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.