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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Glowing Review of Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon (all about Daphna’s Iconic Lines)

Reading Bad Jews was the perfect antidote to my book-rage, courtesy of “An American family” in Risk! (which I talk all about in my rant review here), tackling the same issue of American assimilation in Jews.

Bad Jews is the story of Daphna Feygenbaum, a “Real Jew” with an Israeli boyfriend she met on Birthright. When Daphna’s cousin Liam brings home his shiksa girlfriend Melody and declares ownership of their grandfather’s Chai necklace, a vicious and hilarious brawl over family, faith and legacy ensues.

I went into this carefully paging through the pages, hoping to land into the story and get a feel of what direction this was going, either a) it was going to be a disaster on par with what raised my wrath in the first place to turn to this book or b) it was going to be exactly what soothes the raging storms in my head courtesy of that story. I practically went into the play with my eyes squinted close in fear. Thankfully (!!), Bad Jews came to settle for the latter soothing option.

In one line: I can’t even begin to explain how much I appreciate this play simply for existing. It not only raises vicariously important questions regarding religion and identity in Jews, but it dares to answer them expertly.

Also, thanks to the rising tempers established between Daphna and Liam from the very start, my breath was tight, following along their clap-backs from line to line, like a Ping-Pong match. Bad Jews is a genuine, concise story that moves at a delicious pace, thanks to Daphna’s lines.

Speaking of which, it’s while paging through the play that I stumbled along this exchange between Daphna and Liam’s shiksa that hooked me in like a spell.

DAPHNA
People are just people?
MELODY
Yes. People are people. It doesn’t matter that you’re Jewish or I’m—
DAPHNA
It doesn’t matter that I’m Jewish?
MELODY
No.
DAPHNA
It doesn’t matter?
MELODY
No.
DAPHNA
Well it matters to me.
MELODY
Ok.
DAPHNA
It matters to me very much.
MELODY
Right, but—
DAPHNA
And it’s mattered to hundreds of generations of my family.
MELODY
I know—
DAPHNA
But to you: meaningless.

This conversation right here is what I want to see more of. I’ve never seen such a daring character speak my thoughts aloud.

And I’m beyond grateful it didn’t stop here. There’s an incredible piece of writing that follows, and I want to shout it from the rooftops, but in the meantime, I’m sharing it here since that’s the closest route of action. The text’s long but such a worthful read, what with the quick pace that assures a smooth ride:

“You could actually date a woman who was your intellectual equal but instead you find these tepid little Bambi creatures to impose this hyper-masculine hegemenonical totalitarian regime on even though you like to like think you’re like this like super sensitive in touch sensitized like dork-chic Chicago grad student who’s like uber-liberal and totally devoted to the preservation of these little cultural studies because studying Japan is definitely worthy of five years of intensive labor, but studying torah for all of ten minutes is only worthy of total utter snide sniveling disdain; if you found yourself in the middle of a rain dance you would be soooo respectful trying to do every movement perfectly to like honor every Native American who ever lived, but if you found yourself in the middle of a hora— I’ve seen you in the middle of a hora— you look like you want to fucking die; if someone asks your religion you proudly state, “I’m an atheist” but the second anyone starts a little Israel-Palestine discussion, it’s like, find me a stopwatch and let’s count to ten because it won’t even take that long before I hear, “As a Jew …” because then you’re a Jew, but only when you can use it to bash all things Jewish which somehow makes you stand a little taller, doesn’t it, puts a little pep in your step like you’re so fucking enlightened even though you reek of fucking cliché; you haven’t lit a menorah since the nineties, but hello Facebook photos of you in a Santy Claus hat ho-ho-hoing it up next to the Christmas tree you put up in your apartment, and it was kind of obvious that, for whatever reason, you actually liked wearing that cheap fake crushed red velvet hat with the shitty white pom pom on the end, or maybe it wasn’t the hat, maybe it was just getting to stand under the mistletoe and smooch paper-cut-lips Melody, amazing, dynamic, smart-as-shit Melody, the icon of your ideal woman, because we know, a woman who’s actually trying to make something of her life and her intellect is worthy of your harshest criticism but a woman with zero career goals and maybe point two brain cells and less than no talent is a genuinely good person, you two must be so genuinely happy, spending time with her must be a scintillating experience, in fact, I myself had the chance to talk with her this evening and she really does offer up an intellectual feast for the mind, I can only imagine the topics you two must cover in your daily conversation, subjects like, how cute she looks on the bunny hill, or, how cute she looks in her Talbots secretary outfits, or really what it all comes down to: hhhhow nice it is to fuck an ethnic-free bush!
Yeah Shlomo. You’re right: your girlfriends aren’t inferior. You are.”

