Rodger Kamenetz

Rodger Kamenetz

Rodger Kamenetz is the author of the landmark international bestseller The Jew in the Lotus and the National Jewish Book Award-winning Stalking Elijah. His five books of poetry include The Lowercase Jew -- he has been called "the most formidable of the Jewish-American poets". His memoir, Terra Infirma, has been described as "the most beautiful book every written about a mother and son."

His latest book, The History of Last Night's Dream, opens up the whole field of word and image, psychology and imagination, and points to an ancient but now hidden way of using dreams to rediscover the soul. It is a book that promises to change the way we dream.

The History of Last Night's Dream

Discovering the Hidden Life of the Soul

Harper One, 2007

Are dreams fantastic nonsense—or ultimate reality?

In his search for the spiritual  truth of dreams, Rodger Kamenetz studies with an 87 year old female kabbalist  in Jerusalem, a suave Tibetan tulku in Copenhagen, and a crusty intuitive dream master  in northern Vermont.

With their guidance, Kamenetz plunges into the world of dreams, and shows how the constant struggle between dream and interpretation has shaped Western thought from Genesis to Freud. This intellectual discovery only marks the threshold of an entire new world of the soul.

By entering fully into his dreams and taking on their reality, Kamenetz follows a path of increasing depth that leads to three ancient gifts of the dream.


Why did you write this book?

After my mother's death, I began to see her in my dreams and the way she spoke seemed very convincing, not at all what I thought I could have imagined on my own.  Could dreams be giving us glimpses of another world—the world of the soul?

I found a teacher who could show me a path in dreams that was amazingly direct and extremely powerful. I felt like I'd discovered a long lost gift, a gift each of us receives most every night without realizing it.  I had to tell people about this gift and how to use it, and that's why I wrote this book.

What were some of the challenges in writing this book?

The first challenge was to accept what my dreams were telling me about my life. The second was to change my life enough that I could glimpse the huge treasure dreams offer us. The third and biggest challenge was to communicate to those who hadn't had these remarkable experiences what they were about. The biggest difficulty is our general attitude towards dreams. We simultaneously believe that dreams are hugely significant and total nonsense.

The Lowercase Jew

Northwestern University Press, August 2003

"The celebrations and angels and vaudeville and holocaustal suffering, the Torah-learning and hora-dancing and blessings and bar-mitzvah noshing and mourning and high meshuges. . .are all here, with a fresh wit and the winds of a timeless poignancy crafted into them. These are soulful poems. . .and some, a bissel kickass."
-- Albert Goldbarth

These exuberant, rich, vastly funny and vastly serious poems  cover the whole ground of Jewish life, low and high-- from rye bread and borscht to the Holocaust, from the anti-Semitism of the modernists to the robbery of a pharmacist. Kamenetz frames in subtle terms the questions that haunt our time-about the identity of poet and poetry and the capacity of art to harm and to heal. Drawing on personal history, Torah and mysticism to explore the tangled relations of Jewish identity and modern life, Kamenetz's poems attest to the inexorable power of language-and of joy.

Terra Infirma

A Memoir of My Mother's Life in Mine

Schocken, January 1999

Ter'ra in'fir'ma, n. 1. Shaky ground. 2. The uneasy shared territory of love and painful separation that defines mother and son. 3. The border between life and death. 4. The precariously emotional place in  which we are left after the death of a parent. 5. The mythic terrain a boy passes through on the way to becoming a man. 6. The material from which a writer must craft his story.

"Inside a mother, each of us begins a dream," writes Rodger Kamenetz. Actually, two: a mother's dream for her child, and the dream that will become a person. For Kamenetz, crossing the terra infirma--the place where the two collide--was not easy: his mother was a difficult woman who had loved her family with a tyrannical passion. Only as she was losing her battle with cancer at age fifty-four could her son begin to take the essential first step toward becoming a man, thereby fulfilling both of their dreams.

Rich with humor and insight, Terra Infirma is a deeply moving account of one man's spiritual passage to the firmer ground of maturity and self-understanding.


