I'm God - You're Not
Observations on Organized Religion & Other Disguises of the Ego
By Lawrence Kushner
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010, 228 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 1, 2010
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, a reform rabbi and author of more than a dozen and a half informative easy to read books, has collected close to fifty short, frequently very humorous observations written during his more than several decades of service as a concerned rabbi. Rabbi Kushner includes serious messages within the humor. He divides his observations into six sections: rabbi, Judaism, family, world, mysticism, and holiness.
In the first section, for example, he discusses his view of the responsibilities of a rabbi. Readers will find him making statements such as: "Rabbis should treat Jews more like rabbis. Jews should treat rabbis more like Jews." "The more you rehearse anything, the more deadly it becomes. Besides, people make just as many gaffes anyway."
In his Judaism section, Kushner speaks about conversion. "I converted a man (who was already married to a Jew) whose last name was Fitzpatrick. 'But Rabbi,' he said, "Fitzpatrick isn't a Jewish name." I said, "It will be." In regard to another man who was married to a Jewish woman, he asked if the man wanted to convert. He responded, "Yes." The rabbi asked him why he hadn't done it before. He answered, "Nobody asked me to do it."
One of the most hilarious chapters is in this section. He speaks about taking names at random from the white pages of the phone book, and sending these non-Jews a letter. It begins:
We the board of directors of the Congregation Emanu-El at our last meeting unanimously selected you (and your entire nuclear family) to become Jews-by-surprise.
No matter how ridiculous you consider this decision, there are already tens of thousands of born Jews who know and do less than you do. Even if you are an avowed anti-Semite, relax, there are already many Jews like you, too….
The letter goes on to describe the responsibilities of these new Jews. It contains humor as well as sharp criticisms of Jews.
Kushner finishes his book with reflections on Thornton Wilder's great play Our Town. He recalls how one of the characters has died and asks if it is possible to go back in time and see oneself. She is told that it is possible, but not to do so, because it is too painful. She rejects the advice and goes back to view her twelfth birthday. She sees how her family is ignoring the possibilities of life and not really enjoying life. Her family is not living as if they will die someday. Kushner advises us not to live this way. This is his message after being a rabbi for so long, after seeing so much, after hearing so many tales of wasted lives lived wrong.