The title alone tells you that this book is trying to go out on a limb in the orthodox Jewish world, so I was very happy to read a copy of this, author Bracha Goetz’s memoir.
Bracha is best known for authoring more than 30 children’s books, many of which have become a staple in Jewish homes, so this book was quite a departure from her usual style, and her usual audience.
The book spans around three decades of the author’s life, and begins with her diary entries as a young girl, to her ‘diary friend’ called Twilly. Now, a quick confession: I wasn’t overly-fond of the ‘Twilly’ entries, although I could appreciate that they were setting the scene for what was to come, and trying to depict the day-to-day life of a young secular Jewish girl in the States who had no idea what it really meant to be a Jew.
The book really started to come into its own, for me, when ‘Twilly’ disappeared off the scene and Bracha began to describe her experiences in much more adult terms. The book covers a lot of ground, ranging from trying out other religions as an older teen, to falling in with a bad crowd, to the first real experience of Yiddishkeit on a trip to the holy land.
Although the content is pretty dramatic in places, and is definitely pushing out boundaries in a frum world that likes to keep all the issues and problems we all face in our private lives firmly under wraps, Bracha writes with such a gentle hand, often via allusion, hint and poem, that’s it’s often left to the reader to peer between the lines to really grasp a little more of what was truly going on.
One of the book’s themes is food, and more specifically the unhealthy relationship to food so many people in the West, and particularly media-pressured women, seem to have in our generation.
Again, the subject is treated with a gentle hand in the book, but the picture painted is still clearly one of eating dysfunction as a result of that huge, spiritual hole that so many of us baal teshuvas had to try to fill with whatever came to hand, growing up.
Some people tried to fill it with unhealthy relationships, others with career ‘success’ and money, and still others with substances and pills. Bracha ended up with an eating disorder, hence the title of the book.
Something else you should know about ‘Searching for God in the Garbage’ is that many of the prose sections are punctuated by poems, and a few of those poems were my favourite parts of the book.
Take this verse, for example:
A box of cookies
As a temporary refuge
Doesn’t last long.
Not long enough
To be a kid forever.
So much is said in so few words about what’s really behind so many of the eating disorders, and all sorts of other ‘disorders’ plaguing the world generally.
Usually, when a book tackles the kind of heavy-weight subjects that are found in Goetz’s memoir, from seriously dating non-Jews, to dealing with family members who are upset that you’ve ‘joined a religious cult’ by getting all frum on them, to that effort to fill the black void inside our souls when God is missing from the equation and apparently out of the picture, it can often be wrenching for the reader, and pretty hard going.
Personally, I quite like wrenching accounts (call me a masochist…) but I still enjoyed the more gentle approach employed in Bracha’s book, and I applaud the author’s courage in putting so much of her real inner dimension out there, and lifting the lid on a bunch of subjects that we should be discussing much more in religious society.
Ultimately, I think the book is actually more about finding God in the garbage, than just searching for Him there. Maybe that’s a subtle distinction, but not everyone could have come through Bracha’s experiences and emerged a believing Jew, as the shocking intermarriage rates in the US and elsewhere sadly attest.
It’s not easy growing up sane and Jewish. It wasn’t easy in the 1970s and 1980s, where much of the action in the book takes place, and it’s probably even harder in 2018. And that may well be where this book will have the biggest impact in the Jewish world, as a bridge between parents who are doing their best to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ and to pretend everything has always been A-OK, and the next generation that is desperately demanding that we get real, and honestly explore what’s happening in our lives, families and inner dimension.
Goetz’s book goes a long way to building the foundation of that discussion, and I, for one, am very interested to see what other positive things may now be built in the orthodox Jewish world, as a result.
Click HERE to buy the paperback ($17.99) or Kindle ($4.99) on Amazon.
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