Review: I'm God, You're Not
The mystic with a popular touch
Jewish Lights, $21.99
Anyone who recalls his bravura Limmud appearances in the 1990s will know that there is no rabbi quite like Lawrence Kushner. The author of popular books on Jewish mysticism and a commentary on the Torah with playwright David Mamet, he was the innovative leader of a Reform community in Massachusetts for nearly 30 years, before moving to California: now 68, he joined the rabbinate because it is a vocation that "pays you to be a mensch".
This new book is a collection of short pieces from across his career, ranging from family life to Reform approaches to kashrut and Shabbat: he suggests the term zocher Shabbat, remembering Shabbat, to characterise Progressive observance as an alternative to the Orthodox shomer Shabbat.
Kushner believes that the spiritual dimension lies within the everyday world, perceptible in "fleeting glimmers" if only we are attentive to it. He is one of the exponents of American neo-mysticism, replacing the traditional concept of a "vertical" personal Deity in Heaven with the idea that "God is the name we give to our sense that everything is connected to everything else".
His breezy, vernacular style is laced with wry humour and illumined with insights from the Chasidic masters whose teachings he has helped to make accessible to modern audiences. Anti-synagogue plaques, fundraising and explanatory services, he offers tips on congregational leadership which should be required reading for any rabbi or member of a shul board.
And from numerous anecdotes, here is one. A New York cabbie was telling a fellow rabbi how much he loved Israel. So why don't you make aliyah, the rabbi asked? Because there would be Jewish thieves, con-men, prostitutes and criminals there, he replied.
There aren't such Jews in New York? asked the rabbi. "Here I can stand it," replied the cabbie, "but in Israel it would kill me."