New books: The nearly forgotten world of Jewish folk healing

My father’s sister Sandra suffered terribly from lupus. After Sandra fell into a long coma as a teenager, my grandmother traveled more than 1,000 miles for an audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Despite the fact that she and my grandfather ran a pharmacy and spent their days dispensing medications, my grandmother turned to the rebbe in hopes that he could achieve for her daughter what modern medicine had been unable to accomplish.

I evoke this story because, although the image of the Jewish doctor may be a staple in our culture, we can easily forget that, for many Jews, scientifically based medicine has often shared the stage with healing practices rooted in religion and folklore.

70 years later, Ethel Rosenberg reemerges in a new biography and novel

Nearly 70 years after their execution for having allegedly passed atomic secrets to the USSR, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg remain a prominent presence in the American consciousness, perhaps because their story sits so uneasily in the American conscience.

British journalist and biographer Anne Sebba’s new and terrifically researched “Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy,” the first biography of Ethel to appear in several decades, uses previously unavailable materials to help shed light on the case and the lives behind it.

Looking back on Nazi era in newly reissued novels from 1930s

There is no shortage of fiction set in the Nazi era being written today, and most serious attempts sit atop an enormous amount of historical research. This is in stark contrast to two novels written in the late 1930s and given new life by major U.S. publishers this year.

These are works that did not emerge from excavating the past, but which sprang from the urgency of their moment as history was unfolding.

“The Passenger” was written in the aftermath of Kristallnacht by Berlin native Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz when he was in his early 20s.

Two new books burrow into Yiddish and the ‘language of thieves’

As languages have lives of their own, with arcs that dwarf the lifespans of their speakers, it feels fitting for Rutgers professor Jeffrey Shandler to give Yiddish the biographer’s treatment.

In truth, “Yiddish: Biography of a Language” does not trace the course of its subject in the linear manner we expect in a biography. But it anthropomorphizes the language just enough to allow for a richly illustrated profile, with chapters such as “Residence,” “Gender,” “Appearance,” “Personality” and “Life Expectancy.”

Short stories deserve our attention — especially these

While the short story is a classic literary form, it can also feel like a somewhat beleaguered one. A perusal of the bestseller list rarely turns up a collection of short fiction. And although it makes perfect sense that readers tend to prefer a sustained plot and more room for character development, what we miss in neglecting short stories is tremendous.

Following four successful novels, Nicole Krauss’ first story collection, “To Be a Man,” comes as a welcome surprise. Krauss is a profoundly skilled writer, and her way with words made even the stories that did not quite work for me worth the voyage.