Bill Tammeus: Holocaust remembrance takes each of us

They Were Just People cover by Bill Tammeus and Jacques Cukierkorn

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

FROM ReadTheSpirit Editor DAVID CRUMM—We must not forget. We must act to prevent future genocide. We are, right now, the people called to these goals.

More than 50 years ago, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial opened in Israel and Raul Hilberg published his 1,400-page history, The Destruction of the European Jews. But, decades passed before Holocaust education became a standard part of history lessons in American public school and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in 1993 in Washington D.C. Meanwhile, witnesses were vanishing by the thousands, which is why Claude Lanzmann spent a decade creating his vast documentary, Shoah, and Steven Spielberg followed with his Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Many historians, journalists and other researchers also have contributed to this effort. Award-winning journalist Bill Tammeus and his co-author Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, a descendant of Polish rabbis, both call Kansas City, Missouri, their hometown. They decided to contribute to this important body of documentation with their book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust.

As these co-authors continue to share these stories across the U.S., ReadTheSpirit online magazine invited Bill Tammeus to write about their travels and their ongoing work.


In 2004, when Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I began work on, They Were Just People, we knew that in some ways the book would be timeless.

It proved to be exactly that from the time the University of Missouri Press published it in late 2009. Why? Because unlike books about—say, theological trends or how Pope Francis is affecting the Catholic Church—our book contains stories of what individuals went through to survive the Holocaust, and what each person went through is by now as complete a story as any can be.

The book, in essence, shines a light on a small part of the whole bitter Holocaust experience and, in doing that, seeks to honor both those who survived and those who helped them avoid Hitler’s machinery of murder.

So Jacques and I continue to give talks about the book, and we suspect we will do that for years to come.

One of our talks will happen the evening of Tuesday, August 5, 2014, at the Holocaust Memorial Center in suburban Detroit. And we will dedicate that evening to Zygie Allweiss and his family. Zygie is a Detroit-area resident who survived with his brother Sol, now deceased, thanks to help from the Dudzik family, who provided places for the boys to hide on their Polish farm.

Eventually Zygie and Sol came to Detroit and ran service stations there for years.

We are at or near the final years of life for the last of the Holocaust survivors, even many of those who were just children at the time. Indeed, Zygie has had several health issues since I last visited him in 2011, when I came to Detroit for a conference. And several of the 20-some survivors whose stories we tell in our book have died since the book was published. So it was important that we started when we did to spend several years on research, interviewing (in the U.S. and in Poland) and writing. Had we waited much longer some of the stories would have been lost.

It is both an honor and a burden to have become in some ways the voice of the Holocaust survivors in our book—and others as the people in our book in turn represent many other survivors who made it through—because of people whom Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial authority, names as “Righteous Among the Nations” or more informally: righteous gentiles.

If the post-Holocaust phrase “never again” is to have meaning, we must not forget the reality of the German regime’s plan to destroy Europe’s 9 million Jews (more than three million of whom lived in Poland at the outbreak of World War II). Hitler’s “Final Solution” resulted in 6 million Jewish deaths, many of them in the six extermination camps that the Germans built in Poland.

And so it falls to people like Jacques and me, who are by trade simply story tellers—me as a journalist, Jacques as a rabbi who tells sacred stories—to make sure the world remembers.

And this is not simply an act of nostalgia. As Alvin H. Rosenfeld, founding director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University, notes in his 2013 book, Resurgent Antisemitism, hatred of Jews around the globe is dangerously rising again for many reasons. Anti-Judaism (a theological position) and modern antisemitism (more a racial stance full of character stereotyping) have deep roots in world history. In fact, David Nirenberg, in his 2013 book, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, traces this bigotry back to ancient Egypt.

Bill Tammeus and his book Woodstock a Story of Middle Americans

Bill Tammeus tells his life story in the new book, “Woodstock,” including some remarkable experiences such as living for two years in India, where his father worked in a university agricultural project. That’s where Bill met Jawaharlal Nehru in 1957. Click these images to visit the book’s Amazon page.

In our book, we tell stories of people who for many reasons—a few of them seemingly irrational—stood against that deep tradition of antisemitism and anti-Judaism and risked their lives to save Jews in Poland.

There is, of course, no silver lining to the Holocaust, which at base is a story of death and death and death. But here and there people who found themselves in the midst of it spoke life and life and life into the face of that death. And part of Jacques’ and my responsibility today is to tell the story of such brave people and of the difference they made in the lives not just of individual Jews but also the history of flawed (but sometimes glorious) humanity.

ALSO NEW TODAY—If you appreciated this column, you’ll also want to read a new, in-depth interview with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s biographer Charles Marsh about how Bonhoeffer so clearly saw the dangers of the Nazi regime before other European Christian leaders.


Order a copy of his book, They Were Just People, now through Amazon.

Bill Tammeus spent most of his career as a columnist for The Kansas City Star and he continues to write columns in his own website, now, called “Faith Matters.” To learn more about his long career in journalism, starting with his boyhood and spanning his career with The Star from 1970 to 2008, you will enjoy his new book-length memoir, Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans.

