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The February 2020 Vancouver Jewish Book Festival seems like it took place in another world. In a way, it did. Still, I flew from Israel to Germany to Vancouver and then back to Tel Aviv via Toronto as hard as that is to imagine today. On the way I met so many creatives, authors, and many readers at a variety of book talks.
I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to attend other author talks but I did manage to get to a talk by Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So, it is with great pleasure that Laura has accepted my invitation to visit on gilagreenwrites.
Because my young adult environmental fiction novel No Entry features a Jewish eco-heroine, I'm particularly interested in the connection between Judaism and the environment in Laura's new book The Infinity Inside. I also agree that in many ways we have lost out intrinsic connection to the natural world and many Jews have forgotten what a large part the earth and the environment plays in our heritage. I've finished the sequel to No Entry and I have brought out my heroine Yael Amar's Jewishness and connection to the environment through her Judaism even more. I'm hoping to use The Infinity Inside to give me more background on this for my own work. I'm sure other authors and readers will find their own personal benefits in the insights between these pages.
Please welcome Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan of Vancouver, BC!
Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan, Ph.D., is Director of Inter-Religious Studies at the Vancouver School of Theology and Rabbi Emerita of Or Shalom Synagogue. Laura has also been a philosophy professor, spiritual director, and hatha yoga teacher. Laura lives in Vancouver, Canada with her spouse and musical partner Charles, her young adult children, and a changing array of companion animals.
GG: Was there anything edited out of The Infinity Inside that you wanted to keep?
LDK: Yes! Though it's written in a personal style, The Infinity Inside is a very tightly crafted book. It presents the idea of infinity, definitions of spirituality and spiritual practice, five multi-faith practices, seven Jewish practices, and then returns to the idea of infinity.
So, to keep the book focused, I had to make careful choices. I left out many core Jewish practices, like the Omer self-observation count and chanting poetic liturgies. (You can read about some of these on my blog.) Also, I decided to save some of my research into spiritual psychology for another book.
GG: Who do you believe is your primary audience for this book and what do you think is different about it that cannot be found elsewhere?
LDK: The book is for anyone curious about spiritual practice. Originally, I wrote it to appeal to educated beginners. But, it turns out, many readers are spiritual teachers, rabbis, or clergy looking to expand their practice. Probably they like that The Infinity Inside is not just a practical book. Everything comes to life in a local sense of place, with forests, rivers, owls, and even a café. But there's also an intellectual depth, as I explain my spiritual philosophy, theology, and psychology––with a little help from Maimonides, Solomon ibn Gabirol, and the Ba'al Shem Tov. (Yes, there's a some Kabbalah, too.)
GG: Do you think the way many Jews practice Judaism today is disconnected from nature and the environment? If so, why do you think that is? If not, why do you believe that?
LDK: A year of Jewish holidays is a wonderful program for acknowledging cycles of nature. We have holidays in sync with stations of the sun and moon. And festivals that celebrate rhythms of sowing and harvesting. But about 75% of the world's Jews live in urban areas. We are fed by the global food industry, not our own gardens. So, we lose touch with our food sources and our relationship to the earth. And, thus, with older meanings of our own holidays. So, as I explain in the book, re-connecting can be a profound spiritual experience.
GG: Could you describe the inspiration behind and meaning of the book cover?
LDK: The cover is by Vancouver artist Rodolphe Parfait. He is a specialist in virtual reality design. Here Rodolphe shows the practices of prayer beads, forest-walking, Om mantra, and Shema prayer as gateways into an inner journey. He uses a three-dimensional effect to show the depth of our journey into the soul.
GG: Are you planning a future book? If not, what is your next project going forward?
LDK: Yes! I am writing a book on an earth-based theme, in fact: animals in the Torah. So many stories feature animals as guides, helpers, and even metaphors for the divine. Donkeys, for example, are both stubborn and inquisitive. So, they often show up in the Bible as spiritual guides for people who don't know where they are going. The donkey stories even have hidden directions for finding your spiritual guide! That's just a taste. More when the book is published in 2021 by Cascade Books.
To follow Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan:
Facebook: Rabbi Laura on Sophia Street (@onsophiastreet)