My Jewish Moments: Alain de Botton

September 22, 2009

Alain de Botton is a Swiss writer, television presenter and entrepreneur

Most significant Jewish moment?

Deciding to base a central theme of a new book around Judaism. I realised that I knew more about Islam and Christianity than my own religious tradition, and that this was becoming shameful.

Which biblical character would you like to meet, and why?

I am drawn both to King Samuel and Saul — and for this reason, have named my children after them. I have sympathy for their strengths and weaknesses. They are essential, recurring human types.

Favourite mitzvah?

“Not to embarrass others” (Leviticus 19.17). This seems to go to the core of what it means to be a socially attuned human being — to realise when one is in danger of humiliating or compromising others.

Israel for me is…

A country I will always associate with my grandmother, Yolande Gabai, who played a central role in the founding of the state through her activities in Egypt with the Jewish Agency. A country whose current state she would deplore, for she knew that peace with the Arabs was at the core of the challenge facing the new country.

Last time you went to synagogue?

The wedding of my stepsister Rebecca. It was a hugely festive and moving occasion.

Favourite Jewish book?

The Book of Job. I am constantly consoled by the suggestion that we get caught up in sorrows and pleasures whose origins are not entirely for us to know. Job is taught a lesson in surrendering paranoia, the feeling that the world revolves around him, and that his suffering is meaningful in a way he can comprehend.

Last updated: 3:34pm, September 22 2009