Bill also writes columns for The Presbyterian Outlook and The National Catholic Reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, author of Accessible Judaism: A Concise Guide, is the spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Greater Kansas City and founder of Brit Braja Worldwide Jewish Outreach, the world’s first virtual synagogue in Spanish. Contact him at [email protected].

This column is jointly published by Faith Matters and, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.

Philip Jenkins interview on his book for the WWI Centennial

Cover Philip Jenkins The Great and Holy War on World War I

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

A flood of books, DVDs and TV specials are marking the centennial of World War I. The war has been a major theme on Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge. But you may never guess from most of this media that the war had anything to do with religion.

That’s why—if you care about religious diversity and the role of faith in global war and peace—then you must get a copy of Philip Jenkins’ new The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade. ReadTheSpirit online magazine highly recommends this unique and important look at how the First World War reshaped global conflicts we are still wrestling with a century later.

Jenkins writes this in the opening pages:

“The First World War was a thoroughly religious event, in the sense that overwhelmingly Christian nations fought each other in what many viewed as a holy war, a spiritual conflict. Religion is essential to understanding the war, to understanding why people went to war, what they hoped to achieve through war, and why they stayed at war. Not in medieval or Reformation times but in the age of aircraft and machine guns, the majority of the world’s Christians were indeed engaged in a holy war that claimed more than 10 million lives.

“Acknowledging the war’s religious dimension forces us to consider its long-term effects. In an age of overwhelming mass propaganda … nations could not spend years spreading the torrid language and imagery of holy warfare without having a potent effect. … The war ignited a global religious revolution. … It transformed not just the Christianity of the main combatant nations but also other great faiths, especially Judaism and Islam. It destroyed a global religious order that had prevailed for the previous half millennium and dominated much of the globe. The Great War drew the world’s religious map as we know it today.”

What readers will find in the book’s nearly 400 page are stories that will surprise and, in some cases, utterly shock contemporary readers.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Philip Jenkins. Here are …


DAVID: The fact that religious fervor was at the heart of World War I will come as a surprise to many of our readers, who largely see TV shows about the patriotism that drove men to enlist. So, I’m going to start our interview by quickly listing just a few of the historic religious events that took place on the eve of this war:

There’s no wonder that people around the world thought the End of the World might be at hand, right?

Philip Jenkins, photo by James Rasp used with permission.

Philip Jenkins, photo by James Rasp used with permission.

PHILIP: And there are so many more dates you could include in that list! Certainly you could include in 1917 both the Russian Revolution and the appearances that are known to Catholics around the world as Our Lady of Fatima. Then, if you add General Edmund Allenby capturing Jerusalem in 1917—well, when people picked up their newspapers, it began to seem as though they were reading a direct commentary on the Book of Revelation.

By 1917, all the nations involved in this war were deep in despair. It had begun to seem as though this terrible war might carry on until every man in Europe was killed off. If you were alive in that era, then you were reading all of these headlines in the newspapers—including stories out of Portugal about these apparitions of the Virgin Mary and the sun dancing in the sky. Some of this news becomes absolutely baffling. If you don’t believe the Apocalypse is imminent, then you don’t have much imagination.


DAVID: We’ll return to some of the amazing spiritual visions from World War I in a moment, but I want to ask you right away about some of the really shocking Christian perspectives you’ve documented in this history. And let’s start with Lyman Abbott, one of the most famous theologians and writers in America in that era. Earlier in his life, before the Civil War, he fought against slavery shoulder to shoulder with Henry Ward Beecher. He was a progressive who backed Theodore Roosevelt. And yet when World War I came around?

PHILIP: Like a lot of the leading Protestant clergy of his day—including a lot of the liberal and progressive clergy—Lyman Abbott entirely accepted that the war was necessary. But, then, he went far beyond that to see the war as a crusade. He had a vision of the war in which the Allies represented absolute good and the Germans represented absolute evil.

DAVID: I found an online link where people can read Abbott’s most infamous publication about the war, “To Love Is To Hate.” But give us just a brief summary of his message.

PHILIP: In today’s terms, we would say that Lyman Abbott declared the war a Jihad. He didn’t use that term, of course, but he was declaring this a holy war. In that piece you mentioned, “To Love Is to Hate”—and in other pieces he wrote—Abbott said that anyone who died in the war was a martyr. Fighting in this war was a matter of sacrificial Christian good. Fighting in this war was sacred.

DAVID: He called the German leadership murderers, pillagers of churches, violators of women and he declared, “I do well to hate.”

And, Abbott certainly wasn’t alone. Let’s talk about another figure in your book over in the UK: the Bishop of London Arthur Winnington-Ingram. I don’t want to leave readers with the impression that Abbott may have been an odd exception in this era. The Bishop of London went much further than Abbott and declared that this was “a war for purity.” He told young men in the Allied armies to “kill Germans … kill the good as well as the bad, kill the young as well as the old.”

