If you are curious about spirituality or are spiritually inclined – no matter your Jewish affiliation or level of Jewish practice – this is the book for you.
Many of us focus on Jewish observance and the guidelines and behaviors related to practicing Judaism. We are less likely to explore our relationship to and with God and how we experience the One (as I refer to God in this review) in our conversations and discussions about our connection to Judaism.
Because My Soul Longs for You provides an opportunity to learn about a variety of experiences with God and the role the One plays in our everyday life experiences. It can expand our focus to include the spiritual component of the One and to allow it to shape how we carry out our daily activities and practice Judaism. In doing so this book provides opportunities for the growth of our spiritual reality and allows these experiences to deepen our soulful connection to Judaism. For example, it helps us experience the awe and wonder of the miracles in the universe and at the same time to be grateful for our own existence in the world.
The editors, Rabbi Edwin C. Goldberg and Rabbi Elaine S. Zecher, invited 20 people to share their ideas, thoughts and the meaning that experiencing God in their everyday lives had for them. Their essays offer glimpses into the multiple creative ways people have been able to experience the One and to build a spiritual element in their lives.
Spiritual element in their lives
The major contribution of the book is its premise that each of these various approaches is an authentic spiritual expression and that each of us must discover for ourselves our personal approach to deepening the experience of feeling the One’s presence in our lives. It is very meaningful to read about the experiences the authors have had and their descriptions of finding the One in their lives through following both traditional and untraditional religious behaviors to express a connection to the divine.
Some of the contributors found traditional ways of integrating a spiritual experience into their daily lives. For example, Ilana Kurshan, the award-winning author of If All the Skies Were Ink, beautifully describes how she incorporates each morning’s prayers into a process of daily renewal. Rabbi Marc Katz, an author and rabbi in Bloomfield, New Jersey, experiences God in the room with him as he studies texts: “It leads me to awe toward others and toward wandering within myself.”
Other contributors share nontraditional ways to connect to the One. For example, Rabbi Melanie Goldberg discusses the importance of Jewish folkways for her spiritual identity and how they strengthen her connection to faith, community and the One. Goldberg finds that poetry provides her with the prayer language of her heart; she concludes that human beings have to search for God with every tool their hands can reach.
The third section of the book deals with the spiritual experience in the context of relationships with other people; again, it showcases a range of approaches to experiencing the One: in the context of community, or when one has a conflict with another person, or when providing a service to someone else or when sharing someone’s grief. The last essay in this section focuses on experiencing the One’s presence when dealing with fear.
One of the major tenets of Judaism is that we are all created “Betzelem Elokim” (in the image of God), and so it is most appropriate that the book discusses the relationship between our physical bodies and our connection to the One. Each of the authors examines how they form a spiritual connection to God by their heightened awareness and consciousness aspects of their bodies. For some this means becoming more in touch with the way their body functions and how it moves; while for another it is focusing on her relationship she has with a partner and how their connection heightens an awareness of their being the One’s creations.
The two essays at the end of the book provide closure to the entire discussion of how we integrate the One into our lives. Rhonda Karlton Rosen focuses on mindfulness and how we can develop our capacity to direct our attention to the One and create a space to allow us to experience One’s presence. In the last essay, Goldberg and Zecher remind us that the book has offered us the opportunity to understand how people have incorporated a connection to the One into their everyday lives and that we should seek to create our own experiences to enhance our spiritual lives.
Reading these essays gives you the opportunity to compare your own spiritual experiences with those of the authors: some may seem familiar, while others may strike you as strange or foreign. Perhaps what is most important to your appreciation of this anthology is to acknowledge your curiosity about the spiritual experience, to appreciate how it can be a meaningful aspect of daily life, and to understand that no one owns the key to true spirituality. What we feel and experience is true and legitimate if we have found a way to integrate the One into our lives.
By enabling you to share the spirituality of many thoughtful people who have so thoughtfully described their personal experiences, this anthology is a true gift.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a retired faculty member of Hebrew University’s MA Program in Non-Profit Management.
Because My Soul Longs for YouBy Rabbi Edwin C. Goldberg and Rabbi Elaine S. ZecherCCAR Press240 pages; $19.95