Rob Eshman, the editor of the Jewish Journal, begins this week's note to readers with an admission: "Yes, that’s my wife and daughter on the cover of this issue." As he explains, his wife, the rabbi and author Naomi Levy, has been featured prominently in the media elsewhere for her work but rarely has cracked the pages of the hometown Jewish weekly, "simply because she has the bum luck of being married to me." Her new memoir forced that to change, by decision of the other editors at the paper, he says. Eshman notes he was not involved in the editing of the cover story about his wife or the choice of cover art. But he has lived the story.
Ten years ago, Naomi and I faced a crisis that had us grasping for every possible way to cope. Our daughter, Noa, had received a dire diagnosis. As Naomi relates in her new book, “Hope Will Find You,” her life was turned upside down. Each day, she faced down the endless tasks of navigating schools, tests, specialists, therapists and health insurers. Meanwhile, I threw myself into work, hoping to pick up the financial slack and grateful that I had something to distract me, as much as possible, from my worries.
Rabbis often have a gift for turning daily life into lessons. Call it Jewish alchemy. Instead of searching for a way to turn dross into gold, they turn the mundane into stories. Naomi, whose sermons moved me long before I even dared ask her on a first date, always excelled at this. But after Noa’s diagnosis, Naomi stopped writing, stopped lecturing, resisted stepping onto the pulpit. The alchemist in her died.
Things are better now. Levy, among the first class of women to enter the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinical school in 1984, was the the first female Conservative rabbi to lead a congregation on the West Coast when she took the pulpit at Mishkon Tephilo in Venice at 26.