One Book, One Rodfei Zedek

One Book, One Rodfei Zedek is meant to stimulate conversations, both formal and informal, and the selection of the book that will be our focus for the year is part of that conversation.

When you come to Rodfei Zedek during the Days of Awe, look over the possible selections for the year in the atrium.  Then vote for your choice online by October 27.  Finally, watch for the announcement of which book was the “winner” and start reading!  The chosen book will inspire a series of events exploring its content and context throughout the coming year.

The four candidates for this year’s One Book, One Rodfei Zedek program are:

Gina B. Nahai, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.

All his life Raphael's Son would carry in his head the sound of the door closing.  He heard it in his sleep and woke up in a cold terror, heard it every time someone raised their voice at him, however briefly.  He heard it all the years he lived in Iran, and later in America; all the time he spent in Los Angeles as an outsider trying to penetrate "society," and even after he was allowed in and accepted into people's homes and offices, but not—it is true—into their lives.

From the ghettos of pre- and post-Islamic Revolution Tehran to the gleaming mansions of pre- and post-Great Recession L.A., Gina B. Nahai explores the fantasies and foibles of four generations of Iranian Jewish men and women in a novel that is part historical account, part magical realist epic, and part satirical exposé.  As the fortunes of characters like the Black Bitch of Bushehr, mathematical genius Elizabeth "the Great," and notorious swindler Raphael's Son rise and fall, Nahai considers not only what it means to be an Iranian Jew in America, but what questions their stories might raise about the American myth of the immigrant as the ultimate symbol of reinvention, the "self-made man."

Ariel Sabar, My Father's Paradise

As they crossed the bridge to the bus stop, they saw that another crowd had gotten there first:  Hundreds of Muslims had lined the streets to bid their neighbors farewell.  Old women raised cries of "li-li-li-li-li-li", ululating as if a loved one had died…  One beggar—beloved of the townspeople, though he was slightly mad—pounded his head against a newly erected electric pole.  "Where are my brothers going?" he shrieked, until people crowded in to console him.  "Why are they forsaking us?"

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, Ariel Sabar's memoir travels back to the Kurdish city where his father, the celebrated Aramaic scholar Yona Sabar, was born and raised, a lost community where Jews and Muslims lived side by side for generations until the Iraqi government "persuaded" the Jews to emigrate.  In novelistic scenes rich with detail, Sabar recreates his grandparents' lives and the mud-brick houses, narrow alleys, and vast plains among which they lived.  He then relates his father's adult efforts to preserve the language of his boyhood and navigate the netherworld of life as an unwilling and often undervalued immigrant in both Israel and America.  In the end, the author confronts his own prejudices and conflicts about his identity and his father's legacy.

Lev Golinkin, A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka

Suddenly I was aware of the girl behind me, her image captured in the blackness of the window. Her hands were resting at her sides, her blond hair falling on her black blouse. She was smiling. She had one of those faces that was subtly lit by a smile.  Panic poured over me, bringing me back to my senses…  I shrank inward, spun around, and shot her a glance full of hatred…  I reverted back to what I was:  a migrant, a thing in a room full of things.

Lev Golinkin's memoir tells the story of his journey from his childhood as a bullied "zhid" in the Soviet Union, to his family's escape over the border into the West in 1980 and his brittle American adolescence, ending with his eventual citizenship and some measure of self-acceptance.  In an account which is caustically witty, searingly honest, and thoughtfully reflective, Golinkin travels back through the historical and personal circumstances that have shaped him, his family, countless other immigrants, and the country he now (not entirely confidently) calls home.

Ghita Schwarz, Displaced Persons

It seemed to her she had not been his first love, either.  He too had a twin.  And the twins watched them, each night, each morning, as they drew aside the curtains in their wallpapered bedroom or as they wrapped their heads in scarves before riding to their English class in the camp.  Her mouth and face and hands felt new to her.  She occasionally felt a flash of unsureness, as if the body working at eating and lovemaking was not completely hers.

Ghita Schwarz, a civil rights lawyer specializing in immigrants' rights, drew upon her own intimate knowledge of the Holocaust survivor community to write this, her first novel.  The book explores trauma and memory on a very human, interior scale: not the mythology often portrayed in Hollywood films, but the everyday struggles and ordinary joys to be found in the lives of complex, imperfect individuals.  It follows three characters who meet in a DP camp in 1945 and eventually form something like a family, catching up with them again in the 1960s, and at last in the 1990s, charting their experiences against a backdrop of larger historical developments, and raising questions of what it means to be an immigrant and refugee in every age.