Levy, Naomi. Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul. Flatiron, 2017. ISBN 978-1250057266 352 pp. $
When Rabbi Naomi Levy–one of the first women to graduate from the Jewish Theological Seminary in NY–comes across a letter Einstein wrote in response to a grieving rabbi upon the death of his eldest son at age eleven, she spends what feels like three years searching for the original letter that Robert S. Marcus wrote to the notable scientist. Throughout her search, she relays the story of Marcus, who was a military Jewish chaplain through WWII and liberated nearly 1,000 boys from the concentration camp at Buchenwald at the end of the war.
The book follows Levy’s own loss of her father at a young age, follows up on the staff and some of the Polish and Hungarian children who came through a Jewish orphanage in France, including Elie Weisel.
Levy’s journey reflects on meditation, music, and prayer; friendship, love and forgiveness; parenting, finding your path, meeting and listening to your soul. Through narrative and parable, she recounts life lessons and concludes each chapter with a blessing that is part mantra and part intention. She touches on several stories shared in Why Judaism Matters, and while I find both books compelling, if I could only have one, it’s Levy’s that I will return to as life moves along.
Rosove, Rabbi John. Why Judaism Matters: Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to His Children and the Millennial Generation. Jewish Lights, 2017. ISBN 978-1683367055 240 pp. $
This collection of beautifully written letters–from a clearly started point of view– covers parables and advice regarding atheism, interfaith marriage, creating a Jewish life and home, developing an ethical will, and an overview of Zionism (and why we should care about Israel). As someone in process of converting, I found it very helpful (and a better selection than my rabbi’s recommendation of Prager’s Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, which is more conservative and dated, and directed to Christians and converts). The notes at the end are helpful in documenting Rosove’s research and a jumping off point for further study.
My takeaways were that Jewish tradition feeds the mind and nourishes the soul; that listening to one another’s heartache is imperative; godliness is in every soul; our yearning to connect, to belong, to something greater than ourselves= accountability and responsibility for every other living soul; the opposite of peace is truth, not war; the value of creating your home as a sanctuary and the Shabbat as a sanctuary within that; the importance of working hard to retain relationships (something I personally need to improve at); a reminder to make the most of my precious life; to define success as to how I am embodying virtues of wisdom, strength, wealth and respect; choosing optimism (gratitude is a continuing theme in my life!) and how optimism leads to activism; choosing to forgive to let go of encumbrances from the past.
It also provided me with an excellent list of questions to ask my prospective partner about sex, money, power, and family dynamics, expectations, faith, God religion and culture.
I am struggling with all of the details of Israeli/Palestinian conflict. My view is that I should value a Jewish democratic state and that Jews need a place to call their own. Embody peace, justice and compassion; ask questions and be vocal was the advice imparted.
The book concludes with a blessing and a brief dialogue between Rosove’s two sons (whom the letters are addressed to) and how the book changed and moved them.
Lew, Alan. This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. Little, Brown 2003. ISBN 978-0316739085 288 pp. $26
An overview of the High Holidays that lead me to a lot of soul searching, apologies and forgiveness, this book about the Days of Awe offers Jews a clearing understanding of the path from repentance to forgiveness starting not with Rosh Hashana, but actually back in Elul with Tisha B’Av. Rabbi Alan lew is insightful, profound and accessible. I would even argue it has reach beyond a traditional Jewish audience to anyone seeking to make meaning and develop a practice of apology and seeking forgiveness.
“What is your role in the recurring disaster(s) in your life?” is a central question in the book that I personally keep returning to; this is an annual re-read.
Purchase where there is a population to benefit from this book.