Mic drop. I truly think this deserves to be displayed in a museum.

Daphna touches upon 1) Jews assimilating so much so that they don’t define themselves as Jews and try to leech on to any other culture that has an opening. 2) Celebrating Hanukah is shameful yet putting up a Christmas tree doesn’t hold any religious aspects for you… 3) Crushing Liam to the GROUND.

The aforementioned is also the most thought-out argument I’ve ever laid my eyes on, and I’m raging that Liam didn’t address the TRUEST of objections and reasonings. Like, how can you hear all this and still think you’re right? HOW?

“Ah, yes, don’t respond to my truth. Dismiss me.”

Even going the extra mile of calling him out for what he really is: an anti-Semite. Non-practicing Jews can be just as severe in their hatred since they’re rebelling against their people and know exactly where it hits hard.

Hence my fuming upon Liam using “love” to his defense… YOUR IDEA OF “LOVE” DOES NOT TRUMP MORALITY. This right here is exactly the influence of Western culture that brainwashes people into giving everything up for Oh, Love heart-eyed sigh. It’s the idolization of “amour” that led the infamous playwright Molière to marry his own daughter. Or Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that is pure puppy love, yet deemed to be the love of a lifetime, and without one must simply die. 

As I heard in a moving lecture, love isn’t merely physiological or romantic; something deeper has to found to establish a wider connection that will last the rising statistics. Sharing values and intellect is a great starting point; Get on it, Liam.

So, as you can read, Bad Jews got me beyond passionate and riled-up with words, thankfully, this time for the better. I cherish it when a book can get a good discussion out of me.

…Which is why I have to include one last piece of Daphna, who I’m low-key obsessed with, thanks to her excellent lines:

DAPHNA
Don’t you know what— don’t you see how this little object is— don’t you care?, that if you put that around her neck, you’re killing something.
LIAM
Killing something?
DAPHNA
Something that matters.
LIAM
It doesn’t matter.
DAPHNA
You are Poppy’s grandson. You know it matters.
LIAM
Not to me.
DAPHNA
You’re getting a Ph.D. in cultural studies!
LIAM
So?
DAPHNA
So culture matters! Who people are, matters. Look at the Nobel Prizes— look at how disproportionately Jewish people have achieved in economics, literature, science—
LIAM
Are we really gonna do chosen people talk? Really?
DAPHNA
22%! That’s the percentage of Nobel Prize winners who are Jewish.
LIAM
Now you’re memorizing Jewish statistics? Fuck.
DAPHNA
Do you know what our global population is? It’s not 22%, not even close.
LIAM
So in the hopes of more Jews winning Nobel Prizes I should marry a Jew? Is that seriously your point?
DAPHNA
No my point is, play this out. You get married, you two get married and you have kids, so they’re half-Jewish and half-Delaware. And that kid marries someone who is Asian, and they have a kid, so that kid is a quarter Jewish, a quarter Delaware, and half Asian, and that kid marries someone who is half-black and half-Puerto Rican and they have a kid, and so that kid is—
LIAM
They’re American!
DAPHNA
In a couple generations, all these kids are running around bearing the hyphenated names of cultures that no longer exist. It’ll be just one giant globalized corporate world populated by one kind of people, who all speak one language and shop at the same store and all look the same. That’s how it ends up unless—
MELODY
No, it’s like that John Lennon song! It’s our country, like, succeeding. Like, progress! No nations, no religions, no—
DAPHNA
A world without Jews is progress? 

