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Discussion Guide

Reform Jews across North America come together in their own communities to read, explore and discuss social justice-themed books. RAC Reads, hosted by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, provides all of the tools necessary to help get you started

While Stephen Dubner's book is a fascinating memoir, the telling of a son's individuation and journey, it is also our story -- Turbulent Souls is, in many ways, the story of American Jewishness in the twentieth century. 

In The Provincials: a Personal History of Jews in the South, Eli Evans proves that American Southern Jews are not exempt from the complicated racial, religious, and political history of the region. Not surprisingly, their Jewish heritage often put them in a unique and unenviable position—somewhere between white and black, conservative and liberal, segregationist and abolitionist. Indeed, as Mr. Evans’ excellent work attests, the Jews of the South have as much glory and shame in their history as any other Southerner

Wall Street Journal investigative reporter Lucette Lagnado chronicles the story of her family from the early decades of the twentieth century in Cairo, Egypt, to their traumatic emigration to New York in the early 1960s. Along the way, the family must contend with the death of a child, womanizing habits of the patriarch, illness, and a revolution.

Primo Levi (1919-1987) was born into an assimilated middle-class family in Turin, Italy. His studies were interrupted by the realities of being Jewish in wartime Europe. He left the university where he was studying chemistry to join the Italian Resistance against the Mussolini's fascist government.

Jews: The Essence and Character of A People, is the latest work by prolific scholar Arthur Hertzberg. Along with collaborator Aron Hirt Manheimer, Jews is an attempt to define and analyze what it means to be Jewish in the context of Jewish history from Abraham to the present day.

I heard from a rabbi in our community that there was once a man who wrote down the Baal Shem Tov's torah - all that he had heard him teach. One day, the Baal Shem saw the man walking along, clutching a book in his hand. He said to him, "What is this book you are carrying?" The man answered, "This is the book that you wrote," and he disappeared. Later the Baal Shem gathered all of his disciples and asked them, "Which one of you is writing down my torah?" The same man stepped forward and handed over the book. The Baal Shem took a moment, glanced at the pages, and said, "There is not even one word here that is mine."

The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, a girl living in Nazi Germany whose foster parents provide refuge for a young Jew, Max Vandenberg, by hiding him in their basement. The novel is narrated by “Death,” characterized not as the usual grim reaper, but a sympathetic guardian of the souls of the deceased. The narrator refers to Liesel as “the book thief” because she steals a handful of books throughout the course of the novel.

Ernie Levy, last of the Just Men leaves this world clinging to his raw belief of a better world to come. According to modern Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, the zaddikim (usually translated as the 'righteous') actually means "those who stood test" or "the proven." (from Tales of Hasidim, The Early Masters, Schocken Books, NY, 1961). The generations of the lamed vovnikim, the thirty-six righteous men of the Levy family carried the burden of Jewish suffering. Have we seen the last of the Just Men?

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon is a compelling murder mystery and historical novel that uses the catastrophic events that overtook Spanish and Portuguese Jewry in the fifteenth century. These events mark an important period in Jewish history that is often overlooked.


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