“These unpretentious but powerful reflections provide a refreshing reprieve from the cynicism and distrust so pervasive today. No bromides or buzzwords here, this book relies on bluntly real, clear-eyed observation over a professional lifetime. They speak to the truth and force of love— the caring and compassion of a mensch through action not mere words. Rabbi Hammerman’s wit and wisdom are no surprise to me; he is my rabbi. But the full tableau of his personal experiences and insights is extraordinary. His stories about his relationship with his brother, who is developmentally challenged, are especially moving. Each reader will find individual meaning and message that hits home. In Mensch·Marks, Joshua Hammerman has provided a prescription for ways to live a more human and humane life.” – United States Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT)
“Mensch·Marks. The title alone gets it off to a good start. And throughout, we find a graceful writer, lucid thinker, and wise and gentle soul.” - Bob Costas, legendary, Hall of Fame broadcaster and multiple Emmy Award winner
“Using wisdom from Hillel to Winnie the Pooh, Rabbi Hammerman has written a book that will make this world a kinder, gentler place. I’ll be recommending it to both my nice friends and the cranky ones too.”– A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
"It’s rare to find a rabbi willing to put his foibles and faith on the page with as much honesty and fervor as Rabbi Joshua Hammerman offers in this addictive volume. Each chapter is its own gem, and every story becomes a reader’s personal challenge — to look at how we move through the world, especially in this divisive moment. Kudos to Rabbi Hammerman for reminding us what to strive for, and doing it with a deft pen and a great sense of humor and humility. – Abigail Pogrebin, author of My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew
“A beautiful, warm, intimate book about the daily struggle to be a good human being”—Peter Beinart, author, The Crisis of Zionism
“In this age, when leadership and morality often seem to have nothing in common, Rabbi Joshua Hammerman offers us a window into a deeply-lived life. From a genuine mensch, we learn what it is to live a life measured by moral growth and devotion to people and causes beyond us. Reading Mensch•Marks is bound to leave us all determined to live better lives and be better people.” – Daniel Gordis, author of ISRAEL: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn
"If I could recommend just one book to every rabbi and politician in America, this would be it. A master-class in what it means to be a mensch from one of the nation's most gifted rabbi-writers."– Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University.
“What a read! If a rabbi’s job is to shake, rattle & roll, Rabbi Hammerman is doing it. What he says is powerful and often profound, but how he says it is delightful, funny, clever, often poetic, always interesting. It’s a life guide you should buy for someone who doesn’t think he or she needs it. Then buy one for yourself. If everyone read Mensch•Marks the world would be a much kinder, saner, better place. If Rabbi Hammerman were not a father, husband, philosopher, psychologist, journalist, world traveler, life guide, humorist, humanist, traditionalist, rebel, Talmudist, mohel and mensch, he could not have written this book. I can’t wait for the movie!” – Alan Kalter, renowned television announcer, voice of Late Night With David Letterman
“Perhaps the most important characteristic of leaders—especially religious leaders—is a deep awareness of their own humanity. Mensch•Marks, written with verve and even chutzpah, depicts the pursuit of wisdom amidst the daily challenges and grace notes of life. Rabbi Joshua Hammerman engages readers with honesty and humor, allowing us to look more deeply at our own lives.” – Sr. Mary C. Boys, Vice-President of Academic Affairs and Dean, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
"You read Rabbi Joshua Hammerman's essays for the pure pleasure of his company, for the surprising connections he draws, for the deftness and humor with which he applies ancient teachings to 21st-century dilemmas. Rabbi Hammerman doesn't preach from on high. He speaks with the wisdom of a scholar and the generosity of a friend. You will be comforted and inspired by his example, enlightened and enriched by his words." – Lauren Redniss, McArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” fellow, National Book Award finalist, Pulitzer Prize nominee, and author of Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout
“This is an eloquent story of one rabbi’s determination to learn lessons from text and from life and to share that knowledge while wrestling with faith, with loss and with change. Rarely are people so honest, personal and straightforward, sharing their thoughts and, even more rarely, speaking openly of their failures. Rabbi Hammerman puts values front and center. He is a mensch, and this book gives that word new meaning, making it clear that we can each develop this capacity over time."- Ruth Messinger, Global Ambassador and former President, American Jewish World Service
