Consider the Courage of Celebrating Hanukkah with Jewish Families This Year

(Photo used with permission.)

With a worldwide rise in antisemitism,
the Hanukkah lights can become community affirmations

THIS WEEK, WE ARE WELCOMING TEN OF OUR MANY JEWISH WRITERSwho are sharing personal reflections on celebrating Hanukkah in 2023.

Of course, Jewish families know that Hanukkah is a relatively minor festival each year, heightened across the U.S. because of its proximity with Christmas. “It’s not the Jewish Christmas,” Jews tell non-Jewish friends each December. “Hanukkah is a celebration of religious freedom.”

And that’s why, this year, many non-Jews are adding—in the face of a horrifying rise in hate crimes: “Community affirmations of our Jewish neighbors are important, especially as we begin to see the lights of Hanukkah appear in windows.”

Since our founding in 2007, our publishing house has been proud to produce books with men and women from many different faith traditions, including two dozen Jewish writers. Over the past week, 10 of those Jewish writers sent us personal notes about the deep resonance of Hanukkah this year. Please, read this cover story and share it with friends as a way to spread a little peace and hope and affirmation of our religious diversity, this week. If you want to take a further step, we have added links to these authors’ books. Consider expressing your own affirmation of our religious diversity by giving a friend or loved one a book by one of these authors—or by purchasing one of their books for your own enjoyment.

Note: Spellings vary as writers refer to the holiday.

Rabbi Jack Riemer

Where is the miracle in the Hanukkah story? That the Jewish people have held onto the Hanukkah story for 2,100 years, transmitting it from generation to generation, in one country after another, when they had so many opportunities to abandon it; when they were offered both the carrot and the stick, rewards if they gave it up and threats if they did not; that the Jewish people held onto this holiday for 2,100 years—that is the miracle. And that we still have it now, that we are right now about to transmit it to the next generation, to those who will come after us—that is the miracle.

It is a miracle that more 20 centuries after the Hanukkah story happened, we are still here, still telling the tale, still transmitting it to a new generation which, in turn and with God’s help, will tell the tale to those who will come after them. Therefore, let us celebrate Hanukkah together this year, with a whole and a happy heart.

Rabbi Jack Riemer often is referred to as a “dean of preachers” among Jewish clergy, because he has taught and mentored so many of his colleagues. You can enjoy his most memorable holiday messages in his book, Finding God in Unexpected Places: Wisdom for Everyone from the Jewish TraditionHis newest book is Duets on Psalms.

Lynne Golodner

I agree that publicizing the miracle aspect of Hanukkah is even more important this year. In response to the catastrophic rise in antisemitism, especially since the Oct. 7th attack on Israel, I have pulled my Jewish star necklaces out of my jewelry box and started wearing them again. I’ve also gotten more involved in my synagogue and Jewish community. I believe the best way to combat senseless Jew-hatred is to be the proudest Jewish person I can be, publicly and privately—to infuse my life with Jewish practice and ritual.

And I am even more committed than ever to my author brand, which focuses on creating compelling Jewish characters. I’ve always lit a bunch of menorahs in the window every night of Hanukkah, and this year will be no different. What is different is that being Jewish is incredibly special, handed down over generations, a long legacy of prioritizing life, celebration and love. I am very proud to be Jewish!

Lynne Golodner is a leading journalist, author and educator who coaches other writers and creative professionals. Learn more at her website—and enjoy an example of her “compelling Jewish characters” in her new novel, Woman of ValorAmong her many books is an exploration of interfaith food traditions in The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.

Rabbi Lenore Bohm

In my decades of celebrating Chanukah, I have never felt such a great need to see and relish the glowing lights of the Chanukah menorah. With deep longing, I seek to be reminded that we can create light in darkness and that we can increase light over time by lighting one additional candle for each of Chanukah’s eight nights.

It will certainly be a more solemn Chanukah celebration this year for many in the Jewish community. We remain shattered by the events of October 7 and anguished by violence that continues in and around our beloved Israel. We give thanks for the released hostages and pray that each one remaining in captivity will be reunited with family and friends before or during Chanukah. May Israel know true peace and security and may the Palestinian people gain freedom to choose worthy leaders who prioritize their people’s flourishing.

Rabbi Lenore Bohm is known as a pioneering Jewish leader, among the first women to be ordained. Today, she says, “I am thrilled that now there are over 1,500 women rabbis including almost 50 ordained under Orthodox auspices.” She also is known as a Jewish educator, including her book, Torah Tutor: A Contemporary Torah Study Guide.

Rabbi Joseph Krakoff

In the Chanukah story, a small group of individuals known as the Maccabees rose up to resist the Greek culture that was forcefully imposed on the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes during the 2nd century BCE. While some Jews willingly assimilated so they could more comfortably co-exist within the majority culture, a battle was waged by Jewish traditionalists to preserve the beautiful rituals and distinctive traditions that were the heart and soul of Jewish living. At the crux of the Chanukah narrative is the lesson that defending the right to practice Judaism freely and proudly is at the core of our ability to survive as a people. The eight-day holiday encourages and empowers each of us to do everything in our power to celebrate our differences while affirming the joy associated with being uniquely Jewish.

In this time of overwhelming challenge and struggle against growing antisemitism and the evil perpetuated on October 7 and every day since, we need to even more vigorously support and defend the Jewish right to practice freely in this country, in Israel and across the globe. May the brilliant lights of the Hanukkah menorah, this year more than ever before, remind us of our human responsibility to bring increased light into the world especially during our darkest days and when we all need to see and feel it the most.

Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff is CEO of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network. He also is co-creator of Never Long Enough, a unique book about the end of life, along with artist Dr. Michelle Y. Sider. This “picture book” invites families to reflect on the milestones of life either before or after the death of a loved one.

Howard Brown

We are not alone. That’s the affirmation that runs throughout Jewish history and is a key part of the Hanukkah story that has been preserved and handed down to us through the millennia. This also is a central truth understood by survivors around the world—certainly by survivors of stage IV cancer like me as well as survivors of traumas in so many forms, especially now.

We are not alone.

As a lifelong volunteer in Jewish leadership, I have never seen our community so alarmed by the hundreds of antisemitic threats documented by law-enforcement officials—and the thousands more that pass without such official notice in communities across the U.S. and around the world. The alarming rise in antisemitism makes us especially aware and thankful for friends, neighbors and co-workers who express their support. As Jewish families set out our candles this year—and shine our light into the darkness of this world—it takes courage and commitment as we affirm religious freedom for all. Perhaps, this year, you can encourage a friend or neighbor by reminding them:

We are not alone.

