I’ve been on a journey towards more learning and deeper understanding of Judaism since college. I received a minor in Hebrew and Jewish studies as part of this journey, I learned Hebrew, and I did a lot of extra curricular activities, through UCLA Hillel in particular, and in the Jewish community in general during the years I wanted to immerse myself more in Jewish learning.
I learned a few important things in this journey I’ve been on:
1. Ask questions. Never act like you understand something if you don’t, whether it be why we stand for some prayers and not others, or what the difference is between Zionism and racism, or why some people say Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and other people say Tel Aviv is. Ask questions. Stop people if they say something you don’t understand. That’s how you learn.
2. Step outside of your comfort zone. Learning something new, especially if it’s something you don’t know much about, isn’t always comfortable. Praying where men and women sit separately, for example, can be uncomfortable, but look at all new experiences as learning experiences. Take what you like and leave the rest. But don’t be afraid to try new things!
3. My Rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, had an enormous library in his home. It was the foundation of his learning–his books. He had a book for everything, and when whe was my professor for Introduction to Jewish Studies, he suggested books which are still part of my life and library at my home today.
As I left college and continued my Jewish learning, I realized that there are just so many books about Judaism. It can be overwhelming, especially when you want to learn more about the holidays. There are just so many books about Jewish holidays! And if you want to learn about Passover in particular, there are so many books about Passover that you could spend your entire life and still not read through them all.
I want to share with you a new book I have fallen in love with–if you read one book about Passover season, this is it. And if you read one book about a Jewish holiday, this is the one to read. And, honestly, if you read just one book in your life about Judaism, I still think this is the book to read.
Why? How can one book be potentially so many things for so many people? Well, it’s because of the lens of the author.
Rabbi David Fohrman is the founder of AlephBeta.org, a website of fun and interesting educational videos about all things Jewish. What makes AlephBeta special is the lens Rabbi Fohrman uses with which to examine the world through Judaism. The whole site is infused with a modern, traditional, scientific and inquisitive lens.
“The Exodus You Almost Passed Over” is Rabbi Fohrman’s new book which uses his unique lens to explore everything from why we call Passover “Passover” to why the journey to freedom had to be so incredibly convoluted to what it means to be chosen and how this story affects us right here, right now.
For thousands of years, Judaism has centered around a set of stories we tell from our Torah. For thousands of years, we have told those stories faithfully. But there is another set of wisdom and knowledge that most people–especially those of us who were not raised in a religious setting or going to a religious school–have been left out of. Rabbi Fohrman brings that world to us. It is the world of Rabbinical analysis, of turning every story over, of turning every word over, of finding the hidden meaning and making it all come together as a whole rather than a set of parts. This book brings all of this to us with humor, with joy, and in a way “modern types” can wrap our heads around.
Rabbi Fohrman uses the Passover story to illustrate not only the stories behind the stories, but he shows us a way to think about Judaism that many of us have previously never had access to. I especially hate reading books where I’m talked down to–or where I’m made to feel stupid for not knowing what the heck every detail is that the author is talking about.
“The Exodus You Almost Passed Over” is written in small chapters: tastes of ideas with parallels and conclusions drawn being laid out very clearly and concisely. But I never feel patronized when reading Rabbi Fohrman’s work. He has a marvelous way of speaking to you and bringing you to the next level of your understanding and your capabilities intellectually without making you feel like he’s “dumbing it down.”
I strongly suggest you find time to read “The Exodus You Almost Passed Over” before Passover. It will enlighten your holiday, get you thinking about bigger things, and bring you closer to your intellect which, as the great scholar Maimonides notes, is the glory of God.
And if you’re never visited AlephBeta.org, now is a great time. So many people use the videos to entertain and educate their kids, and my kids love the videos. Schools use them, and many people who know nothing about Judaism but want to learn more have found a great resource in AlpehBeta.
Jewish learning never stops. There are so many ways to keep learning: meeting new communities, praying new places, celebrating at new people’s homes and learning about how and why they do Judaism the way they do it…and so many books to read. I hope this book enlightens you and entertains you as it did me.
Check it out and happy preparing for Passover!