“You can’t be infinitely open minded and effect change.”

whatwetalkaboutBooks on Tap read What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank  (other editions available) by Nathan Englander at Champion Brewery on March 1st. This is the first title in JMRL’s Same Page program, which invites Central Virginians to read the book and discuss its themes at events throughout March 2018. A collections of short stories, it plumbs themes of Jewish life, trust, questioning and anxiety while providing a healthy dose of humor. Our readers didn’t think the title was indicative of the stories inside, but each story was complete in itself, the sign of a great collection.

In the title story, two American women who had attended yeshiva together are reunited as adults. The narrator’s wife is living a largely secular life, while her friend is living in Israel as Orthodox. While partying, they debate who would hide them in a second Holocaust, pointing out that not only can they not trust all of their neighbors, but each other. While specifically about the Shoah, it points to a universal question of trust, relevant today in LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter and the resurgence of Nazis in America. We discussed how we hope that we would act heroically but very few do. As we age and have more responsibilities, these decisions become more fraught.

“Sister Hills”, set in an Israeli settlement, is a story of  spite & revenge played out over two generations. Englander uses the tree imagery to highlight the fragility of life. The misfortunes to befall the two focal families can be read as noble sacrifice and the price to pay for taking Palestinian (Arab) land. The characters draw multiple lines in the sand against neighbors and their own family members. The bitter ending, seen on high by strangers, looks like familial devotion while in fact stressing the limits of a legalistic reading of religion.

In comparison, “Free Fruit for Young Widows” has a more humane, nuanced look at revenge. As we learn more about  Egert (a man with that name is thanked in acknowledgements), we forgive his gruff attitude. His friend even makes a skillful argument for pre-emptive revenge, including killing a baby, giving context to the decisions of a child. From the very beginning of the story, when Egert kills soldiers eating with his friend because both sides are wearing the same French-supplied  uniforms, Englander stresses that you can’t tell who is bad on the surface.

“Peep Show” and “The Reader” were only briefly discussed. “The Reader” was a hopeful meditation on the reciprocal relationship between artist and viewer.  “Peep Show” succeeded as dream-like reverie, due to its specific details, ending with the re-named narrator proving to himself he is no longer Orthodox. It was the least well-received by our group.  

“Camp Sundown”, on the other hand, generated much discussion.  The distinct voices made each character real as opposed to the over-the-top murder plot. The elderly campers are obsessed with past wrongs while ignoring the dangerous current harm they are causing. One reader paired this strand of the story with the young director’s similarity to a politician to Israel/Palestine relations. Doley Falk, the camper accused of working in a concentration camp, is pleasingly ambiguous. If the rumor is true, why would he come to this Jewish camp? Was he made to work by the guards? Is the revenge justified?

“Everything I Know about My Family on my Mother’s Side” is both about immigration and the power of storytelling for forgiveness and redemption. The family knew they came from a town called Gubernia, but didn’t know that word just means “state” generically. The narrator doesn’t think he as a history, but his girlfriend persuades him that he may not know the details but he does retain a specific culture and set of expectations, which inform not just his actions but also those of his parents’ grandparents’ generations.

Finally, we discussed the stories in relationship to Charlottesville after 2017. Some took it as a call to arms in reaction to specific events, others as a reminder to be their brothers’ keepers. One reader left us with a quotation attributed to Helen Keller,“although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

Join us in April to discuss Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt and chose titles for the summer.

More Information:
Meet the author at Northside Library and the Festival of the Book (a Same Page partner)
Interview with the author
About the book
Other works  

Books on Tap Information:

Have a suggestion for future titles? Add them to this list.