Howard Brown is a two-time stage IV cancer survivor, an early Silicon Valley entrepreneur and an active interfaith peacemaker. Visit ShiningBrightly.comto join the thousands of listeners to his weekly podcast. And order a copy of his memoir, Shining Brightlyfor friends who may need a bit of inspiration in this holiday season.

Suzy Farbman

Lighting candles on Chanukah is a way to celebrate and express gratitude for my ancestors and for 3,000-plus years of Judaism. With the amount of antisemitism currently being demonstrated worldwide, observing Chanukah this year is also a personal expression of solidarity for Jewish people everywhere.

Suzy Farbman is a nationally known journalist who is one of the most popular columnists in ReadTheSpirit magazine. She shares the inspiring and often funny story of her successful battle with cancer in GodSignsand celebrates her love of the fine arts in Detroit’s Cass Corridor and Beyond: Adventures of an Art Collector.

Bobbie Lewis

For me, Chanukah has a more poignant meaning this year, because the original Chanukah marked the victory of the Jews in Judea (an area that later came to be called Palestine) to be free from domination by the larger surrounding culture (the Assyrian Greeks). And so it is today. Israel is battling for the right to exist as a Jewish state—the only one in the world.

Bobbie Lewis—a past president of WISDOM and contributor to the Friendship & Faith collection (with a piece about Chanukah!)—is a retired public relations professional and a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News.

Joe Lewis

When I was young (in England) Chanukah wasn’t an orgy of presents to compete with Christmas. Instead, we kids would pay a visit to aunts and uncles and get a few coins as “Chanukah gelt”—Chanukah cash. Coins represent the independence of a sovereign nation, and the Maccabees minted their own currency, so coins are a reminder of our people’s independence long ago and—since the establishment of the State of Israel—the recovery of that independence.

Do today’s children know what coins are, I wonder? My schoolmates and I used to discuss the superiority of the twelve-penny shilling, so easy to divide by 2, 3, 4 and 6, over currency of other countries; we’d collect pennies from bygone kings and queens, every coin a history lesson; and a sixpenny bit or a threepenny bit in the hand conjured images of a spree at the sweet shop (candy store).

Joe Lewis is Bobbie Lewis’s husband and, among his many professional pursuits, taught generations of non-Hebrew-speaking men and women to enjoy a deeper participation in Jewish rituals, like the Passover seder, through his Singlish adaptations that he created and published. We thank Joe especially for his many years of support for our interfaith community of writers.

Rabbi Bob Alper

Our festival of lights comes at a time when we feel enveloped by the darkness of fear and overwhelming sadness. This year’s celebration of Chanukah reminds me of Rilke’s words: Even in the worst of times would you not still then have your childhood, that precious, kingly possession, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention thither. Try to raise the submerged sensations of that ample past.”

And so, for eight nights, as we light our menorah, for a few sweet moments I will once again be little Bobby Alper, standing in the dining room of our home at 89 University Avenue in Providence, our faded Chanukah banner hung across the door and warm orange candle wax dripping on my hand. For a few moments I’ll return to that chamber of happy expectation.

For a few precious moments.

Rabbi Bob Alper is the only practicing rabbi who tours nationally as a standup comic, famous for organizing interfaith comedy revues. You can enjoy more of Bob Alper’s wit and wisdom in his memoirs, Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This and Thanks. I Needed That.

Brenda Rosenberg

Celebrating Hanukkah, the Jewish festival commemorating the recovery of Jerusalem by the Maccabees (a group of Jewish rebel warriors) and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem is always a bittersweet time for me. My brother died on the first night of Hanukkah, 2020. My mother died on the last night of Hanukkah,1968. This year it will be even more emotionally challenging. October 7 in Israel was the most brutal attack on Jews since the Holocaust has left me shaken and fearful to be a Jew in America.

As I light the candles on the family menorah, the same Menorah I lit as a child, I will be praying for another miracle, a miracle of replacing hate with hope, and to creating healing. I pray my efforts with my friends from multiple backgrounds, religions and ethnic groups will bring a new level of understanding, to move from the ghosts and shadows from the past and heal our traumas, working together to create a new and viable future together.

Brenda Rosenberg is a peace activist and educator after a long career in retail marketing. Ironically, she is the creator of the original “Santa Bear” that swept the nation in the 1980s. Her commitment to interfaith peacemaking includes books, such as Reuniting the Children of Abraham and Harnessing the Power of Tension.

In 1955, Brenda Rosenberg (right) watches along with her brother Sanford Allen Cohen as their mother Belle Cohen lights the family menorah in their Detroit home.


Lynne Golodner’s ‘Woman of Valor’ is a five-senses immersion into a rich world of Jewish faith and family life

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

A novel is a community between two covers.

The best novels invite us to enter these communities accompanied by people we care about and whose adventures we are eager to follow—even if that involves facing perils along the way. To fully enjoy these adventures, we hope the author has authentically recreated the community on the page, faithfully enough that the things we see, touch, smell, hear and taste seem believable to us.

Lynne Golodner knows the Orthodox Jewish world of Woman of Valor so well that she weaves around us the beauty of Orthodox family life in America with all five senses from the flavors of fresh-baked challah to all the other rich sensations of a fully immersive Sabbath. That’s why we care so much about the people we meet—Sally, the main character, and her husband Barry and their children along with their close friends. And that’s why we keep turning pages when the suspense of two quite different predators threatens the future of their home in Skokie, Illinois.

After reading a preview copy of the novel—which officially launches on September 26, the day after Yom Kippur 2023—I interviewed Lynne via Zoom about this vivid story.

I began by explaining to Lynne how important I think this novel is right now. This spring, the Anti-Defamation League issued its analysis of the calendar year 2022, which set a record for antisemitic incidents since the ADL’s tracking began in the 1970s. The New York Times reported that the ADL’s data matches what Times reporters are seeing. Times correspondent Ruth Graham concluded, “The cumulative effect is an atmosphere in which threats, slurs and conspiracy theories brew online but are increasingly visible offline, too.”

