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God at the Edge: Searching for the Divine in Uncomfortable and Unexpected Places Paperback – April 24, 2001

11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

"Not everyone can find spiritual fulfillment in a place that feels inviting and safe, like a self-help book or a house of worship," writes Niles Elliot Goldstein, in the introduction to God at the Edge. Goldstein, the founding rabbi of The New Shul in New York City's Greenwich Village, begins his book by invoking "a long history of people discovering God in unexpected, unusual, sometimes even uncomfortable contexts." It's an appropriate setup for Goldstein's stories of his exotic pilgrimages, which have included dogsledding above the Arctic Circle, traveling the Silk Road in Central Asia, and cruising with federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents through the South Bronx. Revelation on the margins of human experience is, Goldstein explains, a central aspect of Jewish and Christian traditions: "Judaism was born in the wilderness of the desert, at the foot of a mountain, as a people cringed in terror. Christianity traces its origins to a man dying on a cross, crying out in doubt and despair." The stories in God at the Edge bristle with intelligence and wit. Goldstein's adventures are grander than those most of his readers will experience. But even the homebound will find inspiration in the example of his fearless exploration. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Part travelogue, part autobiography, part religious history and part biblical commentary, this confused and confusing memoir describes a young rabbi's quest for authenticity. Now the rabbi of the New Shul, an unconventional, experimental congregation in Greenwich Village that appeals to intellectuals who have felt alienated by organized religion, Goldstein is also a police chaplain and the spiritual leader of a "cybersynagogue." In his latter capacity, he maintains a Web site where he responds to "Ask the Rabbi" questions. His work with the Drug Enforcement Administration has led to his appointment as the national Jewish chaplain for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. With endless digressions, Goldstein tries to explain how he reached his present positions by the tender age of 33. He begins with the dramatic story of his arrest for drunken behavior in a nightclub and proceeds to describe his journeys to faraway places, starting with a trip to Nepal that he made with his father before entering rabbinical studies in Israel. Other trips have taken him to Boston, Alaska, New Hampshire, Michigan, Africa and Central Asia. Each visit stimulates an excursion into religious history, both Jewish and Christian. Goldstein demonstrates great erudition, but his readers will be inevitably befuddled by his rapid shifts in place and time.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; English Language edition (April 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 060980488X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609804889
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,730,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Niles Elliot Goldstein is a rabbi and the award-winning author or editor of nine books. He served as the founding rabbi and spiritual leader of The New Shul in Manhattan's Greenwich Village for over a decade (1999-2009), and he is now the vice president for creative content at Edelman, the world's largest PR agency. Niles has written for Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, and many other publications, and he has been featured in Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and other national venues, as well as on radio and television. Niles served as a U.S. Army chaplain and for the past 15 years has worked with the federal law enforcement community. His passion for adventure travel has taken him from the steppes of Central Asia and Mongolia to the dog mushing trails of Alaska and the Arctic. To unwind, Niles hikes, rides horses, and practices the martial arts (he holds a black belt in karate). Niles lectures all over the country and speaks on various topics in the areas of spirituality and religion. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois with his dog Jake.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Many will view Niles Goldstein's, "God at the Edge" as a personal narrative of man's journey to becoming a rabbi. Some may see Goldstein's work as an instructional religious text written in a personal and conversational style. Others might find "God at the Edge" an historical text about individuals who deviate from religious norms, with Goldstein as a modern day example. However, none of these distinguish "God at the Edge" for what it truly is: a text about a young man's decision to "choose" religion and his second decision to "use" religion to make meaning in his life.
Goldstein's decisions come during an era when most people blindly accept, or mindlessly reject, their parents' religion; when nary a soul turns to religion for comfort and solace, let alone as a process, through which to grow and develop emotionally. Goldstein's way of looking at religion comes at a time when religion is not popular. Yet, "God at the Edge" might just change that.
Within this text, Goldstein illustrates how religion can be intentionally exciting. Through a series of adventures, Goldstein puts himself in situations many would not. By going into the wild, traveling without proper documents in foreign lands, walking into the wilderness without food, he sets himself up to over and over again, confront fear -- sometimes in the face of a grizzly, sometimes in the face of a woman, sometimes in the face of his father.
This determination to confront fear is perhaps best explained in Goldstein's prior work, "Forests of the Night" where he talks of Hassidic mystics and their belief that fear is necessary to approaching God.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
So let's see. A guy, in a psychotic fit, concludes "We're all going to die!" and then rips the urinal out of the wall of a nightclub bathroom. He spends one (1) night in a New York City jail and receives a suspended sentence. He then finds God and compares his experience to those of many persecuted and imprisoned figures from Biblical and medieval times. Meet Rabbi Goldstein, your spiritual guide for the next 200 pages.
In another chapter he wanders into the White Mountains of New Hampshire to stay there for a few days without food or provisions. Elsewhere, he is spotted by a bear, runs, finds safety in his car, and feels the power of God.
OK, maybe I am too harsh, too cynical. But rather than feeling inspired by these tales, I found myself feeling sorry for the Rabbi. The impulsive, desperate actions and risks he takes seem more a cry for psychiatric help than a spiritual quest.
What is missing from these tales is some badly needed humor and self-awareness. Despite his alleged abject humility in all of these encounters with God's power, the author takes himself awfully seriously. After summarizing a bizarre adventure, he'll compare his experience to that of some Hassidic luminary or medieval monk or abbott or literary figure. Indeed, each chapter seems to be structured that way -- a few pages on "the crazy thing I did" followed by a humorless sermon on its connection to history and a reiteration of the message that God is everywhere.
There is something strained about the whole exercise. It's more interesting and scholarly than many mushy spiritual books, but that's not saying much. It's also much less entertaining than it could have been considering all the experiences to which the author insanely subjected himself.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Larry Mark MyJewishBooksDotCom on August 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
There are many alternate paths to god, and god is present in the darkness as well as the light. Many people find god in pretty parks, humble houses of worship, massive mountaintops, and serene meadows. Others find spirituality in foxholes, in the muck and mire, in degradation, or in prison. In the bible, Avraham Avinu smashed the idols in his father's retail idol outlet. Rabbi Goldstein did not smash an idol, he just smashed a urinal in a fit of mortal rage and anger at a Manhattan bar two weeks prior to graduating college. He was promptly arrrested, and he spent a night in the Manhattan's Tombs Prison with accused murderers and transvestite prostitutes. But didn't Joseph spend time in jail, as did Shneur Zalman? Didn't Jonah have to go down to Jaffa, down to the hold of the ship, and down into a fish to turn around? These events led to spiritual awakenings and eventual leadership. A restless Rabbi Goldstein, 33, is seeking authenticity, meaning, wholeness, and rest. He is a police chaplain and DEA advisor, and a founding rabbi of the New Shul which met at HUC-JIR in Greenwich Village/Manhattan (now meets at Judson on Wash Sq). He is also a specialist in the Fear of God, as author of "Forests in the Night. Fear of God in Early Hasidic Thought." His book is part travelogue and part spiritual search. For example, on a trip to Nepal and Katmandu, he and his father attend a weekly animal sacrifice in Dakshinkali. As a goat's head is severed, and his father hugs him, Niles is reminded of the Akedah. When discussing the fine line between the spiritual and sacrilegious, he is reminded of Nadav and Avihu and the Golem of Prague.Read more ›
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