A New York Times review of Devin Murphy’s recent debut novel The Boat Runner states that the book is “deadly earnest, full of discomfiting nuance.” It is a first-person narrative of a young Dutchman still in his teens, Jacob Koopman, who becomes a Nazi soldier during the Second World War, and his grappling with the guilt of his decisions and actions during and after the war.
Murphy’s actual family connections and his past work experience need to be understood behind his motivation in writing the book. His mother was born in Nazi- occupied Holland in 1942. The author married into a Jewish family, and his children are being raised Jewish. His wife’s two living grandfathers are both American veterans of the Second World War. Murphy himself worked at sea for three plus years in his early twenties.
Now an assistant professor of creative writing at Bradley University, Murphy has crafted a book that explores Jacob’s odyssey into the hellish life that he chose for himself. It’s a fast-paced story, describing Jacob’s harrowing adventures. But one ponders the question that the New York Times reviewer asks at the end of her review: “Are there actions that simply remain unforgivable?”
Devin Murphy will be speaking at Emanuel Congregation, 5959 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago on Sunday morning, January 14 at 10:15. The event is free and open to the public. Copies of the book will be available for purchase. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan on attending.
Berit Engen will be speaking and presenting some of her remarkable tapestries at Emanuel Congregation on Sunday morning, November 19, at 10:15, the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday. These miniature tapestries were inspired by a musical setting to “Modim,” a Hebrew prayer of thanksgiving, that was composed by the Norwegian-born cantor Cavid Brandhandler. This event is free and open to the public. Emanuel is located at 5959 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago.
Berit who was born and raised in Oslo, Norway and began weaving as a child, and now she combines this ancient craft with the centuries-old tradition of expounding on Jewish texts, (in Hebrew, drash.) Her ongoing project, begun in 2007, consists, to date, of about 500 original pieces.
While referencing Jewish subject-matter, her pieces often display a Scandinavian sensibility, as found in Nordic nature, architecture and design. She compares her small-scale tapestries to Japanese Haiku: formally constrained by a miniature size – imagistic and focused, yet elusive.
Eighty-six of her tapestries were shown in a solo exhibition at the Spertus Institute in Chicago, 2012-2013. In 2015, she was selected to participate in the Midwest Jewish Arts Lab (MJAL), a one-year project of Chicago-based Jewish artists, organized by Spertus Institute and funded by the Covenant Foundation, fostering Jewish art and identity and culminating in the group exhibition, “Voices of Wisdom,” 2016-2017. Three tapestries are part of the permanent collection of the Chicago History Museum, and her “Woof and D’rash” project has been featured in Lilith magazine. She is a founding member of Jewish Artists Collaborative Chicago, (JACC).
A member of Oak Park Temple in Oak Park, Berit teaches children and adults Biblical Hebrew, prayers, and cantillation.
Congregation Emanuel, located on the Lakefront, at 5959 N. Sheridan is launching its 2017-18 Speakers Series this fall. Programs are free and open to the public. This year’s series is dedicated to Emanuel’s late Rabbi Herman Schaalman, whose insatiable intellectual curiosity inspired so many over the years.
The first speaker is New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Eig, whose recently published book, Ali: A Life is being acclaimed as the most definite biography of the iconic Muhammad Ali. The author interviewed more than five hundred people who knew Ali, giving us a powerful and compelling personal account of the man known as “The Greatest.” Mr. Eig’s presentation is Sunday, September 24, at 11:15 am.
On Sunday, October 8 , Dean Jobb, the author of Empire of Deception, speaks at 10:15 am. The book is subtitled “The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation.” That master swindler, back in Chicago’s Jazz Age, was Congregation Emanuel member, Leo Koretz, whose investors included at least six prominent Emanuel members as well as congregational Rabbi Felix Levy. Please rsvp by emailing me at email@example.com for either one or both of these events.
Ethan Michaeli is the next featured presenter this year in Emanuel Congregation’s Sunday morning lecture series on April 30 at 10:30. Mr. Michaeli, is the author of the highly acclaimed book The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America, which was named as a Notable Book of 2016 by the New York Times. His presentation at Emanuel however will focus on the new book he is writing entitled Twelve Tribes: Promise and Peril in the New Israel. In this book he weaves together “the personal histories of Holocaust survivors, tech millionaires, Torah scholars, Ethiopian immigrants, Russian refuseniks, West Bank settlers and Palestinians into a narrative of social and political change.” The lecture is free and open to the public. Emanuel Congregation is located at 5959 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago’s Edgewater community.
As a teenager in 1961, I remember the profound impact reading the novel Mila 18 by Leon Uris had on me. The Holocaust had ended just sixteen years earlier, and as a young Jew born and raised in America, I wondered why six million European Jews seemingly went so docilely to their death. Mila 18, based on the story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and its heroic leader Mordecai Anielewicz, provided a counter narrative to the myth of the Jews not fighting back against the Nazis.
My friend, the educator Dr. Joyce Witt, has spent much of her professional life studying Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Joyce was chosen as a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow in 1997 and was named to the Museum’s Regional Education Corps in 2005. She is presently teaching a course in Holocaust Studies at the Melton School of Adult Jewish Studies.
Joyce will be giving an interactive presentation, followed by a discussion, on Mordecai Anielewicz and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Sunday morning, March 5, at 10:30 am, at Congregation Emanuel in Chicago, 5959 North Sheridan Road. The event is free and open to the public.