My Most Personal Review: Einstein and the Rabbi by Naomi Levy

My interest was piqued regarding Einstein and the Rabbi simply with this featured post:

And the book recommendation did not disappoint one bit, upon starting.

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe, ‘ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separate from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness…” –Albert Einstein

When Rabbi Naomi Levy came across this poignant letter by Einstein it shook her to her core. His words perfectly captured what she has come to believe about the human condition: That we are intimately connected, and that we are blind to this truth. Levy wondered what had elicited such spiritual wisdom from a man of science? Thus began a three-year search into the mystery of Einstein’s letter, and into the mystery of the human soul.

Back in late 2016, looking desperately for a way to reinvent myself or, at the very least, like when I heard myself talk, I overheard a lesson by Rabbi Reuven Fierman on TV that would come to change the course of my life over the next two years.

Sometimes something breaks through to you. It may be an unexpected feeling of ease or even holiness while you are simply enjoying a moment with a loved one. Or it may be the power of the words you read or a melody you hear, the power of being at one with nature, the power of praying in community, the power of a teaching, the advice someone gave you long ago. Suddenly the lesson you need to hear isn’t just washing over you—it hits you deeply.

At the time, influenced by every culture but my own, I was startled to hear a Rabbi state: “Not all that is written in the Torah is the real physical truth as it is,” which was eerily similar to what I’d told my mother before, who was by then already deep into returning to our roots. “The Torah writes what we can understand, not what specifically happened.” And that’s all it took to hook me in.

I started listening and delving deeper into the Jewish philosophies the Rabbi shared, which include lessons on parenting with joy, the truth of love, exposing classic writers and artists for the antisemitism in their works, positive psychology, the different levels of the soul, wartime, Holocaust culture, and so much more that came to shape all that I am today.

It’s become this phenomenon in every book I read or any lecture I listen to, where it all circles back to, “Oh, that’s like Reuven Fierman said in that one lesson.” Or, if I disagree, “Oh, that’s like Reuven Fierman said in that one lesson on how not to act.”

The past year I’ve delved deeper and deeper into the roots of Judaism, and I never thought it would come to save me as much as it did.

Have you ever wondered: Why do I say stuff I don’t agree with? Why am I so quick to turn to anger? How do I establish more meaningful relationships? How do I turn the world around me into a better place?

The other day, my mom viewed this powerful scene from the film The Edge of Seventeen that clicks everything together about sensitive souls stuck in a place that doesn’t accommodate them.

“And I don’t know how to change it” captures best the feeling of isolation I experienced throughout my growing up, like there was this invisible bubble serving as a buffer between me and the outside world with no handy tools to pop it; I could poke and move the bubble around but it was still very much there.

And I need to remember my contemplative thoughts about how I got through that stage, in case the memory slips away with time, so I’m writing this personal post. In a way I owe it all to my mother; it always comes back to my roots. My mom was the one listening to that fateful lesson by Rabbi Reuven Fierman on TV that I managed to walk right by as he said the puncturing sentence that stopped me in my tracks.

I’ve grown and learned so much about the power behind choosing to be who you want to be, thanks to these valuable and encompassing life lessons. AND IT’S AVAILABLE AT THE CLICK OF A BUTTON… FOR FREE.

My personal favorite lessons in Hebrew (Available for English listeners here and Russian listeners here):

You’re not unnecessary. It’s not all or nothing.

  • Being grateful and voicing it so the other side can feel it too. Saying ‘thank you’ because it is a recognition of the light of Hashem that appeared between you. Also: How do you appreciate what happens to you, not what actually happens to you? It’s not the reality that determines, it’s your absorption: http://www.meirtv.co.il/site/content_idx.asp?idx=22657&cat_id=3702.
  • The biological origins behind anger, the rush of adrenaline it provides, and identifying tiny triggers that sets your body on alarm, all of this revolutionized my perception regarding my anxious thoughts. You’re mind is essentially going through all these loops when little things happen that can spiral down to receiving the rush of adrenaline and anger of “I’m in danger.” So it’s up to you to research yourself in modes of anger: what triggers it (heat, crowds, etc.), what’s the root, how do you react… http://www.meirtv.co.il/site/content_idx.asp?idx=22668&cat_id=3702

And with all that off my chest, this is where Einstein and the Rabbi by Naomi Levy steps in. It took me quite some time to fully complete this reading journey, only upon reaching the chapter Knowing You Are the Right Man for the Job did I realize what kept me from reaching for this book throughout the month: the author spent half of Einstein and the Rabbi, talking about neither Einstein nor the Rabbi, but rather focuses on themes and ideas they represent.

