The general thesis of Rebecca Alpert’s new book, “Whose Torah? A Concise Guide to Progressive Judaism,” is that the old saying about two Jews and three opinions contains more than a seed of truth. Alpert cycles back to this aphorism regularly, using it as an organizing principle for her guide — but all the while acknowledging that there are more kinds of Jews, more kinds of Judaisms and thus many more opinions than ever before.
That the great foremothers of feminism, the first wave of the movement, included in their midst an outspoken Polish Jew is not a fact often revealed in what meager suffragist history is passed along. Amid the large-looming names of the women’s suffrage movement in America, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and the Grimké sisters, Ernestine L. Rose is a figure far less known, despite having worked with all these women and with many of the big names of the free-thought, abolitionist and feminist movements. Rose was unusual for both her time and place, but she was firm in her beliefs, blunt with her opinions and, most important, a fiery public speaker.
It sounds almost like the beginning of a terrible joke: What happens when a 29-year-old who has wasted much of her life gets a brain tumor? Except that instead of a joke, this is the premise of Elisa Albert’s new novel, “The Book of Dahlia”. Albert, author of the short-story collection “How This Night Is Different,” has taken on one of the most essential and universal questions: How do you face the end of your own life?