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Posts tagged ‘Judaism’

Honouring World Religion Day

The wheel of World Religions.

Image via St. Edmund Campion Catholic Secondary School.

Today is World Religion Day, an acknowledgment that in these times of division between religions, we can choose to look at all faiths as paths to God. Many fundamentalist strains of many different faiths would call that heresy, but it’s hard to imagine a world that can be truly peaceful and just if we don’t have the humility to admit that the path we’ve found to God might not work as well for another person as it has for us. Essentially it’s a celebration of acceptance and unity.

It’s my personal belief that harmony starts amongst children, who have a natural tendency towards openness and acceptance. We can shut that down by teaching them that our way is the only right way, or we can encourage it by exposing them to other types of people and how they are different from – and similar to – ourselves. In that spirit, I’ve created a book list for families who want to help their children get to know how some of the world’s other faiths reach out to God.

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Barney’s Version

Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: Barney’s Version

Author: Mordecai Richler

Year of Publication: 1997

Genre Keywords: CanLit, comedy, family, Jewish humour, Judaism, marriage, murder, romance, satire, unreliable narrator.

Summary: It’s been said that whoever we are and however we live our lives, we’re always the villain in somebody else’s retelling of the story. Barney Panofsky, thrice married, has been accused of all kinds of terrible things in his time, including the murder of his best friend, Boogie. Now, estranged from the only woman he’s ever truly loved and drawing towards the close of his life, Barney decides to document – with no little sense of humour and a voice that jumps right off the page – his version of events. Wryly he recounts each of his three marriages, to creative and unstable feminist martyr, then a high-class and high-maintenance Jewish American Princess, and finally to his beloved Miriam. But the question of whether his narration is reliable hangs over the entire text. When he swears he never shot Boogie, can we trust him to tell us the truth?

Who’ll Love It: A narrator as unstable and unreliable as Barney Panofsky isn’t someone you’ll enjoy if you want your stories to progress in a strictly linear fashion and nail down the facts on all sides. That’s a pity, though, because he’s a blast to read. Fans of irony and subtle satire will enjoy Richler’s observations about life in the Quebecois Jewish community, referendum-era Montreal, and the family state in general. And if you’re interested in trying to figure out a mystery, the question of what really happened to Boogie remains up for grabs throughout most of the story.

Real-World Parallels: This is what it must be like to live in New York. Throughout the novel, references to Canadian news stories – from Trudeaumania to the 1995 referendum – brought the thrill of recognition to my reading. And that’s to say nothing of the little, everyday references to things that are part of Canadian life, like Hockey Night in Canada or the CBC (Radio-Canada to the Quebecois). Once I even recognized a street name from time spent living in Quebec! It’s icing on the cake for Canadian readers picking up Canadian books, and one of my personal favourite perks of CanLit: it gets where I’m coming from.

Anne Frank and Me

Anne Frank and Me

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: Anne Frank and Me

Author: Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld

Year of Publication: 1997

Genre Keywords: coming of age, culture, family, friendship, high school, history, Holocaust, Judaism, religion, self-expression, teen, time travel, war, World War Two, young adult.

Summary: Teen blogger Nicole Burns is far too busy avoiding her homework, adoring the class hottie, and wishing she could get her kid sister out of her hair; she doesn’t have time to think about things that happened in generations-ago Europe. So she’s not particularly invested in her teacher’s guest speaker, a Holocaust survivor, or their trip to a nearby museum’s Holocaust exhibit. But then the sound of gunfire erupts in the museum, panic ensues, and Nicole awakens to find herself living the life of a Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied Paris. Her new life isn’t so very different from her old one – a gorgeous classmate she adores, an annoying little sister called Liz-Bette, friends and family and all the rest. But she’s also got a yellow star sewn to the front of her coat, and as she watches her freedoms dwindle as the war progresses, Nicole starts searching for a way to make her voice matter.

Who’ll Love It: Who wouldn’t? I recommend it to any reader. If you didn’t find Anne Frank particularly moving or wondered why all those musty old historical stories mattered, this book has the answer: because people who lived those historical experiences are not so different from us.  Conversely, if you’re acutely aware of the lingering evil effects of the Holocaust and the suffering it caused, you’ll find this book deeply moving and hard to put down.

Beyond Books: The novel Anne Frank and Me is based on a play with the same title. Look out for it! Even if there’s no local theatre company bringing this story to life on stage, it would definitely be interesting to consider your own life in light of Nicole’s story. If you traveled back in time to Holocaust-era Europe, what would your life look like? Who would be your parents, teachers, friends, and neighbours? How would you survive? Or would you survive at all?

A community theatre performance of Anne Frank and Me.

Image via Zona Gale Young People's Theatre (ZGYPT) at the Portage Center for the Arts.

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