It isn’t often enough that a work like this, one of astonishing curiosity, intelligent humour, and intentional artistry finds its way into my hands. Occasionally, such discoveries are connected to me in more ways than one.
It isn’t enough to say here what an elegant and understated sense of humour this writer has or that many may miss the sharp and likely hard-won brilliance behind his calm, cool, and collected manner. Roger Price is possessed with whimsical reverence in the way he synthesizes his savant-like knowledge of history and science with Judaism, which has been his most recent muse. His work has inspired me to write a bungling review here after having read through it once or twice or three times, in addition to having had the privilege of sharing his company on more than one occasion.
When Judaism Meets Science was written by this gifted thinker, philosopher, stately oak of the community, and Ivy League educated veteran of the legal arenas who spends his time generating such worthwhile contributions from his home in our colorful neighborhood on Chicago’s North Shore.
Roger’s wife, Marilyn, is another gifted artist and storyteller. Together they are vital pedestrian lifeblood in our corner of the world. My wife and I watch them stroll in lockstep together past our front porch more than once a day. To us they represent a beacon, a vision, an example of how to live a full life.
Full disclosure: I’m a Philistine, an uneducated hack(er) who’s grateful for just enough luck and wits to survive. I’m a Gentile who admittedly knows little to nothing about Judaism save for what some pals turned me onto while living in Manhattan as a young adult. It was an authentic tour yet a mere introductory course to Jewish traditions and food.
Of course I felt like an outsider. I’d missed my chance to grow up in a tightly knit culture with a deep respect for ritual and tradition coupled to a wicked respect for humour and biting wit into the foibles of my most intimate relationships broadcasted right out into the open for everyone’s delight and/or dismay.
What I recall most is that I too wanted to be the guy the Jewish mothers and daughters talked about as having the most potential, the son who made the fathers and Rabbis most proud.
But I also wanted to order a pepperoni pizza and date girls who could, too. Oh, funny life.
How splendidly ironic that some years later I’d stumble onto such a fine example of one of these sons, who no doubt built his own place in the world and who now seems to effortlessly set the bar for banter, wit, and café conversation so high that it’s tough to rival but so, so easy to take in. I owe Roger a debt of gratitude for teaching me about Judaism in the way he has.
Onto the book! I could transmit pages herein about the wonderfully challenging debates I had with myself while engaged in the book. Or I could riff on the potentially polarizing topics within and contrast my previous opinions with new information shaped by nuance that would inevitably lead me to try and persuade you to conjure similar convictions.
Instead, I going to attempt to transmit how, from the first and refreshingly friendly “Hi there” and all throughout the sauntering trail Roger weaves for his audience as he plays a royal flush of tough questions, over abstract oceans and through tangible woods, that I did not expect to be so challenged by a book that at first glance appeared non-threatening and academic.
It doesn’t matter if he intended it or not. It works. The hidden machinery is crafted masterfully (even the chapter titles are whimsical and bent to the will of well-organized architecture) and his attention to and passion for craft wound me through the wringer in a delightful way. He challenged my presumptions about things I thought I understood and things I most definitely still don’t.
Isn’t this why I seek to find good books anyway? To feel validated in my galactic loneliness yet nudged to face the human condition with renewed acceptance and vigor?
Books like this I do not find. They find me.
Anyone bored with predictable cadence of non-fiction or fiction of this or that genre might consider making some time for Roger’s book. It shatters the monotony of formula and convention that I’m familiar with. Roger’s achievement is an inspired consortium of questions dancing happily in the discomfort that we may not ever know the answers and that sometimes it’s just because the battles of taste may not ever be won.
Arguably, Roger’s greatest gifts are his open heart and mind, a most exotic and rare chemistry of traits able to construct an atmosphere safe for raw curiosity, spun up for the singular and selfish quest of wondering about a complex world from as broad a perspective as he can imagine.
Let it wash over you the way I did. I’m better for it.
Is there a better goal for someone who writes a book? To make someone else feel that they are better for having read it?
I’m grateful for your time, efforts, and well-balanced contribution to a world currently turned upside down by persuasion, Roger. The only thing you’ve persuaded me to do is keep an eye and an ear peeled for the stories and clues that are all around me and continue to be open to changing my mind.
No small thing. Thank you.