Anita Diamant and Howard Cooper on Living a Jewish Life

Anita Diamant and Howard Cooper's book has informed our Yom Kippur reflections.

It’s Yom Kippur today, and, as we do each year, Dunreith and I are fasting.

We are spending the day contemplating both how we have missed with mark with ourselves, with family, and with others during the past year, and how we can use those experiences to gain wisdom and increase our ability to live true to our values and dreams in the coming year.

We often like to have a  Jewish text to help guide and inform our reflections.

For me, this year, the book is Anita Diamant and Howard Cooper’s  Living a Jewish Life.

A former journalist and the author of The Red Tent, among other works, Diamant and co-author Howard Cooper take the reader through the Jewish calendar, holidays, community and life cycle in this straightforward and accessible book.  Explicitly written for an American liberal Jewish audience, Living A Jewish Life includes some history of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements.

The book’s basic message is to endorse living a Jewish life, even as how individuals’ definition of what that is that may differ from other people’s and their own previous understanding and practices.

Even with that operating framework, the book’s authors make it clear that they consider it desirable to live a Jewish life.

Although the book can be read front to back, its self-contained chapters also allow the reader to pick a section of particular interest at that moment.  The book’s chapters are peppered with quotes from sacred texts, poets and songs, and conclude with annotated suggestions for further reading.   Living a Jewish Life also has a timeline and glossary after the book’s final chapter, which covers death.

For me, the timeline was particularly interesting.  Even though I attended Hebrew, became a bar mitzvah and attended Sunday School until confirmation, I never quite absorbed a sense of Judaism’s rich history.  Instead, I mistakenly concluded that passion, vitality, oppression and social justice lay in other countries and with other people.

It took my years to realize my error, and to begin to fully embrace my Jewish identity-a process that continues until today.  On this day of reflection and atonement, Diamant and Cooper have, through their work, reminded me anew of the elements in a Jewish life and the history to which all of us belong.


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