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Recommended Reading

We invite you to explore Rabbi Jack Bemporad's recommended Jewish reading list. And if you purchase the books from, a portion of the sales will support our Chavurah!

A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time (Second Edition, Revised and Updated)
by Howard M. Sachar (Author)

When first published in 1976, this truly monumental history was hailed as a definitive work. The revised and expanded edition covers all issues from that point to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

Sachar's topics include the rise of Jewish nationalism, Theodor Herzl and the rise of political Zionism, Zionism after Herzl, the Balfour Declaration, the seeds of Arab-Jewish confrontation, Palestine in World War II, postwar Palestine, the war of independence, the growth of the Israeli republic, Israel's search for peace and security, economic and social growth, the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Likud era, peace with Egypt, and Israel's involvement in Lebanon.

Sachar concludes with chapters focusing on what he calls a tormented road to peace and an appraisal at half century. As extraordinarily stimulating as the first edition. George Cohen, Booklist

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Fate Did Not Let Me Go
by Valli Ollendorf, et al (Hardcover - April 2003)

On August 24, 1942, Valli Ollendorff wrote a loving farewell letter to her son just days before dying in the Thereseinstadt concentration camp. Lost for nearly 50 years, the letter mysteriously arrived in New Jersey in 1985 when her son was 79 years old. With words full of joy and appreciation, Valli faces her destiny, celebrates the lasting strength of family and reassures her son that good will triumph over evil.

Now, for the first time, Valli's letter of hope is being shared in FATE DID NOT LET ME GO, a new book and PBS documentary narrated by Emmy Award™ winner Martin Sheen and Academy Award™ nominee Liv Ullman. The book and film share the inspiring story of a timeless letter and its long journey across continents and generations. More than a mother's goodbye, Valli's message of faith, hope and love transcends the tragedy of the Holocaust and stands as a testament to the human spirit in history's darkest hour.

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Basic Judaism
by Milton Steinberg

Anyone looking to gain a basic understanding of the tenets of Judaism would be unlikely to do better than this work. Rabbi Steinberg lays out who the Jews are, what Judaism is, and some of the various interpretations of the faith using clear, concise language and a well-laid out chapter structure that walks the reader through the history and conceptions of Judaism as it has grown over the centuries. Although the book does not go into great depth in any one topic, the scope of the book gives the reader a fascinating perspective on the Jewish religion.

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The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War
by Martin Gilbert

A poignant introduction by the author (official biographer of Winston Churchill) is followed by his instructive analysis of anti-Semitism in Europe, from Martin Luther's venomous fulminations against Jews to the motivating power of anti-Semitism in the National Socialist movement. Hitler's "final solution" began formally within hours of the German invasion of Russia, a campaign that, as Gilbert shows, provided an opportunity for genocide hitherto lacking. With a relentless accumulation of detail and eyewitness accounts, he writes of the systematic efficiency of the Nazi attempt to destroy European Jewry and the widespread disbelief that such could be happening. Gilbert brings within the pages of this volume all the major substantiated evidence of Jewish resistance throughout the war, plus many examples of Gentiles risking their lives to protect Hitler's prey. Publisher's Weekly

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The Jews in the Twentieth Century: An Illustrated History
by Martin Gilbert (Author)

Situated somewhere between a solid, intelligent primer and a luxurious coffee-table book, this 100-year chronicle of Jewish history, practice, culture, art and survival is informative, succinctly written and handsomely produced.

Gilbert has written a text that carefully and lucidly intertwines an enormous range of people, events, themes and ideas. Simultaneously covering events in many cultures and countries on one page he moves from a Jewish French officer who interpreted for the British during WWI to Jewish theological arguments supporting the draft in the U.S. and the work of Jews in Europe in their own national war efforts he gracefully weaves a cohesive panorama of European and American history. But the backbone and glory of volume are its more then 350 photographs. Many of the historical photographs are remarkable and astonishing: Jewish resistance fighters being rounded up as the Warsaw ghetto is in flames; a "Jewish" snowman created by Hitler youth, elderly Orthodox men drinking Pepsi at an Arab cafe after the Six Day War, Hollywood star John Gilbert sitting in a director's chair with his name spelled in Yiddish on the back and a rarely seen photo of a four-year-old Anne Frank and her sister. Publishers Weekly

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What Crucified Jesus? Messianism, Pharisaism, and the Development of Christianity
by Ellis Rivkin, Eugene J. Fisher (Paperback - August 1998)

Ellis Rivkin has written a book that confronts head-on the erroneous perception that the Jews crucified Jesus. This would be a surprise to most Christians. It was to me. With a reasoned and enlightened style, Rivkin takes us back to the historical, religious and political context of the New Testament, with special analysis of what it was like to be an observant Jew living in Israel under total Roman domination.

