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The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt

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Rabbi's daughter Ellenson's wide-ranging and thought-provoking collection touches on familiar-mothers, marriage and bacon-as well as less obvious, but equally potent, sources of guilt. In one of the strongest essays, Susan Shapiro explains how she's done what most women only fantasize about: declined social engagements and cut back on granting favors so she can do what she wants. It's selfish, she admits, but she's happier. Binnie Kirshenbaum manages to retain a sense of humor despite being greeted with "When are you going to grow up and have a family?" whenever talk turns to her childlessness. Humor is a staple for many of Ellenson's writers, among them Lori Gottlieb, whose "loving but lethal" mother seems to have been pulled from central casting. But Gottlieb captures the right tone, and the result is fresh and funny. As is Sharon Brous' recollection of being reprimanded by a religious Jew for placing an unopened bottle of salad dressing on a kitchen counter. "I was mortified and guilt-ridden-as much by my stupid mistake as by the fact that I didn't understand half the words she was shouting at me." Her solution: she is now a rabbi. That won't work for everyone, but given the variety of approaches offered here, most readers will find something to help assuage their guilty consciences.


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Even if you have only a passing familiarity with Judaism, guilt is probably the last thing you'd think Jews need instructions for. Stereotypes of domineering parents (but especially mothers) and significant others (especially wives) are everywhere, reinforcing the caricature of Jews as a people defined by guilt. True or not, the experience of guilt resonates with enough members of the so-called “tribe” to deserve some formal exploration. More a guided tour than a how-to book, The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt offers up a collection of essays where the G word serves as a starting point for personal reflections about Jewish identity and culture. Not surprisingly, the book is strongest when its contributors’ examinations of their choices and relationships transcend the whole cute guilt device.

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Edited by Ruth Andrew Ellenson, The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt is an anthology featuring work by authors including Aimee Bender. It won a National Jewish Book Award in 2005. Ms. Ellenson and her father, Rabbi David Ellenson, won the National Jewish Book Award in the same year—the only father and daughter to do so since Abraham Joshua Heschel and Susannah Heschel. The book has been chosen by Hadassah as a 2007 book group selection.

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