JCCNS Jewish Book Month Speaker Series goes virtual

Jason Rosenthal, seen with his late wife, Amy, will open the series on Oct. 6.

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – With hurricane season, daylight savings time and the election looming just around the corner, we could all use an engaging and stimulating indoor activity to look forward to during these trying COVID-19 times.

To the rescue is the 2020 virtual Jewish Community Center of the North Shore’s Jewish Book Month Speaker Series with a line-up of 12 outstanding authors who will literally travel right into your living room and share their books.

“Books are a way into people’s souls. Arts and culture are a non-threatening way for people to have a Jewish identity,” Suzanne Swift, Jewish Book Council Director of Author Network, told the Journal. JBC provides resources and support to Jewish organizations, including the JCCNS.

From Tuesday, Oct. 6 through Sunday, Nov. 29, the annual JBM speaker series offers an especially broad selection of genres and topics, including memoir, history, fiction, humor and – of course – food.

JBM chair Diane Knopf acknowledges there is a silver lining to mounting the series during a pandemic. “There is no geographical barrier to participate in a virtual series” she said.

Jason Rosenthal, who will open the series on Oct. 6 with his memoir, “My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me,” lived in a romantic fairytale for the 26 years he was married to his bashert (soulmate), Amy, a writer and filmmaker until she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her last project before she died in 2017 was an op-ed piece for the “Modern Love” column of the New York Times entitled, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” expressing her wish for her beloved Jason to remarry. It was published right after her death, catching Jason completely by surprise.

His book describes his life with Amy and their three children (the “Rosies”) and how he coped with his grief and loss. Judaism played a big role in his upbringing and in the family he and Amy raised in Chicago (regular Friday night Shabbat dinners, Jewish day school for his kids). “Shabbat dinners meant slowing down from a hectic week. Simple. Quietly reverent. And always full of gratitude,” he told the Journal.

After Amy’s death, however, he sought comfort elsewhere. “I look more to other spiritual elements in my life; mindfulness, meditation and yoga come to mind,” he said.

Although he shares some upbeat stories about women who wrote to him after they read Amy’s column, his aim is to help others. “Grief is a beast and a non-linear process,” he explained. “Ultimately, my book is filled with a message of hope and resilience. One never ‘gets over’ grief; we move through it.”

Other memoirs in the series include: “On My Watch” by local author Virginia Buckingham, who was head of Logan Airport on 9/11 and bore public blame for “letting it happen,” and “What We Will Become” by Mimi Lemay, a woman raised in an ultra-orthodox Jewish family who supported her transgender child’s odyssey.

On the fiction stage are Lynda Cohen Loigman’s “The Wartime Sisters,” the story of two estranged sisters reunited at the Springfield, Massachusetts armory during the early days of WWII, and Anna Solomon’s Good Morning America Book Club pick, “The Book of V.”

In “The Book of V,” Solomon intertwines the individual stories of three women: a Brooklyn mother in 2016; a senator’s wife in Watergate-era 1970s Washington, D.C., and the Bible’s Queen Esther in ancient Persia.

Solomon, who grew up in Gloucester and whose mother was the first female president of Temple Ahavat Achim, reconnected with the story of Esther when she read it to her own children. She was struck by how many questions the story raised, especially about Queen Vashti (executed after disobeying her husband, the king), who had fascinated her since she was a little girl.

“What did she do that was so bad? That was the mystery I wanted to unravel,” she told the Journal. “I also wanted to explore how our notions of a bad and good woman have and haven’t changed over time, and how we continue to reduce women to types.”

Solomon was born in the late 1970s when, for some women, it seemed gender equality had been achieved. “But anyone can see that’s not the case today. I wanted to play around with what it means to experience life in a way that doesn’t match what you’re being told. These three women all take charge of their own story in some way,” she said.

She hopes the book’s call for more connection and less competition among women resonates with her readers. “Let’s judge each other – and ourselves – less and reach out across our supposed differences more,” she said.

Fans of nonfiction and investigative reporting will also be thrilled. Longtime BBC correspondent Raffi Berg will discuss his “Red Sea Spies: The True Story of Mossad’s Fake Diving Resort,” the story of undercover Israeli spies who staffed a luxury resort on the Sudanese coast and secretly evacuated thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Local author Eric Jay Dolin covers the history of American hurricanes from Columbus’s landing to contemporary climate change in “A Furious Sky,” and Kristen Fermaglich’s “A Rosenberg by Any Other Name” chronicles the impact of name change on American Jews. “The Last Kings of Shanghai” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Kaufman recounts the remarkable history of two wealthy and powerful Jewish families who helped shape China’s economic boom.

On a lighter note are Iris Krasnow’s “Camp Girls” (about the joy and lasting importance of the summer camp experience); Rachel Levin’s “Eat Something” (part comedy, part cookbook and part nostalgic journey). Alan Zweibel, an original Saturday Night Live writer who got his start selling jokes on the Borscht Belt circuit, shares his own stories and interviews with friends in the riotous “Laugh Lines.”

For more information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.org.