How do you tell the story of someone whose voice has been effectively lost from history?
That’s the problem I’m grappling with right now as I work on my first big non-fiction project, In the Land of Missing Girls. It will be the first full analysis of the still-unsolved disappearance of Dorothy Arnold, Edwardian-Era Manhattan socialite.
When Dorothy disappeared, her family destroyed virtually everything – her journals, letters, photos she’d taken with friends, etc. On one hand they argued they wanted to find her, on the other they were not just evasive with the police and press but frequently caught in bold lies.
There are thousands of newspaper articles chronicling Dorothy’s disappearance. There are hundreds of opinions about her, her family, and the case in general. But her voice is unreachable and I think that is even sadder than the fact that she disappeared.
So with the program I’m taking (starting in September), there’s no assigned reading list. This has its benefits (no late nights cramming before a class so I know what’s going on the next day) and its drawbacks (no deadlines and due dates imposed on me, forcing me to get my butt in gear!). But it means I can really focus on the titles that interest me, and the subject matter I’m most excited about. Apparently, people tend to pick one focus when studying Judaism – history, theology, or mysticism. Ever the history nerd, I suspect after I really develop a solid understanding of the basics my reading will gravitate towards historical texts and analysis.
So this is my on-going, self-imposed reading list. Titles that are purple and bold are ones that I’ve completed. If you have suggestions for books that really should be on this list, comment and let me know!
- “Why be Jewish” by Edgar Bronfman
- “Choosing the Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends” by Anita Diamant
- “To Be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in the Contemporary Life” by Hayim Halevy Donin
- “To Pray as a Jew: A Guide to the Prayer Book and the Synagogue Service” by Hayim Halevy Donin
- “Jew and Improved: How Choosing to be Chosen Made Me a Better Man” by Benjamin Errett
- “The Anguish of the Jews” by Edward H. Flannery
- “Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas: A Brief Guide for Seekers” by Arthur Green
- “The Genius of Judaism” by Bernard-Henri Levy, translated by Steven B. Kennedy
- “The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism” by Dennis Prager
- “Why the Jews?: The Reason for Antisemitism” by Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin
- “Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals” by George Robinson
- “A Code of Jewish Ethics” by Joseph Telushkin
- “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, its People, and its History” by Joseph Telushkin
- “Jewish Wisdom: Ethical, Spiritual, and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers” by Joseph Telushkin
- “The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living” by Joseph Telushkin
- “The Ten Commandments of Character: Essential Advice for Living an Honorable, Ethical, Honest Life” by Joseph Telushkin
- “Judaism” by Rabbi Jeffrey Wildstein
- “Why be Jewish?” by David J. Wolpe
My meeting with Cantor Mass was at 11am – I was so relieved to find that he was friendly, welcoming and happy to answer any and all questions that I had. (And I definitely had lots… and will have plenty more to come, I’m sure!)
I’m going to be starting the Choosing Judaism class in September. It’s not a “conversion” class in the strictest sense of the word… apparently in the past lots of attendees were already Jewish and looking to learn more about their people/history/religion/background. I think this is great, because I’ll be meeting a pretty wide variety of people when I attend.
The class runs from September 2017 to May 2018. I’ll get to experience all the major Jewish holidays during the program. If I still want to convert at the end of the process (I don’t have to commit ahead of time, but I am going into it with conversion in mind) I prepare an essay on my journey to Judaism thus far and stand before the Beit Din – generally a council of three rabbis – who will ask me questions and determine if I’m sincere and ready. If they decide yes, I go into the Mikveh (ritual bath) and come out a Jew.
It seems pretty simple, but I know it’s not – in that there’s a lot to learn and experience before I’m ready to take the leap. It seems rather foreign to me because growing up in a Christian (protestant) environment, you only had to say a little prayer and then poof, insta-Christian. They don’t require you to study, or learn, or understand what you’re getting into before you join. (I think the Catholic Church maybe does though? I don’t know anything about conversion to Catholicism.)
There’s no required reading list in this particular course, which is apparently something of an anomaly. But that’s okay – I’ll do my own reading. Oh and will I ever read! I already have about ten books coming in to the library near my place from other libraries in the city. I’m going to power through those before finding more. I’ll get what I can from the library, and buy copies if I really love them. There are some on suggested reading lists online that I can’t get out of the library so I’ll have no choice but buy them if I want to read them. But hey, I’m a big fan of book buying so this is no hardship for me. XD
I feel like I’m headed in the right direction, and it’s a good feeling.