Category Archives: Reviews

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.

 

 

Boy Oh Boy! by Beily Paluch

Boy Oh Boy!‘s subtitle is A mother’s guide to the wonderful world of boys from bris to bar mitzvah.

Boy Oh Boy! by Beily Paluch

Moms of boys, this is the book you’ve been waiting. Okay, if you grew up the only girl in a horde of 12 brothers, you might be one step ahead of the game. But if you’re from an all-girl family, this book is going to be a lifesaver!   

If like most people, you fall somewhere between those two examples, you are still going to find a trove of useful, interesting and unusual information between the covers of this work that will help you be a better mother to your sons.

As the author wryly notes in her preface, while most mothers will find much in their daughters that reminds them of their own childhood, “it’s an undisputable fact that no mother has ever been a boy.”

In her lively, humorous way, Mrs. Paluch presents a trove of valuable information. The book covers the Torah perspective on raising a son, practical, health and spiritual advice for the week before a bris, handy checklists for events from vachtnacht (What’s that? Read the book and find out!) to bar mitzvah, creative ideas for the upsherin.  It covers minhagim and segulos. There are answers to things like “everything you always wanted to know about the kibbudim at a bris were too embarrassed to ask.”

The author also tackles questions such as boys’ clothing, tznius, how to choose a yeshivah and shaylos that arise from hiring a maid. There is a “Consumer’s Guide to Tzitzis” — written for moms. Chapters to help mothers understand boys’ play and chores.  What should you know if your son’s a lefty? Even instructions for knitting a gartel!

And of course, and most importantly, there is a whole appendix full of tefillos for mothers and fathers to daven for their sons on all occasions.

If you’ve got boys or grandsons, (or even if you’d just like to understand a bit more about the world in which your husband grew up!) you need this book. Keep it somewhere handy, because you will turn to Boy Oh Boy! time and time again.

Buy now from Amazon.com

Published by Jerusalem Publications.

We received a free review copy of this book.

Beily Paluch’s articles and stories have appeared in Binah, Family First, Inyan, Mishpacha Junion and Baby & Me, among other publications.  You can follow the author on her blog: http://www.boyohboyblog.com

She is also the author of two lovely board books:

Braid the Challah by Beily Paluch I Am a Torah b Beily Paluch

Take It Easy! Gluten-Free Recipes for Passover

Take It Easy! Gluten-Free Recipes for Passover and Year Round by Mindy Rafalowitz  is a cookbook of delicious, simple recipes that I’d recommend to new and experienced cooks alike – regardless of whether they eat gluten or not.

Take It Easy! Gluten-Free Passover by Mindy RafalowitzIt is the most exciting recent addition to my collection of cookbooks.

Given that I have several hundred cookbooks, this actually is very high praise.

This is the English translation of the best-selling Israeli cookbook Mitbashel Poh Mashehu, which is already in its fourth printing.

It’s easy to see why it was so popular.

This book is packed with recipes chosen because they are tasty, healthy, easy to make and relatively inexpensive.

But what I love most about it is the whole underlying philosophy. Mrs. Rafalowitz is here to remind cooks that they don’t need to work themselves to the bone or break the bank to provide delicious, nourishing, even impressive meals to family and guests.

The recipes are made with simple, easy to find natural ingredients.  They’re also peppered with comments and tips on how to make things easier for the cook (hence the title). There are variations to some of the dishes, suggested substitutions, and tips on how to wow your family and guests with simple but effective presentation tricks.

I admit that I’m as easily enticed as anyone by beautiful photographs in cookbooks. This book has none. That makes it cheaper to buy and given the tone of the book, I suspect this was an intentional decision.

That thrifty, easy attitude permeates the book in a very refreshing way. It’s good to be reminded that while delicious food it an important part of Shabbos and Yom Tov, it shouldn’t come at the expense of an akeret habayis being able to spend time with family and enjoy Yom Tov.

It shows, too, in the book’s design. Each recipe is set out clearly, with the steps numbered and widely spaced. There are a minimum number of steps, too, and most recipes cover only one page. I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to glance back at the instructions while making something than it is with many other cookbooks.