Beyond a rise in hateful provocations and crimes, as a journalist who covers religious diversity myself, I’ve seen too many negative portrayals of Orthodox communities in popular fiction. Lots of contemporary fiction writers can’t understand anyone actually choosing to live in a community with such daily boundaries and demands on family life. Case in point: The most popular portrayal of Orthodox Judaism streaming on TV now is the fictional Unorthodox, adapted from Deborah Feldman’s memoir about fleeing an abusive Orthodox enclave in Brooklyn.

In sharp contrast to these negative portrayals in popular media—the overall arc of Lynne’s novel feels like breathing fresh air!

That’s true even when a couple of bad guys are looming along the way. From the opening scenes in Woman of Valor, we don’t want Sally or Barry to be forced away from their home. We’re cheering for them to find some way to remain, despite mounting threats. From the opening pages of this book, we become friends with the wide array of folks in this Orthodox neighborhood and we care about what happens to them.

An Entrepreneurial Writer and Coach

Readers who have enjoyed Lynne’s other books (which you can find on Amazon) know that her body of work touches on a wide array of issues. She is nationally respected as a journalist and author whose home website is In more recent years, she launched the podcast Make:Meaning, which we also can recommend to you. And, now, she is launching a new hybrid publishing house, Scotia Road Books, with this debut novel.

At one time, she was an active part of the Orthodox community in southeast Michigan. She remains deeply immersed in the Jewish world, but as her professional life expanded over the years she decided to live a less-strict version of that religious life. Still, she and her family are observant of beloved Jewish traditions. For example, she told me that she loves to prepare big shabbat dinners for her family and friends. And she continues to have a deep admiration and affection for her stricter Orthodox neighbors.

‘A strong woman defining her role’

In our interview—after I mentioned the context of the other more disturbing portrayals of Orthodox life in popular media—Lynne told me: “That’s why I wanted this novel to be about the beauty of the Orthodox world, featuring a strong woman who is defining her own role in that world. Also, while I was sharing lots of details about daily life in the Orthodox world, I wanted the book to be accessible to all readers, even if they’re not Jewish.”

I did surprise Lynne in our interview by describing her book as “a suspense novel”. While this is, indeed, a story that welcomes us into the rich tapestry of Orthodox family life—from raising kids to making friends to preparing distinctive foods and planning ahead for the weekly shabbat—this also is a page turner.

“I had not thought of this as a suspense novel, but I like what you’re saying about the suspense you found here,” Lynne said.

I told her that in my own first reading (I’ve now read it twice), I could not put it down because of the ongoing threats from two predators and, in my mind, that’s the classic definition of suspense.

Who are these predators? I want to walk a fine line in this magazine story by affirming that Woman of Valor is a beautifully evocative novel about Jewish life—and also giving prospective readers a “heads up” about the bad guys they will discover lurking in these pages.

Who are the predators?

The first predator is a teacher at the family’s local school who Sally and Barry discover has been physically abusing their young son—and other boys. Multiple tensions are unleashed by this news: What exactly did this teacher do? Will community leaders circle around the teacher to avoid scandal or decide to protect their children? And how will this teacher and his wife react within the community, since they are living in the Skokie neighborhood as well?

As a journalist, I have covered secretive patterns of abuse within religious groups—especially within Catholic and insular evangelical churches. I commended Lynne for accurately writing this particular storyline. (If you are interested in helping to promote awareness of the four basic forms of child abuse, the CDC provides a helpful summary—as well as a free info-graphic outlining these challenges that anyone can download, print and post in their community.)

In choosing her two fictional predators for this drama, I asked Lynne why she chose to highlight this particular issue?

“There’s nothing more important than protecting children and the vulnerable—period,” Lynne said. “This is an issue in every corner of our world. There are abusers who turn up in schools all around the world in both secular and religious settings. It’s an issue lots of families face.”

The second predator is a former lover from the years before Sally decided to become Orthodox and marry Barry. He resurfaces in the midst of the emotional turmoil of the abuse crisis at the family’s school—just when Sally and Barry are at their most vulnerable. He reveals himself to be a dangerous stalker.

And that’s why I’m describing Woman of Valor as a suspense novel as well as a family drama. I know that I had a hard time putting down this book while I was reading it, because I kept wondering: How can this family hope to survive as their beloved community seems to erupt around them?

Beautiful Sights, Sounds, Smells and Tastes of Skokie

Until my own adult children moved into a home just across the city line from Skokie a few years ago, I had never visited that area north of Chicago. However, one of the first news stories I reported as a young journalist was about reactions in southeast Michigan’s Jewish community to attempts by Nazis to march in Skokie in 1977. That’s pretty much all I knew about Skokie until several long summer visits my wife and I now have made to spend time with our adult children and our preschool granddaughters. Because Skokie is such a wonderfully walkable town, we’ve spent hours in the same neighborhood playgrounds and shopping centers where Sally and her family live in Woman of Valor.

“You absolutely nailed the setting,” I said to Lynne in our interview. “I felt like I was reading about a family we might have interacted with in a Skokie playground this summer.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Lynne said, “because that was a challenge. I know the southeast Michigan Jewish community very well, but I wanted to venture out and write about a place that I didn’t know as well. Sally is from Michigan and moves to the Chicago area and, of course, there’s always been a pretty natural progression for Detroit area youth to move to Chicago. You’ve seen it in your family. It made sense to have Sally move to Chicago after she finished the University of Michigan and that’s how she winds up in Skokie.”

And as Lynne is planning her second novel, will Skokie be the home base for her new characters?

“No, the next novel I’m writing is set partially in Michigan and partially in Scotland,” Lynne said. “I had to travel to Scotland to learn that landscape well enough to write about it.”

“Jews in Scotland?” I asked. “Certainly, they’re there, but it’s not the first ethnic group I think of in Scotland. Once again, you’ve chosen a place that’s family turf for our family. What’s the Jewish connection in your Scottish setting?”

“I don’t want to spoil the new novel, but it involves a woman who is a researcher, an archivist in Edinburgh, and she discovers some writings by a Jewish woman. I don’t want to say much more about it now, but it’s something readers can look forward to, if they like this first novel.”

I agreed. My wife and I definitely are going to be early readers of the new book. We’re sold on Lynne’s storytelling abilities in Woman of Valor.

“What’s your hope for launch of Woman of Valor?” I asked Lynne finally. “How do you hope it will affect readers?”

