Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There)
After leaving the White House – having served for all eight years, first as a senior speechwriter for President Obama and then as head speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama – I often ran into my former colleagues around Washington, DC. Our conversations generally went something like this:
Them: “It’s so great to see you! What are you up to?”
Me: “I’m writing a book.”
Them: “That’s great! What’s it about? Speechwriting? Politics? Michelle Obama?”
Me: “Actually, it’s about Judaism.”
Them: “Oh…wow. That’s not what I expected…but um, yeah, that’s great! Good for you!”
This isn’t what I expected either. I grew up attending dull Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services and a lifeless seder, and after my bat mitzvah, I was pretty much done with Judaism. Then, at the age of 36, after a tough breakup, I happened to get an email from my local JCC advertising an introduction to Judaism class. And on a whim, I signed up. To be clear, I wasn’t on some big spiritual journey or in the midst of an existential crisis. I was mainly just lonely and anxious and really wanted to fill my time.
But what I found in that class blew me away: beautiful rituals, helpful guidance on living an ethical life, conceptions of God beyond the judgy bearded man in the sky—none of which I had learned in Hebrew school or during the two services I had grudgingly attended each year. That class led to other classes, thousands of hours spent reading about Judaism, eleven silent Jewish meditation retreats (yes, those are a thing (check out this one coming up later this year)), and the chance to experience the wonders of Shabbat for myself.
All of this wisdom and insight and all of these powerful traditions had been here all along, and I hadn’t known it! I decided that I wanted to share what I had discovered with other Jews – and with people of all faiths and none – so I wrote this book: Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There).
My book covers everything from Jewish holidays, ethics, and prayer to Jewish conceptions of God, death, and social justice…and there is an entire chapter on Shabbat!
Thanks to the generosity of OneTable, through the “Books as Nourishment” option you can get a copy of my book for yourself and your friends and discuss it at your next Shabbat dinner. Below is a discussion guide for the Shabbat chapter to help you get started.
Wishing you all your own amazing journeys of discovery (though hopefully without the painful breakup).
Shabbat Chapter (Chapter 7) Guiding Questions for Discussion
- What do you think about the idea that we need to “create” Shabbat? What do you need to create a Shabbat experience that’s meaningful for you?
- Does the idea of a Shabbat where you rigorously follow the traditional laws (no working, no screens, no driving, no cooking, etc.) – appeal to you? What are the benefits of this approach? What are the downsides?
- Here All Along lists six ways that Shabbat can transform our lives: 1) Help us stop being such control freaks; 2) Help us fight consumerism, materialism, and workaholism; 3) Inject a mini-holiday into our lives each week; 4) Help us connect with others; 5) Help us connect with ourselves; 6) Inspire us to improve the world. Which of these most resonates with you and why?