Gonzo Judaism

Niles Elliot Goldstein
  • Review
By – May 21, 2012
Rab­bi Niles Gold­stein strives to bring to Jew­ish prac­tice the rebel­lion and risk that Hunter S. Thomp­son brought to jour­nal­ism 35 years ago. Judaism ought to be based on fun and excite­ment, not fear, para­noia, or guilt, he con­tends. His appar­ent audi­ence: 20- and 30-some­things who haven’t cracked open a Jew­ish text since their bar or bat mitz­vah. Using a large­ly jour­nal­is­tic approach, Gold­stein applies the gonzo Judaism” label to a num­ber of dis­con­nect­ed pro­grams around the coun­try — some suc­cess­ful, oth­ers not — which he hopes will kin­dle a wider move­ment. He dis­cuss­es his own con­gre­ga­tion, the New Shul in Man­hat­tan, where he insti­tut­ed a wild­ly pop­u­lar adult edu­ca­tion pro­gram called Spir­its and Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, and where he requires all b’nai mitz­vah stu­dents to adopt at least one rit­u­al prac­tice. Gold­stein inter­views a Jew­ish come­di­an, per­for­mance artist, play­wright, adven­ture tour oper­a­tor and oth­ers who have found high­ly per­son­al and cre­ative ways of incor­po­rat­ing Judaism into their sec­u­lar pas­sions. Even Purim shpeils, those brazen, often rad­i­cal plays based on the Book of Esther, fit his def­i­n­i­tion of gonzo Judaism, because they involve per­son­al engage­ment and ener­gy. Debunk­ing the Kabal­lah Cen­ter and oth­er new-age spir­i­tu­al fads as short cuts to empti­ness, Gold­stein stress­es the impor­tance of com­bin­ing head and heart” by ground­ing your­self in the basics before spin­ning off in new direc­tions. The author suc­cess­ful­ly melds hip ter­mi­nol­o­gy with an author­i­ta­tive voice that invites read­ers to seek out their own inno­v­a­tive paths to Jew­ish spir­i­tu­al enrich­ment. He also pro­vides names and Web address­es of syn­a­gogues, orga­ni­za­tions, and insti­tu­tions around the coun­try that cater to the gonzo Jew. Biblio.
Robin K. Levin­son is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and author of a dozen books, includ­ing the Gali Girls series of Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal fic­tion for chil­dren. She cur­rent­ly works as an assess­ment spe­cial­ist for a glob­al edu­ca­tion­al test­ing orga­ni­za­tion. She lives in Hamil­ton, NJ.

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