Category Archives: Books

Book Readings (and a Legislative Visit) in Baltimore/DC


Helena Cobban (left), Sarah Grey and me at the FCNL office

Had a wonderful whirlwind visit in Baltimore/DC, highlights included book readings in Baltimore, DC and Georgetown and a visit with the National Friends Legislative Committee to Senator Dick Durbin’s office to encourage him not to support a Senate defense authorization bill that sought to punish Palestinians for seeking non-member observer status at the United Nations. Thankfully, the amendment never came up for a vote.

While in DC, I also had the pleasure of being interviewed by blogger/journalist Mitchell Plitnick for Inter Press Service News Agency. (The full version appears on Mitchell’s blog.)

A snippet:

To create political power, leveraging people power is the best method, and historically, this has been shown to be the case. The fact that Israel is reacting so harshly against it shows its potential. When Hillary Clinton says 3000 new settlements are “not helpful,” that doesn’t get Israel’s attention. But when (Jewish Voice for Peace), (Students for Justice in Palestine) and church groups move to get corporations and holding companies to divest from Israel, that’s front page news in Israel. That is a sign that this has a great impact, when used in a smart and concerted way.

One of the big pleasures of the trip was finally getting the chance to meet Just World Books publisher Helena Cobban and my editor, Sarah Grey, both of whom have thoroughly become my kindred spirits.

Some more pix from my trip:


Book reading at Busboys and Poets, Washington DC (under the watchful gaze of Angela Davis)


Book Reading at St. John’s Episcopal, Georgetown

With Kate Gould, Legislative Associate for Middle East Policy at FCNL

Upcoming “Wrestling in the Daylight” Gigs in Baltimore and DC!

This Sunday and Monday (December 2 and 3) I’ll be making a quick trip through Baltimore/DC for some “Wrestling in the Daylight” book readings. I’m looking forward to my first “Wrestling” gigs outside of my native habitat of Chicago.

On Sunday I’ll be appearing at a program sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace – Baltimore at Space 2640, 2640 St. Paul Street at 1:00 pm (click here for the Facebook event page). That evening I’ll be in DC at Busboys and Poets on 5th and K at 8:45 pm  for reading sponsored by the DC Metro chapter of JVP.

On Monday, I’ll visit the Friends Committee on National Legislation, 245 2nd St, NE Washington (Wilson Conference Room) at 12:30 pm. And finally, I’ll speak that evening I’ll speak at St. John’s Church in Georgetown, 3240 O St. NW for a program sponsored by the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace.

If you live in or near the area, please drop by. I look forward to seeing you there!

Wrestling on Worldview

A program note: I’m going to appear on Chicago Public Radio’s Worldview to discuss my new book “Wrestling in the Daylight” with Jerome McDonnell on Wednesday, September 5, 12:00 pm (Central). Locals can tune in at 91.5 – everyone else can catch it streaming from the WBEZ website.

Chicagoans: the gala launch party for “Wrestling” will take place this Thursday, September 6, 7:00 pm at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. (Click here for the FB event page).

Hope to see you there!

“Wrestling in the Daylight” Launch Party!

Please join me in celebrating the publication of my new book, “Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity” on Thursday, September 6, 7:00 pm at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago.

From a recent review by Rabbi Rachel “Velveteen Rabbi” Barenblat:

Gwen Macsai

“Wrestling in the Daylight”… is Rabbi Brant’s self-curated compilation of his blog posts from Shalom Rav, so if you’ve been reading Shalom Rav, this material won’t be new to you. But I’m finding, as I read, that reading the posts in this new setting and context — curated by their author into a narrative which clearly shows the progression of his thinking over time — is a different experience from reading the blog. And Rabbi Brant has chosen to reprint some of the comments from readers as well as responses he’s offered to those comments, which gives the book a bit of the internet’s Talmudic multivocality (and offers an example of how one can host difficult conversations in a thoughtful and generous way — which can be hard to come by on the internet, especially on questions of Israel/Palestine.)

Andrew White

The choice to include commentary makes the book particularly interesting, I think. Some of Rabbi Brant’s most frequent commentors disagree with him deeply. Over the course of the book, one can see conversations unfolding. Sometimes they are quite heated. And his responses are always thoughtful and respectful, even as he resists attempts at derailing the conversation. Having hosted some conversations about Israel at this blog over the years, I have a sense for how difficult that can be.

Kevin Coval

… Rabbi Brant Rosen is one of my role models in the difficult but important work of coming to terms with the clash between the classic Zionist narrative (a story which many of us want to continue believing — I know I still yearn for it to be true) and some of the realities on the ground in Israel and the Palestinian territories. He models for me not how one would do this internal work despite his ardent Jewishness, but precisely of it; not despite being a rabbi, but precisely because his rabbinate calls him to take seriously the Jewish call to stand with those who are oppressed. And he has also taught me a great deal about how to disagree without falling into the trap of looking down on (or dehumanizing) those with whom one disagrees.

