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LEARN

COME GROW WITH US! At Shirat HaNefesh, learning is a life-long expression of spiritual engagement and the road to a more meaningful Jewish life.  We invite members to play an active role in sharing their interests and knowledge with the community.

Who is wise? The one who learns from everyone.
Pirkei Avot

Learning at Shirat HaNefesh takes a variety of forms:  seminar-type study sessions, lectures, speakers, concerts, texts, book discussions, new music and liturgy.  Join us for Rabbi’s Tables or After-Kiddush discussions on Shabbat mornings; Sunday morning Book Discussions on compelling works of fiction and non-fiction; and our Spotlight Series tied in to a topic or musical genre or particular time of year.

Book Discussions

If you love to read and talk about books, you’re in good company.  Our book discussions take place about every two months on a Sunday, from 10–11:30 a.m. At present, we plan to continue to meet using Zoom; links will be in the weekly e-newsletter close to the date of each event, or contact us at info@shirathanefesh.org for more information.  Special thanks to member Heidi Coleman for organizing our book discussions.

Click here for the book discussion schedule

In June of each year, we collaboratively decide on a wonderful selection of books to read and discuss for the coming year.  

Here is the reading list for 2023-2024:

September 10, 2023 - Memoir
Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy, by Letty Cottin Pogrebin (432 pages)

The word “shanda” is defined as shame or disgrace in Yiddish. This book, Shanda, tells the story of three generations of complicated, intense 20th-century Jews for whom the desire to fit in and the fear of public humiliation either drove their aspirations or crushed their spirit.  In her deeply engaging, astonishingly candid memoir, author, activist and founding editor of Ms. Magazine Letty Cottin Pogrebin exposes the fiercely-guarded lies and intricate cover-ups woven by dozens of members of her extended family. Beginning with her own long-suppressed secret, the story spirals through the hidden lives of her parents and relatives—revealing the truth about their origins, personal traumas, marital misery, abandoned children, religious transgressions, sexual identity, radical politics, and supposedly embarrassing illnesses. While unmasking their charades and disguises, Pogrebin also showcases her family’s remarkable talent for reinvention in a narrative that is, by turns, touching, searing, and surprisingly universal.

 

November 12, 2023 - Fiction
Kantika, by Elizabeth Graver (304 pages)

A kaleidoscopic portrait of one family’s displacement across four countries, Kantika―“song” in Ladino―follows the joys and losses of Rebecca Cohen, feisty daughter of the Sephardic elite of early 20th-century Istanbul. When the Cohens lose their wealth and are forced to move to Barcelona and start anew, Rebecca fashions a life and self from what comes her way―a failed marriage, the need to earn a living, but also passion, pleasure and motherhood. Moving from Spain to Cuba to New York for an arranged second marriage, she faces her greatest challenge―her disabled stepdaughter, Luna, whose feistiness equals her own and whose challenges pit new family against old.  Exploring identity, place and exile, Kantika also reveals how the female body―in work, art and love―serves as a site of both suffering and joy. A haunting, inspiring meditation on the tenacity of women, this lush, lyrical novel from Elizabeth Graver celebrates the insistence on seizing beauty and grabbing hold of one’s one and only life.

 

January 7, 2024 - Fiction
When the Angels Left the Old Country, by Sacha Lamb (408 pages)

queer immigrant fairytale about individual purpose, the fluid nature of identity, and the power of love to change and endure.  Uriel the angel and Little Ash (short for Ashmedai) are the only two supernatural creatures in their shtetl (which is so tiny, it doesn't have a name other than Shtetl). The angel and the demon have been studying together for centuries, but pogroms and the search for a new life have drawn all the young people from their village to America. When one of those young emigrants goes missing, Uriel and Little Ash set off to find her.  Along the way the angel and demon encounter humans in need of their help, including Rose Cohen, whose best friend (and the love of her life) has abandoned her to marry a man, and Malke Shulman, whose father died mysteriously on his way to America. But there are obstacles ahead of them as difficult as what they’ve left behind. Medical exams (and demons) at Ellis Island. Corrupt officials, cruel mob bosses, murderers, poverty. The streets are far from paved with gold.

(Stonewall Book Award Winner; Sydney Taylor Award Winner; Michael L. Printz Honor Book; National Jewish Book Award Finalist; AudioFile Earphones Award Winner; BEST OF THE YEAR by NPR, New York Public Library, Kirkus)

 

March 3, 2024 - Non-Fiction
Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, by Adina Hoffman (304 pages)

Sacred Trash tells the remarkable story of the Cairo Geniza—a synagogue repository for worn-out texts that turned out to contain the most vital cache of Jewish manuscripts ever discovered.  This account about buried communal treasure weaves together unforgettable portraits of Solomon Schechter and the other modern heroes responsible for the collection’s rescue with explorations of the medieval documents themselves—letters and poems, wills and marriage contracts, Bibles, money orders, fiery dissenting religious tracts, fashion-conscious trousseaux lists, prescriptions, petitions, and mysterious magical charms. Presenting a pan­oramic view of almost a thousand years of vibrant Mediterranean Judaism, Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole bring contemporary readers into the heart of this little-known trove, whose contents have rightly been dubbed “the Living Sea Scrolls.” Part biography, part meditation on the supreme value the Jewish people has long placed in the written word, Sacred Trash is above all a gripping tale of adventure and redemption. 
(NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD FINALIST; 
WINNER OF THE 2012 AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION’S SOPHIE BRODY AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN JEWISH LITERATURE)