I came to cherish this book for the vulnerable tales from the author’s personal life or from the people she encountered, so it took me quite some time to push through those chapters that are just full of advice. I do have to say, the author knows how to tell a story expertly and make us live through it, instead of revealing all the details ahead of time.

Key moments from the book that stayed with me:

  • Judith and her Buchenwald boys. This chapter made me blink back one too many tears, starting with this passage:

“The adults were expecting to receive pitiful, well-mannered children grateful for any drop of kindness. That’s not at all what they got. The boys were exploding with rage. They were suspicious of everyone. They were petrified of doctors, who reminded them of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous sadist of Auschwitz. The boys hardly spoke at all. They were violent, and they obsessively stole and hoarded food.
Many of the boys couldn’t even remember their names. Whenever an adult asked a child, “What’s your name?” he’d answer by calling out his concentration camp number. The boys all looked alike, with their shaved heads, emaciated faces, and the black circles around their cold, apathetic eyes. They didn’t know how to laugh or smile or play.”

There’s rarely any talk of the survivors right after escaping hell on earth, and this was a gripping account.

  • The author, Naomi Levy, coping with the grief for her beloved father.

“We went to visit the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I walked up to the wall and at first I just touched the ancient stones. Then I got closer and closer and I smelled it.
I smelled the Kotel. And the Kotel smelled like my father. It didn’t smell just a little like my dad, it smelled like my father’s armpit!
There I stood, eyes closed, with both of my arms outstretched, leaning against the wall so hard that I couldn’t tell anymore if I was standing up or lying down. Just lying there with my nose in my father’s armpit. And I began sobbing. The wall melted.”

  • The story shared of her friend Rachel that puts explicitly on the page how one moment can change your life, for better and for worse. From being the one judging people to suddenly “She said to me, “I was hated. I was the evil person. I couldn’t show my face to Jack’s family.” It’s frightening to what extent your actions can lead to accepting a pivotal turning point that’ll finally open up your eyes.

“She began praying the morning and night prayers. She told me, “I love that there are words I can say to guide me into the dream state—night is a scary time. And I love that there are words for waking when that harsh pain of returning to reality washes over you.”

This says so much.

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Historic Female Friends in Bosom Buddies by Violet Zhang, Sally Nixon (Illustrator)

Featuring 25 remarkable and inspiring female friendships throughout history, Bosom Buddies is an illustrated celebration of these empowering relationships between women. From the formidable Trung Sisters and friendly rivals Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf to powerhouse partners Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King, writer Violet Zhang captures the love, challenges, encouragement, and adulation of female friendships across time. With winsome illustrations from illustrator Sally Nixon, Bosom Buddies is a tribute to gal pals everywhere. Great as a Galentine’s Day gift or to share with your best girlfriend, just because.

Bosom Buddies arrived in the mail as a saving grace for the coming Shabbat, since I didn’t have anything left to read (save for dipping in and out of my worn copy of Fangirl) with my local library going through renovations.

Also perfect timing for this book, on female friendships through the ages, to land in my hands, considering the movie I recently watched that expresses the tiny nuances of a friendship between Marlo and Tully, which I rave all about in my film review for Tully here.

The first thing I noticed upon picking up Bosom Buddies is the effort put into producing the book: the feel of the paper in your hands as you flip from page to page and the clear jacket bounding it make for timeless pieces. And I’m just grateful such a neat concept exists in the book world.

I do want to note that at the very start of my reading experience, the entries of the female friends come across a bit Wikipedia-esque, but since they were so quick to go through, I overlooked this tiny hindrance. The essays did provide many unknowns with a prompt speed.

However, since this is about the grandiosity of friendship, which is so personal, I would’ve enjoyed that aspect to be expanded by offering more intimate tales, like an inside joke or an experience the women shared together; something I couldn’t find on my own through googling their names. I wanted someone to write about them through extensive research so that I wouldn’t have to do it on my own.

I did then appreciate the end of each essay giving voice to the women by sharing their quotes. Though it sometimes felt like the entry beforehand and the quote shared after had no shared correlation.

