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September 26, 2003 - Image 124

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-09-26

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Arts I Life

On The Bookshelf

The Days Of Awe

In a new book, rabbi expands the meaning
behind the High Holidays.


Special to the Jewish News


abbi Alan Lew offers
both a religious and per-
sonal approach to the
High Holidays through

his book This Is Real and You Are

Completely Unprepared: The Days of
Awe as a Journey of Transformation
(Little, Brown and Co.; $23.95).
The rabbi, spiritual leader of the
Conservative Congregation Beth
Sholom in San Francisco, refers to
scholarly Jewish teachings and the
ideas of modern Jewish leaders to
describe the individual impact of rit-
uals and traditions observed from
Tisha B'Av to Sukkot.
His book, ultimately exploring the
meaning of Teshuvah as repentance
and return, serves up religious doc-
trine with lots of stories from the
Jewish past and present and. his own
past and present. There also are sec-
ular references, with anecdotes that
flow from examples of psychological
theories to political preferences.
"Realizing there's a great deal of
life that you can't control and mak-
ing peace with that has to do with
the spirit of the High Holidays and
the theme of my book," says Rabbi
Lew, who will discuss his subject in
depth during the local Jewish Book
Fair in November. "I want to give
people an entry into the deep spiri-
tuality of the season because these
holidays describe the universal jour-
ney of the soul."
The journey probed by the rabbi
involves self-discovery, spiritual dis-
cipline, self-forgiveness and spiritual
evolution. He defines the observance
of this religious period as a return to
the idea of home and the dwelling
place of God. The purpose of this
period, he explains, is to realize that
a broken heart can lead to opening
one's heart to God.
As Rabbi Lew covers each mile-
stone in the Days of Awe with an
analysis of each one, he reveals how
his own journey through life has
been fraught with difficulties,
including the ending of his first
marriage and the rebellious times of
his daughter. Lew's wife, author



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"This Is Real and You Are Completely
Unprepared: The Days ofAwe as a
Journey of Transformation": A guide to
personal healing.

Sherril Jaffe, wrote about their par-
enting heartaches in Ground Rules:

What I Learned My Daughter's
Fifteenth Year.
The rabbi, who asked approval
before writing about those close to
him, also recalls difficult times expe-
rienced by members of his congrega-
tion and what he discovered trying
to comfort them through the dark
periods of their lives. Interspersing
Jewish history with current events,
he offers his own thoughts on world
affairs. Israeli-Palestinian conflict
and the aftermath of the 9/11
attacks enter into his commentary.
"I wanted this book to have a lot
of feeling and in that way reflect a
strong human element," explains
Rabbi Lew, whose earlier book, One
God Clapping: The Spiritual Path of a
Zen Rabbi, won the PEN Josephine
Miles Award for Literary Excellence
and also brought him to Book Fair.
"I think it's important to point out
the personal connection to rituals
and the idea that sometimes there is
not too much we can do but pray,"
he says.
Rabbi Lew's call for attention to
prayer starts out with an explanation
of Tisha B'Av as it remembers the
calamities that have befallen the

Jewish people and the effects of loss
on individual outlook. He goes on
to explore the self-analysis ongoing
during the month of Elul, and he
advises the use of prayer, meditation
and focus.
Moving from the prayers of
Selichot into Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi
Lew elaborates on how the Jewish
New Year is about the human con-
nection to heaven.
"The relentlessness of the High
Holidays — the long days in syna-
gogue, the constant repetition of
the prayers, the fasting — wears
down our defenses and helps us
open to the truth of our lives,"
writes Rabbi Lew, who has tried
Buddhism and now maintains a
meditation center next to his syna-
Addressing the "Ten Days of
Teshuvah," he refers to personal
transformation as a continuing
process "away from the external
world and toward the inner realm of
the heart" and the significance of
personal choices as they affect Jewish
From exploring the emotional
effects of hearing Kol Nidre to giv-
ing personal accounts of observance,
Rabbi Lew analyzes Yom Kippur as a
rehearsal for death and an opportu-
nity to pursue purifying the soul. He
also examines Neilah, the service
that has to do with the closing of the
gates of heaven, and progresses on to
the celebration of Sukkot.
"I intended my book to show
movement," says Rabbi Lew, whose
book's journey from life to death
ultimately asks readers to open
themselves to new understanding of
their own purpose and inject spiritu-
ality into their daily activities.
"Jewish theology reflects move-

This book is available through

Rabbi Alan Lew is scheduled to
speak at Detroit's Jewish Book
Fair 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15,
at the Jewish Community Center
in West Bloomfield. (248) 661-



e live in a culture that con-
ditions us to avoid suffer-
ing, and the consequence of this
is that we live at some distance
from our heart.- We are not in the
habit of looking at it, but of dis-
tracting ourselves from its con-
"As we begin the process of
Teshuvah, we need to make a
conscious effort
to overcome the
momentum of
this denial and
avoidance. This is
an effort well
worth making.
"That pain,
Rabbi Alan Lew
that afflictive ener-
gy that rests on the
surface of our hearts and just
below it as well, will be the cata-
lyst for our transformation.
"The nature of our pain points
us to the nature of the transfor-
mation we need to make. If we
are angry, we need to move
toward inhabiting our anger and
then letting go of it. If we are in
despair, we need to move toward
hope. But the intensity of our
pain is even more helpful in this
process than its particular cast.
"As we sit in the boundless field
of mind during the 10 days of
transformation, impulses and feel-
ings rise up and fall away all
around us. Those impulses and
feelings that assert themselves
with particular force are the ones
we are most likely to follow.
"This is the great gift of suffer-
ing. Intense afflictive states —
anger, boredom, fear, guilt, impa-
tience, grief, disappointment,
dejection, anxiety, despair -- are
the great markers of our
Teshuvah. By their very intensity,
they call us to transformation:"

— From "This Is Real and You Are
Completely Unprepared:
The Days of Awe as a
Journey of Transformation"
by Rabbi Alan Lew

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