The Jewish Dog – Book Review

Every once in a while you come across a book that challenges you. It does not happen often and if you are part of the notorious millennial generation you probably don’t read that many books in the first place, but for some of us, books are still a sacred hobby, a preferred method for escapism and sailing through the pages of an actual book cannot be replaced by any other form of entertainment.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE movies and I watch more TV shows than all of my friends combined, yet, I can count on one hand the number of people my age that still read books on a regular basis and refuse to give up the ritual of holding a book instead of a tablet (although I must admit I’ve sinned on a few occasions by reading an eBook but to my defense, it was due to lack of availability of the physical book itself).

My preferred genre is usually Dystopian/Fantasy YA literature and I rarely diverse from these topics to anything else. Dan Brown was able to pull me to a different direction for a while, but unless you have some kind of a magical being in your book or a movie was made based of your creation, I will most likely won’t get to it in a timely manner, thus explaining my late discovery of “The Jewish Dog”, first published in Hebrew in 2007 and was read by yours truly translated to English in the fall of 2018.

I was browsing around in the English Books section at the Ben Gurion airport bookstore, hoping to find a light read during my short 4 hours flight to Vienna and came across a purple cover with a cute puppy on it, I had no idea what the book was about, all I saw was the dog and I was hooked. As luck would have it, my flight was delayed by 4 hours, while I was stuck onboard the plane, with no option of getting out of it and with nothing else to do but reading the book I just bought.

I was halfway along the book when the flight attendant saw me drowning in tears and was worried out of her mind that something bad had happened while she was in charge. In retrospect, I believe that she deemed me crazy when I fumbled to explain that I was reading a gutwrenching page in my book and couldn’t contain my sadness.

As a dog mom, I’m ultra-sensitive to animals’ feelings and reading this book had made me want to hug my doggy so hard she would start growling at me for bothering her with my overbearing love. If you are a dog parent as well, you will get it.

As a Jewish woman, I’m no stranger to holocaust stories, we are being taught from a young age the tales of our fallen family in the dark ages of World War II and just like many Israeli teens, I too, was a part of a delegation to Germany that explored the locations of our nation’s tragic history. I believed that there are no more stories that can be told that I’ve not heard of in some form a 100 times before.

I was wrong.

“The Jewish Dog” explores a little over a decade during the darkest of times, not only in Jewish history but also in human history, from the point of view of Caleb – a very exceptional dog.  The book describes its leading character as the smartest dog in the world but in my mind, all dogs think the way Celeb does or at least most of them do, so that his intelligence, loyalty, and understanding of situations is just the way dogs are supposed to be.

The writer tells the story in the most compelling and honest way, he does not sugarcoat difficult situations, he addresses the reality as it was and not as we would like it to be. Some passages are a bit hard to swallow, in their brutal honesty and directness. I even learned new things about the war, about the events leading to it, about the limitations that were set upon Jews before they were taken to the camps. I really thought that school, movies, and books had taught me everything about the Holocaust, but apparently, there are always new horrible things to learn.

You might feel a bit discouraged to read this book, it has some seriously dark moments and depressing feeling but it’s not all bad. Caleb had some good years in his life. He was happy, he was loved and he told some really funny stories. You will smile to yourself more often than you’d think, your heart will be filled with admiration and respect and despite it all, there is a light at the end of that tunnel.

Caleb changed quite a few names, families and locations in his short life and every one of them will teach you something else, about the nature of men and dogs.

For me, the biggest surprise is the author, as his story truly feels like a first-hand experience and yet, it cannot be, he is not 80 years old (he published the book when he was 38) so I can only assume that he has done his research and he has done it well as the book is filled with “old-fashioned” language and many Yiddish expressions that I have only heard my grandparents use.

As if it was not clear from the very first sentence I will clarify just the same, this book is most definitely a must-read, even if you are not Jewish, even if you had your fair share of World War II stories and even (god forbid) you are not a dog person, you should still make the time to get closely-acquainted with this inspiring once-in-a-lifetime kind of book.

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