, or if you buy it now and it touches your heart, please contribute to the fund set up to help this inspirational family.


The Well-Spiced Life by Barbara Bensoussan

The Well-Spiced Life is a food memoir – part recipes, part essays.  Barbara Bensoussan is a contributing editor at Mishpacha Magazine.  She also writes for Jewish Action and has been published in Hamodia, Chabad.org and other media outlets.

The Well-Spiced Life by Barbara BensoussanSo you’ve probably seen her articles somewhere along the line.  She’s one of my favorite feature writers out there – smart, articulate and always interesting.

I collect cookbooks, so this one is definitely on my list to add to my bookshelf!

You can hear her talking about her life and her new book in this interview on Chazak Radio.

The Well-Spiced Life

From the back cover:

As a young woman, acclaimed author Barbara Bensoussan always thought she’d marry a nice Jewish boy from New York, just like her mother. But her life took a distinctly different turn when she entered the Orthodox world and her nice Jewish boy turned out to hail from Casablanca! Suddenly she found herself the Sephardic version of the bride-who-knew-nothing!

Now she had a husband who thought the chicken soup she adored was little more than flavored water, and who’d grown up eating the head of a lamb—teeth showing—on Rosh Hashanah. As the years passed and her family grew, she did her best to absorb the culture and cuisine of the Sephardic world— some of which, she laments, is still clinging to her waistline.

The literary result of Barbara’s foray into the Sephardic world is The Well-Spiced Life, an authentic food memoir that combines the best of pleasure reading with excellent recipes. Packed with delightful anecdotes, culinary tips culled from years spent cooking for a “mixed” (Ashkenazic/Sephardic) family, loads of exotic recipes, and an abundance of comic relief (a necessary ingredient in every culinary undertaking!), it’s a book that belongs on the shelf of every respectable balabusta, Sephardic and Ashkenazic alike.

As they say in Casablanca: bon appetit!

Published by Israel Bookshop Publications (2014)

Purchase now from Amazon.

Barbara Bensoussan is the author of the teen novel A New Song.