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Holy Unexpected: My New Life As a Jew Hardcover – August 21, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The cadence of every conversion narrative is one of lost-and-found, and this edgy memoir by Chotzinoff, a freelance writer and convert to Judaism, does not disappoint. We learn of her rarefied and decidedly secular New York childhood, where music and free-flowing liquor framed intellectual discussions late into the night. This led to a wandering adolescence and young adulthood marked by drugs, sexual promiscuity, depression and binge eating. But Chotzinoff's conversion narrative eschews the traditional sudden epiphany for a gradual, postmodern transformation; when she discovers Judaism at an eclectic Denver synagogue, the change comes across less as a bolt of lightning than a long-desired and tentative homecoming. Her story is also refreshingly devoid of the usual convert's fervor—she considers herself observant, but does not strive to keep every jot and tittle of halakah. As she learns to quilt, make latkes (the low-fat version just won't cut it, she discovers) and keep Shabbat, Chotzinoff uncovers herself anew in the rigors of an ancient faith. Her writing is acerbically funny and generally devoid of sentimentality, which makes the memoir's more powerful moments—such as the haunting beauty of her daughter's bat mitzvah—unexpectedly emotional. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

Chotzinoff was born a Jew in a nonobservant--no, an atheist--family whose credo (imagine a sarcastic shrug) was, "Religion--who needs it?" Apparently, the award-winning Denver columnist did, and here is her engaging, enjoyable account of the transformation involved. At 40, Chotzinoff found in a happy marriage the path to a higher power and embraced Judaism. After a hippie-ish life of drugs and booze--interviewing Frank Zappa along the way and playing keyboards with some Denver bands--she sought stability and married a carpenter, "bought a house, grew tomatoes." The birth of a daughter, a divorce, and a second marriage followed, and she finally found a congregation in the Yellow Pages. In the wake of a four-hour service that left her butt numb but her brain alert, she became engrossed in the concept of the Jewish New Year and the paradox that no two Jews agree on how to conduct the 10-day interval until Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. However, "I was sitting among my own people for a change." Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (August 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586483080
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586483081
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,595,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Nobody plans to stumble across God in an unexpected place, least of all someone who doesn't believe in God at all.

But when writer Robin Chotzinoff realized 40 years into her life that she simply wasn't a very convincing atheist, there were no thunderclaps, just a warm winter rain, no cyclone but a soft Chinook wind. God was inside her, where she least expected to find him.

Chotzinoff's "Holy Unexpected: My New Life as a Jew" is one woman's religious journey, but without the proselytizing or solemn moralizing. In fact, it's just about what you might expect from the daughter of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father who didn't put much stock in God: Not irreverent, but certainly not somber. It's a story about a journey as much as a destination.

Chotzinoff's mid-life spiritual awakening is alternately tender and surprisingly funny. A gifted writer, reporter and dreamer with two previous nonfiction books and numerous articles, she gracefully draws meaning from simple moments. A childhood debate over the relative importance of being Hercules vs. Jesus. The propriety of praying while snowboarding. How to observe the Sabbath on Saturday but still go to Wal-Mart for duct tape. Resting her head on her dead father's arm moments after his last breath. You needn't speak Yiddish to understand exactly what's in her heart.

"Holy Unexpected" is also populated with unique characters from the author's life who illustrate the kaleidoscopic spectrum of religious exploration, from faithless to faithful. It's a memoir, but there's little arrogance or ego on display. The sensitivity of this memoir is in its cast as much as its poetic rendering of an ancient faith, race, culture or whatever you believe Judaism to be.
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Format: Hardcover
I disagree with the "tad tedious" review. I just finished this book and felt uplifted by Robin's honesty about her transitions through life. The book is well-written -- her ability to intertwine her struggle with her own identity and religous hunger with her dad's illness is amazing. I hope to read more books by her.
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Format: Hardcover
If you have not yet read any of Chotzinoff's books, you should. She tells a serious story (religious transformation) with wit and makes any reader comfortable to read it. My father, like Robin's, is a 'devout atheist." I connected with this book. She writes about tracing her Jewish ancestry, watching her daughters and husband become Jewish, and watching her father die, all the while letting us in on her inner thoughts of why she is converting. She's humble about this journey and doesn't make the reader feel like they have to conform. But, by the end of it, you'll be leaning more towards Judaism than you were before.

Great book and smooth read.
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