So I am not surprised that I have immensely enjoyed Sara Davidson's The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life's Greatest Mystery. I remember Davidson as a second tier feminist novelist in the 70s, author of Loose Change, a title that distinguished itself for the time by caring about the lives of (white, middle class) women. (Sorry Sara -- perhaps I thought that novel second tier because I was a lesbian, somewhat embattled in that decade.)
Her current book is the record of her conversations and deliberations about aging with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, an escapee from the Holocaust, a Hasid who struck out in his own direction, the founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, and simply a delightful, wise old guy. I'm not sure Davidson is quite as much a skeptic as the title implies, but certain kinds of wisdom are perhaps better simply experienced than measured and evaluated in the style of a modern "skeptic."
I particularly appreciated Rabbi Zalman's account of how he learned that much as he "loved" women (four wives over a long life and a goodly number of adventures along the way), he was missing what the women felt:
Yes, learned male religious leaders have long debated such "issues" -- the struggle to pre-empt them is not over, though in many contexts it has probably advanced since Zalman's awareness that we are actors in our own lives brought the house down on that occasion. Talking about God's will can't be left to guys, even really nice ones.
The title of the book, The December Project, refers to Zalman's efforts at 89 to come to terms with the end of life. He fiercely rejects the spiritual advice that so often hits the best seller list, the counsel to just "live in the moment."
I like this gentleman. You take your inspiration in bits and pieces where you can find it.