“I hope that people love reading it. I hope that they can’t put it down,” she said. “I hope that it makes people think about who they are and how they want to live their lives—and I hope it sparks conversations. I’m excited to speak to groups of readers. One thing that impressed me is that—there are lots of foods, lots of dishes, in the book—and I know one book club that is hosting me is planning to make some of the things in the book for that night.

“I hope that lots of great conversations will grow out of this book.”


Care to Read More?

Lynne Golodner at a recent book event with her new novel and earlier books she has written as well.

Want to meet Lyne or invite her to your organization?

Lynne Golodner is the author of eight books and thousands of articles. If you are intrigued by this interview about her new book, Woman of Valor, you can order your copy from Amazon today.

If you are intrigued about our mention of food in this article, please check out Lynne’s book The Flavors of Faith—Holy Breads, which also is available from Amazon.

Or, you can learn much more about her work through her home website, If you explore that website, you’ll learn how to contact her and ask about future events.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll almost certainly enjoy her podcast series, as well, which you can learn about at Make:Meaning.

‘Happy Hanukkah!’ Rediscovering the meaning behind today’s holiday industry.


A Time to Ponder Some Powerful Themes


Author and Contributing Columnist

Let’s start with the truth that Jews find themselves explaining to Christians each year: No, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. These are completely different festivals. The main challenge Jewish families share with their Christian neighbors at this time of year is trying to rediscover the meaning beneath the vast weight of the holiday industry.

Jewish families know that our most important holiday season is in the autumn: the High Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur with the week-long Sukkot harvest festival coming five days later. For those whose lives are shaped by Jewish practice, this winter celebration is recognized as subordinate to the biblically based holy days. Hanukkah is a distinctly minor holiday, elevated in importance only because it usually falls in December. Occasionally, such as this year, it begins earlier: November 28 will mark the lighting of the first candle.

Only because of its timing has this little festival been folded into the American “holiday season” of lights, decorations, presents and parties. Today, North American Hanukkah has become part of the holiday industry: elaborate decorations, themed wrapping paper and paper goods, personalized greeting cards, recipe books and sometimes even a so-called Hanukkah bush embellished with blue and white/silver ornaments.

But Hanukkah’s origins and meaning are far different than what Christians celebrate in December.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, most Jewish families recognized that Hanukkah meant lighting the multi-branched candelabrum, singing a few Hanukkah songs, eating potato latkes (pancakes), playing with a dreidel (a 4-sided spinning top) and giving small gifts to children, usually one gift per night.

It was a modest celebration, cozy and intimate.

But in the same way that thoughtful Christians reject the exploitation of Christmas as a commercial enterprise, so do thoughtful Jews reject the false equivalency of Hanukkah as a blue-and-white-silver version of red-green-and-white Christmas.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the national Temple in Jerusalem after it had been defiled by the ruler Antiochus Epiphanes in 168BCE. A coalition led by the Maccabee family pledged to fight against the Greeks and against fellow Jews who encouraged—or coerced—rejection of Judaism in favor of Hellenistic ideas and ideals. Although vastly outnumbered and materially disadvantaged, the Maccabees and their followers prevailed. They captured the Temple, which had fallen into Greek hands and was rendered unfit for Jewish practice.

According to the story, those entering the Temple found only one day’s worth of purified oil to light the candelabrum (menorah) that was the symbolic centerpiece of the Temple. Somehow (miracle, anyone?) the oil lasted for eight days until additional purified oil could be obtained. Hence, the eight day festival and the kindling of eight lights.

This is an abbreviated and slightly mythologized telling of Hanukkah’s origins. But, mythology notwithstanding, there are important lesson we can draw from the story. As is true of nearly every religious/cultural holiday, Hanukkah provides an opportunity to elevate certain important themes that go beyond the holiday’s color, food, musical and commercial associations.

Powerful Themes of Hanukkah

At Hanukkah, we can choose to ponder some powerful themes:

  • Minorities are always at risk of being attacked, from the outside, for their differences.
  • Minorities are always at risk for being seduced, from the outside, to join the dominant group and abandon their uniqueness.
  • Within minorities, people differ on how much the group should insist on retaining their authenticity, their particularism.
  • A culture/religion that never changes will atrophy.
  • A culture/religion that always changes will lose its identity.

The word Hanukkah, often spelled Chanukah, means “dedication,” referencing the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. But a related Hebrew word Chinuch means “education.”

The lessons of Hanukkah are far more important than its role as a seasonal opportunity for decorations and gifts. And, in the end, that’s the main challenge observant Jewish and Christian neighbors share in this winter season.


Care to learn more?

Rabbi Lenore Bohm was among the early wave of women ordained as rabbis in America. Before her ordination in 1982, she studied at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion in Jerusalem and Cincinnati. She began her rabbinic service in San Diego; she has continued her studies both in the U.S. and Israel over many years; and she has become widely known in southern California as a leading Jewish educator. In early 2022, we will publish her reflections on the Torah, a week-by-week guide book for individual reflection or small-group discussion. Stay tuned to for news about that upcoming book!


Meet Reasa Currier of the HSUS—a different kind of interfaith activist

By DAVID CRUMM, ReadTheSpirit Editor

What’s the mission of an interfaith activist?

Often, the vocation involves bridging religious barriers in our communities, combating bigotry, defending human rights, and courageously promoting peace in global hotspots (see for more).

This week, we’re introducing a different kind of interfaith activist who is crisscrossing the nation on behalf of animals: the Humane Society of the United States’ Reasa Currier. Her title is long: Strategic Initiatives Manager for Faith Outreach, a division of the HSUS.


Reasa Currier’s mission is clear: She connects with religious leaders and activists who are motivated by their faith to join in widespread efforts on behalf of animals.

She’s relatively new to the job, yet her potential impact also is clear: In June 2015, Tennessee enacted tougher penalties for animal fighting, a campaign in which the Southern Baptist Convention played a key role thanks to Reasa’s work on behalf of HSUS with Russell Moore, president of the influential Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“It’s not just a step away from the cruelty and savagery of animal fighting; it is a move away from the exploitation of the poor through expanded gambling,” said Moore, who attended the June 11 signing of the legislation in Tennessee.

The anti-animal-fighting campaign is aimed at more than owners and promoters of animal fights. Reasa reminds faith leaders that this business represents a dangerous lure for poor Americans, often drawing them into ever-deeper cycles of gambling and also bringing their children into the bloody world of animal fighting.

Fighting rings are dangerous environments for vulnerable men and women, Moore and other religious leaders argue. In a public letter endorsing the Tennessee law earlier this spring, Moore warned that a “relationship between animal fighting, gambling and organized crime continues to grow.”

