Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Would you be my partner in this project?
Those were the words that @iwe expressed in an email he sent to me almost three years ago, inviting me to co-write a book about Judaism. To say I was shocked, thrilled, and terrified at the prospect of working on this kind of project would be an understatement. In all fairness to you, the reader, I have to give you some background.
Several years ago, I decided to completely leave Zen Buddhism, which I had practiced for 20 years. I’d remained a Jew, but had never been religious, and never felt a strong affinity for my faith. Ironically, the more I meditated within the Zen framework, the more I felt a deep connection with G-d. (Zen doesn’t address G-d in its practice.)
So, when I left Zen (for a multitude of reasons that I won’t go into here), and was active on Ricochet at the time, I discovered the writings of @iwe. His love for Judaism was alive and intriguing, and in commenting on one of his posts, I asked him if he thought I should give Judaism another try. He not only suggested I do so but recommended I read his book.
I loved it.
Much later I realized I probably had not understood the depths of the ideas in the book, but I was still intrigued by an approach to Judaism that I would never have imagined. So I continued to read his posts and stayed in touch. When I asked him for a suggestion for a Haggadah for Pesach, he not only offered a couple of ideas but invited me to come to his family’s home for the holiday! Except for last year, I have joined the family and their friends for several years.
But I digress. How did we end up being writing partners?
For one, iwe came to know me, my writing style, and my delving into Judaism through my posts on Ricochet. One day he mentioned that he wanted to write a new book. Since I occasionally offer to help writers edit and/or proofread their books, I tossed out the idea of helping him in that role. The next thing I knew, he was inviting me to write the book with him. Me! He explained that his sophisticated understanding could limit his ability to reach the people he wanted to speak to: those, like me, who had never realized the profundity and richness of Judaism. So, I would represent in our work the person who simply “did not know.” Once we decided on the framework for the book, I read all of iwe’s posts and other essays published over the years (and there were a lot of them) to look for ideas that he had already shared, and tried to put them in the language of the Jewish novice. I learned a great deal and enjoyed the process of reviewing his work, discussing what I’d found helpful and meaningful, incorporating iwe’s additional ideas that were important to the context, and ultimately working to keep the project on track.
For those of you who don’t already know, @iwe is a Torah scholar, who is dedicated to tackling new approaches and understandings, especially with the Five Books of Moses (Chumash). In my efforts to reconnect with Judaism, I began studying the Chumash, was reading the commentary of Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks (at iwe’s suggestion) and found a Torah study partner through an organization called Partners in Torah. It took a few tries to find the right partner, but I’ve been working with Alizah the last few years, and we have a great time. We share a self-deprecating humor, love of Judaism and are dedicated to Torah. And besides, she’s a Conservative! A match made in heaven! It didn’t take long, however, to realize that her approach to Judaism, as a Chasidic Jew, was quite different from iwe’s. I learned that keeping my discussions with both of them separate was the best path, particularly because I had the opportunity to hear sometimes divergent points of view with the freedom of deciding on my own whether to reconcile them or hold them both within my own beliefs.
My own Jewish practice has become enriched through my relationships and my study. Iwe and I ended up working on two books together (this one and this one ), and when they were completed, we naturally evolved into studying the weekly parshah, so now I have two study partners!
At first, I was intimidated by contributing to the parshah discussion with iwe. Although I knew some Hebrew, my vocabulary was limited. But we worked on Zoom, with iwe projecting the Sefaria website where not only the weekly parshah was available in Hebrew and English, but we also had access to a search engine to explore particular words and phrases; my Hebrew vocabulary has also grown. We have made the most amazing discoveries! Some of you who have read the posts where iwe writes, “An @iwe and @susanquinn production,” he is telling you that we worked on that parshah together and both contributed ideas; he has expanded his Torah study to working with another young man and two of his sons. Sometimes we all have the chance to offer input to a particular topic. It is a joyous and fascinating collaboration.
I am always amazed that my ignorance coupled with curiosity is actually helpful. I have few preconceived ideas about the meaning of the text, so my questions can take us in a very different direction. I am delighted when @iwe says, “I’ve never thought of that before!” My question with the research we do together may not yield a new idea, but we never know where the exploration will take us. Each journey may be a dead-end or a goldmine, and we never know what we will discover.
For a while, I let my insecurity about doing such special work intimidate me: could I really make a contribution? Would I be a helpful partner?
Iwe has finally convinced me, and I have come to believe myself, that G-d has blessed our work.Published in