To Life! Jewish Reflections on Everyday Living is a must read for rabbi and layperson alike!

By Rabbi Thomas Alan Louchheim
Rabbi, Congregation Or Chadash, Tucson, Arizona

Amy Lederman and her family have been friends of ours for years. We have shared holidays together, gone out socially together, our daughters are best friends. We have shared in moments of heightened joy and also moments of fear and grief. Amy is a member of my spiritual community as well as of the spiritual communities of one conservative and one orthodox congregation in town.

To Life! is a collection of stories and essays, some previously published in Jewish papers around the country. However these are not ordinary newspaper columns. To Life! opens doors to everyday dilemmas and circumstances – issues with family and friends, problems regarding work and religion, personal fears and failings – and more. These forty-four stories are organized into six chapters: “Being Human,” “Family,” “Holidays,” “The Everyday Ordinary,” “Growing and Learning,” and “Matters of Life and Death.” Each vignette is different from the previous one. Each one sets a scene in daily living and sheds life on making it meaningful These are scenes from Amy’s life with moral teachings from our tradition.

When I started reading, I became part of these life stories. Amy poignantly draws you into her stories as if you are in the room with her, capturing your interest and heart and enabling you to understand the dilemma through Amy’s Jewish lens. In Amy’s own words, these stories are “the result of my own search to live a more meaningful life as a person and a Jew.”

Amy is a compelling writer. You feel her warmth and are drawn to her wisdom. Amy finds Jewish identity by finding meaning, purpose and belonging in the twists and turns of daily living. Within each story she is mother, daughter, wife, and friend and then before your eyes she is your educator. Jewish teachings are at the heart of each vignette. Amy draws from a wide range of sources, from Bible and Talmud, from classical rabbis and Maimonides, from Jewish law, midrash and folklore. These are not simply advice columns from our Dear Abby; these are stories from your lives and mine, which if we were to pay closer attention, and draw upon the wisdom of our Sages could be lived with greater purpose and meaning rather than happenstance chance.

Her award winning “My Grandmother’s Candlesticks” is a delight in treasuring family. What follows, “My Grandmother’s Candlesticks: Lighting the Way for Others,” is even more precious in its message of how a story can make an important impact on others. It begins with Amy carrying one grocery bag of donuts and soda and another bag with her story and her grandmother’s candlesticks because she is certain the story will bore these pimply nose-ringed kids to tears so at least she will capture their stomachs (traditional Jewish learning at its best). By the end of the story, the reader is vanquished not in the failure to capture the hearts of little children in teaching but in the tears of touching one child so deeply.

I hate cell phones don’t you? So in “Cellular Love,” I was ready to read a provocative piece on how we need to rid ourselves of these hip-hugging monsters. In the end, I fell in love with them. These stories are a study in passionate living, listening, paying attention, and a love of Jewish wisdom and teaching. Some of stories are happy, some are sad, but all are provocative. All of them display a respect for rabbis, our sacred texts and teachings that have guided us through the ages. The stories left me wanting to know more about her childhood friend (“To Err is Human: To Forgive, Nearly Impossible”), What was the reaction to her email group that mistakenly received her lashon hara (“Lashon HaRa: Walk the Walk But Don’t Talk the Talk”)? At the same time she makes real and personal the importance of observing Jewish holy moments on the calendar better than most rabbis can when she speaks about Shavuot, Tisha B’Av and Shabbat.

To Life! Jewish Reflections on Everyday Living is a must read for rabbi and layperson. This book demands that we live with purpose and values. So often we desire to live by emotion. Amy Lederman encourages us to live a life based on tried and true values from God. Personal problems, issues with family, friends or co-workers, are not to be resolved in the usual way. Lederman challenges the reader to look instead to the teachings of Jewish sages, to take guidance from Jewish traditions and to seek strength from Judaism. As she makes clear, this way of looking at things has not made her immune from life’s challenges. What it has done is provide her with guidelines, boundaries and moral positions for resolving life’s dilemmas. Those who want to can find that same knowledge and moral high ground themselves. To Life! Jewish Reflections on Everyday Living is a first step along the path to Jewish learning and to a more meaningful and fulfilling life.