Poems Midlife

Time Being Books, 1997

These are emotionally powerful poems that speak to the condition of midlife, of being in the narrow place, stuck between the present and the future, between the demands of work and family, between the hope for joy and the desolation of loss. The pain of broken marriage, the tragedy of daily life, the struggle for identity, and the self-doubt of middle age are multiplied into passionate voices that rage, plead, joke, and shout. The language, tough yet dynamic, wraps itself around the images, which are at times deeply disturbing, at times strangely humorous but always honest, open, and real.

Stalking Elijah

HarperSanFrancisco, 1997

Rodger Kamenetz continues the dazzling spiritual adventure he began in The Jew in the Lotus, his best-selling account of the historic dialogue between rabbis and the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. In Stalking Elijah, he takes his wild mind on the road, seeking counsel of spiritual teachers across the country as he searches for his own Jewish truth.

In an astonishing series of dialogues, encounters, quick takes, and meditations, Kamenetz unfolds a journey to the depths of human spiritual yearning. Profound and often raucously funny, Kamenetz's quirky tale carries him from a conversation with the Dalai Lama (in which he valiantly "contravened forty-six years of my own noisy cultural conditioning" to keep from stepping on the silence) to breaking matzah with him a year later at a Passover seder for Tibetan freedom. Along the way he learns kabbalah poolside at the Beverly Hilton, meditates in a T-shirt shop with Baton Rouge's three resident Tibetan Buddhists, observes the Sabbath in a plastic tent with Jewish addicts and cons in an inner-city slum, and "calls out" to God with neo-Hasidic abandon while racing down the San Bernardino freeway.

Entertaining, illuminating, and deeply moving,Stalking Elijah, teaches at every step of the path how to celebrate the Jewish tradition in the context of feminism, contemporary science, and interfaith dialogue. In Kamenetz's magical journey through the new landscape of Jewish practice, he finds the blessing of the holy in everyday life and the face of a prophet in every face he meets.

*    *    *

From the book:
We are now entering a new stage of Judaism, a time of crisis but also a time of renewal. The old foundations, whether of reform Judaism on the one end or of Orthodoxy at the other, have been shaken. We are building a new mishkan (tabernacle) and we have so many fine materials to draw on. We are looking for the light in the old kabbalah, but also in the new language of our experience. My teachers are women and men, my teachers are not all Jews, for I cannot assume any more triumphalism, whether the triumphalism of an Orthodoxy that cannot acknowledge what is holy in the present, or the modernist triumphalism of a Reform Judaism that a hundred years ago discarded large parts of an ancient wisdom without due consideration. If I were to define myself denominationally, I'd say I'm an under-constructionist--and I wear a yellow hard hat yarmulke.

The Jew in the Lotus

HarperOne, 2007

While accompanying eight high–spirited Jewish delegates to Dharamsala, India, for a historic Buddhist–Jewish dialogue with the Dalai Lama, poet Rodger Kamenetz comes to understand the convergence of Buddhist and Jewish thought. Along the way he encounters Ram Dass and Richard Gere, and dialogues with leading rabbis and Jewish thinkers, including Zalman Schacter, Yitz and Blue Greenberg, and a host of religious and disaffected Jews and Jewish Buddhists.

This amazing journey through Tibetan Buddhism and Judaism leads Kamenetz to a renewed appreciation of his living Jewish roots.

The Missing Jew

Time Being Books, 1992

Rodger Kamenetz has been described as "the strongest of contemporary Jewish voices" in American poetry, and The Missing Jew is his signal collection, now in the second printing of its second edition, representing work written from 1975-1990. Several reviewers have commented on the grace of Kamenetz's language, of which Andrei Codrescu wrote in the San Francisco Review of Books, "his ear is as good as William Carlos Williams in the early poetry" and Yehudah Amichai that "his poems are a secret and almost intimate meeting place of English and Hebrew." Louise Erdrich adds that "Kamenetz's poems whirl and shake on the page." Another strong appeal has been his evocation of Jewish diaspora life, and Jewish religion. Writing in the Forward, Joel Lewis declared Kamenetz a "modern day Rashi" and The Missing Jew, "The ideal Baedeker for the American Jewish Diaspora."

Dreams of my father Rodger Kamenetz

Power of dreams to change relationships with the author of the History of Last Night's Dream.

Visit Rodger's personal website for additional information, lectures, and individual dream work.