Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Shalom Auslander

Parsha Yitro

It’s no secret that Shalom Auslander is a very screwed-up individual. It’s a fact to which he will gladly attest. Fortunately for readers, he can tell you exactly why. A terrific essayist, short story writer, and memoirist, Auslander examines his battles with God and his family—often the two are inextricably bound.  Interview with Drew Nellins, www.bookslut.com/features/2007_10_011774.php

 Shalom Auslander (born 1970) is an American author and essayist. He grew up in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood in Monsey, Rockland County, NY. His writing style is notable for its Jewish perspective and determinedly negative outlook. He often draws comparisons to David Sedaris.  He lives with his wife and two sons (the oldest is Paix) in Woodstock, NY.  Auslander is a frequent contributor to BBC, The New Yorker, Esquire and The New York Times Magazine. He was interviewed by Terri Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air and read short fiction from his collection Beware of God (Picador, 2006) and essays about an upbringing he likens to that of a veal calf on This American Life.   His website : www.shalomauslander.com/  has links to many of his interviews.

The Foreskin’s Lament (2007) was a New York Times Notable Book, and the San Francisco Chronicle called it a “chaotic, laugh riot.”  SF Chronicle review:

“Shalom Auslander was raised with a terrified respect for God. Even as he grew up and was estranged from his community, his religion and its traditions, he could not find the path to a life where he didn’t struggle daily with the fear of God’s formidable wrath. Foreskin’s Lament reveals Auslander’s “painfully, cripplingly, incurably, miserably religious” youth in a strict, socially isolated Orthodox community, and recounts his rebellion and efforts to make a new life apart from it. His combination of unrelenting humor and anger renders a rich and fascinating portrait of a man grappling with his faith and family.”

From Foreskin’s Lament: “The people of Monsey were terrified of God, and they taught me to be terrified of Him, too—they taught me about a woman named Sarah who would giggle, so He made her barren; about a man named Job who was sad and asked,—Why?, so God came down to Earth, grabbed Job by the collar, and howled,—Who the fuck do you think you are?”

 Excerpted from an interview with Boris Kachka in New York Magazine, 2007.
BK:
I believe in God. It’s been a real problem for me,” Shalom Auslander writes in Foreskin’s Lament, a dark and hilarious new memoir about growing up Orthodox and miserable in upstate New York. You deleted your manuscript several times out of fear that God would strike down your family. What about now that it’s being published?

 SA: When I was writing it for myself, anything could happen and no one would know. Now it’s out there, so if He tries any shit, people are going to know. They’d be like, “Wow, he’s right, that Guy’s a dick.”

BK:Do you resent Reform Jews who can be proud of their heritage without having had to endure the hard stuff?


AS:[Reform Jews] are not necessarily going to burn their porn, as I did, but psychologically they’re doing the same thing.

BK: So why not throw your hat in with Christopher Hitchens and become an atheism advocate? 
                            

SA: I guess if you spin religion enough, it’s comforting to think God’s a decent guy. He’s not Archie Bunker, he’s Meathead.

BK: Back to His wrath. Your acknowledgments page is titled “Who to Kill”— people God could strike down in lieu of your immediate family. First in line is your editor, Geoff Kloske. How did he take that?


AS: Well, God’s not necessarily going to go in that order. The mob, they don’t do the big hit right away. Kloske might buy a very pro-God book next year, so God could still have his uses for him. Me, forget it.

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