BOOK REVIEW: "The Year Mom God Religion"

“The Year Mom God Religion” (by Lee Meyerhoff Hendler) was published in 1998, so I’m definitely coming late to this party. But so much of what Ms. Meyerhoff Hendler writes resonates with my own journey that I felt it was worth mentioning.

The author allows us insight into her own psyche as she made this transition in her life, including a chapter on the family friction it created along the way. An internationally-recognized expert in philanthropy and leadership, you also get a glimpse on where she stands (or stood, in 1998) on big issues like Adult Learners, intergenerational giving, and the state of the Jewish experience in America.

If you find you are wrestling (in a good way) with your own level of religious focus, you may want to pick up this book – an easy read at 160 pages.

I wanted to share her views on adult Jewish learning (albeit in an edited form) because it is so well stated and, 11 years later, still extremely relevant.
– Leon
When God points out that Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge to Adam, God only forbids eating from the Tree of Knowledge. […] The first recorded conversation [between humans] indicates the profound links between language, self consciousness and moral responsibility, and takes place around their decision to eat the forbidden fruit.

Their very first insight after eating the fruit is the simultaneous realization that they are naked which leads to an immediate action – they clothe themselves. […] The very next feeling attributed to them as a result of their consciousness is not shame but fear. […] The psychological parallel would be consciousness, vulnerability, defensiveness. […] How powerful this is as a paradigm for the new adult learner and for the place of Torah in Jewish life!

For all new adult learners there is a similar moment when we suddenly acknowledge how ignorant we are of our own tradition. At that moment, we are incredibly vulnerable: On the verge of being able to receive wisdom, we are also so frightened that we might run away. […] We can stay as we are – ignorant and complacent. Or we can take responsibility for our deficiency, plunge into the world of Jewish learning, and begin to clothe ourselves in wisdom.

[…] God did a remarkable thing before sending them out of the garden. God gave them *better* clothing. God acknowledged their fear, vulnerability and real need and, in a supreme act of lovingkindness, gave them something more substantial than they could create for themselves.

[…] We cannot discover what we need to know until we acknowledge what we do not know. That moment of acknowledgment is fraught with psychological and physical tension: as human beings, we cannot tolerate our vulnerability for long before we have to DO something about it.

[…] How seriously do we take the moment of acknowledgment for the new adult learner in our communities? Are we tuned into it? Have we created environments safe and attractive enough to enable and “tempt” others to take similar risks? When they do take the risk and admit their vulnerability, how do we greet that admission – with disinterest, amusement, kindness, hostility, or encouragement? Appreciating that we possess so many of the tools for the liberation of authentic Jewish learning, how prepared are we to share them?

[…] Do we have better wardrobe options than the first thing adult learners are most likely to grab – their inadequate baby blankets which have the sole advantage of comfort and familiarity?