My Jewish Year: 18 Hol­i­days, One Won­der­ing Jew

Abi­gail Po­gre­bin A. J. Ja­cobs, con­trib­u­tor

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction -

Fig Tree Books Hard­cover $22.95 (336pp) 978-1-941493-20-5

My Jewish Year is an in­valu­able text for un­der­stand­ing how con­tem­po­rary peo­ple work to find per­sonal mean­ing in in­her­ited traditions.

My Jewish Year is an amus­ing, in­tel­li­gent, and of­ten in­can­des­cent ap­proach to mod­ern re­li­gious prac­tice. Abi­gail Po­gre­bin, like many Amer­i­can Jews, came to­ward her re­li­gious tra­di­tion grad­u­ally. Her fam­ily cel­e­brated the ma­jor hol­i­days lib­er­ally when she was grow­ing up—pic­ture Gloria Steinem tap-danc­ing at a Passover seder—but she didn’t per­son­ally con­nect to re­li­gious prac­tice un­til much later, fol­low­ing a project on Jewish-amer­i­can life and after be­com­ing bat mitz­vah at forty.

With My Jewish Year, she goes far­ther than sy­n­a­gogue mem­ber­ship and a Hanukkah plan, ex­plor­ing eigh­teen hol­i­days on the Jewish cal­en­dar, from the jewel of Shab­bat to the lesser-known hol­i­days of Shem­ini Atzeret and the fast of Es­ther on Purim. Her ap­proach is cu­ri­ous, in­ter­sec­tional, and re­spect­ful, draw­ing knowl­edge from rab­bini­cal lu­mi­nar­ies and per­sonal friends, from Rabbi David Wolpe to Blu Green­berg.

The true treat of Po­gre­bin’s work is its re­fusal to set­tle on “cor­rect” means of ob­ser­vance; in­stead, it draws from mul­ti­ple ex­pres­sions of Jewish hol­i­days, from Ortho­dox prac­tice to near-sec­u­lar ar­tic­u­la­tions, to paint a rich pic­ture of di­verse re­li­gious life. The work calls this seek­ing it­self a quintessen­tially Jewish act: “If you’re reach­ing, it’s be­cause you be­lieve there’s some­thing to grab hold of.”

So Po­gre­bin “sukkah-surfs” across Los An­ge­les, do­nates cloth­ing as tash­lich, sits be­hind a gen­dered par­ti­tion in ser­vices, and reads the found­ing doc­u­ments of the State of Is­rael to her ac­com­mo­dat­ing chil­dren; she vis­its a mik­vah ahead of the new year, and recre­ates the fem­i­nist seders of her mother’s day. She re­mains open through­out, in­sa­tiably learn­ing, and then teaching, about traditions in an ap­proach­able and thor­ough way. She is some­times awed, and some­times unswayed, but con­stant through­out is her sense that the ex­pe­ri­ence is a gift.

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