Apr 3, 2017

Book Review: To Rise Above

NOTE: I was not paid to review this book. It is an unbiased and objective review. If you have a book with Jewish or Israel related content and would like me to write a review, contact me for details of where to send me a review copy of the book.

Book Review: To Rise Above, The Amazing Life of HaRav Dov Cohen zt"l A Journey to Greatness Against All Odds


To be honest, when I first received To Rise Above, I was intimidated. This is a thick book, close to 700 pages, and I did not know when I would have time to read that much. After putting it aside for a bit, I picked it up and started reading. At that point I could not put it down.


To Rise Above is the story of Rav Dov Cohen, his life, his memoirs, as written by him and his family, in Hebrew and translated to English. Rav Dov Cohen, or "Benny" as he is known through much of the book, lived a life that would be entirely unexpected considering his background, but the book is much more than just his life.

Benny Cohen grew up largely in Seattle, Washington in the small Jewish community there. All Jewish communities, outside of New York, at the time were small, but was sent, or perhaps "brought by his mother" is a better description, at a young age to Israel to learn in a real yeshiva. After various attempts he eventually landed in the Slabodka yeshiva in Hebron, and the rest, as they say, is history.

While the book tells its story around Cohen's life and from his perspective, To Rise Above is both about how Benny Cohen became Rav Dov Cohen and about many different aspects of history. Reading To Rise Above gives you a perspective on the history of Jewish America in the early 20th century, in New York and then Seattle, what travel and communication between the USA and Israel was like, what Israel, or Palestine, was like in the 1920s, specifically what Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Hebron were like, the history of Slabodka and what the yeshiva was like, both in Europe and in Israel, a firsthand experience of the 1929 riots and massacre in Hebron perpetrated by the Arabs of Hebron against the Jewish community, and how he and some other survived those riots, the rebuilding after the riots, and then his work in the Air Force, in government and in the rabbinate.

This book is humongous, both in page number and in history. There is just so much in it.

I felt myself particularly riveted, and even tortured, by his firsthand account of the 1929 massacre in Hebron. I have read about the massacres before, but never a firsthand account and never in such detail as described by Rabbi Cohen.

The truth is I am not even sure that is the most captivating part of To Rise Above. Different people might find different aspects captivating. The yeshiva graduate n me was enthralled by the description of the Alter of Slabodka, with whom he had a personal relationship, and the way the yeshiva worked, thrived and survived.

The pictures, the names of gedolim he describes as yeshiva bochurim in both Europe and Israel while talking about the yeshiva of Slabodka is fascinating, and he includes a wealth of pictures and copies of documents from every period he describes.

How his mother sacrificed everything for her little boy to get a real yeshiva education to become a talmid chochom. How little Benny Cohen survived and thrived so far away from home, with so little communication with his family, so lonely, as is described by notes from his diary, as he was so much younger than everyone else in the yeshiva and was one of the few American boys there...

The personalities he describes, the development of the Air Force and how he took a job as Chaplain in the Air Force to make sure there would be kashrus and Judaism there for those who wanted it, and then how he worked to improve kashrus in all public institutions and the battles he had to fight along the way.

The name dropping alone - not just as people in history, but as people he had regular dealings with - is mind boggling.

With the holiday of Pesach coming up, you will have plenty of time to read this recounting of so much of recent Jewish history, the last century or so, that it would be the perfect time to buy right now.

buy To Rise Above on Feldheim

buy To Rise Above on Amazon.com



NOTE: I was not paid to review this book. It is an unbiased and objective review. If you have a book with Jewish or Israel related content and would like me to write a review, contact me for details of where to send me a review copy of the book.



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