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

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. Though the program is no longer active, we have archived the complete list for your perusal. All members of Women’s League and affiliated sisterhoods are welcome to use these study guides, available as PDFs by clicking on the book titles.

Members and sisterhoods can join WL Reads here!

For the most recent list of book recommendations from our members, check out Book Corner.

2014

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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. 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, covering a wide spectrum of issues such as eating disorders, Alzheimer’s and other illnesses, personal relationships, divorce, and death.

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FICTION
A Guide for the Perplexed
by Dara Horn

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.  The story follows complex 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 first discovered  by Solomon Schechter). Dara Horn’s Eternal Life was a WL Reads Book Club pick in 2018. Listen to our interview with the author here!

2013

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. 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.

2012

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One More River
by Mary Glickman

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.

2011

FICTION
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.

NON-FICTION
Cleopatra: A Life
by Stacy Schiff

Before the Sopranos and the Borgias, there were the Ptolemies. 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.

2010

Pictures at an Exhibition
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.

2009

People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks

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.

2008

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

The Faith Club 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. This book 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.

2007

Disobedience
by Naomi Alderman

In 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.

2006

Those Who Save Us
by Jenna Blum

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.

2005

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.