Are you surprised that kids are involved? One Tennessee newspaper featured a photo of a small boy proudly showing off his fighting bird.

Reasa says, “We’ve been involved in opposing dog fighting and cock fighting rings all across the country and we often find that children are present. We’ve found playpens set up near the fighting for small children. We’ve even seen children exchanging money as they gamble on the fights. That’s why we’re focusing on keeping children away—and we also support making it illegal for anyone to attend an animal fight. All too often, police raid a fight and nearly everyone walks away with no consequences.”

Many religious leaders find such a cause is in perfect alignment with their values. (Here is Baptist Press coverage of the Tennessee effort.)


Animal welfare and creation care may not be high priorities in your congregation—but they could be, Reasa argues. She can show teaching documents that span centuries and, in some cases, millennia.

“Many Americans are aware of the ancient tradition of  compassion toward living things in the Dharmic faiths,” which include Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh traditions, Reasa says. “But, all of the world’s faiths have some teaching on animal stewardship—so I’m not trying to convince people to accept something new. It’s right there in their religious traditions. A lot of my work is connecting with faith leaders to lift up the teachings that they already have in their communities.”

The majority of Americans are Christians, although they may not often explore their teachings on animal welfare. The Christian connection draws on ancient roots of compassionate stewardship of land and animals in Judaism—a message of care for life that also extends into the other “Abrahamic” faith: Islam.

Many iconic Christian leaders—from St. Francis to the founder of United Methodism John Wesley—were famous for advocating animal welfare. ReadTheSpirit magazine has one of Wesley’s sermons on the topic. During his lifetime, some of Wesley’s harshest critics poked fun at his soft heart for animals and joked that they could spot a Methodist farmer’s barnyard by the kinder ways he treated his animals.

“Christians have a great and ancient history in understanding there is a sacred relationship between the farmer and the land, the land and the community and that includes the welfare of animals,” Reasa says. “There are so many scriptures that speak to this relationship.”

Given this deep consensus, Reasa says, “The easy part of my work is getting endorsements from faith leaders for issues the Humane Society is supporting. Sometimes it only takes a call or an email to tell them about an issue we’re working on—and they’ll want to be part of it. The hard part of my job is building community among the individuals we reach. We need to establish ongoing connections around animal stewardship.”

While Reasa’s work is in the U.S., she points out to religious leaders that efforts on behalf of animals and the environment can build relationships in the burgeoning Southern Hemisphere, where Catholics, Protestants and Muslims all have been experiencing growth. Uniting North and South is a message championed this year by Pope Francis.


As she travels, Reasa writes and speaks about signs of hope she sees nationwide.

“The news about climate change and the challenges of creation care can quickly turn to conversation about hurricanes and poverty and tragedies—and that can lead to a kind of helplessness,” she says. “The problems can seem to be of such magnitude that it’s just hopeless to try to make a difference as an individual.”

HSUS is well aware of that danger. That’s why the organization promotes lots of individual initiatives like The Humane Backyard, which people can work on wherever they live. Here’s how HSUS describes the idea:

In addition to providing food, water, and cover, a Humane Backyard gives wildlife a safe haven from harmful pesticides and chemicals, free-roaming pets, inhumane practices (such as wildlife trapping), and other dangers in our human-dominated world. Whether you have an apartment balcony, suburban yard, corporate property, place of worship, or community park, you can turn it into a habitat for wildlife, people, and pets.

For her part, Reasa lifts up small but significant examples she spots, while on the road. Recently, she published a column about a seminary that has established a community garden that is changing the way people think about the food they eat.

“I was impressed with their garden,” Reasa says. “They aren’t sinking into helplessness. They are doing something—planting a garden, harvesting vegetables and making a commitment that all their food is sourced in a sustainable and humane manner. They get their meat and dairy from local farms that have high animal-welfare standards. And the vegetables they grow are letting them cut back on the amount of food they’re buying that has to be transported thousands of miles.”

Want to get involved?

Learn about the Faith Outreach division of HSUS.

This week, ReadTheSpirit is publishing several columns packed with ideas you can use with friends. If you found this story about Reasa Currier interesting, then you’ll also want to read our story about the importance of Pope Francis’s campaign on creation care—and you’re sure to enjoy the OurValues series exploring the historic release of a new Dr. Seuss book: What Pet Should I Get?

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

The Bob Alper interview: ‘Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This’

Everyday in America, someone chuckles at Bob Alper. Sometimes, hundreds laugh at him.

On purpose.

Alper is the world’s only practicing rabbi who also is a full-time standup comedian. Some of the laughter echos from comedy clubs, universities and other professional stages in the US and the UK where he performs his trademark “100% Clean” comedy routines. Some of his fans laugh in their cars, since Bob is one of the most popular voices on Sirius/XM satellite radio’s “clean comedy” channel.

But, seriously now …

Alper also is a wise teacher, a sought-after rabbi, and this is the time of the year when the vast majority of Americans—millions of Christians and Jews—are marking treasured holidays. Christian Easter and Jewish Passover are vastly different celebrations, but both traditions have kept alive sacred stories handed down through thousands of years. Christians remember, in great detail, Jesus’s final days on earth and Jews remember, in great detail, God leading the Israelites out of Egypt in the Exodus.

Most Jewish Americans attend a Passover seder each year. And Christians? Pew researchers took a fascinating new look at church activity around Easter. The Pew experts examined online search trends and found “the highest share of searches for ‘church’ (at any time in the year) are on the week of Easter Sunday, followed by the week of Christmas.” The researchers looked back over a decade at this pattern of Americans searching for “church” and found the pattern was nearly identical, year after year.

So, why do some stories hold such sacred power that Americans move in predictable tidal waves each year, especially to retell and celebrate Jesus’s final days—and the story of Exodus?

Because, such ancient holidays are “holy”—and “holiness” is a part of the title of Bob Alper’s new book, Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This. If the book’s subtitle were written in Hebrew, the word “holy” would be “kodesh,” which also could be translated as “set apart.” At this time of year, we might say that holiday time—and the stories we retell at these occasions—are “set apart” from the rest of the year.

And, as spring dawns across the Northern Hemisphere, that’s a powerful spiritual idea Bob Alper is unfolding in this book’s more than 200 pages: What makes life sweet is consciously deciding which experiences—which true stories—we will set aside, retell, savor and recognize as defining who we are.