So I was also glad to see that the more I read on, the more my requests were being answered. Featuring remarkable girlships such as:

  • Virginia Woolf & Katherine Mansfield (1910s)
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  • Oprah Winfrey & Gayle King (1970s)Bosom Buddies bookspoils 3
  • Amy Poehler & Tina Fey (1990s)Bosom Buddies bookspoils 1
  • Ilana Glazer & Abbi Jacobson (2000s)Bosom Buddies bookspoils 4Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55

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Expected publication: August 14, 2018

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying  Bosom Buddies, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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Rant Review: Risk! by Kevin Allison (Editor)

Oh man, I really was not expecting to be in the position of writing this bitter review, but, alas, here we are…

It’s funny, really, because I went into Risk! the MOST excited after having read the very first story and received such a positive feeling throughout my reading, which is exactly what made me request a copy from the publisher, who kindly provided one. With Great Beauty by A. J. Jacobs is a story set on finding an online match for his babysitter who “happens to be crazy hot.” The author talks to guys he meets online through her profile, which grants him an insider’s look into what it means to be a beautiful woman, living vicariously through her: “because with great beauty comes great responsibility.”

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An incredible start to the collection; it set the mood for what’s to come, in my mind. And yet I continued reading only to discover how utterly mistaken I was. The introducing story is the peak of happiness that this collection hits.

I was expecting this to be in the vein of The Moth Presents All These Wonders by Catherine Burns, where we have a mix between the happy and sad, tragic and wistful. But this is just non-stop tragedy thrown your way, and I felt misled.

The consecutive stories that follow in Risk! all settle for the same damn shock-factor: death. It all comes across quite jarring since nearly every essay settles for announcing these out-of-nowhere deaths and suicides and killings. There’s no build-up preparing the reader; it’s like those jump-scares in horror movies that are only there to shake you up and don’t add depth to the story.

Also, some trigger warnings before certain pivotal stories would’ve been much appreciated. I settled for checking out the Q&A at the end of each essay to get a clue for what’s ahead. There are deeply unsettling stories featured in here that at times made me feel physically revolted, enough to lower my need to reach for this book. It’s sad that these jarring stories came to overshadow those that are full of fragile, wide open, lingering truths.

Taking away filters may be fun for the teller, but I don’t want anyone else to be hurt.

Unfortunately, that’s not even the worst of it all. The worst of it all I can grant to Nimisha Ladva’s An American Family. Oh damn, my heart beats furiously just thinking about where to start with this one.

This story has a) no redeeming quality whatsoever b) literally raised my wrath without even trying, while I read it in the morning, which c) pissed me off for the rest of the day.

And it all comes down to this moment on her wedding day with David, who’s Jewish:

She leans in, puts her hand tenderly over David’s head, and gives him his gift. That is when I see it for the first time.
My mother has painted a swastika on it.

This, instead of being addressed, is then excused as being a part of their culture way before “the evil bad Nazis took it”. UMMM… 

How can the mother be this desensitized to not realize the scope of the person in front of her? Never thought I’d need to write this down, but take a minute before pulling out the swastika and consider the connotations of whether or not it’s appropriate in front of a person who’s clearly not Hindu.

And David, if there’s ever been a clearer sign for a Jew to make a RUN for it (on his wedding day, no less), this is it. But the man wasn’t even fazed. Moral of the story: American culture has him so brainwashed he doesn’t even blink at the sight of a swastika from his own in-laws. I am terrified that my own people are forgetting history this rapidly. Stop depleting your roots, PLEASE.

I feel like the quote from Yosl Rakover Talks to God, on the world moving on all too quickly by not holding Nazis and their silent accomplices accountable, seems all too fitting in here:

“The world will consume itself in its own evil, it will drown in its own blood.

The murderers have already pronounced judgment on themselves, and they will not escape it. But You, I beg You, pronounce Your guilty verdict, a doubly harsh verdict, on those who witness murder and remain silent!

On those who condemn murder with their lips while they rejoice over it in their hearts.

On those who say in their wicked hearts: Yes, it is true that the tyrant is evil, but he is also doing a job for which we will always be grateful to Him.”

After, it was pretty much impossible for Risk! to have any redeeming points. That’s not to say that I didn’t try multiple times to move on. But you know, when you have such a favorable first impression of a book, you subconsciously hold on a little longer hoping for that spark to reappear… But it never did with this one.

This is where the subtitle, “True Stories People Never Thought They’d Dare to Share,” paints a clear picture for why it’s best to keep some things to ourselves.

Expected publication: July 17th, 2018

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