Late S.F. rabbi’s ‘You Are Completely Unprepared’ in paperback

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“This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared,” a 2003 book by the late Rabbi Alan Lew about personal transformation and repentance, recently was released in paperback in time for the upcoming High Holiday season.

cover of "This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared" by Rabbi Alan LewA book release party was held Aug. 9 at the JCC of the East Bay in Berkeley in which Sherrill Jaffe (Lew’s widow), Rabbi Dorothy Richman and Buddhist priest and teacher Norman Fischer participated in readings and reminiscences. Fischer wrote the book’s foreword.

Lew, a pioneer in the field of Jewish meditation, died in 2009 at age 65. He was the rabbi at Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco from 1991 to 2005 and also wrote “One God Clapping: The Spiritual Path of a Zen Rabbi,” published in 2001.

“This Is Real” explores Jewish rituals, prayers and practices during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (and through Sukkot), but the book’s early chapters cover Tisha B’Av and the month of Elul, observances that Lew felt set a tone for a long period of rigorous introspection and realization.

The book draws on Lew’s own experiences and some Buddhist stories, and is less concerned with rote Jewish tradition than with inner motivations, awareness and contemplation. Publisher’s Weekly hailed that as “a refreshing and sometimes startling perspective.”

Subtitled “The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation,” the 288-page paperback was published by Little, Brown and Company on July 17. In a 2012 article posted on the My Jewish Learning website, Rebecca Sirbu wrote that “This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared” is “probably the best title of a book ever.”