Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book Review: "Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde" by Rebecca Dana

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Rebecca Dana dreamed of the day she would come to New York to pursue the glamorous life she knew she was destined for. Like so many young women influenced by Carrie Bradshaw's life in Sex in the City, Rebecca wanted to go to the right parties, wear the right clothes, date the right guys, and follow the right path. "I wish I wanted to fix cleft palates in Africa, but the truth is I wanted a glamorous life."

And once she settled in, she found a job as a columnist for The Daily Beast, and had the chance to attend the parties, wear the clothes, and socialize with the people she always dreamed of, plus she found the perfect relationship. But when the relationship suddenly turns sour, it leaves her confidence shaken and she wonders whether her life's ambitions were the right ones to pursue. She winds up moving into an apartment in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood with Cosmo, a lapsed Lubavitch rabbi who takes jujitsu classes and works at a copy shop while waiting for his green card.

As Rebecca tries to reconcile her job profiling fashion and society with the traditions of the Lubavitch community, she also struggles with questions of faith. A lapsed Reform Jew, she wonders whether she'd find fulfillment if she pursued God, religion, and marriage. But at the same time, Cosmo struggles with his own spirituality, as he tries to decide whether to continue pursuing his rabbinical ambitions or following his less ecumenical desires. The two live somewhat reversed lives for a while, with Rebecca exploring the Lubavitch religion and Cosmo eating bacon.

While Rebecca fancies herself a Carrie Bradshaw prodigy, in reality, she's a much more philosophical person. Her journey of self-discovery is sometimes humorous, sometimes reflective, and it shows her that her ambitions aren't fundamentally wrong and don't make her a bad person. "To understand this, you don't have to abandon your entire life, everything you ever wished for, and move in with a Xerox shop rabbi in Brooklyn, but in my case, it certainly helped."

I'll admit that I was first interested in reading this book because how could you resist one with this title? But I really enjoyed reading Rebecca Dana's writing, and getting immersed in her journey of self-discovery was really engaging and amusing. She's the type of person who you'd think would be totally underestimated, that someone who writes about fashion and gossip might be insipid and shallow, but her story was much more interesting than you'd expect. This isn't a heavy memoir, but it does touch on issues of spirituality and finding meaning in one's life.

"Our first dreams grip us tightest and can refuse to let go." But Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde proves that living your childhood dreams isn't necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes that realization is hard to come by.

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