Lawrence Kushner (1943–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1943, in Detroit, MI; Education: University of Cincinnati, degree, 1965; Hebrew Union College, ordained rabbi, 1969. Hobbies and other interests: Graphic design, computers, Mozart, "hanging around sailboats."
Office—c/o The Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake St., San Francisco, CA 94118.
Rabbi, educator, and writer. Congregation Solel, Highland Park, IL, rabbinic fellow-in-residence, 1969–71; Congregation Beth El, Sudbury, MA, rabbi, 1971–99; Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco, CA, currently scholar-in-residence. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York, NY, instructor, beginning 1986, and rabbi-in-residence; Graduate Theological University, Berkeley, CA, visiting professor of Jewish spirituality.
The Book of Letters: A Mystical Hebrew Alef-Bait, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 1975.
Honey from the Rock: Visions of Jewish Mystical Renewal, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 1977.
The River of Light: Spirituality, Judaism, and the Evolution of Consciousness, Harper (New York, NY), 1981.
(With Deborah Kerdeman) The Invisible Chariot: An Introduction to Kabbalah and Spirituality for Young Adults, A.R.E. Publishing (Denver, CO), 1986.
The Book of Miracles: A Young Person's Guide to Jewish Spiritual Awareness, Union of American Hebrew Congregations (New York, NY), 1987.
God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know: Finding Self, Spirituality, and Ultimate Meaning, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 1991.
(Translator and editor, with Kerry Olitsky) Sparks beneath the Surface: Selections from Itturay Torah on the Weekly Parasha, Jason Aronson (Northvale, NJ), 1993.
The Book of Words: Talking Spiritual Life, Living Spiritual Talk, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 1993.
Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 1996.
Eyes Remade for Wonder: A Lawrence Kushner Reader, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 1998.
Kabbalah: The Way of Light, illustrated by Jo Gershman, Peter Pauper Press (White Plains, NY), 1999.
Because Nothing Looks like God, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 2000.
The River of Light: Jewish Mystical Awareness, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 2000.
(With wife, Karen Kushner) Where Is God?, illustrated by Dawn W. Majewski, Skylight Paths (Woodstock, VT), 2000.
Honey from the Rock: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 2000.
Jewish Spirituality, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 2001.
(With Karen Kushner) What Does God Look Like?, illustrated by Dawn W. Majewski, Skylight Paths (Woodstock, VT), 2001.
(With Karen Kushner) How Does God Make Things Happen?, illustrated by Dawn W. Majewski, Skylight Paths (Woodstock, VT), 2001.
The Way into Jewish Mystical Tradition, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 2001.
(With Nehemia Polen) Filling Words with Light: Hasidic and Mystical Reflections on Jewish Prayer, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 2004.
(With Gary Schmidt) In God's Hands, illustrated by Matthew J. Baek, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 2005.
Kabbalah: A Love Story, Morgan Road Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Lawrence Kushner, who served as rabbi of his Sudbury, Massachusetts, congregation for twenty-eight years before moving to northern California to teach and write, examines the Jewish faith and ideology in several books. Written primarily for younger readers, works such as The Book of Miracles: A Young Person's Guide to Jewish Spiritual Awareness presents a series of chapters that address questions children might have about Judaism and spirituality in general. In contrast, Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary includes a collection of tales that are culled from Kush-ner's own experiences with his family, friends, and even strangers, and the author uses these encounters to reveal spiritual insights. Some of Kushner's titles include writings appropriate for both adults and children, among them the anthology Eyes Remade for Wonder: A Lawrence Kushner Reader,. A Booklist reviewer noted that this 1998 collection will "strike a chord with a wide range of readers." According to a critic for Publishers Weekly, "Kushner's blend of scholarship, imagination, psychology, mysticism, and humor will make readers feel that he is speaking personally to them."
Kushner has published several books designed for very young readers, often working with a co-writer. With his wife, Karen Kushner, he wrote What Does God Look Like?, How Does God Make Things Happen?, and Because Nothing Looks like God, three titles designed to help young children understand difficult concepts about religion and spirituality. Instead of trying to offer philosophical answers, the Kushners describe God as being in worms as they circulate the soil, as well as in the embraces of family and friends, and assure readers that, although God cannot be seen, He can be felt, just like the wind or human emotions. The Kushners' books also encourage children in the belief that God works through them. Reviewing Because Nothing Looks like God, a critic for Publishers Weekly noted: "Parents who want help teaching difficult religious concepts will like the Kushners' method of bridging abstract ideas and concrete images," and Booklist reviewer Ellen Mandel considered it a "valuable book." Teri Markson, reviewing the same title for School Library Journal, felt that "because the Kushners' intent is to explore rather than describe God, there is room for children's own spiritual awareness to grow."
Kushner teamed up with fellow author Gary Schmidt in writing In God's Hands, a retelling of a Jewish legend. In the story, David, a poor man, wonders how to feed his family. Jacob, a rich man, typically dozes in synagogue, but wakes just as a passage from the book of Leviticus, commanding Moses to bake challah bread for God, is being read. Jacob feels this scripture is meant to be taken literally; he bakes bread and places the loaves in a holy ark. When David, who works as a janitor for the synagogue, finds the loves, he knows that God has answered his prayers about feeding his family. For years, the two men repeat the ritual, each thinking that God is granting him a miracle. Finally, a rabbi reveals what is actually happening, but shows the men that they have both acted their part in God's ultimate design. The "narrative unwinds with a crisp rhythm," commented a critic for Publishers Weekly, while a Kirkus Reviews contributor recommended the title as "a worthy choice for all collections." As Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper wrote, "This lovely piece of bookmaking combines a good tale with a strong, easily understood message."
After many years of writing and teaching from his home in Massachusetts, Kushner and his family moved to California. There, he serves as scholar-in-residence for Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, and also serves as a visiting professor of Jewish spirituality at the Graduate Theological University in Berkeley. In his free time, the rabbi and writer enjoys "hanging around sailboats and trying to learn how to play the clarinet," as he noted on his home page.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, June 1, 1996, review of Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary, p. 1636; January 1, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Eyes Remade for Wonder: A Lawrence Kushner Reader, p. 800; January 1, 2001, Ellen Mandel, review of Because Nothing Looks like God, p. 963; October 1, 2001, Ray Olson, review Jewish Spirituality: A Brief Introduction for Christians, p. 284.
Choice, February, 1982, p. 778.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of In God's Hands, p. 852.
Library Journal, September 15, 1981, p. 1742; October 1, 1996, review of Invisible Lines of Connection, p. 86; November 15, 2001, Naomi Hafter, Jewish Spirituality, p. 72.
Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1993, p. 33; April 8, 1996, review of Invisible Lines of Connection, p. 60; January 26, 1998, review of The Book of Miracles: A Young Person's Guide to Jewish Spiritual Awareness, p. 87; October 26, 1998, review of Eyes Remade for Wonder, p. 61; September 27, 1999, review of Kabbalah: The Way of Light, p. 96; September 10, 2001, review of Jewish Spirituality, p. 88; July 25, 2005, review of In God's Hands, p. 80.
School Library Journal, February, 2001, Teri Markson, review of Because Nothing Looks like God, p. 112; October, 2005, Rachel Kamin, review of In God's Hands, p. 118.
Stepping Stones, September-October, 1998, review of The Book of Miracles, p. 32.
Lawrence Kushner Home Page, http://www.rabbikushner.org (March 27, 2006).
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