Some of us know from day one what we want to be when we grow up, where we will live, how we will raise our kids. We've got it all mapped out. Most of us think we know but life gets in the way. Our grown-up selves are very different from what we once imagined.
Andrea Myers started off life as a Lutheran girl with dreams to marry young (she considered her high school prom date a good match), become a doctor, and live happily-ever after in a New York suburb. Instead, she discovered Judaism and lesbianism. She is now a happily married rabbi (to another female rabbi), raising two daughters in New York City.
At first glance, you'd think her recently released memoir, The Choosing: A Rabbi's Journey from Silent Nights to High Holy Days, would be a serious, dense feminist-rabbinical tome. Instead, it's a delightfully fun and surprisingly funny book that is really about a woman's journey to find intellectual, spiritual, and emotional fulfillment.
Myers chose the name--The Choosing--after Chaim Potok's classic, The Chosen because she thinks she looks like the boy on the cover. There's a photograph of her in schoolboy style holding a book just like one on Potok's book jacket.
Her story takes you from her sheltered working-class neighborhood in Long Island; to Brandeis University where she "was a young gay sponge on a spiritual search," to Israel where she studied Judaism and Hebrew and cleaned houses to make ends meet; and ultimately back to New York where she lives with her partner and two children, happily ensconced in her family life.
As you can imagine, there were a lot of glitches along the way. But Myers, glass-full approach to life makes the obstacles seem more like bumps that barriers. Perhaps her rabbinical training provided her this wonderfully upbeat outlook.
She sprinkles the book with amusing anecdotes. During her stint in Jerusalem after college when she was struggling to learn the language and absorb the culture of Jewish life, she tried to practice her beginner Hebrew in the food stands. As she tells it, "the first time I walked into a falafel shop, I looked at the man behind the counter and said, ‘Vayehi falafel'-a biblical phraseology borrowed from my studies of Genesis, best translated as ‘and there was falafel.' He looked at me and smiled. His English was just as bad as my Hebrew, but good enough to correct me. Amused, he replied, "We have not asked for a falafel in that way in five thousand years."
In another chapter, she writes about her Italian Catholic grandmother's heartfelt yet flawed attempt to make hamantashen, a Jewish pastry. Her grandmother, mistaking the name hamantashen for ham-in-tashen created the perfect dough but slipped in some Italian sausage for what she assumed was supposed to be ham.
As Myers tells it: "The pastry was right but the filling had an oddly coarse texture, and a strangely greasy mouth feel. Beneath the perfect layer of poppy seeds, and encased in the perfect hamantashen dough, was a distinct taste of trayf (un-kosher food). She had said the perfect ingredient was love, but I realized it was pork....
"As my eyes watered from a tripped gag reflex" (Myers said she has had an aversion to pork long before she became Jewish), "my grandmother thought that I was overwhelmed at her beautiful gesture. She was half right, and I was not about to correct her. "There's no need to cry," she said. "I love you. This is what family does."
Myers' story is told with such honesty and clarity that by the end of the book you feel you know her and you like her. You read the book and you start thinking you'd want her for your spiritual leader or your friend. The Choosing is a good choice if you want a charming page-turner and to absorb some spirituality at the same time.