By – December 30, 2019

What does it mean to live as an adult Jew­ish woman in the con­tem­po­rary Unit­ed States? This is the foun­da­tion­al ques­tion of Sarah Hurwitz’s mem­oir, Here All Along, in which she doc­u­ments her quest for a more evolved under­stand­ing of Judaism. As she describes her jour­ney from well-inten­tioned but under­whelm­ing Hebrew school years to thought­ful inde­pen­dent read­ing, invig­o­rat­ing Jew­ish med­i­ta­tion prac­tice, and chal­leng­ing adult edu­ca­tion class­es, Hur­witz emerges as a voice for her generation.

One piece of what makes Hurwitz’s sto­ry so relat­able is the tremen­dous gulf between her sec­u­lar and pro­fes­sion­al achieve­ment and her Jew­ish ones. A grad­u­ate of Har­vard Law School and speech­writer for First Lady Michelle Oba­ma, Hur­witz has worked hard for her suc­cess­es, with her work rec­og­nized and cel­e­brat­ed in aca­d­e­m­ic and polit­i­cal cir­cles. How­ev­er, even as she marked these achieve­ments, she began to won­der about the ways in which her reli­gious under­stand­ing lagged behind. Hurwitz’s won­der­ing is not a sen­ti­men­tal open-heart­ed embrace of Jew­ish obser­vance, but instead a deeply seri­ous desire to under­stand what Judaism is, and how she might devel­op her own Jew­ish­ly mean­ing­ful life. In her stud­ies, Hur­witz does expe­ri­ence a few aha!’ ecsta­t­ic, spir­i­tu­al moments, but more often she uncov­ers new ways of think­ing about the­ol­o­gy, sacred texts, and rela­tion­ships. As she learns more about Judaism, she is bet­ter able to inte­grate its teach­ings into how she approach­es and under­stands her life. This is not a mem­oir about Hur­witz find­ing God, but rather about find­ing the lan­guage and Jew­ish con­text with which to talk about God, Torah, Jew­ish hol­i­days, and every­thing else in between.

As I read this book, I could not help but think about the dozens of peo­ple I know whose back­grounds are sim­i­lar to Hurwitz’s. They are intel­li­gent, well-edu­cat­ed, pro­fes­sion­al­ly suc­cess­ful Jew­ish adults in their twen­ties, thir­ties, and for­ties whose under­stand­ing and expe­ri­ence of Judaism hasn’t matured since they were teenagers. With­out hav­ing bumped into tra­di­tion­al mile­stones of mar­riage and par­ent­ing, their incen­tive to engage with many com­mu­nal Jew­ish insti­tu­tions has been left most­ly up to them. Hurwitz’s book opens the door to the con­ver­sa­tion that these Amer­i­can Jews are hav­ing in their own minds, and may act as a touch­stone for those seek­ing a com­pan­ion for their own spir­i­tu­al inves­ti­ga­tions. This is the book I want to give to every Jew­ish adult grad­u­at­ing from post-sec­ondary, pro­fes­sion­al and grad­u­ate school, or who won­ders about the inter­sec­tion between Judaism and Amer­i­can life in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. It’s also the book that I’d give to every Jew­ish adult who wants to move beyond won­der­ing what does this Judaism stuff mean to you?” and think about what does this Judaism stuff mean to me?”

Hur­witz draws upon her expe­ri­ence as a speech­writer, and the book has a strong con­ver­sa­tion­al tone. The book’s exten­sive bib­li­og­ra­phy includes many works that are read­i­ly avail­able and acces­si­ble to the lay-per­son. I espe­cial­ly appre­ci­at­ed that Hur­witz expe­ri­enced and describes a wide vari­ety of Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al modal­i­ties. With Here All Along, Hur­witz pro­vides read­ers with a menu full of ways in which Judaism can be expe­ri­enced on a deep­er lev­el, and the tools with which to begin to do so. 

Deb­by Miller is a long-time board mem­ber of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, serv­ing on its Fic­tion com­mit­tee, and lat­er found­ing the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for Book Clubs. She is cur­rent­ly a Vice Pres­i­dent of the orga­ni­za­tion. Deb­by is based in Greens­boro, NC and has been involved in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty through Nation­al Coun­cil of Jew­ish Women (NCJW), AIPAC, B’nai Shalom and the Fed­er­a­tion. She was pres­i­dent of the local Women’s Divi­sion and cam­paign chair, and also got involved in the Nation­al Women’s Divi­sion. One of her pri­ma­ry phil­an­thropic endeav­ors is her work with JDC, where she has been a mem­ber of the board since 1994

Discussion Questions

Books that aim to con­vince you why you real­ly ought to give Judaism anoth­er shot” are a dime a dozen; most are undone by con­de­scen­sion, inac­ces­si­bil­i­ty, and gen­er­al fla­vor­less­ness. Sarah Hurwitz’s Here All Along is a refresh­ing anti­dote to the glut of pre­ced­ing books. The for­mer speech­writer for Michelle Oba­ma, Hur­witz found her­self with that great­est of mod­ern lux­u­ries — a lit­tle bit of free time — and stum­bled into Jew­ish learn­ing. It is an under­state­ment to say that she was trans­formed, and the book is a pow­er­ful result. She alter­nates between her own sto­ry and a deep dive into the canon of Jew­ish life — she lays out a pow­er­ful case for all parts of Jew­ish life: text study, prayer, hol­i­days to name a few. One of the most com­pelling aspects of her book is that she comes in as a self-described out­sider — this is not a rab­bi who wants to tell you why to be Jew­ish. This is some­one so sim­i­lar to many mod­ern Jews: intel­lec­tu­al­ly curi­ous but not yet steeped in Jew­ish learn­ing. She makes a pow­er­ful and time­ly case for why now is the time to dive in.