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There are many variables that go into the choice of the One Book, One Jewish Community selection. The Implementation Team looks for a book that is enjoyable and accessible and offers an insight into one or more Jewish values or concepts or a particular Jewish cultural world. To that end, we have, in the past, read books about the Jews of Iraqi Kurdistan (My Father’s Paradise); Israel (The Wanting); Yemen (Henna House) and the Soviet Union (A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka). To learn about Jews of other times in history we have read about the Spanish Inquisition (By Fire, By Water); Jews in the American Civil War (All Other Nights) and the Holocaust (The List). We immersed ourselves in the cuisine of Israel with our 2017 choice, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.
Last year, the Team chose a book that they knew would lend itself to a fabulous array of connected programming over the course of the book year. And After the Fire is superficially about a lost cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach….but that just barely scratches the surface of the many themes explored in this book. We hope you will take the opportunity to read this special book.
To read an informative and provocative article about the history of and contemporary issues associated with the celebration of Hanukkah written by Michael David Lukas, click on The Hypocrisy of Hanukkah.
Deciphering the Cairo Geniza
Scholars at the University of Pennsylvania are working on a project to sort and transcribe the documents discovered in what came to be called the Cairo Geniza.
The team is using an innovative new website, built in collaboration with on online platform designed for crowd-sourced research, to analyze digitized text written in five Hebrew and three Arabic scripts!
More Recommended Reading
Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza
One May day in 1896, at a dining-room table in Cambridge, England, a meeting took place between a Romanian-born maverick Jewish intellectual and twin learned Presbyterian Scotswomen, who had assembled to inspect several pieces of rag paper and parchment. It was the unlikely start to what would prove a remarkable, continent-hopping, century-crossing saga, and one that in many ways has revolutionized our sense of what it means to lead a Jewish life.
In Sacred Trash, MacArthur-winning poet and translator Peter Cole and acclaimed essayist Adina Hoffman tell the story of the retrieval from an Egyptian geniza, or repository for worn-out texts, of the most vital cache of Jewish manuscripts ever discovered. This tale of buried scholarly treasure weaves together unforgettable portraits of Solomon Schechter and the other heroes of this drama with explorations of the medieval documents themselves—letters and poems, wills and marriage contracts, Bibles, money orders, fiery dissenting tracts, fashion-conscious trousseaux lists, prescriptions, petitions, and mysterious magical charms. Presenting a panoramic view of nine hundred years of vibrant Mediterranean Judaism, Hoffman and Cole bring modern readers into the heart of this little-known trove, whose contents have rightly been dubbed “the Living Sea Scrolls.” Part biography and part meditation on the supreme value the Jewish people has long placed on the written word, Sacred Trash is above all a gripping tale of adventure and redemption.
Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice
Agnes and Margaret Smith were not your typical Victorian scholars or adventurers. Female, middle-aged, and without university degrees or formal language training, the twin sisters nevertheless made one of the most important scriptural discoveries of their time: the earliest known copy of the Gospels in ancient Syriac, the language that Jesus spoke. In an era when most Westerners—male or female—feared to tread in the Middle East, they slept in tents and endured temperamental camels, unscrupulous dragomen, and suspicious monks to become unsung heroines in the continuing effort to discover the Bible as originally written.
A Guide to the Perplexed by Dara Horn
Software prodigy Josie Ashkenazi has invented an application that records everything its users do. When an Egyptian library invites her to visit as a consultant, her jealous sister Judith persuades her to go. But in Egypt’s post-revolutionary chaos, Josie is abducted―leaving Judith free to take over Josie’s life at home, including her husband and daughter, while Josie’s talent for preserving memories becomes a surprising test of her empathy and her only means of escape.
A century earlier, another traveler arrives in Egypt: Solomon Schechter, a Cambridge professor is hunting for a medieval archive hidden in a Cairo synagogue. Both Schechter and Josie are haunted by the work of the medieval philosopher Moses Maimonides, a doctor and rationalist who sought to reconcile faith and science, destiny and free will. But what Schechter finds, as he tracks down the remnants of a thousand-year-old community’s once-vibrant life, will reveal the power and perils of what Josie’s ingenious work brings into being: a world where nothing is ever forgotten.
An engrossing adventure that intertwines stories from Genesis, medieval philosophy, and the digital frontier, A Guide for the Perplexed is a novel of profound inner meaning and astonishing imagination.
To read some scholarly works about Solomon Schechter, you might want to read Solomon Schechter: A Biography by Norman Bentwich, Published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1939. Other more current sources you may want to see are:
To help you get into the atmosphere of The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, here are some easy-to-make traditional Egyptian recipes.
Ta’ameya (Egyptian Falafel)
Falafel is native to the cuisines of Israelis, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians and Palestinians. The history of falafel goes back to the Copts (Christians of Egypt) who used to eat it during Lent, a period during which it is forbidden to eat meat. The word falafel comes from pha la phel (Φα Λα Φελ) which means “of more beans.”
2 c dried, split fava beans
1 red onion
½ c fresh parsley
½ c fresh cilantro
½ c fresh dill
3 cloves garlic
1 ½ tsp ground coriander
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 c sesame seeds
Popular throughout the Middle East, this dish may have gained popularity throughout the region through the influence and spread of the Turkish-Ottoman empire. In fact, the word shawarma was said to have originated from the Turkish word “çevirme”, which describes the turning process of cooking the meat.
1 lb beef filet
1 ½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp pepper
1 tbls vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
Tahini (sesame seed) sauce
1 c tahini (sesame seed) paste
4 garlic cloves,minced
Salt to taste
Juice of 2 lemons (6 tbls)
½ c wter
t tbls chopped fresh parslely
1 tbls olive oil
Koshary is the national dish of Egypt, although it isn’t actually Egyptian in origin. It is believed that Koshary originated in India and dates back to the time of British Colonization. The name is actually from the Hindu “khichri”, which refers to a dish of lentils and rice.
1 tbls vegetable oil
2 c uncooked white rice
3 c water
1 tsp salt
1 (16-oz) package uncooked elbow macaroni
1 c lentils, soaked in water
½ tsp salt
1 tbls vegetable oil
5 onions, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbls distilled white vinegar
4 ripe tomatoes, diced
½ c tomato paste
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 ½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
This traditional Egyptian breakfast dish is actually eaten at all times of the day, in the fields, in village houses and in the cities. Restaurants serve it as a mezze (selection of small dishes served to accompany alcoholic drinks, often served at the beginning of multi-course meals) and it is sold on the streets. Historically, ful medames is probably as old as the Pharaohs.
2 c small fava beans, soaked overnight and left unpeeled
Salt and pepper
1/3 c chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 3 lemons, quartered
- 4-6 cloves garlic, crushed
- Chili pepper flakes
- Ground cumin
NOTE: As the cooking time varies depending on the quality and age of the beans used, it is a good idea to cook them in advance and reheat them when you are ready to serve.
Want to learn more about the Cairo Geniza? Go to https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~petersig/genizah/
For more information about the University of Pennsylvania and their Cairo Geniza research