My Jewish Year Reviews
[Pogrebin] calls herself a “wondering” Jew, and her exploration is lively, funny and honest. It is a relatable, immersive experience that pays homage to “The Year of Living Biblically,” by A. J. Jacobs, who writes the foreword. She is a holiday pilgrim uninterested in journeying into Orthodoxy (she attends a Reform synagogue) but intent on reaching others like her, indeed like so many secular American Jews, who “do not connect their Jewish identity to Judaism.”
—David Gregory, The New York Times (read the full review)
Abigail Pogrebin opens “My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew” with the challenge that drew her in, a line in Leon Wieseltier’s book “Kaddish”: “Do not overthrow the customs that have made it all the way to you.”
And so this daughter of Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founder of Ms. Magazine who was largely estranged from Judaism during Abigail’s childhood, and Bert Pogrebin, a “bagel Jew” who “isn’t much for prayer,” sets out to chart the Jewish holidays, “an annual system that organizes and anchors the lives” of observant families. She writes: “I wanted to know what they knew. I had a hunch it would take me somewhere deeper.”
Indeed it does, and because of Pogrebin’s natural-born storytelling capacity and the vulnerable transparency of her searching, the reader too is drawn somewhere deeper. Pogrebin peels back layers of tradition, of varied perspective, of wisdom newfound or long-held. She seamlessly weaves her own story, each brave encounter, with thousands of years of Jewish history. Each holiday’s exploration is filled with revelations both pragmatic and profound.
Watching her own children kissing the threads of their prayer shawls, listening to them chant the Torah, she writes that what struck her was this: “Our tradition essentially says, ‘Take hold of this luminous thing; it belongs to you, too.'”
Whether the tradition belongs to you or you count yourself among the ecumenically curious, Pogrebin is a luminous guide through the the Jewish holy days.
—Barbara Mahany, The Chicago Tribune (read the full review)
Abigail Pogrebin has produced a book filled with wide-ranging explanations from the scope of contemporary Judaism. My Jewish Year is a tender, inspiring and educational adventure into a year of devotion and understanding… Abigail Pogrebin is a gifted wordsmith. Her one-year exploration into Jewish holidays is at times amusing, irreverent, evocative, fascinating, and enlightening. She proffers an intimate and deeply personal understanding of her own Jewish experience; and she delivers a depth of understanding of Jewish holidays, laws, rituals, prayers, and behaviors, made more relevant by commentaries and explanations from wide-ranging perspectives.
—Charles S. Weinblatt, New York Journal of Books (read the full review)
“Pogrebin’s journey is distinct and individual, yet one which mirrors the quest of many Jewish people in America… Like them, Pogrebin moves both within and beyond the confines of established denominations of Judaism to find inspiration. Indeed, Pogrebin’s year of wondering leaves an impact on her sense of Jewishness. She explains: ‘I felt part of something unshakable, unbreakable.'”
—Colorado Review (read the full review)
“This standout addition to books about the Jewish calendar presents a wholly new view of all 18 of the annual holy days and commemorative historical days in a witty conversational manner that reads like a novel. Woven throughout are history, traditions and their significance, modern perspectives, inspirational rabbinic commentary, and lots of humor that painlessly builds the reader’s Jewish holiday literacy. Highly recommended.”
—Dayton Jewish Observer
(read the full review)
Throughout My Jewish Year, Pogrebin engages candidly with the holidays and traditions, confessing when not every part of the practices come alive for her, noting what resonates, what doesn’t and why. In reading this memoir, it becomes apparent how many people around Pogrebin share her search for meaning, a journey other seekers will relate to.
—Justus Joseph, Shelf Awareness (read the full review)
Can a 50-something neophyte glean meaning about herself and the world from observing all 18 annual Jewish holidays in a year of personal exploration? Pogrebin (Stars of David) provides a vigorous and moving affirmative answer in this insightful, clever, funny, and compulsively readable volume that will lead newcomers to seek out her other writings. Having grown up with her Jewish identity “a given, not a pursuit,” Pogrebin believed that there was more to “feel than I’d felt, more to understand than I knew.” She is guided by an eclectic group of teachers, including rabbis from all modern denominations, who provide different lenses through which to view ancient, and sometimes obscure, holidays as relevant today. Her exploration begins with Elul, the Hebrew month that precedes the Jewish New Year, that provides an opportunity to gear up for that holy day with daily self-examinations; typically, her account of trying to learn how to blow a shofar every morning, and integrate her experiment in observance with her family routine, is both humorous and inspiring. Even knowledgeable Jews will find wisdom and new perspectives in these pages.
—Publishers Weekly (read the full review)
Journalist Pogrebin (Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish) uses her former column for The Forward as a launching pad to take readers on a spiritual and intellectual journey. Here, she explores the Jewish calendar of holidays and observances (including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Shabbat), combining both cultural and theological explanations with often hilarious autobiographical detail. Each major Jewish holiday is explored in turn, with Pogrebin visiting a variety of synagogues and partnering with rabbis and friends as she fasts, prays, and worships. Throughout this engaging read are funny anecdotes intertwined with deep spiritual reflection.
