Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Getting Help: Books You Can Trust

I love books. In fact, I just went on a book-buying binge, picking up some things by Michael Chabon, Cynthia Ozick, and Kurt Vonnegut, among others. But before I get to those, I have to write about a couple of books that arrived on my doorstep from some outstanding rabbi-authors (yes, for free, to review). Here's one review, and stay tuned for the other. Also, let me know if you've read either of these books or are familiar with the authors! I'd love your feedback

Relationship 1.1 
The Genesis of Togetherness: Tapping Torah's wisdom to fine-tune your marriage
By Rabbi Gavriel Goldfeder

Okay, I know what you're thinking: This couldn't have come at a worse time, right? I moved to Colorado and the rabbi-author of this book, Gavriel Goldfeder, who calls himself "alternadox" and runs Aish Boulder, shot me an email mentioning this book and inviting me up for Shabbat. The Shabbat plans fell through, and I haven't made it back up yet, but the book arrived and I spent this past Shabbat reading through bits and pieces of the book.

Yes, I could have used this book back in January when the proverbial feces hit the proverbial fan in my marriage for the first time, but I didn't have this book. In fact, I bought another book at the YU Seforim Sale earlier this year and dedicated myself to reading it with my ex-husband every night; it lasted about a week. There was something insincere and cheesy and dishonest about the book. But Rabbi Goldfeder's book?

A book in which the rabbi-author, seeking to help the reader find balance and peace in a marriage, quotes the movie Batman Begins and talks about balancing "me" with "we" as being akin to a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup can't be bad, right?
"No one ever dreamed that peanut butter covered with chocolate could produce one of the best selling candies of all time. We've got to be able [to] hold on to the essential ingredients of who we are while also blending and joining forces. It could be a huge hit!" (16).
So I dove in, reading the first few chapters and wishing that I had known Rabbi Goldfeder back when. I think my marriage would have ended sooner, before I fell into a deep hole of depression and despair that it took me months to crawl out of in order to get the courage to ask for a divorce. The book is set up so that for each parshah of Genesis there is a chapter. The rabbi-author gives you a brief synopsis of the portion, then leads you through the story and its relevance within marriage and a lesson or two that one can take away from the portion. Basically, his goal is to take you back to the beginning -- and he does so with style, grace, and humor, and he doesn't shy away from relating his own faults in marriage.

Like I said, I didn't read the whole book because, well, it was a hard topic to grasp being only about three months out of my marriage, all while knowing that my ex-husband -- from whom I split amicably -- already is engaged (mazal tov!). So, I'm passing the book on to the lovely Melissa over at Redefining Rebbetzin to get a presently married woman's take on the book. I know that if and when I get married again, this book will come to my aid many times (so she better give it back!).

I have to hand it to whoever designed the book, too, because there's something about the cover that is rare when it comes to Jewish books -- it's classy, it's universal, it's something I'd see on a bookshelf and want to read. Also, there's something about the font and layout that makes this book incredibly readable. If you know what I mean, you know what I mean. If you're not into aesthetics, then this means nothing to you. But it's an easily read 130 pages of text, no doubt.

Perhaps the bit that hit home the most, but also urged me to put the book down because of the emotional impact of the statement is the following from Chapter 2 "The Other" on Parshah Noach.
There is a spiritual handicap that plagues many couples. Selfishness is not the right word, as it implies awareness of another while prioritizing one's own needs. Self-absorption is closer to the point -- focused only on one's self, unaware of others. The only way the self-absorption can work (or seem to work) in a marriage is if the other person is willing to play the slave, ensconced in total devotion and surrender. (19)
Many of my readers and friends watched me become someone I wasn't during my marriage -- weak, meek, sad, lonely -- and I think that Rabbi Goldfeder hits on a point here that so many people face, and even after months of counseling, it was difficult if not impossible to break free of these roles.

Basically, we should all just be a lot more like Peanut Butter Cups. It's easy, right?