Sof Book Club

Sof Book Club Report

August 13, 2020

By Carolann Biederman

Book Cover: Black, White and Jewish

Zoom has been working out well for our members, as they are comfortable staying safe, healthy and at home. The calendar for the year is below. 50% of our meetings have taken place and there are four to go. We reserved Shabbat, November 7 for a Book Group hosted oneg, book sharing and a possible drash. It will be good to hear the Board’s feedback on where we’ll be, come November.

Sundays Library
Dates Copies Pages Kindle Title Author 1st Last
1/19/20 1 397 yes My Mother’s Sabbath Days Chaim Grade
3/15/20 5 352 yes The Collector’s Apprentice B.A. Shapiro
4/19/20 1 192 yes A Walker in the City Alfred Kazin
6/28/20 20 450 yes The Song of the Jade Lily Kirsty Manning
8/9/20 5 322 yes Black, White and Jewish Rebecca Walker
9/13/20 12 320 yes Among the Living Jonathan Rabb
11/1/20 0 384 yes Esau Meir Shalev
12/20/20 0 424 yes Irving Berlin: New York Genius James Kaplan
11/7/20 Oneg Shabbat at Sof Ma’arav services

Book Club Schedule

Date Title Author
1/9/20 My Mother’s Sabbath Days Chaim Grade
3/15/20 The Collector’s Apprentice B.A..Shapiro
4/19/20 5 weeks – A Walker in the City Alfred Kazin
6/28/20 10 weeks – The Song of the Jade Lily Kirsty Manning
8/9/20 6 weeks – Black, White, and Jewish Rebecca Walker
9/13/20 5 weeks – Among the Living Jonathan Rabb
11/1/20 6 weeks – Esau Meir Shalev
12/20/20 7 weeks – Irving Berlin: New York Genius James Kaplan

The Song of the Jade Lily: A Book Review

March 27, 2020

By Sid Goldstein


The novel, The Song of the Jade Lily, by Kirsty Manning deals with the little-known subject of the lives of Jewish refugees in Shanghai China during world War II. It is based on the historical fact that the Chinese issued over 30,000 visas to Austrian Jews in 1937 and 1938. The Chinese Ambassador to Austria, Dr. Ho Feng Shen felt for the Jews in Austria and provided visas to help as many as he could escape the Nazis.

The novel follows the Bernfeld family as they flee Austria and go to live in Shanghai. Their youngest child Romy is a teenager in Shanghai. One of her brothers is killed trying to leave and the other is thrown into a concentration camp. Romy suffers survivor’s guilt as she, her mother, and her father try to build life in China.

Romy befriends a Chinese girl her own age. Li Ho is a beautiful and talented singer and becomes Romy’s best friend. The Japanese take Shanghai and the Chinese become as persecuted in their own country as the Jews were in Austria. The travails of the Ho and Bernfeld families as they struggle to survive the war makes for a gripping tale of wartime existence.

There is another piece to this novel. Set in 2016, it is the story of Romy’s granddaughter Alexandra. She is a half Jewish half Chinese mathematical whiz who is a talented commodities buyer for a major London financial house. Alexandra comes home to Australia when her grandfather, Romy’s husband, dies.

Through Alexandra we learn about Romy’s Australian, post-war life. But the book hints at a dark secret about Alexandra’s mother, Romy’s deceased daughter.

Ultimately, Alexandra gets herself transferred to Shanghai. She begins an investigation to find out what happened to her mother. The results of the search reveal to Alexandra her own origins, and the true character of the grandmother she so deeply loves.

The Song of the Jade Lily is a well plotted book, slowly revealing to the reader the choices and sacrifices people have to make to survive in wartime. The book covers a period of Jewish and Chinese history not well known to people in the west. The horrors of the Japanese occupation of China are brought home through the suffering of these fictional characters. Each character is symbolic of the milieu of Shanghai in the second world war-as west meets east. The results are an exciting roller coaster ride of a read.


Book Club Anniversary

December 12, 2019

Sof Maʻarav Book Club

The Sof Ma’arav book club is celebrating its 14th anniversary. During that time, members have met several times a year to discuss important works by Jewish authors and about Jewish life. Listed below are the books enjoyed by book club members over the past 14 years.