PHILIP: He was making statements so outrageous that there were even people at that time who considered his statements outrageous. Before the war, he had been fairly pro-German. But, during the war, he accepted the idea that this was a crusade and, in today’s terms, he talked about the war very much like we would describe a “Jihad” today.

DAVID: But those voices weren’t the worst—as incredible as that may seem. Some major religious leaders—including the famous Brooklyn preacher Newell Dwight Hillis—said that the Allies should practice eugenics. Today, after the Holocaust and so many other tragic attempts at genocide around the world, we now regard “eugenics” as an ugly word. But here was this highly respected preacher calling for “the sterilization of the ten million German soldiers, and the segregation of their women, that when this generation of German goes, civilized cities, states and races may be rid of this awful cancer that must be cut clean out of the body of society.”

PHILIP: Hillis was taking eugenics ideas and, by 1918, he was saying that the only way to deal with the Germans was to eliminate the race chiefly through sterilization. What’s especially interesting about him is that he’s not some crazed writer off in some corner. His pamphlets and books were circulated in the millions. This was an age of mass circulation of printed and visual media. However crazy he seems to us, he had a major impact. Abbott, Ingram and Willis cannot be easily dismissed. In their time, they were widely heard around the world.

DAVID: It’s amazing to think that they could play with this kind fire in their preaching and writing. Of course, the world hadn’t experienced the Holocaust, yet.

PHILIP: No, but the Armenian Genocide took place in World War I in 1915. If you were an American reading the daily newspapers, you were aware of that. And here was Hillis arguing that genocide isn’t bad, as long as you direct it against the right people and, for Hillis, it was the Germans.

Of course this is chilling to read today.


The Bowmen of WWI by Arthur Machen which became the Angel of MonsDAVID: Within your nearly 400 pages, there is so much more that readers will discover! “Lawrence of Arabia” is in this book as well as General Allenby’s battle at Megiddo, which led people to call him “Allenby of Armageddon.” There’s his historic march on Jerusalem. You take us to Hollywood and report on some of the blockbuster movies that were produced about the war. I found your book to be a real page turner with one intriguing story after another.

Just as Allenby’s forces clearly bought into the religious fervor of the era, I want to ask you about a couple of the most famous battlefield “miracles” of World War I. The religious zeal around this war wasn’t limited to preachers on the home front. The men in the trenches often were telling about the importance of their faith in the midst of these terrible battles. And, in a number of cases, some of the men were claiming miracles.

I think the most startling story in your book is about “The Angel of Mons.”

PHILIP: It started when a Welsh fantasy writer, Arthur Machen, wrote a short story about the Battle of Mons, where a small and heavily outnumbered British force had won a victory against a much larger German unit. In Machen’s short story—which he called The Bowmen and which he didn’t claim was true—the Battle of Mons is won when these thousands of British soldiers from the Middle Ages suddenly arise and fight off the Germans with arrows. Machen was well known as an author of fantasy stories.

But, Machen soon was amazed to find people telling him that the story is true! People begin saying they were there at Mons and saw these bowmen arising. Then, as the story was retold, the vision of the bowmen morphed into a vision of angels coming to defend the British. This story of angels coming to the defense of the British—”The Angel of Mons”—becomes one of the central, defining stories of the First World War.

But that story Mons isn’t the only one about angels or about the dead rising. You find these stories absolutely everywhere you turn. Many people saw apparitions in this era. These stories like the “Angel of Mons” fit into this larger Apocalyptic narrative about the war.


DAVID: No one seems to have counted the cost of these extremes to which they were going during the war. The same could be said of the Second World War, too. But we end your book shaking our heads that no one could envision what titanic forces they were setting in motion during the 1914-1918 conflict.

PHILIP: A very large proportion of the participants in World War I believed that they had been involved in a Holy War, even after the war. Then, this poses two questions: If you’ve just won a holy war, then what are you supposed to do? And the other question is: If you’ve just lost a holy war, what do you do? The winners then encounter even more questions because they thought they would enter an age of perfection and, soon, it was obviously not the case. Even worse, the losers wanted to find the scapegoats who led to their defeat. This sets up the rise of Naziism and other Fascist and nationalist movements.

Very soon after the war, there was a sense that this was just one phase of worldwide conflict and another one would come along.

DAVID: One of the interesting post-World War I perspectives you include in the book is the fear of writers like C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer that the world is moving into an increasingly pagan era. While a lot of Christian leaders, during WWI, were saying that this was a Christian crusade—Lewis and Bonhoeffer and others realized that something much more troubling was spawned by the war.

PHILIP: I describe this as a “Christian war,” but many orthodox Christians are very troubled by what they see in this era. Many evangelicals are troubled by the idea that, if a soldier fights and dies in a national cause, then the soldier gets a straight pass to heaven no matter what else he’s done in his life. That’s the most extreme and vulgar expression of holy war. And, as you’ve just pointed out, a lot of the ideas that arise during this war are occult. Spiritualism runs riot throughout the war and afterward, especially among the families of the millions of dead, hoping to speak to their loved ones again. The religious spectrum in that era is as extreme and bizarre as the array of religious movements we saw in the 1970s.


