Ceremony & Tradition

One Woman’s Journey to Understanding Her Jewish Faith

Published on June 5, 2017

Article by Justine Amodeo for Bodhi Tree

With laugh-out-loud humor, Abigail Pogrebin’s My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew explores, with both deep reverence and the latitude for multiple expressions of devotion, the diverse Jewish calendar of 18 holidays and observances that make up the 4,000-year-old tradition that is Judaism, a culture the author has reclaimed. To connect in a modern way to Judaism’s ancient traditions, Pogrebin embraces them all with intelligence, insight and wit. As a journalist and former producer at Charlie Rose and 60 minutes, her thorough research led her to a cast of teachers and rabbis with very different views of modern-day Judaism.

Finding a Connection to Judaism and Its Heritage

Pogrebin’s desire to answer a question one rabbi had posed to her: “What is the yearning to which the holiday is a response,” led her to “live the whole Jewish calendar,” and to get to the bottom of what the much-dissected Pew Research Center study of 2013, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” showed—that most Jews connect their Jewish identity to culture, not Judaism. “I wanted to find out if that’s because we really haven’t looked there,” she wrote.

So she looked, diving deeply into Judaism and its heritage, interviewing many scholars and rabbis and experiencing for herself everything from the scrupulous, 40-day, soul-accounting ritual of Ulul, the Hebrew month that proceeds the Jewish New Year, to T’zom Gedaliah, the Fast of Gedaliah, “the fast before the big fast,” which marks the assassination of the righteous governor of Judah by another Jew. “Whether or not Gedaliah’s murder speaks to me,” she wrote, “I remember I am a Jew today. All day. Hunger reminds me again and again of why I can’t eat, why we give things up so that we don’t repeat the errors of our ancestors, mistakes that are so easy to commit again.”

A Contemporary Journey Through Jewish Wisdom

The best nuggets of wisdom come from interviews with contemporary Jewish sages, and begin chapters with names like “Prepping Rosh Hashanah: Self-Flagellation in Summer” and “Tu B’Shvat: Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut,” and her journey’s end leads her to the revelation that Judaism “perseveres because it still speaks to us, because it withstands our clashes and grows from them.”

My Jewish Year is a book for anyone longing to bring Jewish holidays and traditions into their lives and who may, like the author, decide to embark upon “My Big Fat Belated Bat Mitzvah” at the age of 40, or find themselves focusing on “’klal Israel, the whole of Israel: a shared inheritance, and reverence for a calendar that has kept us intact.”

Published on: June 5, 2017

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