Verdict A modern take on a pilgrim’s journal, this account will offer insight for Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike. Readers who are interested in becoming more observant will find it especially worthwhile.
—Felicia J. Williamson, Dallas Holocaust Museum, Library Journal
A Jewish writer takes an educational journey through the feasts and fasts of the religious calendar.
Former 60 Minutes producer Pogrebin (One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to Be Singular, 2009, etc.) embarked on a rigorous program celebrating, for a full year, the grave holy days and happy holidays her faith prescribes, even those that eschew electronic devices. Living a year by the prayer book, she found personal possibilities and universal implications, beginning her year of learning one autumn with the theological New Year. That was quickly followed by a fast day recognized only by the most observant. Then came a solemn Yom Kippur, a major fast day and the most serious day of reckoning. The author also chronicles days appealing to the senses, days celebrating the reception of the Holy Law, and more minor fasting days. There’s a proto-Earth day and a day for masquerading to commemorate an escape from annihilation. For Passover, the author attended a feminist observance. The most important holiday comes not annually but weekly: the day of rest when all manner of work and all mundane concerns are set aside. Regarding the ancient holidays, there are reorchestrated and new ones to commemorate the establishment of the state of Israel, its lost defenders, and the Holocaust. For the book, Pogrebin, a bit of a religious tourist, traveled to various synagogues and consulted scores of rabbis and scholars—though none in the Orthodox right wing of Judaism. She offers homilies, elaborate similes, and other illustrative figures of speech that will engage like-minded readers. The text, however, won’t enjoy ready acceptance with those who do not find room in the tradition for touchy-feely sentiments, such as “mindful walking” or “mindful sweating.” The graceful value of Pogrebin’s tract is the deep faith and rich vitality evident in her up-close and personal Jewish year.
A sentimental journey through Judaic practice and thought.
Pogrebin’s process is to learn about a holiday prior to observing it. Excerpts from interviews with contemporary Jewish sages frame each chapter, so the book offers a treasure of Jewish wisdom and the clear sense that many gifted teachers provided directions to this wandering Jew. My Jewish Year is a testament to the power and the promise of adult Jewish education, as well as to the transcendent value of Jewish time.
Ultimately, and movingly, she finds herself at the end of the year reawakened to “klal Israel, the whole of Israel: a shared inheritance, and reverence for a calendar that has kept us intact.”
—Helene Meyers, Lilith (read the full review)
My Jewish Year is an invaluable text for understanding how contemporary people work to find personal meaning in inherited traditions…
“I was missing primal Judaism,” Pogrebin says of a particularly moving experience; her desire to connect more meaningfully to an ancient and learned tradition is infectious, and audiences are likely to find much here to replicate. My Jewish Year is an invaluable text, both for learning about Jewish holidays and for understanding how contemporary people work to find personal meaning in inherited traditions.
—Foreword Reviews (read the full review)
Recent years have seen a number of books published in which an author commits to following the oft-neglected tenets of a religion—think A. J. Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically (2007) or Rachel Held Evans’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood (2012). Here, putting her own spin on this formula, Pogrebin charts her own successful and illuminating course through a year of Jewish holidays. This personal but also thoroughly researched book chronicles a year of celebrating 18 Jewish holidays deeply and committedly. Each chapter features background information about the holiday and conversations with experts but also the author’s sometimes funny and sometimes poignant attempts to do them well. The book is a frank reckoning with the author’s own heart, but it’s also about the myriad ways Jews relate to each other. Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike will appreciate this thoughtful and intimate journey through a very Jewish year.
—Christine Engel for Booklist
Abigail Pogrebin spent the Jewish year 5775 immersed in studying, experiencing, and writing about every single Jewish holiday — including each obscure festival and all six fasts – for the first time. Her lively, personal, deeply-researched book, My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew, chronicles what she discovered, how it changed her, and why she believes the Jewish calendar is a blueprint for life, regardless of faith.
—Jewish Ledger (read the full review and Q&A)
The narrative, interspersed with analysis and musings from renowned Jewish scholars, is sufficiently accessible to compel a reader to explore the depths of his or her own faith, no matter how devout or secular. Throughout, Pogrebin draws insight from Judaism’s Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform branches, underscoring that such diversity of thought has never been more necessary, as 21st century social movements seem to deepen the divide within the religion.
—Jewish Book Council (read the full review)
My Jewish Year is a tender, inspiring and educational adventure into a year of devotion and understanding…
Abigail Pogrebin is a gifted wordsmith. Her one-year exploration into Jewish holidays is at times amusing, irreverent, evocative, fascinating, and enlightening. She proffers an intimate and deeply personal understanding of her own Jewish experience; and she delivers a depth of understanding of Jewish holidays, laws, rituals, prayers, and behaviors, made more relevant by commentaries and explanations from wide-ranging perspectives.
—New York Journal of Books (read the full review)