DAVID: Most of our readers, I assume, know that the end of World War I contained the seeds of World War II. The popular version of this story is that the Allies forced such draconian terms on Germany that a second war was inevitable. Your book points out that there were other evil seeds beyond the terms of the final peace treaty. One of the worst outcomes of the WWI era was a rise in antisemitism.

PHILIP: When the First World War starts, there is almost an era of good feeling among the major nations fighting on each side. Everyone thinks: We’re in this together. We have a common citizenship. We will fight together and then, after the war, we will be one united nation. Jews believe this wholeheartedly as World War I begins and, in Germany, many Jews see their service in the war as a final emancipation. They’re becoming fully German as they fight for their nation.

But, by about 1916, the question already is arising in many places: If we’re fighting a holy war and we’re God’s greatest nation—then why aren’t we winning this war? We must have missed something. There must be someone within our gates who is causing this problem for us. Some very troubling things begin to happen regarding Jews, especially in Germany and Russia.

By the end of the war, there was this widespread search for scapegoats. Naziism arises in the 1920s as a veteran’s movement aimed at preventing another failure like what happened in World War I. But, this scapegoating process begins during the war. And, as we know, the Jews come out of this era as one of the most-blamed groups. The war marks a decisive stage in reshaping antisemitism. The two most important things in 20th-century Jewish history are the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel and neither of those could have happened without the First World War.

DAVID: At the very end of your book, you describe the dramatic redrawing of the world’s religious map that was a result of that era, a century ago. One major impact was the explosion of Pentecostal movements worldwide. Today, that’s a huge population often estimated at a quarter of the world’s 2 billion Christians. You also point out how dramatically the First World War reshaped the Muslim world, literally redrawing international boundaries and setting up future conflicts.

You describe the scope of this change in a dramatic way. You write that, while the entire war lasted only four years, the scope of religious changes in that era was like moving from the 1850s to the 1950s in just a few revolutionary years. I’ll close our interview with your book’s last line: “Only now, after a century, are we beginning to understand just how utterly that war destroyed one religious world and created another.”



ReadTheSpirit online magazine has been publishing many perspectives on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, because we are moving through the 150th anniversary of that war. Starting this summer, we are publishing a series of unique stories, columns and historical profiles to mark the centennial of World War I.
Here are some we already have published …

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Review of Margarethe von Trotta’s ‘Hannah Arendt’


Click the cover to visit the DVD's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the DVD’s Amazon page.

If you care about peacemaking and global justice, then you must be fascinated to find the fury rising once again around Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The impassioned voices either defending or denouncing Arendt are, once again, nearly as impassioned as when The New Yorker magazine first published her five-part series as “A Reporter at Large”  in 1963. Then, Viking collected the series into a book. Now published by Penguin, hundreds of thousands of copies have been sold.

A new film defending Arendt and casting her as a brilliant crusader—as a new kind of sophisticated, feminist thinker for a new era in world history—is making the rounds, now in a DVD edition by Zeitgeist. It’s called simply Hannah Arendt. The convergence of the 50th anniversary of her landmark, incendiary work of news-analysis—and this very compelling new film about her life—now places Arendt squarely in the cross hairs of people who were not even alive during the Holocaust. In reviewing this new film, I must point out that, at age 58, I was not alive during World War II, either.

These days, most Americans don’t even know her name. In preparing to review this film, I asked a number of well-read writers what they thought of Hannah Arendt and, generally, the response was: “Oh, the Eichmann writer.” While her book flooded the world, few people living today have actually read it. I’m one of her readers, because I make a brief reference to Arendt’s classic phrase, “the banality of evil,” in my own book, Our Lent: Things We Carry. I briefly discuss her argument in my own chapter on Pontius Pilate trying to wash his hands after condemning Jesus.

4 Things to Understand about Hannah Arendt

She came of age in a circle of brilliant thinkers: Born to a Jewish family in Germany in 1906, Arendt’s life is a Zelig-like tale of connections with a wealth of towering intellectual figures emerging in that era before World War II. She became a philosopher and political theorist in a long series of books, dominated by Eichmann in Jerusalem. Until her death in 1975, her life revolved around the issues raised in that 1963 work. Her circle of friends is crucial to understanding the explosive worldwide debate that stormed—and continues to storm—around her work. Critics later argued that some of her friends may have been dark collaborators in her work; some of her friends came to her vigorous defense; some of her friends were transformed into relentless enemies by her work.

In the film: Of course, Margarette von Trotta’s film is a vigorous defense of Arendt’s life and work. The film does explore many of these complex friendships, generally depicting each relationship in ways that are sympathetic to Arendt’s memory. If you are reading this review and, already, you are realizing that this era of history is way beyond your own background—then you definitely will want to explore a bit of Arendt’s Wikipedia page before seeing the movie.

She was touched by the Holocaust: She fled the Nazis twice and was imprisoned for a time in a camp, although she was able to flee to America thanks to special visa. To this day, the question is hotly debated: How well did she understand the nature of the Shoah?

In the film: These two escapes are mentioned at several points in the film, but are not well explained for newcomers to this story. Again, read a bit of background on Arendt before you see it.

