Book Club Recommendation

0915mayravA friend recently asked me if I thought the Iran deal is a good deal.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” was my answer.

Whatever your stance on geopolitical issues, one thing we can all agree upon is that I have virtually no impact on the fate of the planet. I can think the deal is a great deal. I can think it stinks. Either way something is going to happen. And since I cannot affect the outcome of that something, the only thing I can do is hope that the outcome turns out to be a good one.

This may sound like a fatalistic cop-out, but as we approach the High Holy Days, it strikes me as an appropriately timely response. For the rest of the year we talk about Tikkun Olam, about repairing the world. Tikkun Olam is a call to action, a call that convinces us that our voices matter, that our deeds can move mountains.

But on the holiest days of the year, we do no action. On the holiest days of the year, we stand around and talk about a book. The Book of Life, we’re told, is being inscribed by the hand of G-d. It’s a book we can never read, and one we most certainly play no part in writing.

Who is to live and who is to die? Who by fire and who by plague? It’s all preordained, and it’s all about to be committed to print with no input from us.

The impotence of this imagery has always struck me as decidedly un-Jewish. Pre-destiny is as anathema to me as bacon, and way less delicious-smelling. The concept of an interventionist G-d passing judgment doesn’t jive with my understanding of Judaism.

In my understanding of Judaism, if there’s a Book, there’s a book club. The Book of Life Book Club. It would be run by some sisterhood somewhere, and a middle-aged woman named Judy would always bring the rugelach.

We’d invite the author to attend as a guest lecturer for a few of the book club meetings, of course. But for the most part, we’d gather in someone’s apartment to drink wine and discuss the themes of alienation and marginalization in the Book of Life before the whole discussion devolved into a conversation about kids, grandkids and the relative merits of dog ownership.

That’s Judaism. And that’s why every year, when I try to find meaning in the prayer and the ritual of the service, I still struggle to appreciate the imagery of a Book of Life being written, and the book being closed at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

So this year when I greet people with, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life,” I think I might add an addendum: “And may you have a hand in writing your own incredible stories.”

Unorthodox, sure. But it just feels more Jewish.

Mayrav Saar is based in Los Angeles.

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