The Avodah Blog

What Are You Reading?

Originally from Canada, Ora received her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Toronto. As a Corps member, Ora worked with the New Orleans non-profit Resurrection After Exoneration, helping wrongfully convicted men become advocates for change in the justice system following their release from prison.

When I lived in the New Orleans bayit in 2008-2009, I never felt the urge to visit the local library because our common rooms were always overflowing with books. These books, both much-loved and new, passed from hand to hand, sparking wonderful conversations and debates.

As the year winds down and we sink into the winter months, it’s great to keep our intellectual fires burning with books that motivate and educate, as well as give pleasure. Below are some of the books that have nourished me in the past year. What have you read lately that needs to be passed on? Share your thoughts and favorites in the comments below!

In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, legal scholar and civil rights activist Michelle Alexander argues that racial caste in America has not been eliminated, but rather, transformed. With clarity and compassion, Alexander demonstrates how, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the American justice system serves as a means of modern racial control.

Alan Lew’s This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation is the perfect antidote for those of us who find traditional High Holiday services somewhat lacking. Rabbi Lew focuses on the spiritual journey from Tisha B’Av to Sukkot, encouraging us to “acknowledge the dark shadows in our soul, accept our inevitable flaws, failings and transgressions, and emerge from the process fresh, whole and reinvigorated, having examined our lives, admitted our brokenness, forgiven slights against us and also forgiven ourselves.”

Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back, by Douglas Rushkoff, traces how corporations were invented by people, sold to the public as a better way of life, and ultimately created a speculative economy that is now collapsing under its own weight. Rushkoff illuminates both how we’ve become disconnected from our world and how we can reconnect to our communities, to the value we can create, and, above all, to one another.

Avraham Burg’s controversial new book The Holocaust is Over; We Must Rise from its Ashes has been called “a book that matters”. With compelling and eloquent prose, Burg, the Israeli-born son of Holocaust survivors, asks whether it is possible to remember the past, but to not be its slaves, and offers innovative views on what the Jewish people must do to move past pathology and achieve political and identity-based peace.

Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States, writes with a remarkable simplicity that transforms the dross of everyday life into gold. His wondeful 2005 collection The Trouble with Poetry contains the poem Bereft, below:

I liked listening to you today at lunch
as you talked about the dead,
the lucky dead you called them,
citing their freedom from rent and furniture,

no need for doorknobs, snow shovels,
or windows and a field beyond,
no more railway ticket in an inside pocket,
no more railway, no more tickets, no more pockets.

No more bee chasing you around the garden,
no more you chasing your hat around a corner,
no bright moon on the glistening water,
no cool breast felt beneath an open robe.

More like an empty zone that souls traverse,
a vaporous place
at the end of a dark tunnel,
a region of silence except for

the occasional beating of wings—
and, I wanted to add
as the sun dazzled your lifted wineglass,
the sound of the newcomers weeping.

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