Whenever I take a journey, I often find myself
in a place I do not know. A strange city. An unfamiliar country.
Sometimes I don't even know the language. I need help. I heed
to learn the local customs. I need to find a place to eat. If
I have time. I want good advice about the sites.
Whenever I talk to people who are taking their
Jewish "journeys." I often sense they are experiencing
the same sort of insecurity. I feel when I am in a strange place.
They talk of being "lost "in the intricacies of Jewish
practice. They wonder what their "next steps" might
be. They want good advice about what to do and how to do it.
We need a concierge
A "concierge" is the person who
sits at a desk in the lobby of a hotel and dispenses advice for
sojourners. He or she is the person who can answer nearly any
question and is ready with an "insiders" tip on what
is the best way to eat, to drink, to sightsee. And to become
comfortable with strange surroundings. They are armed with resources
maps, directions, and translations just about anything
a stranger needs.
Whenever I ask a concierge for advice, I always
want to know whether they have eaten a the restaurant, taken
the tour, or visited the place. The best ones have a wide range
of such experiences to draw on so they can individualize their
responses by asking clarifying questions. "Are you a walker?"
Do you like pasta?" Would you rather spend time in a museum
or strolling through neighborhoods?" I leave a consultation
with a good concierge, loaded with information resources, and
a number of suggestions about how to take my next steps in the
Think of each author of the wonderful books
in this section as your concierge for Jewish living. Each has
been chosen because she or he is a knowledgeable and gifted teacher
of Jewish practice. Each has good advice for you about how to
take the next step along the path of Jewish observance.
I have been a "concierge" for Jewish
living for nearly thirty years. In my work as a Director of the
Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life and as an author of The
Art of Jewish Living series published by Jewish Lights, I have
met thousands of people who like the stranger in a strange land,
try to figure out how to "do Jewish" for themselves.
Here are a few of my "tips" for fellow travelers on
the path of Jewish living.
- 1. There is no such thing
as a stupid Jewish question
A woman once asked me " Which Shabbat candle do you light
first?" I wondered why she asked such a question, knowing
that the answer was " It doesn't matter which candle is
lit first" She replied. "Well, I was at a workshop
on Hanukkah last year, and the teacher made a big deal about
setting the candles in the hanukkiyah to the left, but lighting
them to the right, honoring that night's candle by lighting it
first." It was a great Jewish question. Never be afraid
to ask a Jewish question. The authors of these volumes respect,
indeed anticipate all questions about Jewish practice
- 2. Take small
The Jewish journey is long indeed. In fact, it takes a lifetime.
Everyone has one more mitzvah to do, one more thing to learn,
one more step to take. The proof is the wonderful instruction
of the Passover Haggadah: " Now even the wisest scholars
are required to ask questions" Start by doing a few practices
Light Shabbat candles. Bless your children. Say the Kiddush.
Sing a song.
- 3. Use the Access
Think of all the "Jewish" things you do already. Most
American Jews do come into contact with Jewish living at least
a few times a year. Most find themselves in synagogues on the
High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Most attend a
Passover Seder. Most will be invited to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a
wedding, a bris, a funeral. These are the "access"
points for most of us. Many of the books in this section deal
with these important points of contact. Read them and make a
conscious effort to maximize your experience of these times in
- 4. Fun is a Serious
When I explore a new city. I hope to enjoy the experience, to
have a "good" time. Maybe even to have "fun"
Many people view religion in general and Judaism in particular
as a dark, heavy judgmental, guilt-ridden experience. Jewish
living can be just the opposite joyous, enriching, spiritually
nourishing, even fun! Among the books in this section, you will
find creative suggestions to enliven your Jewish times. Use them
to transform Jewish living from the ponderous to the powerful,
from the burdensome to the joyful.
- 5. Be Cautious
As adventurous as I think I am, I often find myself feeling somewhat
uneasy in an unfamiliar new place. This is to be expected and
the best travelers are aware of the potential obstacles and challenges.
On the Jewish journey, there are plenty of these possible roadblocks
a foreign language, lack of time, costs, and conflicts with significant
others when they don't especially want to go where you want to
go! The best of these volumes honestly confront these difficulties
and offer creative solutions to avoid troubles along the way.
- 6. Use Guidebooks
A great concierge is well-stocked with the best tourbooks., guides,
and other resources for getting the best out of the experience.
You have found a superb source for the best "guidebooks"
for Jewish living. Reviewed by experts in the practical "art"
of Jewish observance, representing a variety of approaches and
disciplines, use these resources to help you reach decisions
and negotiate the exciting pathways of Jewish expression.
- 7. Many Paths, One
In the end, we come full circle to where we began. Jewish living
can be accessed from multiple paths. Some will choose to explore
the spiritual path: others will plunge into Jewish observance
and celebration. Some will travel at minimum speeds: others will
break the speed limit. Some will stop along the way to explore
in-depth; others will make brief visits and charge forward. There
are many ways to take a Jewish journey. The goal is the same:
enhancing one's life with meaning, purpose and connection, repairing
the soul and repairing the world, and reaching for a new day
when God's presence infuses all that we are and all that we do.
Call 1-800-JUDAISM, your concierge for Jewish
Dr. Ron Wolfson
Dr. Ron Wolfson has been a member of the faculty
of the University of Judaism since 1975. He currently serves
as Vice President, William and Freda Fingerhut Assistant Professor
of Education and Director of the Shirley and Arthur Whizin Center
for the Jewish Future. He directs the Whizin Institute for Jewish
Family Life and is a principal investigator of Synagogue 2000:
A Transdenominational Project for the Synagogue of the 21st Century.