Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi—Wisdom for Untethered Times
by Joshua Hammerman
Pub Date 02 Apr 2019
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The Talmud states, "In a world that lacks humanity, be human." In a world as untethered as ours has become, simply being human, a good person, is a measure of heroism. At a time when norms of civility are being routinely overwhelmed, it may be the only measure that matters. Mensch-Marks represents Rabbi Joshua Hammerman's personal Torah scroll—the sacred text of his experiences, the life lessons he has learned along his winding, circuitous journey. Mirroring 42 steps Israel wandered in the Wilderness, Hammerman offers 42 brief essays, several of which first appeared in The New York Times Magazine, organized into categories of character, or "mensch-marks," each one a stepping stone toward spiritual maturation. These essays span most of Rabbi Hammerman's life, revealing how he has striven to be a "mensch," a human of character, through every challenge.
Mensch-Marks creates a brand-new genre. It is memoir as sacred story, as how-to book; a series of personal vignettes in dialogue with one another over the span of decades, resonating with eternal ideas that span centuries. It traces the author's own personal growth while providing a road map for people of all backgrounds seeking a life of moral vision. The wisdom is shared not from a pulpit on high, but rather from an unfolding story of a fellow traveler, one who has stumbled, failed, and persevered, struggling with the questions large and small. Through it all, Rabbi Hammerman has tried to live with dignity and grace, what he calls the "nobility of normalcy."
He writes, "If by sharing what I've learned, I can add a modicum of generosity, honesty and human connection in a world overflowing with cruelty, loneliness and deceit, then I'll have done my job." The essays cover crucial moments of failure and forgiveness, loving and letting go, finding deeper meaning in one's work, and holiness in the seemingly inconsequential moments of everyday life. Rabbi Hammerman, ever the optimist, believes that we can turn things around, one mensch at a time.
A Note From the Publisher
"Mensch-Marks. The title alone gets it off to a good start. And throughout, we find a graceful writer, lucid thinker, and wise and gentle soul." —Bob Costas, legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster and multiple Emmy Award winner
"Using wisdom from Hillel to Winnie the Pooh, Rabbi Hammerman has written a book that will make this world a kinder, gentler place. I'll be recommending it to both my nice friends and the cranky ones, too." —A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
"This is a deeply moving book... Miraculously, Hammerman has managed to maintain his decency, genuine concern for people, embrace of life—and a grounding sense of humor—through decades of an exhausting career with inexhaustible demands that empties all too many practitioners of their humanity.... One section of the book is titled "The Nobility of Normalcy." This whole book is a testament to the nobility of a normal (albeit high level) rabbinic life career and to the nobility in people living normal lives: practicing monogamy, visiting the sick, travelling outdoors through nature in wonder, suffering pain with dignity, shopping, exhibiting their Jewishness proudly, setting boundaries that protect their personal standards, balancing work and family. Hopefully, this book will inspire many to aspire to become ‘menschen.’ At the least, reading this book will give you an unforgettable model of how to be a mensch, which many a reader will summon to inspire his or her own journey to mentschlichkeit." —Rabbi Dr. Irving "Yitz" Greenberg, founding Director of the President's Commission on the Holocaust, Chair of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, founding President of the Jewish Life Network
"Rabbi Joshua Hammerman offers us a window into a deeply-lived life. From a genuine mensch, we learn what it is to live a life measured by moral growth and devotion to people and causes beyond us. Reading Mensch Marks is bound to leave us all determined to live better lives and be better people." —Daniel Gordis, author, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn
"A beautiful, warm, intimate book about the daily struggle to be a good human being." —Peter Beinart, author, The Crisis of Zionism
"For the 'hassled masses' here is an invaluable guide written with clarity, wit and humility. Whatever path you are on, Rabbi Hammerman has been there and will point to the sites and stumbling blocks." —Rabbi David Wolpe, author, David: The Divided Heart
"In what feels like a time of darkening in the world, Rabbi Hammerman brings light and wisdom. He is both a mensch and a very fine writer, and whatever your religious background, you'll find much in this book to learn from and to be inspired by." —Nigel Savage, President, Hazon [The Jewish Lab for Sustainability]
It’s rare to find a rabbi willing to put his foibles and faith on the page with as much honesty and fervor as Rabbi Joshua Hammerman offers in this addictive volume. Each chapter is its own gem, and every story becomes a reader’s personal challenge — to look at how we move through the world, especially in this divisive moment. Kudos to Rabbi Hammerman for reminding us what to strive for, and doing it with a deft pen and a great sense of humor and humility. -Abigail Pogrebin, author of “My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew.”
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* Media coverage in The New York Jewish Week, Religion News Service, and other Jewish media
* Outreach to secular media (author's work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, USA Today, Fox News, and more). Book events in the Northeast and beyond.
* Early reviews via NetGalley and LibraryThing.
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