SPIRITUALITY & RELIGION

The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between

Artisan. Oct. 2019. 320p. photos. index. ISBN 9781579658939. $36; ebk. ISBN 9781579659530. REL
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This delightfully irreverent romp through Jewish history and culture is the outgrowth of Tablet magazine’s podcast, Unorthodox, and considers itself the updated version of The Jewish Catalog (1973). As with Catalog, podcast hosts and coauthors Butnick, Liel Leibovitz, and Mark Oppenheimer claim this chronicle is not a comprehensive or exhaustive survey of all things Jewish. To that end, the biblical hero Judah Maccabee is “one kickass priest,” Jewish Community Centers are places “where Gentiles play racquetball,” and Long Island is “the other Promised Land.” Culturally, the authors make a convincing argument for Jews as “mediators of black music” and even responsible for the beloved Christmas tunes “White Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Bernie Madoff finds reference only under the generic moniker, shonde, or one who brings shame to the community, where he keeps company with Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner. On a more serious note in a compilation filled with humor, brevity is the signature mark of that which requires mention, but not glory—Adolf Hitler, Nazis, and Auschwitz’s Arbeit Macht Frei (“work sets you free”) merit a single sentence each.
VERDICT A welcome update on Jewish history and culture that is mostly just plain fun.

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