If you’re interested in progressive Jewish takes on Israel and Palestine, this book is worth reading, and worth having on your bookshelf to return to again.

I’m thrilled to be joined at our September launch party by local Chicago celebs Kevin Coval, (Poet, Co-Founder, “Louder Than a Bomb“), Gwen Macsai, (Host, WBEZ’s Re:Sound) and Andrew White (Artistic Director, Lookingglass Theatre Company), who will join me in reading excerpts from the book. We’ll also make plenty of time for Q&A, book signing and quality bookstore shmoozing.

It promises to be a wonderful evening – RSVP at our Facebook event page here.

“Rabbi Outcast:” Important New Book on Rabbi Elmer Berger

Recently finished Jack Ross’ fine biography, “Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism.” Highly recommended, especially for those unaware of the American Jewish community’s complex historical relationship to Zionism and the Zionist movement.

Rabbi Elmer Berger is not a commonly known figure in American Jewish history, but as the Executive Director of the American Council for Judaism, he played an important role in promoting alternatives to political Jewish nationalism from before World War II through and after the 1967 Six Day War.  Today Zionism – and the Zionist narrative of Jewish history – occupies an indelible place in the American Jewish communal psyche. But not long ago it was a point of lively debate in our community.

Rabbi Berger himself came from a classical Reform mileau that thoroughly rejected Jewish political nationalism on religious grounds. This ethic was made official Reform movement policy when, under the leadership of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, Reform rabbis passed the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform which declared, among other things:

We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore, expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any laws concerning the Jewish state.

Even for those familiar with classical Reform’s opposition to Zionism, it is startling to read that anti-Zionism was actually fairly widespread throughout American Jewish communal life at large. I had not realized, for example, that the American Jewish Committee – today among the Jewish community’s leading Israel-advocacy organizations – considered itself “non-Zionist” even after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

I was also rather startled (actually troubled) to learn how deeply the Zionist movement has influenced the evolution of American Jewish communal life. Ross points out, for instance, that the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, considered by many to be the most powerful American Jewish organization today, was originally formed in 1943 as “The Committee on Unity for Palestine” – an effort mobilized specifically to quell dissent over Zionism in the American Jewish community.

Although Zionism would eventually become sine qua non for the Reform movement and the American Jewish community at large, Rabbi Berger’s leadership through the American Council for Judaism continued to provide an important dissenting voice in our community until his death in 1996.  As the the American Jewish community grows increasingly ambivalent to its relationship to Israel and Zionism – and as we witness more and more the sorrows wrought by a Judaism that puts its faith in nation-statism, militarism and land-acquisition, Berger’s vision and leadership feels more relevant than ever. (Jack Ross thoughtfully discusses these implications in depth in his Epilogue.)

Jack packs an enormous amount of material into a relatively short book – and those who are not somewhat versed in the history might find its density challenging. But his book is an important one and is well worth the effort. Click above to hear Jack speaking about his book during a recent appearance at the National Press Club. Pay attention carefully – like his writing style, he often strings his ideas together in something of a mad rush.  But they are critical and pertinent ideas indeed – and deeply deserving of our attention.

Footnotes in Gaza: Sacco’s Profound Testimony

I just noticed that Joe Sacco’s brilliant graphic novel “Footnotes in Gaza” has just come out in paperback. I can safely say without hesitation that this is the best book I’ve ever read about Gaza (and trust me, I’ve read a lot).

Sacco composed “Footnotes” as a first person account of his own experiences in Gaza. He begins by portraying his efforts to document the 1956 massacre in Khan Younis, in which the IDF briefly occupied the Egyptian-ruled Gaza Strip and killed 275 Palestinians. During the course of his investigation, Sacco learns about another, lesser known incident that occurred around the same time in the neighboring town of Rafah, in which Israeli forces killed 110 Palestinians in what should have been a standard “screening operation.”

It’s hard for me to convey the effect this book had on me when I read it last year. It unfolds in a myriad of layers: it’s a mediation on history, on war, on memory, and on the way the past seems to continuously, inevitably inform the present. Especially in this day and age, in which the 24 hour news cycle chops events up into disconnected bits, Sacco’s testimony on the events of 1956 are a critical reminder that Gaza’s current agony is only the latest chapter in a much, much longer story that still continues to unfold. In short: those of us who want to understand the Gaza conflict today must learn this history.

It took me a very long time to read “Footnotes.” Its narrative is dense, its subject matter is profoundly painful, and its depiction of violence so unflinchingly raw. There were several times I had to just stop and put the book down for a few days or weeks just to absorb what I had just taken in. A year after reading it, many of its words and images still resonate powerfully for me.

It’s actually pretty remarkable to think that a comic book accounting of two little known historical “footnotes” that occurred in this tiny strip of land that could provide such a deep and profound testimony. But trust me, it does. I can’t recommend it highly enough.