| Voice in the Crowd |

Summer Reading

They don’t just want words on a page, but something that will reach inside them and make them feel, or think, or care


I’m not sure who, exactly, gets to decide that summer is over.

Is there some guy in a back room at Target who gives a somber nod, and just like that, “back to school” signs get pulled out along with skids filled with pencils and binders?

When do the emails from your child’s school (to remind you that you never finished taking care of registration or never signed the paper in which you pledged to also take a link for the school’s fundraising campaign and call not just your own mechutanim, but also their mechutanim for money) switch from “We hope you are enjoying the summer,” to “As we prepare for a wonderful new school year”?

For us, it’s pretty clear. The words “Rosh Chodesh Elul yihyeh b’yom…” are a fairly strong indicator that seasons — and mindsets — are shifting.

So allow this to be a safe space, a column in which these last precious days of summer — vacation, weather, attitude — live on.

Years ago, this magazine had a summertime minhag in which various dignitaries would suggest their recommendation for a summertime read, the idea being that the slower pace allowed for more reading time.

That minhag may no longer be in print, but friends often ask me for recommendations, and when they do, it’s always urgent. “I need a good book,” they’ll say, in the tone that some people use when they are hungry — it means they don’t just want words on a page, but something that will reach inside them and make them feel, or think, or care.

There are so many good books right here, close to home, and you don’t need a beach chair and cold drink for them. In fact, even if you start reading them during the days of Selichos, they will still be season-appropriate.

For starters, I think we can all agree that every Yid should read All for the Boss (Feldheim), one of those rare books that introduced so many of us to a new person, a new setting, a new era — allowing us to climb the fire escapes of the Lower East Side of a different time — but since it speaks of that very same Boss we work for, it feels familiar, too.

Reb Yaakov Yosef Herman is one of those Yidden whose existence everyone should know of.

I’d like to suggest a few books about other Yidden you might never have heard of — not the famed roshei yeshivah or revered rebbes — but people worthy of entering the hall of fame in your soul.

There was a Yid named Rabbi Menachem Mendel Perr, a talmid of the Slabodka yeshivah who came to America and served as a rav in Ozone Park, Queens. His son, Rav Yechiel Yitzchak — who founded and still heads Yeshivah Derech Ayson of Far Rockaway — wrote a book that’s understated and straightforward, as if he’s just another son sharing reminiscences of his father. But the book — available only on Amazon, called Tzidkus Stands Forever — is a glimpse of a lamed-vav’nik in a straw hat, with a goatee.

If you want to read about a tzaddik who did not have any beard at all, then read For the Sake of Heaven (ArtScroll/Mesorah), the biography of Rabbi Yom Tob Yedid Halevi. Rabbi Yedid went from being the undisputed chacham of a glorious kehillah in Syria — feared and revered, a man who outwitted and defied governments — to a man sitting quietly in the ezras nashim of a Brooklyn shul learning alone or with one or two others, like an unknown avreich.

The author, Mrs. Devorah Gliksman, weaves a detail-rich narrative that makes the reader feel like they’re in the courtyard outside the Knis in Halab. She is just as meticulous in describing the emotional turmoil of the people and times during an era not so long ago. I finished that book and wanted only to go say a kapitel Tehillim at the kever of Chacham Yom Tob.

It is an honest book — his son Rabbi Meir Yedid recalls the shame of those early years, with an immigrant father who was not just poor and underappreciated, but so, so un-American — and a book pulsating with a quiet reverence, the end of the story tying up a million loose ends.

I can’t claim originality points for recommending anything by Rabbi Aaron Lopiansky, but even if you read his English sefer on Megillas Rus, you might have missed the earnest, reverent ode to his mother at the end. With characteristic elegance and depth, the Rosh Yeshivah expresses not just his admiration for his mother, but also gives a shiur on what a mother is.

The tribute to his father, in the back of his sefer on the Yamim Tovim called Timepieces (Eshel Publications), is poetry: From within layers of love and awe comes forth the glory of Lita and the “ordinary balabos” that its yeshivos aimed to produce.

The editor of Der Israelit newspaper of a century ago was named Reb Selig Shachnowitz and he wrote in his native German. Some of his books were translated into English, among them the story of Avrohom ben Avrohom, ger tzedek of Vilna (Israel Bookshop Publications).

This is a story with mesorah, a story retold by gedolei Torah, a story about a man whose name appears on an actual kever — a kever in close proximity to that of the Vilna Gaon.

It’s also a name too many people are unfamiliar with.

So it’s true, we can sigh about back-to-school shoe sales and kvetch that it rained too much this summer, or we can stretch the summer for a bit longer. Take a book that won’t leave you feeling empty when you finish, but a bit more whole, like you acquired something new.

And when some tanned, self-satisfied person asks you a bit too loudly, “Nu, did you get away at all this summer? Where did you go?” as if to indicate that there is no way — even if you used all your credit card miles and won free tickets from Oorah — that you managed to get very far at all, you will smile right back and nod.

“Yes, I got away,” you can say, “thanks for asking. It was just perfect.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 974.

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