Melody, a) nobody asked your cosmopolitan worldview b) John Lennon was anti-Semitic, so stop bringing him up as this leading example when you have no clue and c) the only reason people like Melody exist is for people like Daphna to put them in their place. I thrive off of this. Thank you, Daphna.

DAPHNA
How does your half-Jewish daughter teach her one-quarter Jewish daughter to be Jewish? Exactly how does that work?

And one more epic mic-drop for the road:

“DAPHNA
Ok. So stop. You know what? Let’s all stop. Let’s all decide, right now, we’re going to stop being Jewish. That’s what you want? You think you’re the first person to ever question it? Cause I bet there were people before us who had questions too, but they kept practicing. They didn’t stop. None of them did. And they didn’t exactly have it easy, but they never stopped. And this thing that people in our family were doing in 1900 and in 1800 and in 1500 and in 200 and in 500 BCE made it all the way here to us. That alone has got to at least give you pause. And so now, when it’s easier to be Jewish than it has ever been in the history of the world, now when it’s safest, now we should all stop?
I can’t. I can’t.
And if I know you at all, you don’t want me to stop either. Because if I stop, if we all stop, it will be gone. And you can’t get it back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

This has been echoing in my mind all day.

I’ve included so many of Daphna’s incredibly revealing lines so that I can return time and again, since it perfectly words my thoughts on paper, in case I ever need a refresher of my opinions before discussions occur with a Liam™…

Towards the end, the most pivotal scene had me nearly screaming inside. The stakes were raised so high, I could practically hear the characters screaming off the page, and it made for such an exhilarating, fulfilling ending.

DAPHNA
Don’t put that …
Don’t you put that …
DON’T YOU FUCKING PUT THAT AROUND HER NECK!

At this point, when Daphna’s anger at the shiksa is spilling over, I was at the very edge of my seat, low-key hoping for the story to end with a certain someone ending up injured… I got my tiny, victorious moment when Melody exposed her true face after her ongoing “peace love & unity” façade.

“MELODY
Take me to the hospital. I want to go to the hospital.
LIAM
Really?
MELODY
Yes! I’m bleeding! And that thing is rusty! I could have been—
LIAM
It’s made of gold, gold doesn’t—
MELODY
It was in someone’s mouth! I could have an infection. I want to go to the hospital.”

This right here shows how undeserving she is to join this family and wear something as sacred as the Chai necklace that Poppy saved through the Holocaust as the only family heirloom and symbol of his family massacred by the Nazis. So Melody, kindly, go back to sleep and starve.

Bad Jews should be required reading for any Jew contemplating non-Jews. It raises so many epic scope themes and ideas through thrilling truths that one must hear at least once in their lifetime. A few of those include, as the author notes in the preface: “Why was I born a Jew? What is the value of Judaism today? What does it mean when someone born a Jew moves away from the religion, and chooses not to pass it on to the next generation? What does it mean to watch something go extinct?”

I’ll recommend this play over and over to anyone that’ll listen.

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Review: Mossad by Michael Bar-Zohar, Nissim Mishal

The dirtiest actions should be carried out by the most honest men.

I’ve been eyeing this book, sitting patiently on my library shelves, enough visits to finally peak my interest, but I knew that lugging this beast of a book home was commitment enough, so I waited for a sign and it came that same week when my mother mentioned the movie The Debt. And, oh, what a racing read! No thriller has been as nail-biting intense as the recounting of these Mossad missions.

The Mossad is widely recognized today as the best intelligence service in the world. It is also the most enigmatic, shrouded in secrecy. Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service unveils the defi ning and most dangerous operations that have shaped Israel and the world at large from the agency’s more than sixty-year history, among them: the capture of Adolf Eichmann, the eradication of Black September, the destruction of the Syrian nuclear facility, and the elimination of key Iranian nuclear scientists.

