Monday, October 22, 2007

Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander

Not for everyone but for the appropriate audience, I think this really hits the mark. Auslander grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household and he writes of his struggles to "recover" from religion and how it still affects him now, a married man, a father and a writer. There are a lot of opposites at work in this work.

His family life was messy; they all lived in the shadow of the death of a brother, Jeffy, who died at 2 years old yet Shalom and his living sibs don't seem to get the attention from their parents they need. His mother's side boasted a long line of rabbis and certain sense of entitlement and his father was an irascible drunk who could build things (Jews don't build things; they buy things from goyim who build things). Young Shalom feels a tremendous responsibility to try to hold the fragile state of the family together but it's far too big a job for a young teenager and the situations are too long broken for him to fix. From there he swings like a pendulum, first further from his religion and then back to strict observance. Rinse. Repeat.

Some of it is hilarious and some of it just makes you incredibly sad. Auslander could have been profane for the sake of it but I disagree with critics who say so. Sneaking off to the mall in the next town to eat un-Kosher food reminded me of a friend I had growing up who would smuggle me Twinkies during Passover and we were hardly Orthodox. The story of bargaining with G-d about the Stanley Cup or living as a young married couple among other Orthodox Jews that weren't questioning their own faith were all very real examples of what it must be like to not only question how you were brought up but the fundamentalism that goes with such strict observance.

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