She went to Jerusalem to “cover” the trial of Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker magazine: She attended some, but not all, of Eichmann’s trial. She was stunned by her first encounter with this major architect of the Holocaust (who had fled to Argentina, but was kidnapped by Israeli forces and was put on trial in Jerusalem). Watching him speak from his glass-walled corner of the courtroom, Arendt formulated her most important conclusion: In the 20th century industrial age, vast crimes against humanity could be organized into a series of actions fit for bureaucrats to maintain as a matter of ordinary business. Her “banality of evil” phrase was not excusing or defending Eichmann, but was pointing at a far deeper truth: In a technologically advanced world, huge crimes could be conceived and broken down into steps fit for bureaucrats. This remains her most important insight—and the point I briefly discuss in my own book.

In the film: We are given the impression that Arendt covered nearly all of the trial in person, either in the courtroom or in the journalists’ newsroom via closed-circuit TV into the courtroom. We also are shown how extensively she studied transcripts and other records. The film does not deal with the more recent criticism by historians that her attendance at the trial was just a handful of days she spent sampling the real action in the courtroom. In the film, she seems steeped in all of the trial records.

She seemed to be attacking the courage of the Jewish people, collectively: It is almost impossible to imagine the impact of her reporting on Jewish survivors little more than a decade after the Holocaust’s end—and on Israelis in a tiny, besieged nation still trying to establish itself. A key section in her reporting criticized officials in European Jewish councils during the Holocaust for cooperating with Nazi transports to the death camps. To this day, scholars continue to study this question and to rebuke Arendt’s implication that these Jewish leaders did not do enough to try to save their people.

In the film: This is one of the strong points in the movie. We come away from the film, on balance, thinking that Arendt was indeed far too arrogant in the section of her reporting that seemed to attack Jewish leaders during the Holocaust. In a number of scenes, we see how—by sheer force of her considerable personality—she convinced The New Yorker editors to publish that incendiary section (about 10 pages out of 300 pages). In the film, Arendt is allowed to defend herself on this point but we do come away regarding this point as part of the tragedy of her life. She truly was out of her depth in making some of these charges and she paid for that over-reaching in her book with death threats and criticism that haunted her final decade.

OUR RECOMMENDATION: If you care about the course of peacemaking and global justice, since World War II, you must know something about Hannah Arendt. This film is absolutely compelling: For a docu-drama about a sophisticated intellectual, you certainly won’t want to stir until it’s over. Critics who have slammed this film—and there are some—see it as a shameful defense of a woman they still regard as an evil figure on the world stage. Critics who praise this film—and I am among them—see it as a fascinating cinematic introduction into the most important point Arendt was trying to make: that the nature of evil in the world is changing dramatically in our modern era. In her view, we may need to look for the bureaucrats in ordinary-looking offices to unearth the true monsters in this new age.

As The Paris Review pointed out earlier this year, this point should not be missed or overshadowed in the midst of the related controversies about Arendt. Robert Lowell termed her portrayal of Eichmann a “masterpiece,” and Bruno Bettelheim said it was the best protection against “dehumanizing totalitarianism.”

The New York Times film critic A.O. Scott made the same point in his review, which praises the film for raising awareness of her life: “We may need her example more than ever. It’s probably too much to hope that Ms. von Trotta and her star, Barbara Sukowa, will do for Arendt what Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep did for Julia Child, but surely a fellow can dream.”

I urge you to see this film yourself; I urge you to see it with friends; I urge you to acquaint yourself with the life and work of Hannah Arendt. You will be a better peacemaker for the effort.


The New York Times Review of Books just published two commentaries on Hannah Arendt and Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Watch filmmaker Claude Lanzmann: First, if you have read this far in the review, then you will want to know that Lanzmann’s most famous documentary on the Holocaust is now on sale for American viewers in Blu-ray as: Shoah (Criterion Collection). If you follow Holocaust studies, then you know his epic film has been hard to find for American viewing for many years. It’s expensive, but—again, if you are fascinated by this era or your work involves reflecting on the Holocaust for students or for readers—buy a copy of the Criterion Collection set right now. It may go out of print; other Criterion titles have. Then, continue to watch for news on Lanzmann, because he already is showing his latest production, The Last of the Unjust, a documentary that focuses on Theresienstadt and already is being described as a rebuke of Hannah Arendt.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

News about authors Rabbi Robert Alper and Lynne Meredith Golodner

Cover of Thanks I Needed That Robert AlperAT READ THE SPIRIT, we appreciate hearing from journalists who are covering news related to our authors. We like to showcase your media coverage and provide links back to your original work. Here are several recent news items about authors published by Read the Spirit Books.

‘A Potent Dose of Laughter’

Rabbi Alper is the author of Thanks. I Needed That—a book of real-life stories that readers nationwide will be hearing more about in September. Nicolette Milholin writes about Alper’s book in the Montgomery News, which is part of the Journal Register company of newspapers and websites. She writes, in part: “Author Robert Alper knows exactly how important a potent dose of laughter can be. In his new book—aptly titled Thanks. I Needed That.—Alper shares inspiring stories from his life as a rabbi and stand-up comic.” Please, read Nicolette’s entire column, which includes an interview with Alper.

