The jobless rate hovers near 10 percent.
People risk eviction from their homes.
Iran threatens nuclear war.
Truly, these are times to try a person’s soul.
And that’s why Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s latest book, “Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World.”
If anyone is cut out for writing a how-to book for living in troubled times, surely it is the author of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”
Ironically, Kushner admits early on in the book that the idea for writing it came from his editor at Alfred A. Knopf, not he.
“He sensed that a lot of people were scared of a lot of things and it was draining joy from their lives,” Kushner wrote. “Could I write a book that would help them?”
Kushner has. Not by telling us that our fears are baseless, but by teaching us that the secret to a happy and fulfilling life is managing those fears, not allowing them to control us and influence the life decisions we make.
No fear is too large or too small to be addressed in this book. Kushner conquers the fears of another 9/11; environmental and economic tragedies; losing our job and the emotional toll that takes on our psyches; and losing love.
Kushner draws upon all sources of wisdom — new and old — to tackle each fear. He quotes the Torah generously, but he also draws from pop culture to put the fears into perspective. He rips stories from the headlines to demonstrate how they can lay people low, and he draws from his own personal experiences to demonstrate people can fight back against those fears.
One of his most poignant examples is his remedy for the fear of the future in general. What kind of world are we leaving for our kids? Will they have clean water and enough food to eat? Will war ravage the country and all other countries? And if all this happens, why should we bring children into the world?
Could this be why birthrates are declining in Western Europe and Japan, two parts of the world ravaged by the effects of World War II, including the dropping of two atomic bombs, he asks?
Kushner thinks so, and he believes such fatalistic thinking can be combated with one word — hope — and one act — having children.
He raises biblical support for this theory. When Noah’s children stepped on dry land after the great flood, their first response to the devastation was to have children. When a close friend of Kushner’s, an Orthodox rabbi, lost his son, the response of his two daughters was to have children of their own a year later.
What could be a greater expression of hope, Kushner asks?
“Conquering Fear” chocks massive amounts of wisdom, comfort and plain old horse sense into 172 pages, making it the perfect literary antidote for modern uncertainties. As I read it, I repeatedly found myself equating points the rabbi makes to instances in my own life. Everything seemed to ring true.
It’s a slim book, so it won’t take up much space on your bookshelf or nightstand. Whoever Kushner’s editor is, he deserves our thanks for planting this wonderful idea in his client’s head.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)