“For the ‘hassled masses’ here is an invaluable guide written with clarity, wit and humility. Whatever path you are on, Rabbi Hammerman has been there and will point to the sites and stumbling blocks.”– Rabbi David Wolpe, author of David: The Divided Heart
"In what feels like a time of darkening in the world, Rabbi Hammerman brings light and wisdom. He is both a mensch and a very fine writer, and whatever your religious background, you'll find much in this book to learn from and to be inspired by.” ―Nigel Savage, President, Hazon [The Jewish Lab for Sustainability]
“This is a deeply moving book. It is a kind of last will and testament of a Rabbi which communicates the meaning of life and the covenantal chain of family, idealism and role in world repair which is Jewry’s core. Miraculously Hammerman has managed to maintain his decency, genuine concern for people, embrace of life - and a grounding sense of humor - through decades of an exhausting career with inexhaustible demands that empties all too many practitioners of their humanity. He portrays his life story in 42 vignettes and meditations (corresponding to the 42 stages and stops the children of Israel made on the way from the house of bondage and slavery to homeland and freedom.) These include a valentine love letter to a father whose unexpected and untimely death by heart attack left him devastated and deprived for a lifetime. Still his father’s message “to be/become a mensch” lifted him and guided him for a lifetime.
The book contains a potpourri of life experiences and personal insights. My favorites include: a remarkable presentation of a mentally disabled brother (and a model of how to treat the disabled with pitch perfect emotional connection and to uphold their dignity without a trace of condescension); and a treatment of his greatest failure (and a model of how to deal with failure by owning it and doing true repentance by living in light of it.) Among other outstanding chapters are a eulogy for the beloved Mel Allen, the great baseball radio announcer - which amounts to a celebration of baseball as the sacred pastime of Americans; learning how to live from the endangered lions of South Africa; a charming and funny account of a rabbinic bout of flu which turns into an exploration of the parallelism between ancient ritual purity laws and contemporary germophobic culture; going on a march for gun control on Shabbat for the sake of pikuach nefesh (lifesaving), and so many more.
One section of the book is titled: the nobility of normalcy. This whole book is a testament to the nobility of a normal (albeit high level) rabbinic life career and to the nobility in people living normal lives - practicing monogamy, visiting the sick, traveling outdoors through nature in wonder, suffering pain with dignity, shopping, exhibiting their Jewishness proudly, setting boundaries that protect their personal standards, balancing work and family. Hopefully this book will inspire many to aspire to become menschen. At the least, reading this book will give you an unforgettable model of how to be a mensch which many a reader will summon to inspire his or her own journey to menschlichkeit.” – Rabbi Dr. Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, Founding Director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and Chair of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, founding President of the Jewish Life Network
I am not sure I ever read a book like this. I know the author for more than three decades (actually for close to six decades as we played together when we were young children as our fathers of blessed memories were friends and colleagues) so for a long time now, I have experienced his spacious heart, open mind, and evolved spirit. I am not surprised by the depth, insight, decency, accessibility, wisdom, honesty and humility of Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi and yet as I read this beautiful testimony to an examined life and a life worth examining, I laughed, cried, sighed, smiled, gasped, breathed and realized, understood, and appreciated life in its ordinary extraordinariness, in its mystical normalcy, and its sacred messiness.
If you simply want to become a better person, have a better life, make the world a touch better read this book.
Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi is a beautiful book - a magical alchemy of life experience, deep study, years of teaching and serving, and the gifts of a seeing eye and the ability to communicate. All of life is a source of wisdom for Joshua - popular culture, personal biography, ancient texts and traditions, baseball, parenting, family, nature, shopping…not esoteric complex, jargoned wisdom but practical wisdom that will inspire you, as it has inspired me, to really try to be more compassionate, resilient, truthful, moral, humble, faithful, intimate, and maybe most powerfully kind. You will read each of the 42 eloquent reflections in this book and feel the generosity of the writer in sharing his life for one purpose only: to help us become more deeply human.
