The ESP of the
Jewish Way of Life
Roll your mouse over each
circle to find the questions.
on circles for more about Jewish ESP!
discount for rabbis and schools -
people are saying about Gil's Book:
Review from The
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California
(click here to see the review from the Jerusalem Post)
MARK S. DIAMOND
It's not often that a Jewish book comes along with a title that
hits me like a ton of bricks.
Gil Mann's new volume is called: "How to Get More Out of Being
JewishEven If: A. You are not sure you believe in God; B. You think
going to synagogue is a waste of time; C. You think keeping kosher
is stupid; D. You hated Hebrew school; or E. All of the
I first read this book in manuscript form last year. I agreed to
write an endorsement for the cover, and I found Mann's material so
compelling that I used it as the basis of several sermons on Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Mann is a journalist, self-made entrepreneur and volunteer in the
Jewish community. He lectures across the country and conducts an
online bulletin board called "Why Be Jewish Anyway?" It
can be found on AOL's Jewish Community Online.
After three years as a fellow of the Wexner Heritage Foundation, an
intensive nationwide Jewish study program for community leaders,
Mann decided to learn more about unaffiliated Jews. He convened a
series of focus groups, and raised some probing questions about the
participants' Jewish identity.
The result is "How to Get More Out of Being Jewish," a
dialogue between the author and six individuals. The profiles of
these individuals are fictionalized assemblages of real people Mann
met and actual comments he heard during his focus groups.
The book is easy reading, intentionally. Mann did not set out to
write a work of Jewish scholarship.
Instead, the author directs his message clearly and simply to those
who feel turned off by certain aspects of Jewish practice and
belief. The book addresses those who find themselves in the
synagogue only on the High Holy Days, and for an occasional b'nai
The book offers those who are active in the Jewish community --
professionals and lay leaders alike -- a powerful indictment of the
Jewish status quo.
"I'm not sure I need Judaism in my life. I'm not sure anyone
needs Judaism anymore," said one of Mann's focus group
participants who is quoted in the book. "Maybe Judaism has
just outlived its usefulness."
"My most lasting memory of my bar mitzvah is not the event
itself," commented another, "but being forced to go to
religious school. The best part of my bar mitzvah, besides the
presents was getting to quit Hebrew school and have a normal
"When I was 10 years old," said another, "my parents
made me start going to the synagogue. I came home after the first
day and told my parents I couldn't stand services. They said to me,
'The day will come when you will thank us for making you go.' Every
year since then, and I'm now 43, after High Holidays services, I
say to my parents, 'I'm still waiting for the day to come.'"
This is a wonderful book for readers who are wrestling with weighty
questions about how to raise a Jewish family, how to struggle with
traditional notions of belief in God and matters of spirituality,
how to relate to Zionism and the state of Israel, how to make the
synagogue and community more responsive to our needs and concerns.
The author provides some attractive answers, including his
classification of Jewish life into three overlapping circles:
ethics, spirituality and peoplehood (ESP). And he offers practical
suggestions for those who want to take the next step on their
Rabbis and other communal leaders frequently speak about outreach
to the unaffiliated. Mann has taken the next step by truly
listening to the cares and concerns of this much-maligned group.
The voices in his book are not often heard in "official"
Jewish circles. They are brutally honest and refreshingly original.
Hopefully, they will force us to reexamine some of our cherished
notions and strategies.
"How to Get More Out of Being Jewish" by Gil Mann (158
pages, Leo and Sons, $14.95), (800) 304-9925.
Mark S. Diamond is rabbi of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland. He
serves as volunteer coordinator of the "Ask a
Rabbi" program, part of AOL's Jewish Community Online.
Copyright (c) 1997 The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California
Review from the
TO GET MORE OUT OF BEING JEWISH EVEN IF:
by Gil Mann.
Minneapolis, Leo and Sons Pub. 158pp.