Essentially what Rivkin does for us is to provide the vital historical, religious, and political context to the New Testament narratives, a context that is missing or out of focus for most Christians, who, wanting to focus mainly on the Gospel message, also absorb the palpable anti-Jewish tone throughout the narratives. Rivkin points out repeatedly that the anti-Jewish tone must be understood in the right context and cannot be construed as being anti-Semitic in intent or interpreted as some kind of justification for the Christ-killer libel that has been propagated against Jews for centuries.

In other words, for Christians, there is no justification based on New Testament Scripture that the Jews crucified Jesus; and, for Jews, there is no justification for slandering the writers of the New Testament by saying that they hated the Jewish people and thereby have spread their presumed hatred to the world through the New Testament Gospels, Letters, and histories. This book deals with a topic that is as current as today's headlines, on an issue that is at the heart of peace and justice in the world today, and at the heart the prophetic stories in the Bible. Importantly, Rivkin's book can give Jews and Christians another reason to understand and even trust each other a little bit more because of their common heritage and their G-d, in spite of doctrinal differences.

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Our Age: The Historic New Era of Christian-Jewish Understanding
by Rabbi Jack Bemporad

In 1990, Chavurah Beth Shalom's Rabbi Jack Bemporad negotiated the controversial relocation of the Carmelite Convent in Auschwitz, Poland. Bemporad and co-author Michael Shevack have now produced a clear, easy-to-read examination of the new age in interreligious affairs ushered in over 30 years ago with Vatican II and the "Nostra Aetate" proclamation, which acknowledged Christianity's Jewish roots, deplored anti-Semitism, and sought to build bridges between the two religions. It was, in the words of Bemporad and Shevack, "a breakthrough - the first doctrinal statement in history that goes hand-in-hand with a warm, respectful, loving presentation of Jews and Judaism."

The authors touch on the text, issues, and controversies surrounding Jesus, the Christian Gospels, and the Jewish people. Most important, they examine developments since the "Nostra Aetate." They also discuss the great efforts of John Paul II to further the work of understanding. Their brief, readable, affordable study is recommended for most public libraries. Paul Kaplan, Library Journal

Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?
Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman
An S. Mark Taper Foundation Book in Jewish Studies
Foreword by Arthur Hertzberg

Denying History takes a bold and in-depth look at those who say the Holocaust never happened and explores the motivations behind such claims. While most commentators have dismissed the Holocaust deniers as antisemitic neo-Nazi thugs who do not deserve a response, historians Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman have immersed themselves in the minds and culture of these Holocaust "revisionists." They have conducted personal interviews with the deniers, read their literature, monitored their Web sites, attended their conferences, engaged them in debate, and even traveled around Europe to conduct research at the Nazi extermination camps. Uncovering a complex social movement, the authors go much deeper than ever before in not only trying to understand the motives of the Holocaust deniers, but also refuting their points one by one. In the process, they show how we can be certain that the Holocaust happened and, for that matter, how we can confirm any historical event.

"Holocaust denial gets an inventively thorough treatment in this important book. Using the deniers' own words to tear down their arguments, Shermer and Grobman provide a clear method for determining the reality of past events and supply a powerful weapon for anyone who cares about learning from the credible historical record."--Publishers Weekly

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The Genius of Genesis: A Psychoanalyst and Rabbi Examines the First Book of the Bible
By Dennis Shulman

"My goal in this book is to bring you right next to me on this pilgrimage into the psychological wisdom literature that is Genesis. For this journey, it is Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his children, and even God who serve as guides. It is my fervent hope that, by examining the narratives and heroes of Genesis, we will, by journey's end, find ourselves."

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“Valli's message of faith, hope and love transcends the tragedy...”

Valli Ollendorf