Vanessa L. Ochs is a UVA associate professor of religious studies and author most recently of Sarah Laughed and Inventing Jewish Ritual, which won the 2007 National Jewish Book Award in the category of contemporary Jewish life and practice.
What book have you read the most times?
There are a few books I keep reading, and I occasionally assign them to my students, so as to justify the inordinate amount of time I spend with them. One is the heartbreaking The Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum and the other is the ever-delightful collected food writings of M.F.K. Fisher.
What neglected or lost classic would you recommend to readers?
If you’ve seen Fiddler on the Roof as a play or movie, you may think you know the stories by Shalom Aleichem, usually translated from the Yiddish as “Tevye the Dairyman.” But the stories, written in Yiddish, are far richer, smarter and more ironic and heartbreaking than the dramatic versions, which render the story of life in a period of social and political change far too simplistic and sentimental.
What are you reading now?
The poetry of Yehuda Amichai and Yosef Yerushalmi’s history of the Passover Haggadah.
Is there a particular book that you can say changed your life?
That would be Number Our Days by Barbara Myerhoff. From her writing about elderly Jews in Venice, California, I learned I could be an ethnographer of the community I inhabited, and learned that fine journalism and engaged anthropology might be one and the same thing.
Where is your favorite place to read?
Early in the morning, on my living room couch (provided my cat makes space for me), under a super-bright halogen lamp.