One of the books I received from my father for my birthday this year was From “Your Father’s House: Reflections for Modern Jewish Men” by Kerry M. Olitzky. It was appropriate for several reasons. First of all the title directly refers to our relations. Second the subject matter is within the realm of Jewish spirituality, which is interesting for me both personally and on a hobby level, as I try to collect all books related to Jewish Kabbalah and spirituality. Finally I was aware of my father’s interest in men’s movements in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but did not know that it had a Jewish offshoot.
This book is it. All the major themes developed, discovered and practice and the men’s movements in general are present here through a personal, Jewish lens. Gender roles, dealing with emotions, mid-life crisis, aging parents, relating to other men, relating to women, parenting, balancing vocation and inner life… these issues are familiar to those, who participated or read upon the men’s movement. But here the context is uniquely Jewish. In most instances it adds an extra layer of complexity the author wants to depict, but in some cases it is simpler, because the context provides a framework. What if the prescriptive structure (of Judaism) needs to be changed to become a fully spiritual man with integrity? Olitzky does not shy away from this, while being respectful and knowledgeable of the tradition.
The book starts of with a 12 page foreword by Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit, which gives an overview of American men’s movement and its connections to Jewish men. After a preface (mostly about how to use the book) and acknowledgments, you can jump into any of the eight chapters: petition, joy, thanksgiving, encounter, struggle and survival, holy service, love, and understanding. Each of these is divided into 5-8 shorter segments. These segments can be used in a variety of ways, e.g. one-a-day meditation, quick read when you have three minutes, or just read through from beginning to end. The segments are titled (setting the subject), followed by a quote from classic Jewish source (setting the tone), followed by 2-3 pages of reflections, stories, parables and ending with a blessing. This structure worked for me, because it was varied enough. Some segments are closer to my heart; others did not speak to me at the place where I am now. But I have feeling they might later.