Code Name Verity

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This is an attempt at reviewing Code Name Verity without giving too much of the plot away.

Code Name Verity is a novel by Elizabeth Wein which was pointed out to me by Cari Hunter in the interview I posted on this blog a month ago. It has been categorised as a YA novel but I honestly believe it is a very restricting label. Code Name Verity deserves a wider and older audience and has the potential of a classic.

‘I am a coward. I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.’

These are the opening lines of the novel. The narrator is Queenie. She’s a Scottish aristocrat who was arrested when she looked the wrong way (left, in true British manner) before crossing a street in France. She is now detained by the Gestapo in a former hotel near Poitiers, and forced to write a confession detailing the British war effort.

Through her crafty and witty confession, she tells the story of her friendship with Maddie, a working class Mancunian of Jewish descent and the pilot who dropped her in France, and the saga that brought her to France.

In the second part of the novel, the point of view shifts to another character and the story takes on a totally different meaning.

Code Name Verity is not just a war story. It is primarily a book about friendship, about love, about the powerful and mutual attraction, the gut-wrenching trust and the unfailing loyalty between two young women who in normal circumstances would never have met.

If you like good and well-researched writing, clever humour and strong heroines, you will love Code Name Verity. But be warned: it is a book that will bring tears to your eyes and will still haunt you long after you have read the last page.

Quotes from Code Name Verity:

It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.

‘We’re still alive and we make a sensational team.’

I am no longer afraid of getting old. Indeed I can’t believe I ever said anything so stupid. So childish. So offensive and arrogant. But mainly, so very, very stupid. I desperately want to grow old.

The Koren Sacks Rosh Hashana Mahzor

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After the Koren Sacks Siddur, Koren Publishers has now published the Koren Sacks Rosh Hashana Mahzor.

Rosh Hashana is one of the most important holidays of the Jewish year yet, because of its length, it is not always the meaningful and transformative experience it is supposed to be.

Like the siddur, this new Mahzor provides a spiritual guide to the different services through Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’s translation, introduction and commentary.

Those familiar with Rabbi Sacks’s weekly commentary on the parsha will recognize his powerful style and all will appreciate the introduction and the Chief Rabbi’s ability to provide insights that are most valuable to modern man or woman as they seek “to understand their place in the world and their places before God”.

The Mahzor shares a number of features with the Koren Sacks Siddur:

– The Hebrew on the left and the English translation on the right – I have already commented here that this is not a problem at all.

– An unambiguous and exhaustive table of contents that helps us navigate the prayer book.

– A very clear layout with more paragraphs than in most siddurim, distinguishing poetry from prose.

– References to Biblical passages in the margin next to the text and not in the footnotes.

– The commentary at the bottom of each page and the additional explanations at the end of the siddur.

In addition to the prayers and blessings to be said at home during the High Holidays, the Koren Sacks Rosh Hashana Mahzor provides the blessings for the Rosh Hashana seder, additional piyutim and a Halakh Guide.

The Koren Sacks Rosh Hashana Mahzor will certainly be a welcome addition to the Mahzorim already in use and should soon prove to be as valuable as the Koren Sacks Siddur for those looking for a Mahzor that provides the necessary understanding of the High Holidays.

I want to thank Koren Publishers for sending me a review copy of the Koren Sacks Rosh Hashana Mahzor.

The Search for God at Harvard

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I ordered this book after reading Rabbi Fink’s review on his blog. A New York Times journalist, Ari L. Goldman took a sabbatical to study religion at Harvard Divinity School. Being a Jew in a mostly non-Jewish environment I thought that Goldman’s account as an Orthodox Jew living at Harvard and learning about world religions would resonate with my own struggles; and it did.

Ari L. Goldman had been working as a religion writer for some years before he asked for a sabbatical to broaden his knowledge. The Search for God at Harvard recounts this very special year but also provides the background which enables the reader to understand the reasons for this unusual quest: his religious education in various Jewish schools (including a Crown Heights yeshiva and Yeshiva University), his secular education in high school, his parents’ divorce when he was 6 and his first years at the New York Times.

I respect people who steadfastly stick to their views but I deeply admire those who confront different people and beliefs. Ari L. Goldman is such a person. He knows that some of his former rabbis and teachers would disapprove but he sticks to his decision and studies Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, African religions and Christianity, or even of a course on Judaism by Louis Jacobs.

The Search for God at Harvard is not so much what these religions are but rather what they mean to him and how they help him strengthen his own beliefs.

Thus Ari L. Goldman contrasts Judaism – where God choses his own people – and Hinduism where believers choose a personal god among a pantheon of several million deities. He sees Buddhism’s attraction for many Jews who are alienated from judaism as a religious alternative that is not Christianity. “As disillusioned as many of these Jews were with their own faith, they had been conditioned by their upbringing to seeing Christianity not merely as a substitute for but as a repudiation of Judaism”.

A course on the different Protestant denominations sheds an interesting light on Fundamentalism.

“The White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant America the Fundamentalists say they are trying to get back to never really existed. From the beginning, this country had American Indians, Jews and catholics, as well as Protestants. They had red skin and black skin and white skin. To be sure, not all these groups were treated equally. It was most often the whites who were subjugated the others; maybe this is the America to which the Fundamentalists want to return. But, for most Americans, the thought of returning to slavery, anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism or anti-American Indianism represents America gone awry and not “America Back to Our Roots. “”

They are poignant moments when Ari L. Goldman struggles between his desire to remain an observant Jew while aspiring to become a New York Times reporter. Surprisingly it is his mother – a religious Jew – who encourages him not to give up.

He also recalls painful episodes when choosing a community as a young couple not long after the Harvard experiece. His wife once tells guests at a Shabbat meal that she and her husband look forward to situations where not everyone around them is an Orthodox Jew because they consider them broadening and a challenge. Sadly they soon realize that they are not on the same wavelength as these people when they become the synagogue gossip.

The Search for God at Harvard is a book I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend.