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Durham author offers new view of Crusades in Rheinland

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historical fiction Crusades

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To benefit the Triangle Jewish Chorale, Marie Hammond will read from her new book "The Rabbi of Worms" (Resource Publications, 2013) and the Chorale will sing selections from Psalms. The free event begins 2 p.m., Feb. 9, Levin-Jewish Community Center, 1937 W. Cornwallis Road, Durham, N.C. Books will be available for purchase and the Chorale will receive a portion of the sales price.

Also Hammond will read at 7 p.m., Feb. 19, Ponder Auditorium, Croasdaile Village Retirement Center, 2600 Croasdaile Farm Parkway, Durham. This event is open to residents and the public. Books will be available for purchase.

"The Rabbi of Worms" is also available from www.wipfandstock.com or from Resource Publications, 199 W. 8th Ave., Eugene, OR, or by fax 541-344-1506.

The Rabbi of Worms is Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, or Rashi, an 11th century sage who studied in Worms before founding a yeshiva in Troyes. Hammond draws from historical documents and personal travel to create a compelling portrait of the medieval Jewish Quarter in Worms and of the teachings of this revered figure. These details undergird her writing and lend authenticity to the fictional story she sets against this history.

Her aim is to show the peaceful co-existence of Christians and Jews in Europe prior to the Crusades and the violent purges that split this fabric of cooperation.

To that end she introduces several characters and follows their fictional journey of friendship. Josef is a Christian orphan whose best friend and mentor is Jewish. Mosche is the young Jew who teaches Hebrew to Josef. Mosche's sister Miriam plans on having a family and managing a household but she is also determined to keep her learning in pace with the boys' studies. Through their studies the reader is introduced to Rashi's teachings. Josef learns what it means to live a faithful Jewish life. The differences and limitations are clear enough, but co-existence of all seems possible.

Part II shows a different and darker picture. This part of the book spares no words in describing the mass slaughter of Jews by Christians and the impossible choices Jews faced. Should they convert, pray for mercy, attempt to pass themselves off as Christian while secretly worshipping as Jews? Or should they resist, murder others, violate their own principles and morals in order to survive?

Once again Rashi's teachings provide answers. Josef rescues Miriam and her family and helps them settle in Troyes.

Jewish scholar Eric Meyers writes, "... Hammond's positive account of what might have been, had the teachings of the Rabbi of Worms been observed and followed, provides a timely example for all who care about interfaith communication and peace in the Middle East."

He adds, "In light of current developments, these events seem especially relevant."

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