The Unwanted is the extensively researched and heart-wrenching story of Jewish families who, deported in 1940 from a small village near Germany’s Black Forest to camps in France, desperately sought American visas. While some made it to America, others didn’t and ended up dying in Auschwitz. As made clear by Michael Dobbs, a former Washington Post journalist now on the staff of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, many of the barriers to reaching the United States were raised by American authorities amid heated debates about immigration policy in a political climate marked by isolationism, anti-Semitism, and moral cowardice. This is not just a German story but also an America one, with lessons very relevant to our current times.
A museum with a special mission, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, “rather than defining objects of Jewish daily life as art, investigates Jewish material culture in its own right.” Part of the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley, since 2010, the collection, founded in 1962 as the Judah L. Magnes Museum, “asks its visitors to rethink the role of materiality in Jewish culture, and its relation to art.” Now, with The Jewish World: 100 Treasures of Art and Culture (Skira/Rizzoli, $55), readers, too, can savor some of these magnificent objects and reflect on their role in Jewish history. Edited and with commentary by Alla Efimova and Francesco Spagnolo, the director and curator, respectively, of the Magnes Collection, this volume presents full-color photographs of artifacts ranging from amulets to menorahs (one crafted by Dalí, another made of guns, bullets, and steel), family portraits to carpets, Purim plates, and Ketubot from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, crafted in India and Italy. Tracing a geographical and historical span as wide as the variety of its woven, painted, sculpted, and illuminated treasures, this catalog works like a mosaic, assembling the glittering pieces of its larger story.
In his interpretive biography, David: The Divided Heart (Yale, $25), Rabbi David Wolpe shows us the King in all his complexity, tracing his rise from obscurity as a shepherd boy through his iconic role in slaying Goliath and on to the regretful end of his life. We see David as a troubled father, a resolute military commander, a generous political leader; witness him making cold-blooded decisions before battle as well as composing music and poetry in quieter moments. David, which means “beloved,” did love his wives yet treated them cruelly; nor could he prevent tragedy and the death of children at birth and in battle, deaths for which he bore responsibility. Wolpe captures David in ways that add to your appreciation of him even if you know only the bare bones of his story or the Book of Samuel’s apologetic version of him. Wolpe’s achievement here is a fresh recounting of the David stories in ways that help us understand why the hardships of neglect can pale beside the challenges of acclaim.