There are many variables that go into the choice of the One Book, One Jewish Community selection. The Implementation Team looks for a book that is enjoyable and accessible and offers an insight into one or more Jewish values or concepts or a particular Jewish cultural world. To that end, we have, in the past, read books about the Jews of Iraqi Kurdistan (My Father’s Paradise); Israel (The Wanting); Yemen (Henna House) and the Soviet Union (A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka). To learn about Jews of other times in history we have read about the Spanish Inquisition (By Fire, By Water); Jews in the American Civil War (All Other Nights) and the Holocaust (The List). We immersed ourselves in the cuisine of Israel with last our 2017 choice, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.
Last year, the Team chose a book that they knew would lend itself to a fabulous array of connected programming over the course of the book year. And After the Fire is superficially about a lost cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach….but that just barely scratches the surface of the many themes explored in this book. We hope you will take the opportunity to read this special book.
OBOJC Resource Guide (Updated 1/24/19)
This guide will be updated regularly throughout the book year.
Please check back periodically for additional information.
To read an informative and provocative article about the history of and contemporary issues associated with the celebration of Hanukkah written by Michael David Lukas, click on The Hypocrisy of Hanukkah
Deciphering the Cairo Geniza
Scholars at the University of Pennsylvania are working on a project to sort and transcribe the documents discovered in what came to be called the Cairo Geniza.
The team is using an innovative new website, built in collaboration with on online platform designed for crowd-sourced research, to analyze digitized text written in five Hebrew and three Arabic scripts!
To learn more about the Cairo Geniza and this fascinating project, go to http://upenn.library.upenn.edu/html/geniza
More Recommended Reading
Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza
One May day in 1896, at a dining-room table in Cambridge, England, a meeting took place between a Romanian-born maverick Jewish intellectual and twin learned Presbyterian Scotswomen, who had assembled to inspect several pieces of rag paper and parchment. It was the unlikely start to what would prove a remarkable, continent-hopping, century-crossing saga, and one that in many ways has revolutionized our sense of what it means to lead a Jewish life.
In Sacred Trash, MacArthur-winning poet and translator Peter Cole and acclaimed essayist Adina Hoffman tell the story of the retrieval from an Egyptian geniza, or repository for worn-out texts, of the most vital cache of Jewish manuscripts ever discovered. This tale of buried scholarly treasure weaves together unforgettable portraits of Solomon Schechter and the other heroes of this drama with explorations of the medieval documents themselves—letters and poems, wills and marriage contracts, Bibles, money orders, fiery dissenting tracts, fashion-conscious trousseaux lists, prescriptions, petitions, and mysterious magical charms. Presenting a panoramic view of nine hundred years of vibrant Mediterranean Judaism, Hoffman and Cole bring modern readers into the heart of this little-known trove, whose contents have rightly been dubbed “the Living Sea Scrolls.” Part biography and part meditation on the supreme value the Jewish people has long placed on the written word, Sacred Trash is above all a gripping tale of adventure and redemption.
Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice
Agnes and Margaret Smith were not your typical Victorian scholars or adventurers. Female, middle-aged, and without university degrees or formal language training, the twin sisters nevertheless made one of the most important scriptural discoveries of their time: the earliest known copy of the Gospels in ancient Syriac, the language that Jesus spoke. In an era when most Westerners—male or female—feared to tread in the Middle East, they slept in tents and endured temperamental camels, unscrupulous dragomen, and suspicious monks to become unsung heroines in the continuing effort to discover the Bible as originally written.
A Guide to the Perplexed by Dara Horn
Software prodigy Josie Ashkenazi has invented an application that records everything its users do. When an Egyptian library invites her to visit as a consultant, her jealous sister Judith persuades her to go. But in Egypt’s post-revolutionary chaos, Josie is abducted―leaving Judith free to take over Josie’s life at home, including her husband and daughter, while Josie’s talent for preserving memories becomes a surprising test of her empathy and her only means of escape.
A century earlier, another traveler arrives in Egypt: Solomon Schechter, a Cambridge professor is hunting for a medieval archive hidden in a Cairo synagogue. Both Schechter and Josie are haunted by the work of the medieval philosopher Moses Maimonides, a doctor and rationalist who sought to reconcile faith and science, destiny and free will. But what Schechter finds, as he tracks down the remnants of a thousand-year-old community’s once-vibrant life, will reveal the power and perils of what Josie’s ingenious work brings into being: a world where nothing is ever forgotten.
An engrossing adventure that intertwines stories from Genesis, medieval philosophy, and the digital frontier, A Guide for the Perplexed is a novel of profound inner meaning and astonishing imagination.
To read some scholarly works about Solomon Schechter, you might want to read Solomon Schechter: A Biography by Norman Bentwich, Published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1939. Other more current sources you may want to see are:
- The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader by Arthur Hertzberg, The Jewish Publication Society, 1997
- Great Jewish Personalities in Modern Times by Simon Noveck, B’nai Brith, Department of Adult Jewish Education, 1960
- The Life of Torah: Readings in the Jewish Religious Experience by Jacob Neusner, Dickenson Publishing, 1974
- Jewish Continuity in America: Creative Survival in a Free Society by Abraham J. Karp, University of Alabama Press, 1998
To help you get into the atmosphere of The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, here are some easy-to-make traditional Egyptian recipes.
Ta’ameya (Egyptian Falafel)
Falafel is native to the cuisines of Israelis, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians and Palestinians. The history of falafel goes back to the Copts (Christians of Egypt) who used to eat it during Lent, a period during which it is forbidden to eat meat. The word falafel comes from pha la phel (Φα Λα Φελ) which means “of more beans.”
