(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is surely one of the giants of our generation.
had two careers – both of which have been full of achievements.
the founder and, for nearly 20 years, the rabbi of the Lincoln Square Synagogue
in New York. He turned a synagogue that started out with a handful of members
who met in a living room, and who could have just as well been Reform or
Conservative, into one of the most exciting Orthodox synagogues in the
He did it by combining uncompromising loyalty to his principles with
imaginative and effective outreach. When he began there, he set these ground
rules: He would pray by himself before the services began. He would not live in
the neighborhood. And he would set a deadline by which time he would either be
able to put in a mehitza or he would leave.
Within a few years, the
mehitza came, but as important, hundreds of young Jews came too. Many of these
young people eventually became observant Jews.
And then, he left all that
he had created in America, and moved to Israel, a much harder place for a modern
Orthodox rabbi to succeed.
To stand for making conversions less
difficult, or helping women who need release from their marriages, or to permit
a woman to teach Bible in a yeshiva, or to insist that rabbis have to have a
serious secular education – to take any of these positions is to defy the
religious power structure of the country, and to face cruel and constant
Now he seems to have entered the third stage of his career:
A superb and spellbinding storyteller, he has collected 100
of his favorite stories for the sake of his grandchildren, and for the sake of
the grandchildren of his many supporters and admirers.
This generation in
which he participated was surely one of the most remarkable in all of Jewish
history, and his own life story which he tells in this book demonstrates what an
adventure it has been.
Many people do not know this, but he did not come
from an observant family. His parents, reluctant to send him to public school in
Bedford- Styvesant, the neighborhood in which he grew up, sent him to a Jewish
The second formative influence on his life was his
grandmother. She was a widow and lived alone, and so his parents sent him to
stay with her every Shabbat. And the experience of watching her pray so
fervently as she lit the candles, and the experience of sharing words of Torah
with her at the Sabbath meal had a profound influence upon his life.
of the tales he tells about what it was like growing up in those years are among
While there are too many stories in this book, the life he
recounts is remarkable and ranges from being jailed in America for demonstrating
at the Russian embassy on behalf of Soviet Jewry to being jailed in Israel for
demonstrating against Oslo II. From graduating at a time when everyone believed
that Orthodoxy was on its last legs to a time when Orthodoxy has prospered
beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.
And from a time when Israel was a
dream to a time when Israel is a reality, with all the complications and all the
corruptions and the dilemmas that are part of any reality.
participated in these dramatic battles is a lot for one man to do in one
lifetime. As well as being simply a good read, this book reveals the adventures
of one of the key figures of our generation.