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

An Interrupted Life, The Diaries 1941-1943 by Etty Hillesum

Three Daughters by Letty Cottin Pogrebin

Call It Sleep by Henry Roth

Night by Elie Wiesel

Paradise Park by Allegra Goodman

Rashi’s Daughters, Book 1 – Joheved by Maggie Anton

Patrimony by Philip Roth

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frank

The World to Come by Dara Horn

The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamentz

As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg

A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz

The Covenant by Naomi Ragen

The Orientalist by Tom Reiss

Betraying Spinoza by Rebecca Goldstein

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

Rashi’s Daughters, Book 2 – Mariam by Maggie Anton

Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer

The Zookkeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman

Rembrandt’s Jews by Steven Nadler

Joy Comes in the Morning by Jonathan Rosen

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel by Michael Chabon

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado

A Woman in Jerusalem by A.B. Yehoshua

Away by Amy Bloom

My Life by Golda Meir

A Pigeon and A Boy by Meir Shalev

My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander

In My Father’s Court by I.B. Singer

Love Song by Julius Lester

Song for the Butcher’s Daughter by Peter Manseau

All Other Nights by Dara Horn

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

The Haunted Smile by Lawrence Epstein

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

To the End of the Land by David Grossman

Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman

A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs

by David Lehman

Raquela by Ruth Gruber

The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal

Wandering Stars by Sholem Aleichem

The Girl from Foreign by Sadia Shepard

 The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal

The Free World by David Bezmozgis

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

Sacred Trash by Adina Hoffman & Peter Cole

Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling

Friendly Fire by A.B. Yehoshua

My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum                                         

  Cleaner by Meir Shalev

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of                                           

   America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen

A Jewish Girl and A Not-so-Jewish Boy by Sandra Armstrong

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Rashi by Elie Wiesel

The Bielski Brothers by Peter Duffy

The Book of Job by Harold Kushner

Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler

Russ and Daughters by Mark Russ Federman

God Knows by Joseph Heller

Jews and Words by Amos Oz & Fania Oz-Salzberger

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Peony by Pearl S. Buck

A Tranquil Star by Primo Levi

When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan Sarna

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Scenes From Village Life by Amos Oz

Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers by Harry Bernstein

My Promised Land by Ari Shavit

An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris

Kvetch: One Bitch of a Life by Greta Beigel

Zealot-The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

The Mezuzah in the Madonna’s Foot by Trudi Alexy

Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician by Allen Shawn

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Dona Gracia of the House of Nasi by Cecil Roth

The Puttermesser Papers: A Novel by Cynthia Ozick

The Gershwins and Me by Michael Feinstein

Total Immersion by Allegra Goodman

An Improbable Friendship by Anthony David

The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories by Bruno Schultz

The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

Day of Atonement by David Liss

All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir by Shulem Deen

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen

Fever at Dawn by Peter Gardos

The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi

Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart

Yiddish: A Nation of Words by Miriam Weinstein

Pumpkinflowers – A Solider’s Story by Matti Friedman

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

The Last Minyan in Havana by Betty Heisler

Judas by Amos Oz

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Lost in Translation: Life in a New Language by Eva Hoffman

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson

Moses, A Human Life by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg

My Mother’s Sabbath Days by Chaim Grade


Amos Oz: A Remembrance

Feb 20, 2019

By Sid Goldstein

On December 28, 2108, Amos Oz died. This is something I will never forget. Just the day before, I had picked up a copy of his last novel Judas and began to read it for the Sof Book Club. Amos Oz was, without question, the most famous and talented writer that Israel has produced in its 70 year history as a nation.

He was the author of 40 books, including novels, short story collections, children’s books, and essays. His work has been published in 45 languages. He was the recipient of many honors and awards, among them the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Legion of Honor of France, the Israel Prize, the Goethe Prize and the Franz Kafka Prize.

His early life did not portend such greatness. He was born in Jerusalem, where he lived for the first eleven years of his life. His mother, a Polish Jewish immigrant, committed suicide when he was twelve. Less than two years later, he left his father’s home and moved to a Kibbutz. He was adopted by a new family into the Kibbutz and lived the life of a common laborer. He was, by his own admission, a terrible farmer. But, when he began to write and write well, the Kibbutz granted him exemption days from work to allow him to write. After the Kibbutz, Oz served the mandatory 3 years of service in the IDF (Israeli Army.)  During his service, he fought in two tank battles during the Six-Day war in 1967.

His first book of short stories, Where the Jackals Howl, was a bestseller. His first novel, My Michael, received international acclaim. In 1983, he published a book of essays, In the Land of Israel, which was a tour-de-force of the wide range of Jewish and Arab viewpoints throughout the state. It gave the world a chance to experience the ferment that is life in Israel. From that point on, Oz was an international celebrity.

His seminal work was published in 2002. It is entitled A Tale of Love and Darkness.  It is a partial autobiography, a history of his European family, and an examination of his mother’s suicide. The book sold two million copies in its first printing in Israel. It became so iconic that it was made into a film in Israel in 2015. Israeli-born international film star Natalie Portman produced the film and played the part of his mother.

Oz was a peacenik in Israeli politics. He was a firm believer in a Palestinian State. He thought that if such a state existed, much like Northern Island and the Irish Republic, the two states would eventually learn to live in peace. His reputation was so stellar, even his political opponents paid him tribute. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not share any of his political views. Yet the Prime Minister said this about the writer on the day after his death: “Despite the fact we did not always see eye to eye, I deeply appreciated his contribution to the Hebrew language and to its literature. His words and his writing will continue to accompany us for many years to come. May his memory be a blessing.”

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