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.
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.
"[A] stirring journey with a surprising and deeply moving conclusion." -- Forward
"What makes this personal account of self-dividedness so riveting is the ferocious honesty with which the author exposes his wound and the clarity and humor which seem testimony enough to its healing." -- Philip Lopate
"Shanda should be sold in a plain brown wrapper -- Neal Karlen's self-examination of his internal identity conflicts is that honest and disturbing." --Sara Nelson, New York Post
"Shanda reads much like Tuesdays with Morrie but has a wry irreverence and a seething edge. Karlen's memoir is an alternately hilarious and heart-wrenching spiritual adventure." -- The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
"Poignant and original...Karlen's personal saga shows that while there is no one set way to reconnect with your Jewish heart, the journey is always rich and fulfilling." -- Stephen Fried, author of The New Rabbi
"If you like scary beginnings, Neal Karlen's memoir is the book for you...The amazing thing here is not how dramatically Karlen turns himself around but how astutely he chronicles the turnaround. Shanda is hilarious, heartbreaking, seething, wary, and joyful -- in a word, a marvel." -- Stephen J. Dubner, author of Turbulent Souls and coauthor, Freakonomics