About six years ago, in the aftermath of a romantic breakup, White House speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz embarked on the most unlikely of relationships: She began to seriously engage in Judaism.
And how is this relationship going?
According to Hurwitz’s own account, in “Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally Choose to Look There)”, she is head over heels in love with Judaism. His study and practice continue to grow and enrich him in many ways.
The book, his first, is part memoir, part meditation on faith, part guide and part call to action. She will speak to the JCC in Palo Alto on September 23.
As she notes at the start of the book, Hurwitz, 42, was an unwitting candidate for such a love affair. Like many American Jews who attended Hebrew and religious schools as children, the suburban Boston native found the experience boring and uninspiring. By the time she was at Harvard, where she obtained her undergraduate and law degrees, she had no regular engagement with Judaism. His single visit to the Hillel campus for a Shabbat dinner reinforced his estrangement.
“Everyone there seemed to know each other from the Jewish summer camp and to be involved in a joke that I wasn’t aware of, and I couldn’t follow any of the prayers or rituals,” she wrote.
Hurwitz, who served as editor-in-chief to First Lady Michelle Obama from 2009 to 2017, as well as senior editor of President Obama’s speech, had a transformational experience when she enrolled in an introductory course at the Judaism at the JCC after its breakup.
“I signed up less to fulfill an existential desire and more to fill a few hours on a Wednesday night that would otherwise have been spent feeling alone in my apartment,” she notes in “Here All Along”.
But the classroom has become more than a tool to fill a void. Much more.
“I fell in love with the lyrics,” Hurwitz told J. in a recent interview, explaining how a spark was ignited. His days of “pediatric Judaism” – minimal knowledge of a few Jewish festivals, prayers, and traditions – were soon over.
Her rediscovery of Judaism while working in the White House didn’t influence her work so much as it shed light on it.
This course led to a second, which led to additional courses, Jewish mediation retreats, and the purchase and reading of hundreds of Jewish books of all denominational and ideological spectra: from orthodox to reconstruction to the passing. by renewal; from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a civil rights leader, to Dennis Prager, a conservative commentator.
“If anyone has anything of value” to add to her understanding, said Hurwitz, her religious or political affiliation does not matter to her. She references dozens of Jewish opinion leaders throughout “Here All Along” as she charts her religious and spiritual journey.
If potential readers think that Hurwitz is engaged in a brain exercise simply to gain a better understanding of the rich history and traditions of Judaism, she and the contents of the book will quickly disillusion them with that notion.
“It really is a spiritual practice for me. A lot of joy came from the basics, ”she said. When she understands what a prayer means, says Hurwitz, she deepens her relationship with the Jewish sense of the Divine.
Part of what she loves about Judaism is the “very high ethical bar” it sets – she writes extensively on the propensity to engage in Washington “lashon haraWhich means “bad language” or gossip – and how that forces her to step out of her comfort zone to fight against the ideas of God.
Always interested and involved in public service and social justice, Hurwitz said her rediscovery of Judaism while working in the White House had not influenced her work so much as it made it clearer, especially when she wrote speeches for the first lady on youth rights. people, regardless of their background, to pursue their dreams.
“The belief that each of us is created in the image of God has been cited as the defining Jewish idea,” she writes.
His understanding of this concept “flooded me with recognition. This In-the-Image idea and the “inalienable dignities” that flow from it are the very values that run through just about every speech I’ve written.