2 c dried, split fava beans
1 red onion
½ c fresh parsley
½ c fresh cilantro
½ c fresh dill
3 cloves garlic
1 ½ tsp ground coriander
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 c sesame seeds
- Place fava beans in large bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let soak, 8 hours or overnight. Drain.
- Combine soaked/drained fava beans, red onion, parsley, cilantro, dill, garlic, coriander, salt and cumin in food processor; process to a dough-like consistency
- Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add sesame seeds; cook, stirring, occasionally, until toasted, about 5 minutes. Transfer to large plate.
- Shape bean mixture into balls. Roll in sesame seeds to coat.
- Fill a large saucepan about one-quarter full with oil; heat over medium heat. Fry in batches until golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. They should be crisp on the outside and soft inside.
- Serve hot or warm in a plate or in a pita with various salads and condiments.
Popular throughout the Middle East, this dish may have gained popularity throughout the region through the influence and spread of the Turkish-Ottoman empire. In fact, the word shawarma was said to have originated from the Turkish word “çevirme”, which describes the turning process of cooking the meat.
1 lb beef filet
1 ½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp pepper
1 tbls vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
Tahini (sesame seed) sauce
1 c tahini (sesame seed) paste
4 garlic cloves,minced
Salt to taste
Juice of 2 lemons (6 tbls)
½ c wter
t tbls chopped fresh parslely
1 tbls olive oil
- Slice meat very thinly on a bias. Then slice into julienne (narrow, long) strips.
- Mix together all the dry spices and sprinkle on top of the meat. Add the oil and stir. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. Heat a frying pan or wok and, when hot, add a little oil to heat.
- When oil is hot, add some of the meat to form a single layer so it is not crowded in the pan. Continue to fry on the hottest heat possible (without burning) and turn the meat so it cooks quickly, about 2 minutes. Remove and put on a plate. Repeat until all the meat is cooked.
- Add onions and tomatoes to the pan, cook for 30 seconds. Add the cooked meat and mix together.
- To make Tahini Sauce: combine tahini paste, garlic, lemon juice and salt inblender or food processor and process until smooth. Gradually blend in water to reach desired consistency – mixture should be thick for a dip and thin for a topping.
- Add tahini to small bowl – stir in parsley. For dips, use spoon to make a depression in the center and fill with olive oil. For topping, leave plain.
- Serve on pita with tahini
Koshary is the national dish of Egypt, although it isn’t actually Egyptian in origin. It is believed that Koshary originated in India and dates back to the time of British Colonization. The name is actually from the Hindu “khichri”, which refers to a dish of lentils and rice.
1 tbls vegetable oil
2 c uncooked white rice
3 c water
1 tsp salt
1 (16-oz) package uncooked elbow macaroni
1 c lentils, soaked in water
½ tsp salt
1 tbls vegetable oil
5 onions, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbls distilled white vinegar
4 ripe tomatoes, diced
½ c tomato paste
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 ½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional_
- Heat 1 tbls vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in rice; continue stirring until rice is coated with oil, about 3 minutes. Add 3 c water and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed, 20-25 minutes.
- Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Stir in the macaroni and return to a boil. Cook the macaroni uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain well in a colander. Return macaroni to cooking pot, cover and keep warm.
- Soak lentils for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse; drain again. Bring 2 c water to a boil in a pot and stir in lentils. Bring to a boil cover and reduce heat to low. L Simmer until lentils are tender, 15-20 minutes. Stir in ½ tsp salt.
- Heat 1 tbls vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the onions in the oil, stirring often, until they begin to brown, 10-15 minutes. Onions should be a nice caramelized brown color. Add garlic and cook another minute. Remove from pan, drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
- Place half of the onion mixture into a saucepan. Mix in the vinegar. Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, black pepper, 2 ½ tsp salt, cumin, and cayenne, if desired. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about 12 minutes.
- Serve by placing rice, then macaroni and then the lentils on a serving plate. Sprinkle with some of the browned onions and top with tomato sauce.
This traditional Egyptian breakfast dish is actually eaten at all times of the day, in the fields, in village houses and in the cities. Restaurants serve it as a mezze (selection of small dishes served to accompany alcoholic drinks, often served at the beginning of multi-course meals) and it is sold on the streets. Historically, ful medames is probably as old as the Pharaohs.
2 c small fava beans, soaked overnight and left unpeeled
Salt and pepper
1/3 c chopped flat-leaf parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
3 lemons, quartered
4-6 cloves garlic, crushed
Chili pepper flakes
NOTE: As the cooking time varies depending on the quality and age of the beans used, it is a good idea to cook them in advance and reheat them when you are ready to serve.
- Drain the fava beans and cook in fresh, unsalted water in a large saucepan with the lid on, until tender, adding water to keep them covered an salt when the beans have softened, about 2 – 2 ½ hours of gentle simmering. When the beans are soft, let the liquid reduce. It is customary to take out a ladle or two of the beans and mash them with some of the cooking liquid then stir back into the beans to thicken the sauce.
- Serve the beans in soup bowls, sprinkled with chopped parsley and accompanied by pita.
- Pass around the dressing ingredients for people to help themselves.
- Optional garnishes:
- Hard boiled eggs
- Chopped cucumber-and-tomato salad
- Thinly sliced onions or scallions
- Tahini sauce
- Tomato sauce
Want to learn more about the Cairo Geniza? Go to https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~petersig/genizah/
For more information about the University of Pennsylvania and their Cairo Geniza research