Those thoughtful details make a big difference when you’re working under pressure.

Gluten-Free Recipes All Year Around

I do want to debunk a misconception caused by the book’s cover: This is not only a Pesach cookbook. It’s a collection of gluten-free, non-gebrokts and no potato starch recipes. So it’s understandable that the publisher chose to market it as a Pesach cookbook.  Included at the beginning of the book is a useful section of Pesach preparations. At the end of the book is an entire chapter entitled “Pesach Basics” that covers homemade mayonnaise, charoses, chrein, sauces and jams.

But all the recipes in between the first and last chapter are perfect for anyone on gluten-free or paleo diets.  Some recipes do use sugar, but elsewhere, there is an emphasis on healthy options. Where a rare recipe uses margarine, the author points that out and recommends making it only for occasional special occasions like Sheva Brachos. In other words, she encourages readers to make healthy choices but isn’t militant or dogmatic about it.

I appreciate an author who respects her readers enough to let them make their own, informed, choices.

I’d recommend this book to young and experienced cooks alike.

Published by Mosaica Press.

We received a review copy of this book.

Buy now from Amazon.

About the Author: Mindy Rafalowitz

Mindy Rafalowitz has been a cooking columnist for the Hebrew Hamodia for twenty years. However, she doesn’t just write about food. She runs food demonstrations and healthy cooking workshops in Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States. She also sends out a phenomenal free weekly recipe and cooking tips e-mail newsletter.

To subscribe to Mindy Rafalowitz’s free newsletter or learn more about her workshops, please contact us.

 

Take It Easy by Mindy Rafalowitz

 

 

 

Buy now from Amazon.

 

 

 

 

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Searching by Rochel Istrin

Searching by Rochel Istrin is a beautiful novel that deserves a second life. This gripping tale follows the story of a young mother and that of the family from which she is cruelly torn apart.

Searching by Rochel IstrinHere’s an excerpt from from the back cover copy:

Young and feisty Zelda must escape to far-off America when anti-Semitic villagers accuse her of espionage. She must leave behind her two small children, Yosseleh and Ruchka, her violinist husband Leizer – and life as she’s known it.

Dramatic enough right there, but then World War II intervenes and makes it impossible for Zelda’s family to join her in America.

After surviving in the forest with the partisans, Leizer finds himself on a freight train bound for Siberia – alone.

When the war ends, Zelda goes back to Europe, determine to find out what happened to her husband and children.

Will the family ever be whole again? Will Zelda ever be able to rebuild the tattered relationship with the child she left behind so young? Will Zelda and Leizer find each other once more?

This isn’t a long book, but is a suspenseful one. It’s also clearly well researched. Many Holocaust novels strive for some hope through contrived happy endings that are oh, so predictable. This isn’t one them. There’s hope here, and happiness, too, to be found among the tears, but they don’t come easy nor the way one would expect them.

Searching was Rochel Istrin’s first novel. Unfortunately for her, it was released just as her first publisher was closing and it never got the distribution and publicity this book deserved. So let’s try to make up for that now by giving this one a second shot and spreading the word. It’s a short book that’s worth the read.

Published by Targum.

We received a review copy of this book.

Purchase here now from Amazon.com.

Rochel Istrin is also the author of:

Hidden by Rochel Istrin

 

Pain Relief by Peri Berger

Pain Relief by Peri Berger is one of those books that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go – not for a long time after you’ve finished it. I was stunned by this one.

pain relief by peri bergerFirst, there’s the unusual subject matter. Yes, it’s a family drama. Yes, there are teenagers with problems involved. And as the cover and title suggest, someone is addicted to drugs.

But – here’s the first shocker – it isn’t one of the kids.

It’s Mom.

Here’s the book’s cover blurb:

Happy marriage, great kids, devoted parents, a flourishing business — Hindy Fishman seems to have it all. No job seems too big for her to tackle, no goal too far to reach. How can a simple fall change all that? Could this really be happening to her? How could someone like her wind up in rehab?

