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The Schmooze

30 Days, 30 Texts: ‘Letters to a Buddhist Jew’

In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Monica Rozenfeld writes about “”Letters to a Buddhist Jew” by Akiva Tatz and David Gottlieb.

Of all the Jewish books I have read, one that made a big difference in my life is “Letters to a Buddhist Jew.” Its simplistic format of one Buddhist Jew writing to a rabbi he’s never met, Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, asks the fundamental question about Judaism: Where is God?

Like many Jews, I find it difficult to pour over ancient texts. We find it difficult to grasp the concept of spirituality in a synagogue. Author David Gottlieb, who first wrote to Rabbi Tatz because his wife was disgruntled with his love for Buddhism, asks all the questions I wanted to ask, but maybe was too scared or too unknowing to do so. Where is God in Judaism? How do we find him? Why isn’t Judaism more accessible? More open? More spiritual?

In their letters back and forth — mostly Gottlieb asking and Tatz answering — many of the elements that are found in both religions are brought to the surface, such as meditation, peace, reflection, individuality. It was exciting to think about how the Buddhist concept “there are six billion doors to heaven and we each have our own” is also true of Judaism. We do each have our own rhyme, reason and way to get to God.

Yet Tatz took it a step further, reminding Gottlieb and the rest of us who were paying attention, that Judaism doesn’t stop there. Yes we do need meditation, spirituality, faith and more, but then what? Jews, Tatz said, do not leave the world to sit on a mountain or in an ashram, they are meant to live in the world and they are meant to serve.

When a Jew is blessed with so much wisdom, they must give back. They must educate. They must volunteer. They must give tzedaka. In Judaism, God doesn’t stop with us. We continue God’s work. And at a time that I was very much searching for how I want to express my belief in Him, this book turned me on to the Jewish way.

Monica Rozenfeld is a freelance journalist going for her masters in entrepreneurial journalism and health reporting at the City University of New York. She has spent several years working in Jewish Education, including her time at JESNA with the Lippman Kanfer Institute. She loves learning about all religions and continues to search for herself within Judaism, a never-ending journey.

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