“Feeling Jewish” by Deborah Baum

Feeling Jewish: (A Book for Just About Anyone)Feeling Jewish: by Devorah Baum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Within the opening pages of this book (or if you’re like me, button presses), one is immediately bombarded not with what the title initially seems to suggest, but rather a twist on it – what feels like a dissertation-length composition waxing the epistemology of one saying they “feel fine.” Yes, this book is about feeling Jewish, but the first accosting is not one about the essence of Jewish feeling, but rather the continual struggles with something beyond fine, as if it were quintessentially Jewish in nature to be infinitely more complicated than goyish compadres.

What feels like awkward, oddly enough, is that with Baum’s musings on the concept of emotional feelings run rampant I find a connection – in this way the author has connected with my complexity inside, spoken to my core. Is it Jewish to be something other than fine? History would certainly afford that with over two thousand years of oppression. I would think being something other than fine is more of a humanity struggle. After all, my wife isn’t born Jewish (nor raised this way) and she deviates from being fine to F-I-N-E on a frequent basis.

Perhaps it’s not the concept of fine that’s unique, but rather then lengthy essay debating the accuracy of such a phrase. In that approach, it does feel quite Jewish to drone on about a minor social construct. In that case, perhaps I do feel Jewish simply reading this unnecessary complexity. It is in this sense that I agree with the author’s quoting summary, that Jews “are just like everyone else, only more so.” Baum at least points out, eventually, that the feelings in this book are not exclusive to Jews, but are something generally felt by every modern Jew. We are a people in exile, religious or not. In that sense, scattered across the world but recognizing of our distant relatives, being feeling Jewish is yet one way every Yid can find sympathy with their distant family.

Despite Baum’s obsessive attention to detailed sentences and unfathomable length to the concept of feeling, which is merely the first part of two halves of the title, the author keeps most of my attention. There are parts where my eyes glaze over from simple too much discussion. In those moments, I wonder if this indeed was a dissertation for Baum at some point. Then there are parts where I connect, and I feel connected. It’s not just me. Others have this struggle too. In those moments, the author not-so-subtlety reminds me that my Jewishness may or may not be related, as everyone and simultaneously no one experiences the same. Either way, I feel as if the next page button on my Kindle Oasis will wear out before I finish the chapter. That alone is my key complaint – it makes me feel exasperated. Maybe that’s intentional…

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