Authors Look Back Over Decade, Century of Change

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Historian Garrett Peck looks back at the highs and lows of the first ten years of the 21st century in “A Decade of Disruption.”

Decade to Make Your Head Spin
A neighbor down the street has a sign in their yard that seems to perfectly express our shared sense of exhaustion: “What a Year This Week Has Been.” But lest we think ours is the only time when people were feeling buffeted by one thing after another, Garrett Peck is here to refresh our memories.

In “A Decade of Disruption: America in the New Millennium,” he reminds us of the staggering number of significant events that happened in the “lost decade” of 2000 to 2010. You may recall that the decade started with a budget surplus and ended with a burst housing bubble, the dot.com meltdown, failing banks, auto makers in need of bailouts and, in the Great Recession, the most catastrophic financial crisis since the Depression.

The “aughts” also saw the terrorist attack on 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the rise of the Tea Party, which led to a dysfunctional and gridlocked government. According to Peck, though, “the single biggest mistake of the decade” was when the Bush administration “followed a false trail of evidence” that led to the invasion of Iraq. The Iraq war, he contends, was not only the “worst intelligence failure in US history,” but it also squandered the international goodwill that America experienced post-9/11 and destabilized the Middle East for years to come.

The decade also saw the rise of the Internet and social media, the election of America’s first African American president, and the transition of gay rights “from fringe to mainstream,” paving the way for the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and the legalization of gay marriage in the next decade. All told, it’s enough to make your head spin.

Peck not only sets out these “key events that Americans shared” in a concise narrative history, but he also offers a thoughtful and informed perspective. He obviously reads wisely and widely, and is able with clarity and logic to explain complex information (such as what led up to the collapse of the financial market) as well as to call upon pertinent experts for additional analysis. He is exceedingly fair, carefully totting up George W. Bush’s successes and failures and, above all, he is hopeful. Despite the 2016 election of  “the ultimate disrupter” in Donald Trump, he writes, “we must have faith in the American democracy that we will eventually get it right.”

Garrett Peck is an American historian who has written six previous books, including “The Great War in America: World War I and Its Aftermath,” “Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t,” and “Walt Whitman in Washington, D.C.: The Civil War and America’s Great Poet.” www.garrettpeck.com

Life at Haverim Ahuvim
Arnold Kestenberg got tired of somebody else sitting in the seat he’d paid for at the yeshiva, so he found a remedy: he and his wife Myrna started their own “synagogue of comrades.” Housed in a historical mansion whose original owners could no longer afford to maintain it, the Congregation Haverim Ahuvim becomes the heart of a community where all are “welcome to pray within its walls” and no one is “turned away for lack of a seat.”

Stories about several generations of members in an urban synagogue
intertwine in Yermiyahu Ahron Taub’s “Beloved Comrades.”

In “Beloved Comrades,” Yermiyahu Ahron Taub weaves together a “novel in stories” of several generations of families who meet and pray there, celebrate holidays and passages, cook latkes in the kitchen, and lovingly mop the black and white tile floors. We get to know them at their places of business—Eli at his store selling women’s undergarments, Sol at his grocery—and at school, where Mindl’s first-grade teacher decrees that she will now be known by the more “American” name of Mandy.

We meet Ida, who soothes frightful memories by wielding her cookie press, turning out cinnamon-scented sunbursts of dough that she never eats herself. We watch Yehoshua, the skinny boy who liked to dress in his sister’s clothes, grow up struggling with his heritage and his homosexuality. And throughout all of  the joys and disappointments, the “accommodations and agency,” the betrayals and bad marriages, the bonds and rifts between boyhood friends, mothers and daughters, and estranged sisters, “it always came back to Congregation Haverim Ahuvim, didn’t it?”

In the end, nearly a century’s worth of synagogue archives get packed away into a mere sixteen boxes—much as Taub lovingly condenses “the history of inextricably intertwined lives” into this graceful and hope-filled book. Let his characters welcome you into Haverim Ahuvim and share their lives. There’s a seat waiting for you.

Yermiyahu Taub is the award-winning author of the short story collection, “Prodigal Children in the House of G-d,” and six books of poetry, including “A Mouse Among Tottering Skyscrapers: Selected Yiddish Poems.” His poems and short stories have appeared in numerous publications and he has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize. www.yataub.net

Join the Folger Shakespeare Library for a virtual book club centered around novels inspired by you-know-who.

Folger Book Club
Missing your book buddies? Join the Folger Shakespeare Library, which is teaming with East City Bookshop for a virtual book club focusing on novels inspired by Shakespeare and the early modern era. Free and open to all, the club will meet via Zoom on the first Thursday of the month.

The debut book to be discussed on August 6 at 6:30 p.m. is “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, a futuristic story about a troupe of Shakespearean actors traveling through a post-pandemic countryside.

Register online at www.folger.edu/events (click on “Words, Words, Words: Station Eleven”). And buy the book at East City either online (www.eastcitybookshop.com), by phone (202-290-1636), or via email ([email protected]).