Dan Jacobson Heshel's Kingdom.
Northwestern University Press,
243 pages, $24.95

In 1919, at the age of fifty-three, Heshel Melamed, the rabbi of the shtetl of Varniai and a Lithuanian Jew of great faith and will, died suddenly of heart failure, leaving his wife and nine children penniless and helpless. It was the kindest thing he ever did for them, says his grandson, Dan Jacobson— but for none of the grotesque reasons one usually says such things. Heshel’s dying was kind because the history of this century has been murderously cruel. Had the good rabbi lived, he and his family would, in all certainty, have stayed on in Varniai, and so they would have perished, as did the rest of their shtetl, in the summer of 1941, victims of the Nazis and their Lithuanian accomplices. But Heshel died—and in doing so he gave the gift of life: the family soon relocated to Kimberley, a mining town in ...

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