Author author: new books by Bay Area writers

What connects us? Why do we feel at home in Israel? What do we share?

Lori Mendel sought to answer these questions by interviewing 62 friends and acquaintances in Israel, her adopted home. She spent a year traveling from Eilat in the south to Kibbutz Ne’ot Mordecai in the north near the Syrian border, seeking people’s life stories.

The result is “The Place I Live The People I Know.”

Mendel grew up in Mill Valley, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and taught school in Oakland and San Francisco. First intrigued by the Jewish state in her youth after spending a summer picking apples on a kibbutz, she eventually moved to Israel in the mid-1980s.

The book opens with a profile of Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information and a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

Most others in the book are far less prominent. Some are sabras, born in Israel, while others hail from countries including the United States, Germany, Argentina and elsewhere. They range from 20-somethings to aging Holocaust survivors.

“There is a fierce love for the country and great despair over problems like the occupation and the divide of the religious and secular, which are not yet resolved,” Mendel writes. Through the book, “I hope you will discover what holds us together, what makes this home for all of us in our diversity.”

“The Place I Live The People I Know: Profiles from the Eastern Mediterranean” by Lori Mendel (367 pages, Archway Publishing)

 

“This is a book about beauty, about style, about appearance. It is about the German-Jewish quest to be seen as dignified, as refined, as physically appealing. Our story starts in the late eighteenth century, when the Jewish battle for social acceptance and legal emancipation began, and continued through the late nineteenth century with the explosion of nationalism, mass politics, and racial anti-Semitism in Germany. …”

So begins John M. Efron in “German Jewry and the Allure of the Sephardic,” an exhaustive study of German Jewry as he follows its development and cultural transformation up to the turn of the 20th century. The Sephardim (as opposed to Ashkenazic Jewry) were generally regarded by German Jews as worldly and advanced, Efron suggests, and their aesthetics held a special allure.

A scholar who holds the title of Koret Professor of Jewish History at U.C. Berkeley, Efron dives into the topic. Helping illustrate his point are artist drawings and photos of historic synagogues and Jewish community life, as well as artifacts from the period.

“German Jewry and the Allure of the Sephardic” by John M. Efron (352 pages, Princeton University Press)

 

The biblical story of Jacob wrestling with an angel of God can serve as an apt metaphor for how religions struggle with the issue of LGBTQI inclusion, note rabbis Mychal Copeland and D’vorah Rose, co-editors of the new book “Struggling in Good Faith.”

“In our era, religious institutions struggle with the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people in religious life,” they write in the introduction. “Jacob’s wrestling match was an inner battle that led to a profound spiritual transformation. So, too, religious institutions will not be left unchanged by the divine wrestling of LGBTQI individuals and their allies.”

Their book addresses LGBTQI inclusion from 13 American religious perspectives.

Both editors are based in the Bay Area. Copeland is Bay Area director of InterfaithFamily and former rabbi at Hillel at Stanford. Rose is a registered nurse and chaplain who lectures nationally on spirituality and health. She began her chaplaincy career at Stanford University Medical Center.

“Struggling in Good Faith,” edited by Mychal Copeland and D’vorah Rose (212 pages, Skylight Paths)

 

The bar mitzvah has come a very long way since its inception in the 12th century. Patricia Keer Munro, a visiting scholar at the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies, helps us understand just how far it has progressed in her upcoming book “Coming of Age in Jewish America: Bar and Bat Mitzvah Reinterpreted.”

Due for publication in May, the book offers an “inside look” at 21st-century b’nai mitzvah.

In researching the topic, Munro interviewed more than 200 people involved in b’nai mitzvah ceremonies, from family members to religious educators and rabbis. Her book examines how practices have changed over the years among the various religious streams, and draws conclusions about the future of American Judaism.

“Coming of Age in Jewish America” by Patricia Keer Munro (232 pages, Rutgers University Press)