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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An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED

The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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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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