My edited volume, A Life of Meaning, has been named the CCAR Press' Book of the Month. As part of that honor, they interviewed me for a mass email that they sent out. Here is the Author Q&A
Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan of Temple Beth Shalom in Sun City, Arizona, shares insights on editing A Life of Meaning. What made you think that a book like A Life of Meaning was needed? Reform Judaism is a philosophy of life that can give us tremendous existential meaning. It seemed time for a new collection of contemporary rabbis and thinkers to express themselves on various aspects of the Jewish religion, not so much in theoretical terms but rather in how it can give greater meaning to our daily lives. For liberal Judaism to thrive in America, it's not enough to just build communities of faith; we also need a vigorous discourse on what religion means and why it is important to us personally. I wanted to provide members of every community with short and easy-to-read but still profound discourses on what Judaism might mean on an individualized level. What was the most challenging part of editing this book? One of the challenges of editing a volume meant to encompass the entire Reform Movement was to give voice to a variety of perspectives without losing coherence. I asked all of the authors to relate to certain central themes while at the same time emphasizing their unique perspectives. Looking back after three years, I'm gratified to see how successful they were. Another challenge was putting a massive amount of material into a readable format with logical divisions. Fortunately, the editors at CCAR Press were wonderful. Rabbis themselves, they understood not only the editing process but the religious ideas that were being discussed. It made all the difference. The chapters in A Life of Meaning cover a broad spectrum of Reform Jewish theology, philosophy, ethics, liturgy, religious practice, and more. Is there anything that might surprise readers about the book? I felt it was very important to put God front and center. In the Reform Movement, there are many different approaches and beliefs about what God is and could be. We wanted to present several different perspectives and to try to explain why it would be beneficial for Reform Jews to grapple with what God might mean in theoretical terms, and even more so what God could mean for them personally. Readers may also be surprised to learn just how vigorous and demanding Reform Judaism is. It is not—as chapter after chapter emphasizes—a diluted version of tradition. Rather, it is a contemporary and at the same time scholarly approach to Judaism that requires both intellectual dedication and religious faith. A Life of Meaning was published in 2018. Does the book speak differently to us today? The world has been changing at such a rapid pace because of technological innovation, but now we are also going through a pandemic far more disruptive than anything we have experienced in our lifetimes. Many of us are searching for ways to understand what we are going through, trying to make sense of what our lives might stand for and what life itself is and could be. I think the central message of the book—that religion and spirituality can work together to help us search effectively for existential meaning—is more applicable than ever. As we emerge from the coronavirus quarantine and the huge trauma associated with it, it is inevitable that we will look at all of life and certainly our religious experience with different eyes. Rabbi Kaplan and contributors to A Life of Meaning are available to teach virtually on topics in the book. Email email@example.com for more information.