May 19, 2024 - Fiction
The Postcard, by Anne Berest (464 pages)

Anne Berest’s The Postcard is a vivid portrait of twentieth-century Parisian intellectual and artistic life, an enthralling investigation into family secrets, and poignant tale of a Jewish family devastated by the Holocaust and partly restored through the power of storytelling.  The family's journey involves a flight from Russia following the revolution, to Latvia, Palestine, and Paris. What emerges is a moving saga that shatters long-held certainties about Anne’s family, her country, and herself. (Winner of the Choix Goncourt Prize)

July 14, 2024 - Fiction
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin (416 pages) 

Sam and Sadie—two college friends, often in love, but never lovers—become creative partners in a dazzling and intricately imagined world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality. It is a love story, but not one you have read before.  Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. (NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER) 


Here was the reading list for 2022-23:

September 11, 2022 - Non-fiction
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari (587 pages) 

From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution—a #1 international bestseller—that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.”

November 13, 2022 - Fiction
House on Endless Waters: A Novel by Emuna Elon (336 pages)
In the tradition of The Invisible Bridge and The Weight of Ink, “a vibrant, page-turning family mystery” (Jennifer Cody Epstein, author of Wunderland) about a writer who discovers the truth about his mother’s wartime years in Amsterdam, unearthing a shocking secret that becomes the subject of his magnum opus. Part family mystery, part wartime drama, House on Endless Waters is “a rewarding meditation on survival” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) and a “deeply immersive achievement that brings to life stories that must never be forgotten” (USA TODAY).

January 22, 2023 - Fiction
The Liberated Bride: A Novel by AB Yehoshua and Hillel Halkin (578 pages)

An Israeli professor and an Arab student join forces in a witty novel that “tells a simple story about a region that complicates all it touches” (The New Yorker).  In this comedy of manners, at once deeply serious and highly entertaining, Yehoshua brilliantly portrays characters from disparate sectors of Israeli life, united above all by a very human desire for, and fear of, the truth in politics and life.

March 19, 2023 - Essays
People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn (272 pages)

Dara Horn (known best for her novels) has been publishing penetrating essays since she was a teenager. Horn was troubled recently to realize what all of these assignments had in common: she was being asked to write about dead Jews, never about living ones. In these essays, Horn reflects on subjects as far-flung as Anne Frank, the mythology that Jewish family names that were changed at Ellis Island and the little-known life of the "righteous Gentile" Varian Fry.  (Winner of the 2021 National Jewish Book Award for Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice; Finalist for the 2021 Kirkus Prize for Non-Fiction; New York Times Notable Book of the Year)

May 7, 2023 - Fiction
The Prague Sonata: A Novel by Bradford Morrow (528 pages)

In the early days of the new millennium, pages of a worn and weathered original sonata manuscript come into the hands of Meta Taverner, a young musicologist.  The gift comes with the request that Meta attempt to find the manuscript’s true owner and to make the three-part sonata whole again. This story evokes decades of Prague’s tragic and triumphant history, from the First World War through the soaring days of the Velvet Revolution.

Rabbi's Table & After Kiddush Discussions

Learning at Shirat HaNefesh takes a variety of forms:  seminar-type study sessions, lectures, speakers, concerts, texts, book discussions, new music and liturgy.  Join us for Rabbi’s Tables or After-Kiddush discussions on Shabbat mornings; Sunday morning Book Discussions on compelling works of fiction and non-fiction; and our Spotlight Series tied in to a topic or musical genre or particular time of year.

Spotlight Series

Some years, Shirat HaNefesh undertakes a year-long exploration of a particular issues.  For 2017-18, the topic was Dealing with Death. This included sermon topics, several Rabbi’s Table discussions, a Friday Nights Live program, development of a guidebook for members on When Someone Dies, creation of a bereavement support group, and purchasing plots for a dedicated Shirat HaNefesh section at the Garden of Remembrance.  

In 2018-19, our topic was the music, history, and culture of French Jewry. Hazzan Ramón Tasat presented a series of lectures and concerts focusing on the music, culture, and situation of French Jewry, culminating in the annual concert of Kolot HaLev:  Les Chansons Juifs – Portraits of Jewish Music in France.

In 2020, Hazzan Ramón Tasat organized a Selichot series on Zoom for the entire month of Elul.  Local teachers and rabbis and cantors from around the world joined forces to explore a Selichot prayer each evening at 8 pm.  In 2021, a similar series is back by popular demand, focusing each night on a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  

Mon, February 26 2024 17 Adar I 5784