Being Jewish: The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today

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Increasing numbers of Jews are returning to their religious roots in a search for meaning, eager to explore a heritage that is deeply embedded in history and at the same time rapidly changing. But what is Judaism today? And what does it mean -- culturally, spiritually, and ritually -- to be Jewish in the twenty-first century?
In Being Jewish, Ari L. Goldman offers eloquent, thoughtful answers to these questions through an absorbing exploration of modern Judaism. A bestselling author and widely respected chronicler of Jewish life, Goldman vividly contrasts the historical meaning of Judaism's heritage with the astonishing and multiform character of the religion today. The result will be a revelation for those already involved with Judaism, and a fascinating introduction for those whose interests are newly minted or rekindled.
Taking the reader through the process of discovery -- or rediscovery -- Being Jewish is divided into three sections, each focusing on one of the cycles of human life. Beginning with the traditions associated with the life cycle -- birth, marriage, death -- Goldman moves on to describe the rituals that mark the course of the Jewish year, starting with Rosh Hashanah. Finally, he reflects on the character of the Jewish day, exploring the role of prayer, dietary laws, and ethical behavior. All of these moments, from a minute to a lifetime, take on vibrant meaning in his thoughtful picture.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Being Jewish is Goldman's discussion of the extraordinary variations in how Jews live their Judaism today. He finds a wide variety of practices, between Judaism's branches and within them. For example, a family on Long Island keeps a unique version of kosher: they have three sets of dishes and utensils -- one for meat, one for milk, and one for nonkosher Chinese takeout. While traditional Judaism frowns on such quirky modes of observance, Goldman elevates them. Jews today, he concludes, are "reaching for the holy" in unexpected and innovative ways.
These dramatically different ideas about how a Jewish life may be lived suggest how difficult it can be for today's reader to find an objective account of Judaism. And it is precisely Goldman's reporter's eye that sets this book apart. Informed by tradition without embracing any one ideology, this award-winning journalist's probing book moves across the boundaries of modern Judaism to demonstrate how it is lived. While other efforts to tackle these themes are written from the perspective of a particular religious tradition, Being Jewish is the work of a sophisticated observer who describes rather than proscribes. By weaving a complex and compelling commentary on Judaism, this inspiring volume encourages us to find our own place within the tradition and leads us into a deeper understanding not just of the details of the religion but, ultimately, of what it means to be Jewish.
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About the author

ARI L. GOLDMAN, one of the nation's leading religion journalists, was a reporter for The New York Times for twenty years. He left the Times in 1993 to teach journalism at Columbia University, where he has trained a new generation of religion writers. Professor Goldman was educated at Yeshiva University, Columbia, and Harvard. He is the author of the bestselling memoir The Search for God at Harvard and the widely acclaimed Living a Year of Kaddish. Goldman has been a Fulbright Professor in Israel and a Skirball Fellow at Oxford University in England. He lives in New York with his wife and their three children.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Simon and Schuster
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Published on
Sep 5, 2000
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9780743213264
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / General
Religion / Judaism / General
Religion / Judaism / Rituals & Practice
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In a cluttered room in an abandoned coat factory in lower Manhattan, a group of musicians comes together each week to make music. Some are old, some are young, all have come late to music or come back to it after a long absence. This is the Late Starters Orchestra--the bona fide amateur string orchestra where Ari Goldman pursues his lifelong dream of playing the cello.

Goldman hadn’t seriously picked up his cello in twenty-five years, but the Late Starters (its motto, If you think you can play, you can) seemed just the right orchestra for this music lover whose busy life had always gotten in the way of its pursuit.

In The Late Starters Orchestra, Goldman takes us along to LSO rehearsals and lets us sit in on his son’s Suzuki lessons, where we find out that children do indeed learn differently from adults. He explores history’s greatest cellists and also attempts to understand what motivates his fellow late starters, amateurs all, whose quest is for joy, not greatness. And when Goldman commits to playing at his upcoming birthday party we wonder with him whether he’ll be good enough to perform in public. To the rescue comes the ghost of Goldman’s first cello teacher, the wise and eccentric Mr. J, who continues to inspire and guide him--about music and more--through this well-tuned journey.

With enchanting illustrations by Eric Hanson, The Late Starters Orchestra is about teachers and students, fathers and sons, courage and creativity, individual perseverance and the power of community. And Ari Goldman has a message for anyone who has ever had a dream deferred: it’s never too late to find happiness on one’s own terms.
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