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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Rambling Thoughts after Watching To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

*rubs palms together * Where shall I start…

This adaptation of Jenny Han’s novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been a long time in the making for 14-year-old me who was obsessed with the series. And I already have to note that the film was such a satisfying remake for me to experience on the big screen; I was grinning from ear to ear for the entirety of it. (My 14-year-old self would’ve definitely created a fan account for the film. That’s how good it was.)

When Lara Jean Song Covey’s love letters for every boy she’s ever loved are sent out, her life is soon thrown into chaos when her foregoing loves confront her one by one.
There’s so much I want to cover in my review, so I’ll settle for making a list à la Lara Jean:

(Spoilers from here.)

  • The icebreaker delivered in the opening scene of this movie settled my worries regarding the cliche rate it was going to settle for; there are zero to none.
  • Lana Condor, who stars as Lara Jean, channels in her character perfectly with the awkward fumbling, sweet and quiet nature. There’s one scene, in particular, where I could practically hear her thinking aloud simply by looking at her facial expressions that are so entirely Lara Jean. From stolen glances to her perfect comedic timing with delivering one-liners, she feels what Lara Jean feels.
  • The attention paid to details in this movie is beyond wholesome. From the aesthetic shots to the set design (there’s a red painting in LJ’s room to the far left that I was ogling the whole movie), and even the background matching Lara Jean’s outfits. It’s the tiny details that had me marveling me at how well they captured the tone of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
  • There hasn’t been a movie in a while that has enraptured me as strongly as this one. I zoomed through it, though, I had two excruciating (but necessary) breaks where I was practically on edge to return and complete my watching experience. This quote from my favorite book says it best: ‘Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.’ As I watched, I was reminded of all the films that evoked similar strong emotions out of me: Freaky Friday (2003), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), and The Last Song (2010). To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been added to my list of favorites, for sure.
  • This might also be a fitting time to share my favorite quote from Jenny Han’s novel that I was hoping to be featured in the adaptation:

You’d rather make up a fantasy version of somebody in your head than be with a real person.

The quote specifically wasn’t featured in the film, but the concept behind it sure was. LJ living this double life, where she walks around in a half-dream haze waiting to return to her ‘real life’ fantasy, is explored throughout her coming-of-age journey.

  • Which is where Peter Kavinsky comes in to save the day. His easy nature and confident ways always had me smiling like a fool in the first book. And it did the same old trick in this film, as well. Like I mentioned back in March when comparing him to Chris for my original Skam Book Tag: The Boy Squad.
    Though, now that I know of John Ambrose showing up, who stole my heart back in 2015 with P.S. I Still Love You, the jury is still out on my commitment to Covinsky. I willing to wait for more to be revealed in the sequel (she said, hoping the film received green light on continuing).
  • Back to the movie, though, I have to share some specifics that had me cackling, giggling, and squealing and everything in between:

#1 The horror music playing when the love letters were first revealed to be in the hand of the recipient. There’s no scary movie that will get your heart beating like that.

Those close-ups get me every time. It’s like there’s an ax in their hand for how dramatic the music made it.

#2 Jenny Han’s cameo, smiling so proudly at her own creations coming to life.

#3 Beautiful, cinematic movie shots. echo Shot Shot Shots vine

#4  The realness that is talking to yourself in your crush’s voice.

#5 Lara Jean’s shoes shown throughout the movie are show-stopping. They’re also the first thing Peter noticed about her, hence my choice of using the song ♪Fancy Shoes♪ by The Walters in my edit at the start of the review.

  • This movie also brilliantly covers specifics I didn’t even think about to make everyday interactions even more realistic. Like the scene where Peter and Lara Jean photograph each other to set as their phone background. This is like some modern HSM with Troy and Gabriella at the New Years party.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before excels at actually delving into Peter and Lara Jean’s interactions, wherein they actually get to know each other and listen intently to the stories they share. It’s quietly intimate moments like these that get me. Like Peter spending time with LJ and her little sister by staying in and watching movies:

I do have to say, though, that I’m low-key sad the movie didn’t feature the precious Halloween scene with Peter and Kitty bonding because my heart still gets weak whenever I think back to it.

Also: the couple completing domestic tasks together (like putting away the dishes) is my jam.Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55

In short: I positively adored To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s a faithful adaption to Jenny Han’s novel, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Except maybe having the sequel confirmed…

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Poetry Review: Soft Thorns by Bridgett Devoue

Soft Thorns is a poetry collection that takes the reader on a journey through a young woman’s life—from reckoning with her looks and sexuality to dealing with the trauma of sexual assault, and finally through the highs and lows of young love found and lost. Bridgett Devoue shares her raw, human story and the lessons learned from living a life fully.

I’ve so missed breezing through a typical poetry collection, in particular, the feelings evoked after, packing short impactful punches to carry you through, similar to Flux by Orion Carloto and The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace.

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If anything, Soft Thorns was a wakeup call for me to make sure to frequent into the poetry section more often. It felt so good to tear through this in one sitting.

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Expected publication: October 2nd, 2018

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