Kate Abbott: Berkshires join Jewish Book Month

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'That night in their tent / Sarah's hair smells like smoke. / Avraham sings a lullabye ..."

Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, writes a family scene in her collection, "70 Faces." Abraham, Sarah and the infant Isaac hold each other in the desert night.

Rachel is an old and dear friend. For many years, I've read her poems and her blog posts at velveteenrabbi.com, and in many of them, like this one, stories come alive. These lines come in a cycle of poems surrounding the day when Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son. As I read, I can feel the anguish of parents afraid for a child, the grit of sand under a ground cloth, Abraham holding Sarah's hand.

I am holding the book today because Matthew Tannenbaum at the Bookstore in Lenox has just told me that the Berkshires will join in Jewish Book Month.

What does that mean?

The Berkshire Jewish Federation and local congregations, bookstores and libraries will offer a monthlong series of events -- poetry, fiction and nonfiction -- from short stories set in a residential hotel to a walk through small New York museums.

Rachel's blog tells me that the Jewish Book Council sponsors the national week, and the Jewish Book Council explains how it began: "In 1925, Fanny Goldstein, a librarian at the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library, set up an exhibit of Judaic books and used it as a focus of what she called Jewish Book Week. In 1927, the event was adopted by communities around the country."

I asked Rachel what books she would recommend, if she and I were putting together a list of wonderful things to suggest to people this month -- people who would love words and stories as much as we do and see new worlds to explore.

Off the top of her head, she suggested "The Rabbi's Cat," a gentle graphic novel by Joann Sfar; "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," a novel set in the early days of comic books by Michael Chabon; "The Golem and the Jinni" by Helene Wecker.

And what would I pull off my bookshelf to hand you? I know Chabon from "Gentlemen of the Road," a traveling adventure in the real land of Khazaria around 950 A.D. Peter Beagle's "Folk of the Air" and "The Last Unicorn" fantasies move me with the rueful humor and final strength of characters like Schmendrick the magician. Two days ago, friends reminded me of the "All-of-a-kind family" books my mother read to me when I was as young as those bright and determined girls.

How about Alicia Ostriker's poetry, Sholem Aleichem's short stories, Elie Wiesel's memoir, the Zohar? I have so much to learn, myself.

Margaret Button, my associate editor, can't believe I haven't yet read Chaim Potok's "My Name is Asher Lev." I am looking for it now.

If you go ...

What:'The Half Jewish Book: A Celebration,' Daniel Klein and Freke Vuijst on drawing from more than one heritage

When: 10:45 a.m. Friday

Where: Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, 270 State Road, Great Barrington.

Info: (413) 442-4360, ext. 15

'Poetry of Sacred Time,' Rabbi Rachel Barenblat's poetry reading, has been postponed.


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