Lynne Meredith Golodner:
‘Food and Faith Intersect’

Cover The Flavors of Faith Holy Breads by Lynne Meredith GolodnerLynne Meredith Golodner’s new The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads was just featured in The Detroit Free Press by Food Writer Susan Selasky. Susan used the occasion of Ramadan to connect with a chapter in Lynne’s book about Muslim bread baking. The book also has stories and recipes about breads from many religious groups, including Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Native American traditions. In the Free Press, Susan made that very point, writing in part: “Ramadan isn’t the only time faith and food intersect. In her new book, The Flavors of Faith, Lynne Meredith Golodner explores the cultural and communal aspects of breads across many faiths.” Please, read Susan’s entire column, which also includes some wonderful photos of Muslim cooks and traditional recipes.

Lynne Meredith Golodner:
‘Soulful Recipes and Food Stories’

Thanks, also, to Motown Savvy columnist Carla Schwartz for a hearty endorsement of Lynne’s book to her online audience. Under a headline, Spiritual Musings, Carla recommended a whole array of Read The Spirit features including our new Feed The Spirit department, written by food writer Bobbie Lewis. Carla calls our overall online magazine: “innovative, fresh and cross-cultural.” Of Lynne’s work, Carla writes: “I look forward to more soulful recipes and food stories.” Please, read Carla’s entire column.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Celebrate with our authors Debra Darvick and Joe Grimm!

AT READ THE SPIRIT, we celebrate great authors every week. From N.T. Wright and Barbara Brown Taylor to Jimmy Carter and Eileen Flanagan—we have published hundreds of book reviews and author interviews. Today, it’s time to celebrate with two of our own authors, published by Read the Spirit Books.

small This Jewish LifeDEBRA DARVICK:
Named among ‘Best Detroit Writers’

Thanks go to southeast Michigan CBS affiliate, Channel 62, and to regional arts writer Romero Anton Montalban-Anderssen for including Debra Darvick in the new “Best Local Authors in Detroit.” In this part of the U.S., news media use “Detroit” to describe the whole metro-Detroit region. Montalban-Anderssen chose a diverse short list, including the author of a children’s novelty book and the creator of a fictional veterinarian-detective. Read the Spirit Books publishes Debra Darvick’s highly praised This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy. Each week, you also can enjoy Debra’s columns in her own section of our Read the Spirit magazine.

Hot dog! Multi-talented author honored for covering Coneys

Joe Grimm Coney Detroit logo and bookConey Detroit by Katherine Yung and Read the Spirit author Joe Grimm, has won the bronze medal for regional adult non-fiction in ForeWord Reviews’ book-of-the-year competition. ForeWord was founded as a trade review journal to cover the independent, alternative, university and self-publishing industries. Coney Detroit covers the history, lore and people of Detroit’s signature food, the coney island hot dog. Coney islands are great equalizers where people from all walks of life can sit side by side and enjoy a steamed bun, a natural casing hot dog, beanless chili, diced onion and yellow mustard. The book features more than 120 color photographs by a dozen photographers and is based on interviews with many of the principal figures in the coney business. The book was published by Wayne State University Press. All author and photographer royalties are being donated to the Gleaners Food Bank of Southeast Michigan.

Joe Grimm also is nationally known as an educator, columnist and consultant in journalism. As a professor in the Michigan State University School of Journalism, Joe has developed innovative projects involving journalism students to produce books with Read the Spirit.


Shavuot: Festival connecting harvest with the giving of the Torah

PLEASE ENJOY this sample chapter from Debra Darvick’s This Jewish Life, which tells about the season of Shavuot. Click the book cover image to learn more about her complete collection of stories.

All souls stood at Sinai, each accepting its share in the Torah.
Alshek. q Ragoler, Maalot HaTorah

This Jewish Life cover in 3D

CLICK this cover to learn more about Debra Darvick’s popular collection of real-life stories, THIS JEWISH LIFE: Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy.

While there is no Biblical link between the Shavuot holiday and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Talmud does draw a connection between the two. The rabbis calculated the dates of the agricultural festival of Shavuot and the time of the Revelation and deemed them to be one and the same. This link enabled the rabbis to bring new relevance to an agricultural holiday at a time when many Jews were living in urban areas.

Shavuot, literally “Festival of Weeks,” is so named because it occurs seven weeks and one day after the beginning of Passover. Shavout is also called Chag Habikurim, Festival of the First Fruits, and Chag HaKatzir, Harvest Festival. These names reflect the holiday’s origin as the time marking the end of the spring wheat harvest. The 50 days between the second day of Passover and Shavuot are called the counting of the omer, omer being a unit of measure. In Temple times, on the second day of Passover, the priests would offer up for sacrifice an omer of wheat, to mark the start of the seven-week wheat-growing season.

