Rabbi Hillel Katzir, who leads Temple Shalom Synagogue-Center in Auburn, has self-published a 146-page book on Jewish history. The Sun Journal talked to Katzir about his decision to write the book and his thoughts on the approach of Rosh Hashana, which begins Sept. 5.
Name: Rabbi Hillel Katzir
Hometown: Originally from the other L/A (Los Angeles); now live in Auburn
Single, relationship or married? Currently single
Children? Three grown daughters – one in Texas, one in California and one in Japan — and two grandchildren, both in Texas.
You've self-published a book about Jewish history, "The Evolving Covenant: Jewish History and Why It Matters." Why did you write it? In the years that I have been teaching Jewish history, I have never found a text that tells it the way I like to teach it, so I decided to write one myself. That doesn’t mean other books on Jewish history are wrong; I just wanted to emphasize certain themes:
That God created all human beings with free will, in the hope that we would be God’s partners in bringing about order out of chaos – or, in other words, to complete the ongoing project of creation;
And that God has raised us, as a parent raises a child, to learn to take responsibility for ourselves and for the world around us. The focus is on Jewish history, but the Jewish tradition is that God wants all human beings to be part of the project, not just Jews.
Who is your audience? Jews? Christians? Secular readers? I think the book has something to say to all those audiences. I believe that Jews can gain some new insights into their historical experience, based on the themes discussed above; that Christians can gain new insights into the Jewish origins of Jesus, and into Jewish-Christian relations that have often been problematic for both groups; and for secular readers, or readers of other faiths, I believe that this book can help break down the sense of otherness that often attaches to people we don’t understand, and perhaps help a little to lead to greater peace in the world.
Before you became a rabbi, you were a radio host and a practicing lawyer. Do you see yourself changing careers again? Now that I have published my first book, I have some ideas for more writing.
You've been in Lewiston/Auburn for about a decade. You've seen up-close how little most local people know about the Jewish faith, and you've been patient. Is people's lack of knowledge frustrating? People may not be knowledgeable about Judaism, but I have found people here to be friendly and accepting. I have spoken to many church groups in Maine, and have found them respectful and open to learning. The great thing about ignorance is that it is curable! I only get frustrated when people insist that they have nothing more to learn, and that only they have the truth.
You've been involved in interfaith groups in the community. You serve as an associate chaplain at Bates College. How do you describe your role as a Jewish leader in Lewiston-Auburn? As the rabbi of Temple Shalom in Auburn for the last 10 years, my role has been quite similar to the role of a pastor of any church in the area, serving the needs of my congregants. But as the spiritual leader of a minority faith community, it is also my role to represent my community in the wider community and to work with other leaders toward greater understanding among all the groups that are part of the L/A area. It has been very rewarding to work with other caring people in this effort.
The Jewish High Holy Days are approaching. Rosh Hashana begins Sept. 5. What are your thoughts looking forward to the holiday? The Jewish High Holy Days, which begin with Rosh Hashana and will end with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) 10 days later, are a time of renewal. We look back at the year past and vow to God, but more importantly to ourselves, to do better in the coming year. As I look to renew my own life, I wish renewal and a sense of wholeness – true shalom – to everyone: Jews, people of other faiths, and people of no faith.
Where can people buy your book? Softcover copies are available at the Temple Shalom office, 74 Bradman St. in Auburn. Softcover, hardcover and e-reader formats are all available on line, at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and XLibris.com.