In one chapter of his book, Bob addresses all of us who are somewhere in life’s second half. He says that, as we look at our lives, we may regret that we’re no longer a teen or a 20-something with all of life’s courageous possibilities lying ahead of us. But, Bob writes: We can reclaim some of that power if we carefully remember our life’s best moments, our holy stories. He writes: “I’ll never again rescue the damsel, save the multitude, and charge off into the sunset. But I can dream. And I can recollect. And I can savor. Often, that’s all I need.”

What kinds of stories are in this book? Have you ever taken a challenging hike, perhaps a climb in the mountains, that you never expected to conquer? Have you ever received a hand-made gift—accompanied by a story you didn’t expect? Have you ever rushed to comfort a loved one who has fallen and then found yourself caught up in their difficult recovery?

Do you remember an image of your child on a day so wonderful that you will never forget that moment? Bob remembers just such a day, way back in 1976 with his 4-year-old son Zack—and a snapshot he took of his son Zack, that day, is on the cover of this new book.

“When the first copies of this book arrived, I mailed one to Zack,” Bob says in the following interview. “He called me and he said, ‘Dad, you can tell a book by its cover!'”

And, that is a true story.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed the author. Here are …


DAVID: Let’s start with this word in your sub-title: Holy. The majority of Americans are Christian and, when Christians see that word, they may think this book is like Chicken Soup for the Soul. And it’s not. Your stories, I think, are even more powerful than what readers might find in Chicken Soup. So, tell us: What does “holy” mean to you?

BOB: You’re right—when most people hear the word “holy,” they start thinking about old men with long beards, dusty books, big old buildings or maybe Gregorian chants. That kind of thing. But in Hebrew, “holy” is “kodesh,” which means set apart—something that’s set apart because it is so exceptional.

DAVID: And in terms of stories? What are holy stories from everyday life?

BOB: These are the stories we set apart, the stories that we recognize as holy. These are the stories that give meaning to our lives.

And the truth is: We all have them.

For me, this process begins with how we think about our lives. What do we choose to remember? And, then, how do we choose to remember it? I’m talking about a moment that might cause us to say, “Oh, what a nice experience!” Or, “What a great day!” We might say, “Wasn’t that cute.” Or, “Wasn’t that so nice!” But we know that some of these experiences are more than that. They’re not just “nice” or “cute” or “great.”

When we find ourselves saying things like that about an experience, we might be describing something that I would call holy. When I use that word, holy, I’m talking about grabbing these times, recognizing their extraordinary value, setting them apart and hanging onto these stories.

DAVID: There’s such a moment from your own life on the cover of the book, right?.

BOB: The cover was designed by a wonderful artist, Rick Nease. And the photo on Rick’s cover is my son Zack. This is my favorite photograph of my son at age 4. This was back in 1976. We were on Cape Cod on summer vacation and I took that picture as he was getting a drink from a fountain. That was one of the happier moments in our family.

When the first copies of this book arrived, I mailed one to Zack. He called me and he said, “Dad, you can tell a book by its cover!”


DAVID: One of the wisest messages you send to readers in this book is: Life comes in waves. There is an ebb and flow to the good times—and the bad. Sections of your book have titles like “From Weakness to Strength or Strength to Weakness” and “From Health to Sickness and Back, We Pray, to Health Again.”

In fact, we don’t often find a warm bowl of chicken soup at the end of a tough day. Sometimes things get worse. And, sometimes we’re surprised for the good. Without spoiling one of your best stories for readers, I can tell them this: You’ll never look at an ugly, hand-made afghan blanket the same way after you read this book.

Another of my favorites is called “Getting Unstuck” about your fear of heights—and the day you tried to climb a rock cliff as high as a 14-story building. In eight pages, you take us through the kind of outdoor challenge that so many of us, as non-climbers, can appreciate, including: What were you thinking setting out on this challenge!?! You tell the story so well, including the surprises on that cliff like a particularly nasty patch of poison ivy!

The reason that story is worth remembering and retelling? Because it’s about, as your chapter title puts it: “Getting Unstuck.”

BOB: It’s such a common experience!

Like millions of other people, I read Dear Abby every day. It’s a column about people who are stuck. Every question to “Dear Abby” is about someone who’s stuck and needs help. They don’t know what to do. But we do know that, if we go in the wrong direction, things can get worse. And, on that rock cliff, someone did head in a wrong direction, where they found the poison ivy. Much worse!

Of course, I got unstuck. And one reason is that I had a safety harness. I finally got to the top. I think it’s helpful for people to realize that we all get stuck—all the time in life. We’ve got to remember to look for the safety harnesses we may have. Stories like that in my book, or in Dear Abby, give people courage to hang on. Just like we all get stuck all the time—we can get unstuck, too.


DAVID: A constant reminder of the possibility of change is right in your small town of East Dorset, Vermont, which is the birthplace of “Bill W,” co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. You tell some of that story in one chapter of this new book. I remember visiting Bill W’s birthplace, and his grave, back in 2010 when I visited you in Vermont, Bob. I think it’s one of the most moving sections of the book.

BOB: Our town is so quiet that, if a car drives up our dirt road, our dog barks. In our back yard, we see deer, moose, even bears. There’s a saying here: “Vermont is what America was.”

One of my daily privileges is going down to the post office. As I do that, I can look across the railroad tracks at the Wilson House, the center where Bill W was born in 1895. His parents ran an inn there and Bill W was born in a room behind the bar.

Every day, people come to Wilson House as a sign of thanks to Bill W. The program he created with Dr. Bob helped them change their lives for the better. It’s a privilege to see them there—people with all kinds of different clothing, in different conditions, clean shaven or with long beards, all kinds of different hair styles. Yet, they’ve all traveled to that place to show that they’ve achieved something that’s very hard to do—to gain sobriety and maintain it.

In my tradition, there’s an old Hassidic story about a young man who set out to change the world. And most of us can guess what happened: He couldn’t change the world. Then, he decided to change his country and that didn’t work, either. The story can go on and on—until finally the young man discovers that what he really needs to do is change himself. And, in changing himself, he is changing the world.

That’s the story of Bill W. and I am reminded of that every day in our town. And when I think about it, it still—(pauses). Well, let me put it this way. Just before this book was published, I had to proof the galleys and because I travel so much, I was working on planes. And it was embarrassing. There I was, the guy crying on the plane.

