By Emily Rosenbaum
My book club journey began seven years ago when I went with Rebbetzin Henny Fisch of Etz Chaim Synagogue on the JWRP (Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project) trip to Israel as a madricha (youth counselor). A few years later, a non-observant woman who went as a participant wanted to go back as a madricha.
At that point, the JWRP had a rule that any participant could return as a madricha only if they did a year of Torah study. This woman was not interested in remote learning, like Partners in Torah or TorahMates, but rather wanted to learn face-to-face with a teacher. Henny asked me if I would learn with her.
My initial reaction was “No way! How could I teach Torah with a background of only a year of seminary and Hebrew school as a kid? I didn’t grow up religious and don’t have a day school background. I can’t open a sefer and translate the Hebrew. Why would I be a good candidate?”
Then Henny suggested that the woman and I simply read a Jewish book together. “Well,” I thought, “I can handle that,” and so we did. I brought in two other non-observant women and we made it a book club.
A few years after that, I created a second book club with a separate group of women. Both groups are still meeting until this day (there has been some turnover but mostly it’s the same core group, including the original woman, who still is learning with us many years after being madricha).
What started out as a favor has become a consistent highlight of my week and is a huge source of my inspiration. We almost never miss a week and even now (during the lockdown), we are meeting on Zoom to keep the learning going. I am truly grateful to have these book clubs in my life.
Over the years, we have read many books. Here are my top five picks. All women will benefit from reading them no matter where they are on the religious spectrum.
Angels at the Table by Yvette Alt Miller. A practical and uplifting guide to celebration of Shabbos (not just for beginners!).
Letters to Talia by Dov Indig. Incredible letters back and forth about Judaism between a frum Israeli soldier and a secular female teenage kibbutznik in the 1970s.
On Judaism by Emanuel Feldman. Back and forth conversation between R. Feldman and a secular acquaintance (playing devil’s advocate) about the fundamentals of all the major categories of Jewish life.
The Beast that Crouches at the Door by R. David Fohrman. An incredibly thought-provoking analysis of the story of Adam and Eve and of Cain and Abel.
Let’s Face It! The 8 Essential Challenges of Living by Tzipporah Heller. She guides readers in how to deal with suffering, happiness, anger, self-change, relationships, death, prayer and parenting.
Emily Rosenbaum was raised in Silver Spring, MD, and lives in Jacksonville, FL. She graduated with a degree in education and religion from Barnard College. Emily has been teaching high school math in Jewish girls’ schools for nine years and running her book clubs for five. She teaches math at Jacksonville Torah High School (now part of Torah Academy), where she loves every minute of it! She is married to Elliott and they have four children.