Tikkun Leil Shavuot

Many communities hold a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night study session that enables those present to prepare spiritually for the morning’s service, when the Ten Commandments are read. During the recitation of the Ten Commandments, the congregation stands, thus symbolically receiving them, as our ancestors did at Sinai.

Ruth’s Role

The Book of Ruth is included in the Shavuot morning service for several reasons. Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law, Naomi, was such that she converted to Judaism. By consequence of that conversion and her subsequent marriage to Boaz (their court- ship is said to have taken place during Shavuot), Ruth became the ancestor of King David, who, according to the Talmud, was born and died on Shavuot.

The Debra Darvick Interview: Why the stories in ‘This Jewish Life’ make it a part of your life, too

Debra Darvick author of This Jewish LifeTODAY, ReadTheSpirit is proud to welcome author and columnist Debra Darvick into our online magazine and our bookstore. You may have enjoyed her columns in national magazines, including Good Housekeeping.  Now, you can enjoy her wide-ranging stories every week. Plus, starting today, you can order her signature collection of real-life Jewish stories: This Jewish Life.

VISIT DEBRA’S NEW ONLINE HOME: Debra brings hundreds of stories with her in the relaunch of her Debra Darvick online home today. Please, get to know Debra and, when you  have time, explore her rich array of online stories.

READ DEBRA’S BOOK: As you will discover right here—in our author interview with Debra today—This Jewish Life is for everyone. But, let’s invite Debra to speak for herself. This is our weekly author interview with ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.


This Jewish Life book cover by Debra Darvick

Order your copy now. Click the cover to visit its Bookstore page.

DAVID: Jewish families are a tiny minority in the world. Why are millions of people still so fascinated with Jewish faith and culture?

DEBRA: But let me answer your question in another way. The Jewish people have something to say that is valuable in our world today. Judaism’s ancient wisdom survives because it speaks to every generation of people, not just to Jews.

DAVID: Let me underline that point you’re making. The Gallup Poll occasionally asks Americans to name their favorite books of the Bible. Far and away, the Bible’s most popular book is always Psalms, followed by Genesis. Gallup finds that the majority of Americans say they read the Bible at least occasionally and their first choices after Psalms and Genesis are Matthew, John, Revelation, Proverbs, Job and Luke. That means 4 of the 8 most popular books of the Bible are from the original Jewish collection of scriptures. You do, indeed, have something to say.

DEBRA: That Gallup Poll doesn’t surprise me at all. Genesis is the fist book in the Bible; it has the most lively, visual stories: the Garden of Eden, the snake, the flood, animals two by two. Millions of little children grow up on these stories. And Psalms? They are comforting. Throughout human history, people have wanted to know—needed to know—that there is a force bigger than we are as mere humans. Where do people turn when horrible things happen to find words calling out in faith and hope? They turn to Psalms.

DAVID: Of course, we’re also talking about something much deeper than a popularity poll. Scholars widely credit Judaism as a foundation of Western tradition. That may sound like a startling conclusion if our readers haven’t thought about that before. But I can tell you that you’ll find such conclusions in world histories—and it’s a point made by Pope John Paul II, as well, as he wrote about the origins of Western faith and culture.

DEBRA: The Jewish religion’s ethical and social principles are inseparable from the watershed concept of monotheism—one God—that Judaism gave to the Western world. Think about the power of these ideas: Billions of people now believe that there is one God who set the world in motion. For the Jewish people, this was a singular Divine Force who gave a people a set of laws—the 10 Commandments—to model in the world and to share with others. This was a historic break with the religious and cultural norms of the era in which the Jewish religion emerged.

DAVID: The influence is even larger than these associations, right? We see Judaism’s wisdom among great artists and writers—and even in our governance.

DEBRA: Yes, that’s right, there are people who like to say that America is a Christian nation. And we also can recognize Jewish wisdom in our tradition of law and deliberation. America is a nation of law. The writers of the Constitution were well grounded in the Hebrew Bible. Our Supreme Court’s process of deliberation and interpreting the Constitution echoes the rabbinic process of deliberating and interpreting what the laws in the Torah really meant.

‘This Jewish Life’: Marking Our Sacred Time

DAVID: We also have inherited the Jewish approach to marking our sacred time. Of course, since Jesus and all of his first followers were Jewish, it’s natural that the Christian calendar is associated with a number of Jewish milestones in the calendar. More importantly, I think, Jewish holidays and festivals highlight major themes that matter to millions of families around the world, whether they are Jewish or not.

I know that a festival like Hanukkah is actually a relatively minor observance in the Jewish calendar—but the Hanukkah theme of religious freedom is an issue shared by people all around the world.

DEBRA: That’s true with many of the seasons and holidays included in the book. On the Jewish calendar right now, we are in a period called the counting of the Omer. This is a seven-week period between Passover (and the Exodus from Egypt) and the holiday of Shavuot which celebrates the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. On the Christian calendar, Shavuot, which literally means weeks, is called Pentecost.