Previous titles

Same Page Additional Reads

If you’ve finished the Same Page book What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander, you may be ready to delve more deeply into books about Jewish faith, identity, and experience. To do so pick up one of these new books:

The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling In Love With Faith by Judy Gruen

Let’s Eat: Jewish Food and Faith by Lori Stein and Ronald H. Isaacs

My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew by Abigail Pogrebin

The Genius of Judaism by Bernard-Henri Lévy

Something Beautiful Happened: A Story of Survival and Courage In the Face of Evil by Yvette Manessis Corporon

Learn more about the Same Page community read event on our website. If you’d like more books you can always ask a librarian through out What Do I Read Next? service.

Community Pop-Up Programs

banner

In the wake of the events and tragic violence over the weekend of August 12 JMRL has decided to create Pop-Up Programs at the Central Library in downtown Charlottesville to create space for the community to come together and facilitate discussion and healing. Below is the schedule of events. We will list programs as we confirm them. All programs are free and do not require registration. We hope you will join us to begin moving forward together.

 

Past Programs

Music On The Steps
August 17, 2017 at 12pm

Drop by for a Pop-up Music on the Library Steps with Bob Bennetta and Friends featuring the legendary Pianist with Susanna Rosen on Vocal, Tom Mix on Clarinet and Lesly Gourdet on Contrebasse focusing primarily on the great American songbooks and Jazz standards flavored by a few New Orleans swing.

Coloring 
August 19, 2017 all day, while supplies last

Come practice your mindfulness with some peaceful coloring. All coloring sheets and colored pencils will be provided.

SPCA’s Pawsitive Pet Therapy Team
August 19, 2017 at 2-4pm

Join us in the children’s area and let your little ones hang out and pet the very large, very fluffy, Philemone the dog.

Active Bystander Intervention Training – Northside Library
August 24, 2017 at 2pm

Lexie Huston, Prevention Educator at the Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA) presents nonviolent deescalation techniques for intervening when community members face threats and harassment.

Meditation
August 24, 2017 at 6pm

Join Gerry Gorman, long time meditator, for this deep and engaging meditation workshop. During this workshop he will talk about the journey of finding lasting peace, happiness and a greater sense of well-being. Gerry will share a simple technique of meditation that can help achieve a lasting state of peace and happiness not found through any outer experience.

Meet with a Counselor
JMRL has partnered with Resilient Charlottesville to offer counseling in response to the events of August 12. Drop by the Central Library during the following times to speak with a professional counselor.

August 19, 2017 from 9am-4:30pm
August 21, 2017 from 9am-12pm and 5pm-9pm
August 22, 2017 from 9am-9pm
August 23, 2017 from 9am-9pm
August 24, 2017 from 9am-6pm
August 25, 2017 from 9am-5pm
August 26, 2017 from 9am-3pm

Music On The Steps
August 25, 2017 from 12-1pm

Drop by for a Pop-up Music on the Library Steps with CASE (Charlottesville Albemarle Saxophone Ensemble) featuring Robert LaRue, soprano sax and alto sax; Glenn Lankford, alto sax; Brian Hamshar, baritone sax; and David Moody, tenor sax.

Poem In Your Pocket
August 25, 2017 from 12:30-1:30pm

Join us for a special Poem In Your Pocket event where we’ll be distributing poems on civil rights, unity, and healing. Look for volunteers handing on poems on the Downtown Mall or pick one up at the Central Library.

Active Bystander Intervention Training – Central Library
August 28, 2017 at 6:30pm

Lexie Huston, Prevention Educator at the Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA) presents nonviolent deescalation techniques for intervening when community members face threats and harassment.

Relieving Stress in Children
August 30, 2017 at 6pm

Judy Henry, author of Corey’s Peaceful Heart, will hold a workshop focusing on how parents and caregivers can relieve stress and anxiety in children. The workshop will also teach the HeartMath coherence process that also strengthens positive feelings and coping skills in children and adults.

Reading Lists

Now is the time to read about diversity, unity, and community. Check out our Booksite List and Overdrive for titles that highlight equality and encourage understanding. Learn about our history and work to honor our community. Our friends at OverDrive also donated this collection on tolerance.