'Organized Jewish Life': Your guide for when you need to 'do Jewish' - review

Organized Jewish Life: The Essential Guide for Planning Jewish Holidays, Events and Every Day is a practical guide to living a Jewish life.

 RELATIVES SURROUND a baby after circumcision, in Jerusalem. The book explores different customs regarding aspects of circumcision. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
RELATIVES SURROUND a baby after circumcision, in Jerusalem. The book explores different customs regarding aspects of circumcision.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Although she’s not nearly old enough to be one, personal organizer Rebekah Chaifetz Saltzman dispenses advice like a bubbe.

Organized Jewish Life: The Essential Guide for Planning Jewish Holidays, Events and Every Day is a practical guide to living a Jewish life. Filled with sensible advice for everything from paying a shiva call to stocking a kosher kitchen, Saltzman has basically done much of the preliminary thinking for you.

It’s important to note that the book was written for Torah-observant Jews. For those not fully Torah-observant, some of Saltzman’s reminders, such as doing as much laundry as possible before the nine days preceding Tisha Be’av, won’t resonate. However, other chapters, such as setting up a home, either as a renter or a buyer, are universally relevant.

The book is filled with more than 70 pre-made checklists, with tips such as bringing a note to remind housekeeping not to turn off the lights in your room when preparing to stay at a hotel for Shabbat, or using cooking spray to coat hanukkiot before using, to make clean-up easier.

The book, however, is not merely a dispassionate set of checklists and tips. Saltzman’s advice comes wrapped in small bits of Jewish wisdom, such as when she connects the Jewish directive to be “stewards of the Earth” with tips for reducing waste.

Circumcision in Israel (credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)Circumcision in Israel (credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Guidance for Jewish law and life

She also liberally shares guidance about Jewish law. For example, for special days on the Jewish calendar, she identifies basic observances according to Jewish law, such as hearing all the blasts of a shofar on Rosh Hashanah. She also includes popular customs, such as giving guests at a pidyon haben (ceremony for a firstborn son) a small packet of garlic cloves and/or sugar cubes to use in their own cooking. While these tips are helpful reminders for someone raised in an observant Jewish home, their value to converts and newly religious Jews increases exponentially.

She helpfully notes when there is a difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardi customs. For example, in the chapter on ritual circumcision, Saltzman describes the Ashkenazi kvater custom, which involves honoring a couple, who pass the infant from the mother to the father. By contrast, Sephardi fathers, she notes, generally recite God’s 13 attributes of mercy during the service.

Occasionally, Saltzman shares opinions of her own, such as “Refusing to sign a halachic prenuptial agreement is a giant red flag,” which she inserts in bold in the chapter on weddings; or “Bonfires are dangerous and terrible for the environment,” a position she asserts in the chapter on Lag Ba’omer.

SPRINKLED THROUGHOUT the book are anecdotes of Saltzman’s own life experiences, such as recounting the efforts she undertook to ensure her fertility in the chapter on infertility, or her experience grieving the loss of her mother in the chapter on mourning.

To supplement Organized Jewish Life, Saltzman prepared a companion planner specifically for Shabbat and major holiday planning. With a full year’s worth of colorful checklists for Shabbat preparation, including places to write down the guest list and menus for each meal, the planner is meant to be used throughout the year. And no Jewish reader will be surprised to note that the section on Passover alone is more than 20 pages!

With its multiple layers of information, anecdotes and opinions, Organized Jewish Life is probably best described as one woman’s guide to life. No reader will find every section relevant, but every reader will find parts that are genuinely helpful. 

Organized Jewish LifeBy Rebekah Chaifetz Saltzman328 pages; $31