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Seven for Services By REBECCA PHILLIPS Admit it: you tend to get bored during Yom Kippur services. Who doesn't? Except for the most pious among us, the day spent in synagogue can often feel arduous, especially with the promise of cheese blintzes so close and yet so far away. One way to keep your mind from wandering too much during services is to supplement the traditional Yom Kippur liturgy with other readings guaranteed to ignite your spiritual search during the holiday. So just in case the mahzor doesn't do it for you this year, JBooks.com offers seven new, and somewhat unexpected, books from the past year to make your High Holidays—and your entire year—more meaningful and spiritually fulfilling. The Book of Psalms: In this new translation of the psalms, Robert Alter does for the Tanakh's famous poems what he did for the entire Torah several years ago. As with The Five Books of Moses, Alter reshapes the biblical texts word by word, offering his own commentary and giving new voice to some of the bible's most familiar turns of phrase. Several psalms feature prominently in the Yom Kippur liturgy, such as Psalm 27, recited throughout the High Holiday season. After years of seeing how this psalm and others are translated in the traditional Jewish prayer book, it's worth taking a look at Alter's work for a new perspective. Gonzo Judaism: Niles Elliott Goldstein is tired of traditional contemporary Judaism, and he's not afraid to say so. In this short and engaging tome, the rabbi of New York's New Shul lays out a plan for renewing contemporary Judaism, through creative Jewish expression, emotional connection to the faith, and rebellion against traditional mores and institutions. His theme of renewal (the book's subtitle is “A Bold Path for Renewing an Ancient Faith”) is perfect for this time of year, and may inspire you to renew not just the Jewish community as a whole, but your own personal connection with Judaism as well. Eat Pray Love: To the reader who knows nothing more about this book than the fact that it’s been on the New York Times bestseller list for an endless number of weeks, this memoir of spiritual discovery in Italian restaurants, an Indian ashram, and the home of an Indonesian medicine man may seem like an odd choice for Yom Kippur. But the heart of this moving tale by the non-Jewish Elizabeth Gilbert is t'shuvah. Recovering from a nasty divorce, Gilbert seeks—and finds—redemption through connection with God and better self-understanding. And though much of Gilbert's journey is far from the asceticism of Yom Kippur (nearly a third of her book involves intense discussions of the pasta she ate in Italy), readers will relate to her search for spiritual enlightenment through forgiveness, repentance, and introspection. The Year of Living Biblically: Since this book isn't officially released until October, this one may be hard to get your hands on for Yom Kippur. But even if you have to wait until Simchat Torah to read it, the wait will be worth it—and since the book is laugh-out- loud funny, it may be more appropriate to read on a joyous holiday anyway. Author A.J. Jacobs, best-known for The Know It All, charts his year-long journey of living the bible as literally as possible. Since he kicks off his quest around the start of the Jewish new year, his book is a nice companion for the entire Jewish year (though he does spend a few months attempting to follow the Christian bible as well). Readers can accompany Jacobs as he builds a sukkah inside his apartment (since he has no access to outdoor space) and roams the streets of New York playing a harp modeled after that used by King David. Surprisingly, the journey turns out to be a year of spiritual discovery for Jacobs, previously an adamantly agnostic cultural Jew. Sala's Gift: Many congregations have begun to include victims of the Holocaust in the martyrology section of Yom Kippur services, the lengthy medieval poem that recounts the deaths of famous Jewish rabbis. Sala's Gift by Ann Kirschner is an inspiring companion to this aspect of the service. Kirschner tells the wartime story of her mother Sala, a Holocaust survivor who kept quiet about her experiences until the 1990s, when she turned over to her daughter a stash of letters from her family and friends that she had managed to keep throughout the war. The letters paint a vivid picture of the five years Sala spent in German-run labor camps in Poland, a less often told aspect of the Holocaust, as well as the struggles of her family and friends trying to survive at home. The letters are an incredible treasure, and the story of Sala and her loved ones is at once heart-breaking and life-affirming. A Responsible Life: What better time to begin a new spiritual practice than the start of the Jewish new year? Rabbi Ira Stone's informative and readable guide to mussar is a terrific introduction to the current burgeoning revival of the 19th-century movement. Mussar, which literally means “rebuke,” is gaining traction as a process of spiritual introspection and ethical improvement. Stone, who leads Philadelphia's Beth Zion Beth Israel congregation and the Philadlephia Mussar Institute, explores the relationship between morality and mitzvah and offers a framework for incorporating mussar into daily life and Jewish practice. Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar by Alan Morinis is another worthwhile new guide to this movement. Away: For a true escape from the rote repetition of Yom Kippur prayers, try out the novel that's sure to be one of the most acclaimed Jewish books of the year. In stark yet vivid prose, Amy Bloom tells the story of Lillian Leyb, a Jewish immigrant to the United States after a pogrom killed her entire family, and her subsequent struggle to make it back to Russia when she learns her two-year-old daughter might have survived after all. Bloom beautifully evokes the brutal realities of immigrant life on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century, as well as the more fantastical life of a young Jewish woman trekking—on foot!—through the wilds of Canada and Alaska in her attempt to cross the Bering Strait to Siberia. Away is a quick and engaging read, and sure to transport you to another world if you're struggling to make it through the final hours of the fast.
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