Through intensive research and exclusive interviews with Israeli leaders and Mossad agents, authors Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal re-create these missions in riveting detail, vividly bringing to life the heroic operatives who risked everything in the face of unimaginable danger. In the words of Shimon Peres, president of Israel, this gripping, white-knuckle read “tells what should have been known and isn’t–that Israel’s hidden force is as formidable as its recognized physical strength.”
To lay it all on the table, I wasn’t sure before starting this book if I’d even bother to read through more than one story because the book is quite intimidating in its size. But then I opened the first chapter, titled “ King of Shadows,” and was swept right up into the world of high-stake Mossad operations, led at the hands of the “legendary fighter,” Meir Dagan.

“He had planned the entire operation: posing as Lebanese terrorists, sailing in an old vessel from Ashdod, a port in Israel, the long night of hiding, the meeting with the terrorist leaders, and the escape route after the hit. He had even organized the fake pursuit by the Israeli torpedo boat. Dagan was the ultimate guerilla, bold and creative, not someone who stuck to the rules of engagement. Yitzhak Rabin once said: “Meir has the unique capacity to invent antiterrorist operations that look like movie thrillers.”

And it’s thanks to the authors writing skills, wherein they don’t reveal their cards right away and make us wait for the reveal to drop, that holds for such a thrilling ride ahead.

The chapters to make my heart skip a beat contain: capturing spies, trying to infiltrate the Mossad, on a gut feeling, capturing traitors, bringing justice to the Jewish state, and so much more that held me practically glued to the pages of this book.

  • “A Hanging in Bagdhad”
  • “Oh, That? It’s Khrushchev’s Speech …”
  • “Bring Eichmann Dead or Alive!”

Hands down the most gripping chapter in this book was the capturing of Eichmann, yimakh shemo, and also my main reason for wanting to read Mossad in the first place.

I appreciated how the book showed the intense preparation that goes behind the scenes to succeed in a secret mission. The following of the target, learning his habits and maintaining his routine… The tiniest of details that had to be pinned down, all of which are worth to reach this moment:

“They shook hands. Eichmann was in their grasp.
Eitan thought he had his feelings under control. But then he suddenly realized that he was humming the song of the Jewish partisans in the war against the Nazis, and repeating the refrain: “We are here! We are here!”

This was a beyond moving chapter, for me. And I only wish they could’ve elaborated a bit more on the trial that took place in Israel, considering the fascinating lesson I listened to that points out Eichmann’s flawed attempt at bringing Kant’s philosophy to his defence – the theory of relative morality – claiming that, in Germany 1940-something, it was considered a moral act to obliterate Jews. In Eichmann’s trial, the lecturer brings to light philosopher Israel Eldad’s argument that, in this case, judge Halevi should’ve taken apart the philosophy as a whole; “the courts of Jerusalem should put relative morality at trial.” “Because it’s not enough to try one man for the murder of 6 million Jews. You have to put on trial not only the man and not only the nation that participated in the act but also the very philosophy that allowed mankind to reach such barbarism.”

And it felt as if the entire Jewish people identified with the prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, who confronted the Nazi criminal as the representative of his 6 million victims.

Never again.

“Two police officers behind a screen simultaneously pressed two buttons, only one of which worked the trapdoor. Neither knew who had the controlling button, so the name of Eichmann’s executioner remains unknown.”

So the following chapter, fittingly titled “Those Who’ll Never Forget,” only four years after the Eichmann trial, got my blood boiling like no other, wherein “the West Germany’s parliament would adopt a statute of limitations regarding war crimes, which meant that Nazi criminals—living now undercover—would be able to re-emerge from hiding and resume normal lives, as if they had never committed their atrocious acts. ” This type of atrocity of erasing the Holocaust is happening in this day and age, as well, and it makes me furious. So reading about the Mossad bringing justice to the Jewish nation by killing “one of the greatest Nazi criminals,” Herberts Cukurs, who’s personally responsible for massacring 30,000 Jews, was enough to calm my rage in that moment.

“The world needed to be reminded that monsters were still at large.”

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