That’s not to say the stories in this book are all sad. Many of them are happy—but they are tear-enducing to me because they’re true—and because they’re so important.

And I’m not alone.

DAVID: What do you want to tell readers, in the end.

BOB: If you read this book, I hope you’ll find stories from your own life that will help you think about your life in helpful new ways. If you do, then you can start telling your own stories—and discover new meaning in your life.

Care to read more?

BOB’S BOOK—The easiest way to purchase Bob’s new book, Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This, is through Amazon or you may want the Kindle edition. For more purchasing options, including Barnes & Noble and iBooks, visit our bookstore page for the new book. You can learn more about Bob’s life, his work—and his earlier book Thanks I Needed That on this author page.

BOOK BOB—Over the years, Bob has appeared in venues large and small—from individual congregations to major universities, conferences, theaters and comedy clubs. His performances range from his 100% Clean solo standup shows—to a Scholar in Residence Weekend—to his very popular Laugh in Peace shows, which include a Muslim and a Christian comedian as well. You can learn all about him here—and you’ll find his tour schedule here.

CURIOUS ABOUT “KODESH” and “HOLY”? Entire books have been written on these themes, and Wikipedia has some helpful introductory articles. Here is the Judaism section of the overall “Sacred” article. Then, here is Wikipedia’s overview of the Hebrew term that begins ק-ד-ש.

LAUGH ALONG WITH AMERICA—In our opening lines today, we described the typical reaction to Bob Alper: Laughter! Here is a 5-minute clip from one of his shows at the University of Michigan:


(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

MSU ‘Bias Busters’ sort out the mysterious realm of religion


The MSU Bias Busters series of guides to cultural competence embarks on a new direction this week: We’re heading into the realm of religion.

The series, from the Michigan State University (MSU) School of Journalism, started in 2013 with 100 questions and answers to everyday questions about several groups. There are now guides for Indian Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, East Asian cultures, Arab Americans, Native Americans and, to help international guests, Americans.

Why did our MSU team decide to start this new series on religious minorities? Because such guides are needed by so many men and women, these days. Americans in countless neighborhoods and professions need to know how to interact with our neighbors and co-workers from minority faiths and cultures.

Why did we start this new series with Muslims? Because these men, women and children face the greatest misunderstandings right now, according to nationwide studies.

Recently, Pew researchers reported that prejudice against Muslim Americans is “rampant among the U.S. public.” The Pew team added: “We have a long way to go in dispelling prejudice against Muslims. Muslims were the group rated most negatively of all religious groups.”

Can our guide books really make a difference? Yes!

Here’s the goal of our overall series of 100 Questions & Answers guides: We answer the questions that real people ask every day wherever Americans gather. We answer the questions that no one else is answering in such a convenient and authoritative form. We have blue-ribbon readers across the country advise us as we answer these questions for readers—so you can trust what we’re telling you in these pages.

In your hands, these guides will help you get to know co-workers, neighbors or fellow students in your school. And that process of getting to know each other, concludes the Pew team, is the way to build healthier communities.

The Pew team used a thermometer chart to show Americans’ relatively warm vs. chilly attitudes toward minorities. The team’s report concludes: “Knowing someone from a religious group is linked with having relatively more positive views of that group. Those who say they know someone who is Jewish, for example, give Jews an average thermometer rating of 69, compared with a rating of 55 among those who say they do not know anyone who is Jewish. Atheists receive a neutral rating of 50, on average, from people who say they personally know an atheist, but they receive a cold rating of 29 from those who do not know an atheist. Similarly, Muslims get a neutral rating (49 on average) from those who know a Muslim, and a cooler rating (35) from those who do not know a Muslim.”


The full title of our newest book, as listed on Amazon, is 100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans with a Guide to Islamic Holidays: Basic facts about the culture, customs, language, religion, origins and politics of American Muslims.

These guides are designed to answer the everyday questions that people wonder about but might not know how to ask. The Muslim-American guide answers:

* What does Islam say about Jesus?
* What does the Quran say about peace and violence?
* What is the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims?
* Which countries are predominantly Shia and Sunni?
* Do Muslims believe in heaven and an afterlife?
* Do Muslims believe that non-Muslims are going to hell?
* Is the Nation of Islam the same as Islam?
* Are honor killings a part of Islamic teaching?
* What does Islam say about images of God?
* Do women who wear the hijab play sports or swim?

The guide’s Foreword is by John L. Esposito, professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He is founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and author of the popular book, What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam.

Esposito wrote, “The Muslims of America are far from monolithic in their composition and in their attitudes and practices. They are a mosaic of many ethnic, racial and national groups. As a result, significant differences exist in their community as well as in their responses to their encounter with the dominant religious and cultural paradigm of American society.”

Esposito was one of 20 experts who helped MSU students in one way or another through the creation of our new guide. The students began by interviewing Muslims, and consulting with our experts, to determine the 100 commonly asked questions we would answer in this book. Then, the students researched the answers and, once again, consulted with our experts to verify the entire guide.


Another new feature in this new book is a nine-page guide to Islamic holidays. Written by Read the Spirit’s Holidays & Festivals expert Stephanie Fenton, it explains their timing, meaning and significance.

The guide also has a recording with American Muslims pronouncing Arabic words such as Muslim, Islam and Allah. Muslims told students that these are often mispronounced and the audio addresses that. (Visit the ReadTheSpirit bookstore now to learn how to order your copy of this inexpensive new book. When you get your copy, the first thing you’ll want to do is listen to this helpful audio track. In most e-readers, the audio plays within the digital book; in the print edition, a QR code lets you click on that page—and play the audio on your smart phone.)

The series is evolving and becoming more elaborate.

The next guide will focus on Jewish Americans and is expected to have videos.


JOE GRIMM is visiting editor in the Michigan State University School of Journalism. In addition to the MSU series, Joe has written two books about careers in media. You can learn about all of Joe’s books in our ReadTheSpirit bookstore.

Marcia Falk interview on ‘The Days Between’

Whatever your faith and whatever the season, Marcia Falk has blessings, poems and spiritual guidance to help you through a time of reflection and renewal. Her new book is called, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season.

As the subtitle indicates, this is a series of reflections, readings, blessings and prayers appropriate to each day from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. But this book also is full of timeless spiritual wisdom, eloquently signaled in these concise lines. Consider this eight-line reading that Falk calls “Turning the Heart.”

