A Love Letter of Jewish Literature to Cosy Up With

May 22, 2020

According to Jewish tradition, God is revered as a writer. For thousands of years, in daily life and at festivals and milestones, Jews have reached for sacred texts and written wisdoms – so much so that we’ve been described as ‘people of the book.’

So we’re thrilled to be sharing this Love Letter celebrating Jewish literature. For in our community, the written word forms a bridge between past, present and future, lived and imagined experiences, and genres and generations. And if there was ever a time to be cosying up with a book, it’s now.

Our curator this week is writer, critic and interviewer Tali Lavi for Melbourne Jewish Book Week, which was sadly cancelled due to COVID-19; be sure to read her recent piece on Unorthodox for The Monthly.

Two invitations before Tali’s lit picks to make you weep, sigh, laugh and escape the world as you know it (or no longer know it) – browse our collection of books here (how amazing is Warsaw Ghetto: Tale of Valor?) and don’t miss our From the Vault panel discussion with the Jewish Holocaust Centre on Art Spiegelman’s Maus at 7.30pm Tuesday 26 May via Zoom.

Chag Shavuot Sameach – and until we meet again, stay well and warm.

Jessica Bram
Director & CEO

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok (1972)

I know you’ve been watching Unorthodox and if you haven’t, why not? The Netflix series could well be a riff on Chaim Potok’s modern classic. My Name is Asher Lev takes us into the neighbourhood of Crown Heights to examine art, faith, suffering and Hassidic New York and is wonderfully written.

Amnesia Findings by Anna Jacobson (2019)

I wonder if my memories are there
like banksia seedlings after fire,
waiting to regrow

Award-winning Perth poet Anna Jacobson’s collection of poetry explores the link between Jews and memory – and interrogates what happens when it’s made elusive through mental illness. Intensely Jewish with notes of humour, this work is harrowing and redemptive.

Autumn by Ali Smith (2016)

Daniel Gluck of Autumn (the first of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, read all three before the fourth comes out this year) is the most memorable of men. Funny, kind and intensely humane, I dare you not to love him (or George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda). Revel in Smith’s glorious form and poetry; she is a chronicler of contemporary Britain and the human heart.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant: A Memoir by Roz Chast (2014)

This graphic memoir is bristling with New York Jewish angst. Ageing parents, silence, guilt and relentless funny lines. Filled with life-changing health advice (sitting sideways twists your kishkes), it should come with a warning: expect a pain in the pupik from laughing too hard.

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn (2006)

This book by eminent American cultural critic and classicist Daniel Mendelsohn explores themes of memory, history as an act of retrieval and the parameters of knowledge. Superbly framed by a Biblical narrative of creation and destruction and filial relationships ridden by jealousies, it renders lost worlds somehow less so and is a gargantuan book of beauty.