There are so many books about the meaning of life but this is a book that with grace and fierceness, with courage and humor, and with humility and sagacity teaches us about the meaning IN life. Joshua’s father z’l is surely smiling as his son has written a book that will help every one of its readers become the kind of person God wants us to be: a mensch. - Rabbi Irwin Kula, Co-President of Clal–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life
Review of Mensch•Marks by Rabbi Jack Riemer
I think that every student who graduates rabbinical school should be given this book---and should be asked to read it twice.
Because the first time they read it, they won’t really believe it is true, or that it applies to them. They will think that the practice of turning the rabbi into some kind of a superman or some kind of a divine messenger ended in the Middle Ages, and that their rational and liberal congregants won’t do that to them …but they will. Just yesterday, I wished one of my congregants a happy birthday, and he replied: “Thank you. May your wish go directly from your mouth to God’s ears. After all, for you it is a local call, isn’t it?” I just smiled. What else can you do?
But to say that this is a book meant for rabbis is to limit it unjustly. It is meant for all those who want to lead a purposeful life and have not yet found the way to do so. It is meant for all those who have experienced love beyond their deserving and who want to share it with others without appearing vain---or even worse---‘religious’. It is meant for all those who know how cruel this world can sometimes be, and yet want to do what they can to seek out and to explore the love that is within it.
I read this book twice: once as a rabbi looking for sermonic material, and one as a human being who hopes to become a mensch.
The first time I marked many passages for future reading, for Joshua Hammerman is not only a rabbi; he is also a journalist, and so he knows how to write with imagination and skill. There are a great many examples of creative writing in this book that will make the sermons of his colleagues much better if they study it. But that is not the main purpose of this book---far from it. The purpose of the book is to tell the story of how one human being gradually came to understand the role of compassion and love and mentshlichkeit in his own life, and how he gradually learned how to share these insights with his people—both in words and by example.
The most moving chapter of the book, at least for me, was the one in which he talked about his own failure. He watched the football player, Tim Tebow, winning game after game, and he saw an almost messianic fervor take hold among his fans. Tebow was a devout evangelist, and he and his fans began proclaiming that his victories were the work of God. Hammerman was so disturbed by this phenomenon that he sat down and dashed off a blog blasting fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and all such faiths as superstition.
And then came the reaction!
He got hate mail by the hundreds on his computer. He got editorials condemning him for his bigotry in newspapers from coast to coast. Even some of his congregants turned against him for having offended their Christian neighbors. And he realized that they were right. He had written a hasty and a foolish blog, in which he had labeled whole communities, that he really knew little about, as backward and as potentially dangerous, and there was no way that he could make amends for it. He realized that the more he talked about it, the worse it would be.
Eventually, the affair blew over, and people went on with their lives. But he decided to speak on the following Yom Kippur about what he had learned from the mistake. He spoke about it, not in order to defend himself and to justify what he had done. He spoke about it in order to tell his people what he had learned from experiencing failure, and so that he could tell them that they, too, would be better off if, instead of gloating over their successes, they faced up to their failures. He brought examples from Silicon Valley and from inventors and from business people who had learned from their mistakes, but he focused primarily on his own—and on theirs. And his people came away that night with two important spiritual lessons. The first was that their rabbi was human and could make mistakes. And the second lesson that they learned that night was that they, too, were fallible, and that their task---especially on Yom Kippur--was not to deny their faults and not to cover up their shortcomings, but to learn from them.
And is that not a powerful lesson that all of us need to learn?
I know some powerful and successful executives and I know some powerful and successful rabbis who have not yet learned this lesson---but we should---and therefore, I urge all those of us who have ever failed---in other words—all of us---to read this book and to learn this and some of the otherwise lessons that it contains.
Jack Riemer is the author of two new books: Finding God in Unexpected Places and The Day I Met Father Isaac at the Supermarket. They are available from Amazon.com