In the book, the Passover story is that of a Russian family who were immigrants to America. The theme of Passover is liberation—the Exodus story that is so important in African-American churches. You can imagine the painful situation of Russian Jews for so many decades under Communism. This family you will meet in the book could only walk past a locked synagogue on Jewish holidays. Passover is the story of liberation and here is a family who lived through one of the world’s most dramatic times of liberation. The foundational text reading for Shavuot is the Book of Ruth. In This Jewish Life, the Shavuot story is that of a convert to Judaism (like the Biblical Ruth).

DAVID: These are good examples about the way we mark sacred time and use those periods to remember our most important shared stories. Judaism also established even larger spiritual themes that have shaped world religion to this day—like monotheism, the faith in a single God as opposed to many gods. In your book, I think another big theme readers will discover is the universal yearning for home. A famous Christian writer, Frederick Buechner, says that all religious journeys really are about a yearning for home. That’s something we inherit from the Jewish people.

DEBRA: The Hanukkah story is a great example of that. It’s a soldier’s story that I’m sure any soldier or veteran who reads this book will understand.

DAVID: I love that story, too. It’s set in the First Gulf War, more than 20 years ago, and is told by a young American Jewish soldier who finds himself stationed in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, awaiting battle. Then, it’s Hanukkah, and he finds his way to a small gathering of U.S. soldiers about to mark the holiday.

Here’s part of what he says: “I had tucked a trio of letters addressed to ‘Any Jewish Soldier’ in my back pocket. There we were in the desert about to go to war, singing songs of praise to God who had saved my ancestors in battle. The feeling of unity was as pervasive as our apprehension, as real as the sand that found its way into everything from our socks to our toothbrushes. … That Hanukkah in the desert solidified for me the urge to reconnect with my Judaism.”

Now, Debra, I think so many readers who have family members connected with the military will read a chapter like that and feel a strong emotional connection to these men and women.

Debra Darvick: ‘We all long for home.’

DEBRA: I agree and I’ve been really pleased when non-Jews come up to me and tell me how much they have enjoyed this book. This book does serve to educate people about Jewish life, but these stories also inspire, soothe and make people rethink the really important values in their own lives.

That’s an important truth you’ll find in this book. We share so much. We all long for home. We all weep sometimes. We all have moments of great joy. We all know about kids who make decisions we’re not happy about. Families. Homes. Love. Tragedy. Forgiveness. If you’re not Jewish and you read this book, you will realize right away that these are universal experiences, universal truths.

I like to think of this book as similar to Abraham’s tent—open on all four sides. If you’re not familiar with some of the terms, there is an extensive glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish words to help people quickly discover those words. There are short introductions to each section of the book to help people understand the major themes in these seasons.

DAVID: The stories are so well told! And, the pacing is perfect. Even busy readers can enjoy meeting these people in the pages of your book—a little bit each day.

DEBRA: The stories are short; most are about five pages long. You can read them out loud and even kids as young as 8 or 9 might enjoy sitting around and listening. There are stories about young people, too. The Rosh Hashanah story is about a college student who spends the new year’s holiday on a boat during a semester at sea.

DAVID: That’s another story about the yearning for home—combined with a story of dramatic self-discovery. This girl actually is suffering from a deep home sickness as the big holiday approaches, knowing how her family back home would be celebrating. She’s off the coast of Asia at that point. But, instead, she and some other students—Jewish and non-Jewish—wind up sharing the holiday. It becomes a new starting point in her life.

I could name a dozen stories that I would call my favorites in your book. How about you? Do you have a favorite story in the book?

DEBRA: That’s like asking which of your children is your favorite. But, yes, among these stories some do stand out. There is one story about a man who was in Paris at the liberation as World War II was ending. He describes what it was like to be part of the first Jewish service when the ark was opened again. I get shivers just retelling that story. He describes what it was like to bring out the Torah—so much outpouring of feeling that people ran up to kiss the Torah. They were so overjoyed. He recalls the moment when a young girl ran up to him, pulled the yellow star from her coat and placed it in his hands. So dramatic! But that’s just one story in the book. Many are appropriate to the seasons of the year; many are appropriate to different settings in which people may read the book.

‘This Jewish Life’: Experiencing gratitude

DAVID: What did you learn while writing This Jewish Life?

DEBRA: One of the most important things I learned is gratitude. This definitely was not a one-woman endeavor. As I spoke to all of the people who appear in the book, I had to think about my identity as a writer. Over time, I realized that this wasn’t about me seeing my name on the cover of a book but about the gift God gave me to listen and help people express their deepest selves.

As I worked on a person’s story, we would talk and I would write up a draft. Then, I would call each one on the telephone and read the story to see if I had told it right. Sometimes, I would get to the end and there would be silence on the phone. The first couple of times that happened, I would freak out, thinking that the silence meant I had blown it. But, no, they were silent because they were crying. They were feeling such emotion because their story finally was brought to light—their story was made cohesive so that others could now share in it. It was deeply moving to know I was helping people to make their inner-most experiences real in these stories.

Want to read some stories by Debra?

Check out Debra Darvick’s new online home at ReadTheSpirit. Or, visit the Bookstore page for This Jewish Life.

(This interview originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, values and cultural diversity.)