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Book of the Every-Other Month Club

As the name suggests, we gather every other month to discuss a work of literature with a Jewish reference or theme.

Our next meeting is Monday, June 13th at 7:30 pm. We'll be discussing Twilight of Democracy, The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum.

The Book Club met on April 4 to discuss “Snow in August” by Pete Hamill.  This fiction with a supernatural experience was a delightful break from the heavier non-fiction books of our last selections and a welcome change from the terrible war news of each day.  The majority of our group “loved reading this book”, found it enchanting and so descriptive of Brooklyn and the Bronx neighborhoods in 1947. A few of our readers felt “cheated” by the safe ending with the appearance of the Golem. Most of us found the creation of the Golem a continuation of the comic book superheroes of Michael Devlin’s imagination and the Kabbalah stories of the Golem. The Golem was always a creature made of clay and brought to life by special Hebrew words. Tales of mystical rabbis creating life from dust abounded, particularly in the Early Modern period, and inspired such tales as Frankenstein and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”  Sometimes the golem saves the Jewish community from persecution or death, enacting the kind of heroism or revenge unavailable to powerless Jews. 

 The main characters in the story were Michael Devlin an 11 year old Irish Catholic altar boy, Rabbi Judah Hirsch, a refugee from Prague and Frankie McCarthy, the leader of the anti-Semitic neighborhood toughs.  The story mixes fantasy and reality of a time of working class neighborhoods of Jewish and Irish immigrants. It is a beautiful story of friendship, loyalty, cherished memories and the love of learning, especially of books and words. Michael incorporates his learning and vividly sees himself in the stories he reads and the ones he hears from the Rabbi.

An unusual special friendship develops between Michael and the Rabbi. Michael becomes the “Shabbos goy” and helps the Rabbi improve his English by teaching him about baseball and American culture and their special words. In return, the Rabbi teaches Michael Yiddish and introduces him to the beauty of pre-war Prague and the Nazi prosecution of the Jews.  They bond together with their love of learning, of music (Jazz) and of baseball.  It is the time of Jackie Robinson starting to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Neither the Rabbi nor Michael can understand the angry racist objections to this first Black player by some fans and commentators.

We were all impressed by Michael’s Mother, a widow after Michael’s Dad was killed in the war. She showed emotional and physical strength, and a kind heart who taught her son to be open and accepting and interesting in learning. The descriptions of anti-Jewish and anti-Negro attacks in the book and the reactions of the communities involved brought memories and our own stories into our discussion.

The immigrant experience was clearly depicted by the work of the Mother at the movie theater and the work together of Michael and his Mom being the custodians of their tenement.  The diligent work by Michael without complaints was definitely noticed by our community.  It was a different time as we read of their excitement when Mom had earned and saved enough to buy a radio and later a gas stove. Little was taken for granted.

This book will be remembered as well as our reactions to it and our discussion. The book demonstrates the old adage: “For evil to succeed, good men need to stay quiet.” 




Mon, May 16 2022 15 Iyar 5782