The Talmud states, "In a world that lacks humanity, be human." In a world as untethered as ours has become, simply being human, a good person, is a measure of heroism. At a time when norms of civility are being routinely overwhelmed, it may be the only measure that matters. Mensch-Marks represents Rabbi Joshua Hammerman's personal Torah scroll—the sacred text of his experiences, the life lessons he has learned along his winding, circuitous journey. Mirroring 42 steps Israel wandered in the Wilderness, Hammerman offers 42 brief essays, several of which first appeared in The New York Times Magazine, organized into categories of character, or "mensch-marks," each one a stepping stone toward spiritual maturation. These essays span most of Rabbi Hammerman's life, revealing how he has striven to be a "mensch," a human of character, through every challenge.
Mensch-Marks creates a brand-new genre. It is memoir as sacred story, as how-to book; a series of personal vignettes in dialogue with one another over the span of decades, resonating with eternal ideas that span centuries. It traces the author's own personal growth while providing a road map for people of all backgrounds seeking a life of moral vision. The wisdom is shared not from a pulpit on high, but rather from an unfolding story of a fellow traveler, one who has stumbled, failed, and persevered, struggling with the questions large and small. Through it all, Rabbi Hammerman has tried to live with dignity and grace, what he calls the "nobility of normalcy."
He writes, "If by sharing what I've learned, I can add a modicum of generosity, honesty and human connection in a world overflowing with cruelty, loneliness and deceit, then I'll have done my job." The essays cover crucial moments of failure and forgiveness, loving and letting go, finding deeper meaning in one's work, and holiness in the seemingly inconsequential moments of everyday life. Rabbi Hammerman, ever the optimist, believes that we can turn things around, one mensch at a time.
"These unpretentious but powerful reflections provide a refreshing reprieve from the cynicism and distrust so pervasive today. No bromides or buzzwords here, this book relies on bluntly real, clear-eyed observation over a professional lifetime. They speak to the truth and force of love—the caring and compassion of a mensch through action not mere words. Rabbi Hammerman's wit and wisdom are no surprise to me; he is my rabbi. But the full tableau of his personal experiences and insights is extraordinary. His stories about his relationship with his brother, who is developmentally challenged, are especially moving. Each reader will find individual meaning and message that hits home. In Mensch?Marks, Joshua Hammerman has provided a prescription for ways to live a more human and humane life."
—US Senator Richard Blumenthal
"Mensch-Marks. The title alone gets it off to a good start. And throughout, we find a graceful writer, lucid thinker, and wise and gentle soul."
—Bob Costas, legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster and multiple Emmy Award winner
"It's rare to find a rabbi willing to put his foibles and faith on the page with as much honesty and fervor as Rabbi Joshua Hammerman offers in this addictive volume. Each chapter is its own gem, and every story becomes a reader's personal challenge—to look at how we move through the world, especially in this divisive moment. Kudos to Rabbi Hammerman for reminding us what to strive for, and doing it with a deft pen and a great sense of humor and humility."
—Abigail Pogrebin, author of My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew
"Using wisdom from Hillel to Winnie the Pooh, Rabbi Hammerman has written a book that will make this world a kinder, gentler place. I'll be recommending it to both my nice friends and the cranky ones, too."
—A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
"Rabbi Joshua Hammerman offers us a window into a deeply-lived life. From a genuine mensch, we learn what it is to live a life measured by moral growth and devotion to people and causes beyond us. Reading Mensch Marks is bound to leave us all determined to live better lives and be better people."
—Daniel Gordis, author, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn
"For the 'hassled masses' here is an invaluable guide written with clarity, wit and humility. Whatever path you are on, Rabbi Hammerman has been there and will point to the sites and stumbling blocks."
—Rabbi David Wolpe, author, David: The Divided Heart
"In what feels like a time of darkening in the world, Rabbi Hammerman brings light and wisdom. He is both a mensch and a very fine writer, and whatever your religious background, you'll find much in this book to learn from and to be inspired by."
—Nigel Savage, President, Hazon [The Jewish Lab for Sustainability]
About the Author:
Joshua Hammerman, a celebrated rabbi and award-winning journalist and blogger, has served Temple Beth El in Stamford, Connecticut, for over three decades. Author of thelordismyshepherd.com: Seeking God in Cyberspace, his essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Times of Israel, The New York Jewish Week and many other places. Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for columns on the Bernard Madoff case. In 2018, he received an award from the Religion News Association for excellence in commentary. He has been a champion of inclusiveness and innovation in synagogue life, focusing on creating an oasis of warmth, love and mutual respect, while at the same time, challenging congregants—and himself—to reach ever higher in setting spiritual and ethical objectives. Rabbi Hammerman received ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary after getting an MA in journalism from NYU and a BA, magna cum laude, from Brown University. He and his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist, are the proud parents of Ethan and Dan, along with three standard poodles.