Publicist Lauren Levy emails me April 6: "Hi Luke, As I’m working on getting some online PR for Rabbi Sherre Hirsh’s amazing WE PLAN, GOD LAUGHS, I can’t tell you how pleased I was to read your article on it. I would be delighted to send you an advance copy for review, or set up your own interview with Sherre, all to be posted on your site. If you’re interested, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks again, and keep up the great work."
I respond: "Yes, that would be great… If she’s coming to LA, we could do the interview on video and I’ll post it to youtube and other sites…or a phoner is fine too."
Lauren responds: "Hi Luke, What we usually do is arrange e-interviews – interviews via e-mail. In the past, it’s been difficult to coordinate phoners, given different time zones, etc. However, if you would specifically prefer a phone interview, I’m sure it can be arranged."
I respond: "Email is fine. I’ll just send you the questions?"
Lauren responds April 13: "Hi Luke, Yes, please – I’ll get them to Rabbi Hirsh ASAP."
So I read the book. It takes an hour. It’s an easy read. If you like Oprah, you’ll like this book. If you dislike Oprah, you’ll dislike the book. I don’t remember anything from the book except that I liked the author.
I email back:
For Rabbi Hirsch. Please only answer the questions you find interesting.
* So why did you leave Temple Sinai? Do you prefer what you are doing now, being a media superstar et al?
* How has being a wife and mother affected your work as a rabbi, counselor and writer?
* What inspires you and what depresses you about the state of Conservative Judaism today?
* If you could change one or two things about Conservative Judaism, what would you change? Why aren’t you Orthodox? Do you get religiously lonely as a Conservative rabbi (as there aren’t many observant Conservative laity)?
* I suspect that you’re not able to help everyone you counsel etc… How do you deal with that?
* How do you reconcile your desire to be compassionate with your religion’s stringent standards? Do you tell people, ‘You can’t do that. It’s a sin."
* Do you believe in and talk about sin and divine punishment for sins?
* Do you think there’s life after death?
* What are the advantages and disadvantages of having women in the rabbinate?
* What have you learned about the news media from your first-hand experiences?
* How has your interfaith work affected your Judaism? Is it easier or more difficult to spiritually counsel Gentiles? How do you counsel someone who believes Jesus is G-d?
Lauren responds: "Hi Luke, Sadly, Rabbi Hirsch has decided to indefinitely postpone all interviews pending a family concern. Our apologies that we will not be able to get your Q&A back to you…hopefully we can coordinate something else in the future. Thank you for your understanding – it is appreciated."
I am certain Rabbi Hirsch would have found time to do an "email" interview with you had you wanted to ask her the right questions. Those you posed required taking a position and an author’s objective is to sell books not be put on the spot. Here are some questions you should consider asking her, and I am sure her publicist will respond that her schedule somehow has opened up;
How is it you wrote such a brilliant book?
What was your inspiration for writing such a brilliant book?
How does it feel to be on the Today Show?
Has David Letterman called yet?
Who does your hair, it is simply marvelous!
What will your next brilliant book be about?
How many thousands of lives have you changed for the better (because of your brilliant book)?
Were you always so brilliant?
Give these a try.
"Remember a time that you felt everything was right. The world just worked. You were in the moment. You felt calm, alive, complete. There was no other place you wanted to be but right there. Everything about that moment worked," Rabbi Sherre Hirsch writes in her new self-help book, "We Plan, God Laughs: 10 Steps to Finding Your Divine Path When Life is Not Turning Out Like You Wanted" (Doubleday).
What Hirsch most wants is for people to find their "sparkle," as she writes in Step 7, "Finding Your Divine Spark."
That’s why she left her job as rabbi at Sinai Temple a year and a half ago. Although she had wanted to be a rabbi since she was 19, after serving at the Conservative synagogue in Westwood under Rabbi David Wolpe for eight years, she decided to move on.
"It was an incredible position for me, and I loved my congregants, I loved teaching and counseling," she said. But "there were other things I wanted to do," including spending time with her husband and three kids, and, it turns out, broadcasting her messages of spirituality and hope to a much broader audience.
On a recent day that meant a morning interview with Sam Rubin at KTLA and an afternoon at CBS, with The Jewish Journal sandwiched between — and there have been appearances on "The Today Show," "Tyra," Naomi Judd’s "Good Morning" and PBS’s "Thirty Minutes."
Which may be because Hirsch does sparkle. In a black satin shell and immaculate ivory pants, the 39-year-old’s blue eyes, framed by purple mascara, shimmer as she talks about her message.
"I want people to take a risk, to believe that life may not have turned out like you planned," she said, leaning forward eagerly on her hands. "I wanted people to have hope more than anything, in an age where people lose hope and get stuck."
Hirsch knows from plans and getting stuck. Her mother was a small-town Midwesterner who met her knight in shining armor when she was 15. She got married at 19 and had two kids by the time she was 24. But her husband lost his job, became depressed and verbally abusive. After Sherre and her brother left for college, her mother, in her early 40s, finally left her husband. Eventually she rebuilt her life and remarried.
"When I officiated at [my mother and stepfather’s] wedding, my mother wore my wedding dress. What I said then under the chuppah was that, at her first wedding, she was waiting for someone to rescue her. But at this wedding she had rescued herself," Hirsch wrote in her book. "She had taught us all that to live the life you want, you have to be willing to leap. You have to be willing to realize that your life is not scripted. The happy ending starts with you."
In recent years many self-help gurus — and rabbis — have taken on the subject of happiness in books and lectures. So what makes this one any different?
"I think that when people say something in a new way, people hear it in a new way," said Hirsch, who lists Rabbi Harold Kushner ("When Bad Things Happen to Good People") and Rabbi Ed Feinstein (of Valley Beth Shalom) as inspirations. She also admires Oprah and Katie Couric as "communicators," which is how she sees herself.