Well.  There are no trite answers here. Just like in real life, Hindy’s going to have to face what got her into this mess, and how her addiction has affected her family.

The author isn’t out to make us feel good, so there are no pat endings here.  Sometimes, when we make mistakes, we cannot unmake them.  We cannot take away the hurt we’ve inflicted on others, no matter how much we wish we could have a do-over.  Sometimes, the best we can do is learn to live with the consequences of what we’ve done.

If that sounds depressing, it’s not – it’s just to say that this isn’t a sappy book that bends reality just to make its readers feel good.  It’s a mature read that grows its characters and treats its readers with respect.

There is much here for adults, spouses, teenagers and parents to take away from this sobering and yet truly hopeful, loving novel.

It was my first introduction to Peri Berger, which is inexcusable, since this book is far from her first, and it was serialized in Hamodia, too.  It took me a while to digest it, but as soon as I could stop thinking about Pain Relief for a few minutes, what did I do but go pick up another Peri Berger novel!

Published by Jerusalem Publications.

We received a review copy of this book.

Purchase here now from Amazon.com.

Peri Berger is also the author of:

The Narrow Bridge by Peri Berger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zero Tolerance by Peri Berger

 

Teens Talk by Malka Katzman

Teens Talk by Malka Katzman is a book about the inner-most secrets of friends you wish you’d had when you were in high school.

Teens Talk by Malka KatzmanIt took a while to be able to review this book, because my teens took it and wouldn’t give it back!

That should tell us all we need to know about it.

The true stories of twenty-two teenage girls are presented in a diary-like format. Each chapter is about a different girl and situation. Teens Talk offers an intimate exploration of the complicated issues young people must grapple with.

There’s the  girl who fears she’s got a terrible illness.

One of the girls, Malka, is leaving behind everything she knows to move to a new country.  Anyone who’s ever moved as a child will relate to what she’s going through.

Another is shocked when she learns why she’s lost her best friend.  What teen doesn’t have bumpy patches with friends?

The issues are the kind that can take over a teen’s entire world.  While learning how each kid faced her challenge, readers are bound to identify with much of what they are going through.

Teens Talk is an opportunity for teenage girls to read about people like themselves.  At this delicate developmental stage, it’s vital for them to see they aren’t alone, even when they have problems and fears that they might not have admitted to their best friend.

There aren’t many books specifically for frum teens, so this is an important contribution for a group of readers that could use a lot more attention.

I’d recommend the book to parents as well. It’s an important reminder of what it is like to be a teenager.  Carefree, it’s not.  Reading this may make us all a bit kinder, a bit more patient and understanding toward those sometimes challenging young people.

From Israel Bookshop Publications.

We received a review copy of this book.

Purchase now from Amazon.com

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.


Lashon Hakodesh: History, Holiness & Hebrew by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

Lashon Hakodesh: History, Holiness & Hebrew by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein is one of the most exciting and intellectually stimulating books I and the other reviewers at Frumjewishbooks.com have read in a long time. Everyone here insisted on having a chance to read it.

Not to be blunt, but you should, too.

lashon hakodesh cover by reuven chaim kleinWe daven in Lashon Hakodesh every single day – but how much do we know about it?

Rabbi Klein takes what seems like a mundane topic – the Hebrew language – and in this ground-breaking work, blasts it open with questions that leave the reader reeling Why didn’t I ever ask that?

Here’s a sampler:

  • What language did Adam speak in Gan Eden? Out of Gan Eden?
  • What language were people speaking before the Tower of Babel?       At Har Sinai?
  • Why was Avraham Avinu called an Ivri? What was the original Hebrew script?
  • Does Lashon Hakodesh borrow from other languages or is it the other way around?
  • Are Arabic and Aramaic separate languages, or just corruptions of Lashon Hakodesh? Does Aramaic have kedusha?

For many of the questions, there are no definite answers. In fact, it’s shocking just how many different opinions and theories there are.

