Book Review: Foreskin's Lament, A Memoir

Foreskin’s Lament, A Memoir
by Shalom Auslander, 2007

What attracted me to Foreskin’s Lament was that Auslander grew up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family. I love these stories. Give me a misunderstood esoteric minority book and I will give you a few hours of my life.

Book summary in two sentences: The memoir forms the basis for what will one day be the case God puts forth against Auslander’s entrance into heaven. God: “Even though you kind of kept the Sabbath and you walked to the Ranger’s game for the Stanley Cup from Westchester to NYC on the Sabbath over the GW bridge, all bets are off because you did not keep kosher.”

While the books takes the occasion of Auslander’s son’s birth and potential circumcision to talk about growing up Jewish and the effect his upbringing continues to have on him, the book is really about his relationship with God. He prays to God, or rather makes deals with him all the time. And his reading of the Old Testament (Torah) is even funny, in a somewhat disturbed manner.

"The people at Monsey [Auslander’s grade school] were terrified of God, and they taught me to be terrified of Him, too – they taught me about…a man named Moses, who escaped from Egypt, and who roamed through the desert for forty years in search of a Promised Land, and whom God killed just before he reached it – face-plant on the one-yard line, --because Moses had sinned, once forty years earlier. His crime? Hitting a rock."

I had never thought of the story that way. Brent says one of the things he likes about the Old Testament is how black and white everything is in it. Do this, suffer this fate.

But real life is grey. Auslander deals in the gray everyday. In one poignant section of the book, (which I will not reveal too much of because it kind of gives the book away) he has made peace with a decision and he thinks this will appease his parents. But no, even what he considers his grand compromise gesture is seen by his parents as the wrong decision.

The book offered an opportunity for Brent and I to discuss religion more deeply, which I enjoyed. I believe in God. But God backed me into a corner of believing. Since Linda is dead, I can’t imagine that she did not go someplace, so I am kind of stuck. But I don’t believe in what one might call a “personal God.” I don’t think God sweats the details. A few swear words, a little crazy dancing, maybe even a few drinks. He doesn’t care.

I think Auslander shares my feelings on this. At one point in the book he gets an email from his sister where she substitutes the forbidden words in her email with symbols for the vowels. Really? You don’t think God can tell?

“When [the devout] are not preaching what a ... Maniac the Lord is, they’re behaving like He’s a ... idiot.”

I read this sentence and said, “Exactly.” If God is watching and knows everything, then he knows everything.

So I am the kind of person who largely subscribes to the Golden Rule, by which I mean, be a good person, be kind to people, and do good things. Everything else will work out.

“I believe in God.
It has been a real problem for me.”

This might be what Auslander should give as his defense if he has any trouble getting in to heaven. The book is a great, quick, yet thoughtful read, so don’t let the title put you off.

No comments: