AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE

AN AMERICAN RABBI AND HIS CONGREGATION

Sometimes perceptive scenes from the life of a rabbi, as observed through the eyes of a Catholic journalist. Both uneasy hybrids, rabbi and book seek the spiritual but often bog down in the mundane. Wilkes, whose In Mysterious Ways (1990) profiled a parish priest who was stricken with cancer, here attaches himself to Jay Rosenbaum, the 42-year-old rabbi of a midsize Conservative synagogue in Worcester, Mass., who is himself the son of a pulpit rabbi. How does a rabbi stem the Jewish tide of assimilation and indifference in a society where his people have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams? Wilkes has remarkable access to Rosenbaum's long days—not all parts of which are so interesting for a man who is both the synagogue's spiritual leader and chief bottle washer- -and we are privy to the rabbi as he counsels noncongregants who want to raise their baby as a Jew even though the expectant mother has no desire to convert to Judaism; leads an acculturation class for Russian immigrants, where sometimes only one or two pupils show up; officiates at a ritual circumcision of the son of marginally observant Jews; visits a congregant who is dying of Alzheimer's; hustles to get congregants to join a trip to Israel that he's leading; tells a tale about a Hebrew-speaking parakeet to the Jewish day school's nursery school class; and haggles with the synagogue's board of directors over a new contract. Several congregants confide to Wilkes that the rabbi is unknowable; to the reader he appears under-appreciated, very caring and very frustrated, but also naive and presumptuous in his desire to make his congregants observant Jews. His wife, overweight and depressed, briefly confides her unhappiness with never seeing her husband; more from this insightful rebbitzen would have been welcome. Wilkes follows the rabbi on the congregational tour of Israel, but it's a choppy, pretty banal travelogue. Also annoying is his sometimes wide-eyed appreciation of his subject as evinced by his references to Rosenbaum as a Moses and as the person charged with the care of his congregants' souls. More respectful reportage than rigorous analysis, Wilkes's latest effort begs the question: If, as statistics proffered here suggest, two-thirds of American Jews today are not affiliated with a synagogue, who's going to buy a book on the nuts and bolts of a rabbi's world?

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 1994

ISBN: 0-87113-561-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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