The sefer explores them in depth, occasionally reconciling them, sometimes not. It begins at Creation and moves on through history, contemplating what happened when Eliezer Ben Yehuda met Lashon Hakodesh, exploring how Modern Hebrew fits in, and considers “derivative” languages such as Judeo-Arabic and Yiddish.

Rabbi Klein takes a systematic, academic approach in the presentation of his material, with careful documentation of sources, while remaining firmly grounded in Torah sources. The writing style is clear and accessible. As an added bonus, the book is clearly laid out, with a beautiful cover, which makes the experience of studying it a really joyful experience.

When discussing foreign languages, Rabbi Klein even looks at why the Mishna chose the word afikomen rather than other possibilities.

There’s no doubt this remarkable sefer makes a fantastic afikoman gift for grownups.

 

Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein is currently a fellow at the Kollel of Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Published by Mosaica Press.

We received a review copy of this book.

Purchase now from Amazon.

 

Patterns in Genesis and Beyond by Rabbi David Sykes

Patterns in Genesis and Beyond by Rabbi David Sykes is a stunning book that turns a familiar intellectual journey into a revelatory one.

Patterns in Genesis - Rabbi David SykesRabbi Sykes likes patterns, especially patterns in Torah. The sefer is devoted to patterns that weave the Torah narrative together through Chumash. It could have been an esoteric endeavor, but part of the magic of this sefer lies in how the information is presented.

The cover copy – and massive 600-page length – suggest an obscure, heavy tome, but the book is anything but that. Outstandingly well-written, the text is so clear and simple that it often lulls the reader into feeling he’s simply reading a retelling of a familiar story. And yet, almost certainly, he will come to the end of each section with a new, breathtaking insight that suddenly seems so obvious.

The patterns Rabbi Sykes uncovers literally left me going oh wow! on many occasions. I would reach the end of a chapter only go back and read it again, nodding as I read, feeling that I was seeing things in a completely new way.

The rewards are not only intellectual. Many of Rabbi Sykes’s insights are spiritual and emotional. For example, the parallels he finds between the shidduch of Yitzchak and Rivka, and that of Moshe Rabbeinu and Tzipporah lead to the teaching that an element of a successful shidduch is performing above-and-beyond acts of chessed for one’s spouse. Through the study of Chumash, the sefer can have an immediate impact right in our daily lives. Time and again, Rabbi Sykes shows how the negatives can, through teshuva and following the correct path, be turned into brachos, thus leaving the reader with a positive, uplifting experience.

As we head into Pesach, I find it profoundly meaningful to review the story of Yosef Hatzaddik. Much of the sefer is devoted to Breishis, but as the words “and Beyond” in the title promise, there are extras, such as a chapters about David Hamelech and Batsheva, Moshe Rabbenu, Yocheved and Miriam, the concubine of Gibea, and a fascinating discussion of water and the Exodus.

From the cover:

In his Book of Psalms (19:8), King David declares: “God’s Torah is whole.” These words have been the guiding light for this book’s approach to the interpretation of the Torah. In this work, verbal and thematic links between Biblical accounts, especially in the Book of Genesis, are noted and expounded upon, and are shown to be present in a consistent and systematic way. These connections also combine to form a network of patterns, an integrated whole. Throughout the millennia, many commentators have pointed out such connections; in this work, their observations are adduced and built upon. The uncovering of patterns in the Torah has no end, as the holy Torah is of infinite depth.

When I reached the end of the sefer, my first thought was: Is there another volume to look forward to?

According to the forward by Rabbi Menachem Davis, Rabbi Sykes has been perfecting Patterns in Genesis for thirty-six years. Interesting that it took that long for the hidden lights illuminated by his work to be revealed. It would be worth waiting another thirty-six years for another volume. But in the meantime, there is plenty, plenty to discover and delve into here.

Much of this sefer formed the basis of Rabbi Dr. Sykes’s PhD thesis at Yeshiva University. Since then, Rabbi Sykes has moved to Monroe, New York, where he is a certified life coach and Torah teacher.

You can listen to Rabbi Sykes being interviewed about his sefer here.

Self-published.

We received a review copy of this book.

Purchase now from Amazon.