Slow spin of earth
against sky—

imperceptible yet
making the days.

One stone tossed
into the current,

and the river, ever-
so-slightly, rising.


ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Marcia Falk. Here are …


DAVID: Your website,, describes you as “Poet, Painter, Judaic Scholar.” We will include a photo of your book’s front cover, which features your watercolor-and-pencil work, called “Gilead Apples.” Your career is so varied. How do you describe your overall body of work to audiences, when you tour and talk about your new book?

MARCIA: I would say that I am a creative artist, a poet and a translator with a strong scholarly background in the work I do. I’ve brought together the literary world and the world of scholarship in my work interpreting and recreating Jewish liturgy from a non-hierarchical perspective. I don’t just sit down and write liturgy. Everything I do is based in the tradition.

DAVID: Evidence of your very thoughtful process is that your books take many years to complete. Probably your most famous book—at least one that has been on my own reference shelf for many years—is your rendering of The Song of Songs.

MARCIA: That has been in print for almost four decades and it has migrated through a number of publishers over the years. It is available today from Brandeis University Press. I began that work when I was a graduate student in English and comparative literature at Stanford, independent studies in three different areas at once: I was in a poetry translation workshop and I was doing an independent study in American poets and then—and this is the most important thing—I had decided to go back and study the original Hebrew Song of Songs, which of course I had known since childhood in my Jewish background.

I remembered The Song of Songs as very musical and lyrical and I already loved the book but I had never studied it. It is an extremely different book linguistically. I worked with a Bible scholar, sitting together and reading this book. I researched every word and phrase and never thought about translating it. I was just absorbing the book. And then one night my translation workshop had an evening when we were sharing our work. When my turn came, I said, “I don’t have anything to show. I’ve spent all my time studying this wonderful book and it’s completely taken over my life.” I began to talk about The Song of Songs and how they couldn’t understand this aspect of it from the King James Version or they would miss this aspect in the Revised Standard Version. I was talking to them about what’s in the original Hebrew.

That’s when I realized that I really should translate this book that had become such a big part of my life. And, that took me years. I went to Israel. I wanted to study at the feet of the great Bible scholars there. I wanted their approval that I was on the right track. Eventually my translation became my doctoral dissertation, the translation accompanied by a commentary.

DAVID: That’s a terrific story because it conveys to our readers the great care and the long years you spend on your work. Let’s point out that I’m certainly not alone in praising The Song of Songs. A very long list of great literary lights have praised that book, including Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer who wrote about your book, “I thought until now that the Song of Songs could not be translated better than the King James Version. Marcia Falk really managed to do an exceptional poetic job. She has great power in her language.”

So, then, leaping forward to the mid 1990s, you produced the big Book of Blessings.

MARCIA: I actually began writing that book in 1983. It was a 13-year project; The Book of Blessings finally came out in 1996. That book is a recreation of prayer for Shabbat, the Sabbath, and for weekdays. My impetus for doing that book was a deep frustration with the patriarchal focus of traditional prayer that was so unsatisfying to the point of being painful for many Jewish women and, it turns out, many Jewish men as well. When it was published, that book created a pretty big stir in the Jewish world.

Then, in 1996, I thought I would dive right into the next volume, which would be for the high holiday season, because that is the time of year when more Jews enter the synagogue than at any other time of year. But The Days Between, which just was published, took another 18 years.

DAVID: I’ve been a journalist covering religion and cross-cultural issues for 40 years now and I am fascinated by this thoughtful, long journey represented in your work. There is a great deal that evolves and matures in us as we go through the years. I talked about this issue, this spring, with the writer Barbara Brown Taylor and asked her why five years had passed between books.

Barbara laughed at that and said: “I envy the writers who can turn out a book every year, but I teach full time, my husband and I live on a working farm, I travel a lot to speak. And, honestly, I think it’s worth taking time to actually live the kind of life that will produce something worth writing about.”

MARCIA: There are many reasons it took me so many years: raising a child, needing to make a living as a professor and many other things. But the main reason was that this needed to evolve in my mind and heart. I needed to really grapple with what this very difficult liturgy was all about. The themes of the high holidays are extremely profound and they are at the core of all of human endeavor.

It took this many years to complete, really, because I needed to live long enough in the world—and needed all of the experiences that come with birth and grief and growth and renewal and all the things that make up a human life through those years. I needed to grow through all of that. My living was seeping into my poetry all that time.

DAVID: I hope that readers of this interview understand that, while your book is Jewish and ideal for Jewish readers, this book also can be appreciated as an inspiring and spiritually challenging reader for non-Jews as well. As I was preparing for our interview, Marcia, I was also balancing hours of visiting my father in hospice care. He’s at the very end of his long life, now, and I found many passages in your book just electrifying.

Let me read one prose passage from the opening of the book that really helped me in my own reflections right now. You write: “Positioned between dawn and dusk, dusk and dawn, we live between past and future because we cannot live in them; we cannot act in them or change their outcomes. In this sense, past and future don’t exist for us: only the time between them—the present time—exists.” And then you continue a few lines later: “How do we live with the knowledge not just of our own mortality but of the truth that we cannot hold on to anything? How do we keep from succumbing to despair?”

I underlined those lines and turned down the corner of that page. That summarizes, so eloquently, the spiritual challenge we all face at times of major life transitions. It certainly was very helpful to me in the midst of hospice care with my Dad. I read those lines aloud to him.

MARCIA: To me, that’s the best reward as an author—to hear that kind of response from a reader. I should also mention that it’s been very interesting to me that, wherever I speak about this book, hospice workers in particular come up to me and I see how engaged they are. I feel very gratified that the book is of use to those in hospice. I think that hospice workers are doing something extremely important in our world world.

DAVID: I think it speaks, even more broadly, about how these timeless truths and insights—these blessings and prayers—can touch many lives whatever one’s faith might be. So, let me close our interview by asking: What do you hope general readers will take away from reading your book?

MARCIA: For my Jewish readers, I hope I’m bringing a new entry into Judaism. I also hope it will reveal something for non-Jewish readers as well. I hope it touches people and enriches their paths through life. We’re all human beings and we’re all in this together.

In this book, I am dealing with big themes that speak to and for all of us. Of course, I’m doing this in Jewish language and metaphor—but ultimately for any religion or tradition to meaningful, it has to be dealing with the universals of human life. No religion works unless it is really talking to the whole community of humanity.

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)