The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew


Early in his memoir, Neal Karlen confesses, "I love Judaism. It's Jews I can't stand."
What he means is that he hates the parochialism, the whole Seinfeld of the Jews he knows from New York to Los Angeles, and he can't stand the thought of being identified as one of them.
Frustrated and embarrassed, Karlen stops looking for the Jewish enclave that fits him, and he simply rejects Judaism. And then one day, he goes too far: he marries a WASP. The marriage is doomed.
Shanda -- the Yiddish word for "shame" -- is the story of Karlen's journey back to his Jewish roots, his faith, and his own self. His guide is an unlikely one: Rabbi Manis Friedman, the renowned Hasidic scholar. With Rabbi Friedman's tutelage and friendship, Karlen rekindles his Jewish spirit and begins to ask the questions that so many modern, assimilated Jews grapple with: How do we bring meaning to our Jewish practice? Where is the line between Jewish and too Jewish? Can you believe in Judaism even if you don't believe in God? As Karlen is led up the mountain to find these answers, Shanda offers a stunning and illuminating view from the top.
  • Touchstone | 
  • 224 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743266314 | 
  • September 2005
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About the Author

Neal Karlen
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Neal Karlen

Neal Karlen writes regularly for The New York Times and is a member of the adjunct faculty of the University of Minnesota journalism school. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, GQ, Elle, The Forward, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, and Olam, among other publications. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.