Thank You!

by | May 2, 2014 | Book Reviews

Thanks. I Needed That (And Other Stories Of The Spirit)
by Robert Alper
Read The Spirit Books
2013. 182 pages

We can respond indeed to the book’s unusual title—Thanks. I Needed That—with the same spirited and gracious words to Robert Alper, the gifted author of this inspiring, instructive and humorous collection of 32 real life stories. As we have learned from the latest Pew survey, American Jews embrace the divine gift of laughter disproportionately to other Jewish pursuits, given perhaps their people’s disproportionate historic trying circumstances.

Rabbi Alper who hails from Rhode Island and resides with his wife Sherri, a psychotherapist, in Vermont’s countryside (away from people!) has proven that he can also deeply move us through comedy acts. After all, he has garnered quite an arsenal of poignant material from his life’s rich exposure as well as having led large Reform congregations in Buffalo and Philadelphia, “years of experience performing in front of a hostile audience.” He is surely an astute and sensitive observer of the human condition, a prerequisite for being successful both as a rabbi and a stand-up comic (more than 2,000 appearances)…two professions with an essential entertaining imension.

Alper creatively utilizes the timeless and timely verses of Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, “To everything there is a season….” To divide his stories according to the various seasons and times in the human drama with the co-mingling of tears of joy and sorrow. The fortunate reader of these penetrating stories will be renewed with a spirit of appreciation for life’s multi-facets which Rabbi Bob so fully embraces and celebrates, merging the reverent with the irreverent.

We witness an encounter with a kind-hearted dentist who reaches out to protect the dignity of Alper’s challenged mother-in-law, and his soulful regret in another story concerning a photographer Alper admonished at a wedding he performed only to learn that he had hearing aids in both ears…. Or the vignette from his days as a student-rabbi of 20 families in Owensboro, Kentucky, and a congregant who missed rubbing the velvet cushions of his childhood Syracuse temple, contending instead with barren wooden pews.

The author’s heartfelt commitment to Tikkun Olam’s healing premise is courageously manifested in his partnering with Muslim and Christian colleagues to perform “Laugh in Peace” (How ingenious!) in front of diverse audiences and settings, including college campuses, diffusing divisive tension with uniting laughter and planting seeds of mutual appreciation for a transformed world.

Notably, Alper earned a doctorate from the Presbyterian Princeton Theological Seminary and mine is from the sister Presbyterian McCormick Theological Seminary, and we are both trained counselors. Thanks, we needed it, rabbi and comedian (interchangeable) Bob for your overriding humanity, providing us with a perfect gift to uplift all of us who are in need. L’Chaim, to life!

—Rabbi Israel Zoberman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Chaverim.