On My Nightstand: Brief Review of Books that Prizmah Staff Are Reading
The Biblical Hero: Portraits in Nobility and Fallibility
By Elliott Rabin
There are moments when we hope for and seek heroes, when we cry out for a mythic persona to stand in stark contrast to the tempest in which we find ourselves. Those heroes are found only in legends. If there is one clear message of the coronavirus pandemic, it is that the heroes of today achieve their nobility by demonstrating a responsibility for and acting on behalf of society. Identified as essential workers, they are our health care professionals, grocery and pharmacy employees, truck drivers and delivery men and women. Their essential nature is defined by the roles they play and their humanity. We have no need for mythology and folklore; our heroes are ordinary people serving the collective in an extraordinary way.
This is the message for our time, and it rings true with the lessons of our HaYidion editor, colleague, and friend, Elliott Rabin, in his new book, The Biblical Hero: Portraits in Nobility and Fallibility. Through a deep exploration that weaves together literary and Biblical analysis with a historical sampling of archetypal heroes, Elliott surfaces the unique nature of the Biblical hero. Unlike heroes of legend and lore, the Biblical hero is human and fallible, working for the good of all, and struggles with the same moral and ethical issues we do. It is that similarity to our station in life that makes them models for the Bible, and how our heroes of today illuminate our world like candles in a dark room.
Gateway to the Moon
By Mary Morris
Entrada de la Luna is a small town near the canyons of northern New Mexico. Teenager Miguel Torres, an amateur astronomer, takes a job providing childcare to Rachel Rothstein’s two sons after school. He notices the similarities between her Jewish traditions and those of the Christian families of Entrada.
Chapters set in 1992 are interwoven with historical chapters going back five centuries to the Inquisition in Spain. Jewish Luis de Torres had converted to Christianity to save his life, but the Inquisition is now rounding up the Conversos (also known as Marranos or Anusim). Fluent in many languages, Luis takes a job as an interpreter on one of Christopher Columbus’ ships.
The book later follows members of the family to Lisbon and Mexico, where they are also persecuted. Taking few belongings, these immigrants are on the move in the New World, hiding their Jewish heritage and looking for a place where they will be safe. After five centuries, the only remnants of their prior life are in the Hebrew inscriptions etched on the tombstones in the Old Cemetery of Entrada. The dark cemetery is Miguel’s favorite location to view the stars through his telescope. Miguel is also on a journey as he reaches back to understand his past and stretches to the stars where his future lies.
This interesting story is not an easy read: the horrors of the Inquisition, tales of Columbus’ treatment of his crew. But learning about the crypto Jews of New Mexico was new and fascinating. The book would be a great addition to a high school discussion group or book club.
Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love
By Jonathan Van Ness
Jonathan Van Ness seems like a perfect mix of happy, life-loving, you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to positivity. As a member of the Fab Five on Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye, Van Ness and the other stars of the show exude pure joy, self-love and acceptance, and share that with their subject in each episode. It’s transformative and inspirational, and I cry at some point before the show ends—every time.
Last fall, Van Ness published this memoir, in which he pulls back the curtain and reveals the pain and struggles he’s endured over the years. He writes openly and honestly about addiction, the death of loved ones and a positive HIV diagnosis. What lingered with me as a reader (he also narrated the audiobook) is his ability to look back on pain and trauma of the past and create something beautiful from those experiences. His story is raw and real. There are pieces of his struggle that everyone can relate to and definitely parts of his triumph that will inspire you.
The dedication in his book says it all: “Imperfection is beautiful. To anyone who has ever felt broken beyond repair, this is for you. If you’ve ever been excluded or told you were not enough, know that you are enough, and beautifully complete.”
Teaching with Your Mouth Shut
By Donald L. Finkel
This book elaborated on how to implement the strategy of “teaching with your mouth shut” in the classroom. The ideas of “teaching with your mouth shut” are basically ways to teach without telling. The author believes that telling and straight lecturing to students about fact-based information does not challenge students to learn and think for themselves. The methods of teaching described in the book focus on making learners process, question and draw conclusions from the information they are learning. Engaging students and trusting them to dig out knowledge and have open discussions will make their learning experience much more effective.
Anyone who is interested in learning about alternative teaching methods and improving education should read this book. Like any book on educational methods, the methods Finkel described won’t work for every teaching situation, but I believe that everyone can take something of value away from it. I would suggest this book to educators and anyone interested in improving education.