February 11, 1999
Her Story of Resurrection and of Human Resiliency
"A Woman's Voice"
by Marlene Adler Marks
(On The Way Press, $l2.95)
Every Friday afternoon, before Shabbat begins, I go for my Marlene Adler Marks fix. I turn on my computer to America Online; from there I go to Channels, then Lifestyle, then Spirituality, then Judaism, then Jewish newspapers (with a shalom that greets me), then The Jewish Journal, and finally to her weekly column, "A Woman's Voice."
I am addicted to these columns because it is good to enter Shabbat with a smile and a sense of hope.
Marks writes about what she knows best: her own life, the difficulties of being a young widow and a single parent, the joys of being a modern Jew, and the necessity of living life with hope, faith and humor. She proves to me each week that that which is the most personal is the most universal: For when she talks about what goes on inside her soul, her words strike a chord within me, even though we have only met in person once or twice.
There is no self-pity in this collection of her columns, no sense that being a widow means being broken, that being a single parent means being crippled. There is a lot of divorce out there and lots of single parents -- by choice or by necessity -- and it is surely not easy to live and to raise a child without a partner, but these columns make clear that it is not impossible and not only a burden, that it can be fun and life-enhancing and challenging, and not just a task.
She describes the roller coaster that is parenting -- tears to hugs, fears to snarls in 60 seconds, and what it is like to be whipped about in the heady winds of a child's emotions with no partner to provide an anchor. But, in the end, she (and her daughter, too, I imagine) sees it as a journey, a challenge, and not as a reason to wallow in self-pity or to feel abnormal.
There is a light touch to these columns, which make clear that life is too delicious to spoil with a grim attitude and that there are as many reasons to rejoice, if we only want to, as there are to be melancholy.
You have to be moved by her essay on what it is like for a widow to handle a tool kit, and by the one about how she tries to build a sukkah for the first time. The column in which she grades and classifies the men she dates is just right -- really hilarious, never maudlin. The column in which she describes her first effort to run a seder and the one on how a single parent does Shabbat and the one about saying "Kaddish" are instructive for any of the Jews of her generation, who are finding their way into the world of Jewish observance without a very clear road map, whether they be single or married.
The book is arranged in four sections. The first describes the deep, dark tunnel (or pit?) in which she and her daughter somehow made their way after the shock of the death of her husband. The second recounts the ways in which she reached back to her parents, her family and her childhood roots, while she and her daughter rebuilt their relationship on new terms -- as a mother and daughter alone. The third chronicles the revival of appetite, as she gradually came back to life, and she became hungry for food and for companionship. It is in this section that the vignette about Samantha's bat mitzvah appears, for this ritual is a combination of prayer and party, of holiness and food, inextricably bound up together. And, in the last section, life goes on, Samantha enters high school, her parents enter the retirement stage of their lives, and she learns to risk and to love again.
This could easily have been a downer of a book, but it isn't. With warmth and humor on almost every page, Marks has written a story of resurrection and of human resiliency, a story of how a human being can get up after the blows that life sometimes deals us all, and start over again.
I don't know if the book catalogers will list this book under "religion" or not; probably not. But if, as I believe, the ability to get up and start over again, the wonder of human resiliency, is a miracle for which there is no secular explanation, then this book should be classified as religious.
I recommend it not only to single parents or to those who want to know how this generation is shaping its kind of Judaism, but to all those who have loved and lost and learned to live and love again -- which means just about everyone in the world, for who does not love and lose at some time in his or her life?
Jack Riemer is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Boca Raton, Fla., and is the editor of six books of modern Jewish thought.
Where to Hear
'A Woman's Voice'
Wednesday, Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino
Sunday, Feb. 21, 11 a.m.
Skirball Cultural Center
With Rabbi Naomi Levy
("To Begin Again")
and Sandy Banks
(Los Angeles Times columnist).
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
Tuesday, Feb. 23, 7:30 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Santa Monica
Third Street Promenade and
Thursday, March 4, 7 p.m.
Valley Beth Shalom
15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino
Sunday, March 21, 2:30 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Calabasas
Commons Shopping Mall