Orpah’s List: The Women’s League Book Club

Beginning in 2005, Women’s League initiated Orpah’s List to celebrate Jewish Book Month in November. Each year, a selection is made of a book of interest to Jewish women. The title of the Orpah’s List selection is sent to sisterhood presidents, together with a study guide containing questions for discussion and a note from the author.

Any member of Women’s League is invited to enjoy these study guides on her own.


This year’s Orpah’s Selection features  a work of fiction and a work of non-fiction.


Chapters of the Heart: Jewish Women Sharing the Torah of Our Lives
By Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell and Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer

In Chapters of the Heart: Jewish Women Sharing the Torah of Our Lives, 20 prominent Jewish women invite readers into their lives through their beautifully crafted personal narratives. In this collection of essays, each author analyzes a journey or experience through the prism of a Jewish text that she finds personally comforting or helpful. Through their respective points of view and backgrounds, they share their experiences as mothers, daughters, sisters, partners, and friends, contemplating the significant moments in their lives when Jewish tradition helped them to find answers to challenging questions. The essays cover a wide spectrum of issues such as eating disorders, Alzheimers and other illnesses, personal relationships, divorce and death.


A Guide for the Perplexed
by Dara Horn

Dara Horn’s latest novel is an engrossing story with many narrative layers. Josie Askenzai is a brilliant young software designer whose program, Geniza, archives events in people’s lives.  When she is kidnapped while consulting at the Library of Alexandria (Egypt), her sister Judith moves into Josie’s home to help her brother-in-law care for her young niece.  In this story of sibling relationships, not just Josie and Judith, but many other sets of siblings associated with the Cairo geniza (a depository for old and discarded sacred books and Jewish documents from the middle ages through the early modern era first discovered  by Solomon Schechter), the reader is drawn into a web of complex family harmonies and dis-harmonies.


The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore

The Mothers
by Jennifer Gilmore

After surviving cancer that had compromised her fertility, Jesse and her husband Ramon begin a frantic quest to adopt an infant. They enter the harrowing world of adoption agencies, intrusive questionnaires and manipulative biological mothers – a world in which they feel like participants in a house-of-mirrors beauty contest. Woven throughout the both heart-wrenching and hilarious narrative are their colorful extended families, who do not make their search any easier. As Jesse and Ramon navigate the unfair, random, fickle, and often de-humanizing adoption system, they develop new strategies for coping with each other and those around them. The story’s energy and pathos are surpassed only by Gilmore’s extraordinary gift for writing. Jennifer Gilmore is also the author of Something Red and Golden Country.



One More River
by Mary Glickman

In this riveting tale of a son’s search for his father – and the mysteries of his life – author Mary Glickman brings romance and depth to Jewish life in the small towns of the early- and mid-20th century American South.

Mickey Moe Levy is eager to learn about his father so that he can prove his “yichus” to his future (and very reluctant) father-in-law. As the story unfolds through flashbacks across three generations, Mickey Moe learns about his father and inevitably about himself. The vista of Southern Jewish history – amidst a tableau of social, political and cultural turmoil – is the background of this ultimately romantic tale.


The Invisible Bridge
by Julie Orringer

On the eve of World War II, a Hungarian student studying in Paris falls in love with a slightly older Hungarian ex-patriot whose past life is shrouded in secrecy. As they are caught up in the maelstrom of the World War II, they are forced to return to their homeland as the war comes crashing down on Hungarian Jewry, creating an uncertain future for themselves and their families.


Cleopatra: A Life
by Stacy Schiff

No she wasn’t Jewish — not even a little bit (and Elizabeth Taylor doesn’t count). Before there were the Sopranos and the Borgias, there were the Ptolemies. Out of this in-bred family of incompetents, psychopaths and murderers emerged a female monarch who was ruthless (survival mechanism) but politically intuitive and savy. Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile was a lone female ruler — in a world ruled by men — whose real life story is far more compelling than the Hollywood version. Selected by many national book lists as one of the outstanding works of non-fiction for 2010.


Pictures at an Exhibition Study Guide
by Sara Houghteling

A Parisian Jewish family is caught up in the inferno of World War II. Max Berenzon, the first person narrator, is the only child of prosperous assimilated parents – a successful art dealer, and a high-maintenance Polish-born concert pianist. After the destruction of the war, and the looting of most of Jewish Europe’s art, Max returns to Paris to try and reclaim something of his lost world.


People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks

Historical fiction is a very rich genre of literature; part history, part novel, it allows the reader to venture into other historic settings and times, viewed through the lens of a fictitious observer and or participant. A good historic novel brings history to life in a way that is engaging and enriching. Such is the WLCJ Orpah’s List selection, Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book.

The book has two central characters: Hannah Heath, an academically precocious but emotionally fragile manuscript conservator, and the manuscript she has been sent to evaluate, the Sarajevo Haggadah. While the manuscript is indeed real, and resides still today in the National Museum in Sarajevo, the story of its miraculous preservation by Jewish exiles from Spain in 1492 – through post-Renaissance Italy, fin-de-siecle Vienna, and war-torn Yugoslavia (in 1942 and again in the 1990s) are all the creation of the novelist’s imagination.


The Faith Club
by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner

The Faith Club is the first work of non-fiction that we are recommending for the Orpah’s List selection.

The Faith Club, written jointly by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner is a fascinating account of three women of the Abrahamic faiths – Idilby is a Muslim of Palestinian descent, Oliver a Christian, and Warner a Jew – who, on their own initiative, met regularly to see if they could seek a common ground within their respective religious traditions. In the aftermath of 9/11, their initial goal was to write a children’s book on these commonalities. But the three highly educated women soon realized that they must first learn to understand each other before they could pursue their original goal. The women grapple with a multitude of topics – from those of personal piety to a highly tense discussion over Israel-Palestine issues.

In addition to this immensely stimulating narrative of women engaging with each other on matters of religion and politics (sometimes comforting and sometimes confrontational) they offer extensive step-by-step assistance to other women who would like to create their own interfaith discussion groups in their communities. Included in an appendix in three languages (English, Hebrew and Arabic) are a conversation with the authors, a comprehensive guide for setting up a faith club that includes questions for discussion, and an extremely helpful brief guide to the basic tenets of belief of all three religions.

This is an ideal tool and opportunity for sisterhoods and their book clubs to engage in many of the deeply sensitive issues that confound and conflict us all as citizens of the world.


by Naomi Alderman

In this, her first novel, Naomi Alderman creates an engrossing story of the only daughter of an Orthodox rabbi from the North End of London who flees her insular community. She returns to London after the death of her father from whom she has been estranged, where her cousin and father’s heir apparent now is married to her former lover. Against the backdrop of communal gossip and disapproval, the three boldly confront the ghosts and complications of their intertwined lives.

Alderman’s lyrical insights and discussions of Jewish rituals and related matter complement the story and its fully imagined characters.


Those Who Save Us
by Jenna Blum

This is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

For 50 years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when they were liberated by an American soldier and went home with him to Minnesota. Trudy’s sole evidence of the past is an old photograph showing Anna, Trudy and a Nazi officer. Now a professor of German history, Trudy unearths the heartbreaking truth of her mother’s life.


The Singing Fire
by Lilian Nattel

Lilian Nattel weaves a riveting story of two Jewish women, immigrants from different worlds in Eastern Europe, whose lives intersect in the teeming and impoverished West End of London at the end of the nineteenth century. Early in their lives both women suffer betrayal and victimization, but their fierce independence and desire to transcend the adversity in their lives takes them on separate journeys to personal redemption.