May 11, 2023
Before I became a rabbi, I worked as an editor. I edited a monthly paper in south county for a few years after my first stint in graduate school (MFA in writing and literature at Bennington.) A good editor, I came to understand, is one who helps a work become the best version of itself: not imposing her own voice, but helping the writer refine their gem in the ways that will most allow it to shine.
Over the last few years I've been bringing that skillset to the publishing work I do at Bayit. Y'all, it is so much fun. I love helping people uncover what's best in their work. I love uplifting voices that move me. (Arguably this is part of why I co-founded a Jewish spiritual innovation incubator in the first place.) I love how together we can bring forward something that is more than the sum of our parts.
About two years ago, a manuscript came our way that piqued my interest. It's by R. Mark Asher Goodman, a rabbi who at the time I only knew over Twitter. His book features Hassidic texts -- many of them translated into English for the first time -- and opens them up for a modern reader with wry and self-deprecating humor, pop culture references, and quotes from the Wu-Tang Clan.
It's called Life Lessons from Recently Dead Rabbis: Hassidut for the People. Would Bayit be interested in publishing this book?
Would we ever.
Introducing... Life Lessons from Recently Dead Rabbis: Hassidut for the People
by R. Mark Asher Goodman; cover art by R. Zac Kamenetz
published by Bayit: Building Jewish
The process of bringing the book to press has taken longer than I thought it would, of course. The last couple of years have been challenging ones. Not just the continuing global pandemic and American political upheaval, but also my father's illness and death, and my heart attack and continuing health quandaries, on top of rabbi-ing and parenting and all the normal things that need to get done.
But it is so worth the wait. Hasidic texts are a particular passion for many of us at Bayit (I've been blogging about them since the early years of Velveteen Rabbi when I was in rabbinical school), so that aspect of the book is already my jam. If you're a longtime reader of Hasidic texts, you'll find familiar kinds of wisdom here -- plus also perhaps some texts from rebbes you haven't encountered before.
If you're new to the Hasidic world, if you can't read Hebrew, even if you're a spiritual seeker with no connection to Judaism at all: wow are you in for a treat. Each chapter contains questions for contemplation, texts in translation, and Mark's commentary. And Mark's voice is unique. Heartfelt and thoughtful, and also sometimes snarky, geeky, and irreverent. These are a few of my favorite things.
I wish I could say we planned to launch on Lag Ba'Omer, the holiday when we light bonfires to represent the fire of mystical Torah wisdom still shedding spiritual light in our day. Truth be told, it was a coincidence of timing and data propagating. Then again, maybe every coincidence is God's hand at work. Who am I to say that this wasn't the Kadosh Baruch Hu pulling some digital strings?
Anyway, you can learn more about the book (and click through to buy a copy, if you're so inclined) on its page on the Bayit website: Life Lessons from Recently Dead Rabbis. And while you're there, I hope you'll click through to see Bayit's whole catalogue, e.g. the other books that we've published and are in the process of publishing. We've been entrusted with some really amazing work. I am so grateful.
Thanks for listening to me kvell about the newest book I've been blessed to midwife into being. If you love the cover of Life Lessons, check out R. Zac Kamenetz's psychedelic portraits of rabbis and rebbes. (And here's a link to his work with Shefa, doing Jewish psychedelic support.) Find author R. Mark Asher Goodman here. And stay tuned for info on Bayit's upcoming books, coming soon.