By Joshua J. Adler
Despite its seemingly flippant title, this is a serious book. It is
also an easy read, though it deals with a weighty problem: How to
stimulate Jews who are mostly outside of organized Jewish life to
return to some aspect of their heritage. What can one say to Jews
that will attract them to Judaism if they are not sure about
whether God exists, think that going to synagogue to pray is a
waste of time, and regard Jewish rituals such as keeping kosher as
Unlike nearly all other books dealing with Judaism, Gil Mann's is
written in simple conversational style because he seeks to preserve
the informality of the discussions he conducted with people who
still feel Jewish in some way, if only because they feel more
comfortable in the presence of Jews or enjoy "Jewish"
foods. From these talks we learn that, despite their alienation
from the Jewish community and their non-observance of ritual
and holy days, most of them still want their children to
remain Jewish even if, paradoxically, some would not object to them
marrying a gentile.
Mann's goal, therefore, is to stimulate nominal or gut Jews into
realizing that Judaism is multi-faceted and not merely a
faith. To inculcate this message he uses a three- circle
intersecting diagram, with each circle representing one aspect of
Judaism: Ethics, Spirituality and Peoplehood (E.S.P.). The
purpose is to indicate that if a person is committed to any one of
these circles, either wholly or partially, he already is a
practicing Jew to some extent.
To Mann, a Jew who is involved in activities to improve
society (tikun haolam), or in charitable work, should not be
considered or consider himself to be a bad Jew, even if he
never attends synagogue or observes the rituals. He believes
that our tendency to become inordinately involved in charitable
activities is due to our 3,000-year-old religious traditions. He
believes there is a special Jewish gene -- which he calls a
cultural DNA - behind the concern for the unfortunate and the
The focus of one of his first discussions is spirituality.
Mann finds that, although the issue of God is not normally brought
up by contemporary Jews, people are not at all reluctant to
discuss their beliefs and doubts when asked to do so by a
sympathetic interviewer. He also discovered that what most people
don't believe about God parallels the views and beliefs of many
pious Jews and rabbis, past and present, including Maimonides.
That God is ineffable and mysterious is not exclusively a Jewish
idea; according to Mann, it has a parallel in other
religions. The Sioux Indians, for instance, refer to God as Wakan
Tanka, which can be translated as "The Great
He sympathizes with those who don't find synagogue attendance and
prayer meaningful, yet defends the importance of communal worship
as a way of identifying with the community (which often comes to
one's aid in times of need) and also as a way of becoming conscious
of our blessings. Moreover, it provides time for self-reflection
and encourages one to become a better person. He also finds that
those who are alienated from formal worship may consider an
informal service in an Orthodox shteibel or liberal havura more
He believes that in order for worship to become meaningful it is
necessary to prepare for the experience by taking a course or
reading a book about the Siddur.
To those who have no interest in observing kashrut, Mann points out
that anyone who takes the trouble to study what is behind these
laws will discover that the ultimate goal is to make a person
more compassionate. Kosher food is not so much health food as Soul
Food. He urges people to be open-minded and to search for the
spirit behind many of the other ritual laws which at first seem
ridiculous or meaningless.
Mann also responds to those who believe that Jewish observance
must be total or dismissed as hypocritical. He compares this
attitude to drivers' reactions to traffic rules, which they
sometimes knowingly violate. And he asks, rhetorically: Does this
mean that all drivers are hypocrites? And do we always tell the
truth and act ethically? Because we sometimes fail to uphold
certain principles, does that mean that we should throw out all the
Mann argues that one who feels alienated from Jewish tradition
should at least take it upon himself to study it in a serious
manner before deciding how much or how little he wants to be
involved in the life of the community.
The book closes with a short list of suggested books, magazines,
videos and even websites for readers who want to explore their
heritage further. Since this book deals with themes which should be
of concern and interest to all Jews and not only Americans, it
deserves to be published in Hebrew, with obvious changes for the
Israeli reader who has additional reasons to be alienated from his
(c) Jerusalem Post 1999