Jewish Book Fair Returns!

Yay!  Each year as fall wends her way through town, the Jewish Book Fair is close upon her heels.  In the nearly  thirty years since we’ve lived here, Detroit’s Jewish Book Fair book (largest and oldest on the nation), has grown from a nine-day event to a two-week extravaganza that gets better and more innovative each year. I’ve written about this before and the events never ceases to thrill.

So far I’ve heard Judy Collins, who arrived late and a bit bedraggled  due to plane delays. Her presentation was more talk than song; she was in town, after all, to promote her book Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music. And while the stanzas of Both Sides Now that she performed with the preamble: “Let’s get this out of the way right now” she closed with Amazing Grace sublimely sung. We should all have her energy, looks and ambitions at 73.

Next up was a lecture and film by Caroline Stoessinger biographer of the oldest Holocaust Survivor — Alice Herz-Sommer who turns 109 today. Stoessinger commented, “Alice didn’t simply survive the Holocaust, she transcended it.”  Herz-Sommer, a musician, was imprisoned in Theresienstadt and through Stoessinger, described the surreal experience of performing concerts in the concentration camp for their Nazi captors. Calling music her “fountain of youth” Herz-Sommer, according to Stoessinger, has lived a life without bitterness and hatred. I found myself drawn to the author’s switch of descriptives — transcending instead of surviving — most likely because the switch quells my own anxieties about the horrors endured.

Yesterday was an entire day of learning devoted to the themes of blessings and gratitude. It was a treat to study with our local rabbis and hear Rabbi David Forhman (from Woodmere, NY), who said his community’s experiences with Hurricane Sandy had influenced what he had intended to speak about  — an examination of family alienation through the lens of the story of Joseph and his brothers.

Rabbi Fohrman discussed how the storm had brought into sharp focus the “paradox of families.” With so many left homeless, those with a roof over their heads were taking in friends and relatives whose homes had been washed away. Not always an easy endeavor. “It’s one thing to have over for Thanksgiving dinner the brother-in-law you can’t stand. Another thing altogether to live with him and his wife and their five children for six weeks.”

He traced Maimonides laws of forgiveness, crystallizing them into three time-related realizations —  I have behaved wrongly (past), I regret my behavior (present), I will not commit this wrongdoing again (future) — followed by a confession of the wrongdoing to God and/or the person we have wronged. And Joseph? According to the rabbi there was never true reconciliation, because the formula for attrition — subject, verb, object, i.e. I have wronged you — is never uttered by either Joseph or his brothers.

After this morning’s talk by Dr.  Steven Gimbel, professor of philosophy at Gettysburg College, I understand Einstein’s theory of relativity and the fourth dimension a smidge better. Would love to sit in on a class of his. He was energetic, funny and reduced complex concepts into manageable bites.

The idea for his latest book — Einsteins’ Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion — grew out of a conversation with a fellow professor who mused that ethics have been taught from a Christian perspective, an absolutist mindset recognizing one, and only one, right answer. Which got Gimbel thinking that while Judaism has ethical absolutes (think the Ten Commandments), there is also the Talmud where rabbis across time engage in a discussions over points of Jewish law. Gimbel called it the “perspectival illumination of different aspects of truth.”  

After the conversation with his colleague, Gimbel began to wonder if the Talmudic approach to the search for truth have any influence upon the way Einstein developed not only the theory of relativity, but his theories on mixing (who knew Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream owes its success to Einstein?), quantum mechanics and Brownian motion (think particle theory.)  Gimbel’s book is, in part, his determination to “rehabilitate the phrase ‘Jewish science, to retake it from the Nazis and make it into a statement of pride.”

Running out of time. In two hours Anouk Markovits is speaking about her novel I Am Forbidden. Gotta run. But if you’re in town, come to Book Fair which is going on at the West Bloomfield and Oak Park JCC’s until November 18th, culminating in a program with Madeliene Albright. And if you don’t live in the Detroit area, check out what your community’s offering. Most programs are free of charge. Like I’ve said before, You don’t have to be Jewish to love Book Fair.  You just have to love books.

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