And They Shall Be My People

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The latest book I read is And They Shall Be My People by Paul Wilkes. A book I highly recommend.

After following a Catholic priest for a year and writing a bout it Paul Wikes, wanted to repeat the experience but with a Protestant minister. While looking for the right candidate, Wilkes found Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum and made up his mind to follow this Conservative rabbi instead.

In the end he wrote a fascinating book on the every day life of a rabbi, his congregation and his family. in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The book begins in October with a shul meeting where Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum suggests a trip to Israel to his congregants in the hope that the experience will change them and encourage them to follow a more observant life. It ends one year later after the High Holidays.

It is absolutely fascinating to follow Rabby Jay Rosenbaum in his daily life and work although the reader realizes how difficult and frustrating it is to be a rabbi. Rabbi Rosenbaum belongs to the UTJ (Union for Traditional Judaism), something his congregants are quite proud of even if few of them are observant Jews, and we feel the rabbi’s disapointment as he attempts to inspire the Jews he encounters every day by coming up with new ideas and programs.

I also enjoyed the book on a sociological level; it it was quite captivating to read about the life of an American Jewish congregation in the mid-1990s. Thus it was the time when numerous Russian Jews were welcomed by local Jewish communities yet, to everyone’s surprise, they were in no hurry to become shul members, something which is analyzed and explained very thoughtfully in the book.

We also understand how difficult it is for Janine to be the rabbi’s wife and lead a life under the scrutiny of a middle-sized town where all the Jews know each other and where your every action is examined and commented upon. Something which is all the more difficult as her own family lives in Seattle.

Near the end of this chronicle, Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum takes some of his congregants to Israel, even if the trip is not organized the way the rabbi had imagined eight months earlier. There he confronts his own contradictions when he realizes that the step of staying there is as hard for him as it is for his congregants to abandon their mainstream American comfort and step into a more observant life.

Today Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum is the rabbi of Herzl – Ner Tamid, a Conservative Seattle Congregation.

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13 thoughts on “And They Shall Be My People

  1. Hmmm… that’s quite a story. I’m guessing my friend from Seattle would really enjoy it.

    “numerous Russian Jews were welcomed by local Jewish communities yet, to everyone’s surprise, they were in no hurry to become shul members” – one of the things that really bothers me is when certain American Jews look down on newly-arrived Russian Jews. They think the Russians should learn from them, but really, it should be two way interchange. The Russian Jews are quite smart and full of interesting ideas.

    Thanks for the review.

    • I quite agree with you about Russian Jews and this is quite obvious in this book. Rabbi Rosenbaum is very careful not to hurt the new-comers while some of the congrgants can be very blunt and awkward in their dealings with them.

    • In France there is often only one or two synagogues in a town so you’ll find all sorts of Jews – from the very observant to the Yom Kippur Jews – in the same place. Only a few cities have different denominational shuls: Paris, Nice, Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon I think.

  2. Pingback: October Jewish Book Carnival | Jewish Book Council Blog

  3. Pingback: Yearly Review: Selected Posts of 2010 | Ilana-Davita

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