Friday, December 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka.
By Rodger Kamenetz

Whether he's writing about Judaism, Buddhism or prayer and dreams, Kamenetz's mission is to discern connections. In his most delving book, he traces the hidden links between a literary nineteenth-century Hasidic rabbi and a quintessential modern secular Jewish writer.
Rabbi Nachman, a "Jewish shaman" , and a contemporary of the Brothers Grimm, smuggled the kabbalah into fiction to extend the reach of his teachings. Kafka, concerned about the spiritual cost of modernity, “nourished himself with the tales of Hasidic rebbes." Both men were ascetics; both died young of tuberculosis; both questioned "the seeming absence of divine justice"; and both asked trusted intimates to burn their work after their deaths.
Kamenetz's dramatic and revelatory double portrait is built on a solid foundation of elegantly explicated Jewish thought deepened by the story of his journey to Ukraine to visit Rabbi Nachman's grave. Here is a whole new slant on Kafka, a unique and affecting portrait of a creative holy man, and a radiant inquiry in celebration of how both sacred texts and great literature are open to "infinite interpretation."
--Donna Seaman, Book List

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Realm of the Imagination is not Imaginary

Kamenetz pens a new chapter in his long journey of discovery
Monday, October 25, 2010
By Chris Waddington
Staff writer
Rodger Kamenetz really gets around.

The poet and just-retired LSU professor showed up on Oprah in 2007, plugging a nonfiction book about dreams.

He first achieved bestseller status in 1994 with a book about the growing interfaith dialogue between Jews and Buddhists -- a volume that has never gone out of print.

When not at his desk, the writer bikes on the levee near his Uptown New Orleans home.

He's a dance floor regular at Frenchman street clubs, and, in 2009, Kamenetz and his wife, novelist Moira Crone, served as King and Queen of the Krewe de Jeux Carnival organization. The pair presided over a klezmer-driven bacchanal that included some the city's most celebrated burlesque dancers.

For his latest volume, "Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka," the 60-year-old Baltimore native went to similar extremes. He walked the cobbled streets of Prague, seeking traces of the modernist literary icon who wrote "The Metamorphosis" and "The Trial." Kamenetz also joined thousands of Jews who make an annual pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman in the Ukraine. The 19th century religious leader was a writer, too. His mystical narratives cloak Torah teachings in a fairy tale atmosphere akin to that of the Brothers Grimm.

"Burnt Books" deftly blends a travel narrative with literary criticism, a double biography, and speculations about the parallel spiritual lessons of Nachman and Kafka. At one point, Kamenetz quotes an observation, by philosopher Gershom Sholem, that Kafka leads readers to "those mystical theses that lie on the narrow boundary between religion and nihilism." That's a pretty good description of "Burnt Books," too -- although Kamenetz insists, with a hearty laugh, that "this book is very much an autobiography."

Kamenetz will discuss "Burnt Books" at the New Orleans Jewish Community Center on Monday and at Maple Street Book Shop on Saturday. In November he begins a multi-city promotional tour that takes him across the U.S. and Canada -- and on to Britain where he will be featured at the London Jewish Book Fair.

Wherever Kamenetz goes, he'll have some explaining to do -- and he knows it.

"I'm not a conventional religious person, so my interests are baffling to a lot of people," he said. "What interest me is how very different people understand the search for God and for meaning. I'm looking for the energy behind the outward forms of religion, the force that makes people seek."

Kamenetz sees that same force working in both Kafka and Nachman.

"Both men lived with an incredible seriousness and intensity," he said. "They are forbidding and admirable -- and otherworldly in a good sense."

"Burnt Books" argues that the secular 20th-century writer and the Hasidic holy man were both wrestling with modernity, with the sense that the materialistic world view of science is as unsatisfying as the old forms of religion. For Kamenetz, its no surprise that both men used stories to get at metaphysical truths.

"The realm of the imagination is not imaginary," Kamenetz said. "Dreams and stories are a way to provide felt metaphors for our experiences. It's the place we go to restore our capacity to create and feel deeply. That's the place I want to find in my work, too."

. . . . . . . .

Staff writer Chris Waddington can be reached at or 504.826.3448. Comment and read more at

Monday, October 04, 2010

What Do I Know?

Marian Gay writes a wonderful guest post on Kathy Samworth's blog, about the question that opens us up to hidden feelings and opportunities in life and in dreams,"What do I know?"

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Parallel Lives

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka. A nineteenth-century rebbe. A twentieth-century literary master. Two Jewish souls. When I hear the voice of one, I can’t help but hear the other. Kafka is thoroughly secular and Rabbi Nachman is deeply religious. Kafka is a master of irony and Rabbi Nachman is a master of faith. Yet I feel a secret con­versation between them and want to know how this can be.MORE

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Franz Kafka

In a bank vault in staid Zurich an episode of high literary drama unfolded recently. A safety deposit box was opened and inside was revealed a handwritten manuscript of a story by Franz Kafka. At that same moment, an Israeli woman named Eve Hoffe ran into the bank building seeking to prevent the box from being opened, shouting: "It's mine, it's mine."

Who does Kafka belong to? Read on..

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Italian dream colleague

I was delighted to read this response to my NY Times article on Nightmares from an Italian colleague, Marzia Mazzavillani.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Perchance 2 Dream

My client Stacey Simmons has started up a new blog, recounting her experiences in the dreamwork and in life. It's a great read.

She writes,
In 2008 my life started to change dramatically. The changes started with very strange dreams, and concurrent unexplainable events in my waking hours. I began a search... into my inner life.

Here's the door to her

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


My dreamwork client, Kathy Samworth, has been recording her thoughts and feelings about the process on her blog,

It's a great exploration of the process and the struggles and triumphs of changingy our life from the inside out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


In Rebbe Nachman's Tziune
An excerpt from BURNT BOOKS

I was coming to the destination. I was going to fetch my portrait of the Rebbe. My fantasy was a personal quiet meditative event. Me and the Rebbe, the Rebbe and me. But it was a seething hive of Jews. Near the entrance is a washstand, as it’s customary to wash hands on returning from a grave. But any sense of actually being at a grave is overwhelmed by the crowd. I’d come at the peak hour, just before Rosh HaShanah. Last chance to have a special conversation with Rebbe Nachman. For me, it would have to be a sort of shouting conversation and at a distance...please read on

Let's learn from our nightmares, not eliminate them

Blake, The house of death

From my piece in the NY TIMES:

The history of last night's dream begins with a nightmare. Our oldest dream story, inscribed in cuneiform millennia ago, tells of the Sumerian shepherd king Dumuzi. He sees his sheepfold abandoned, his shepherd’s staff disappears, his sacred cup falls off its peg. This vision of destruction so terrifies him, he runs to his sister, Geshtin-anna, the first dream interpreter, for solace. But she is an honest therapist. She does not dismiss the reality of his dream, but tells him to face its on...

Interested in working one on one with your dreams,see my dream page.

Kafka and the oil spill

Here in New Orleans, faith and doubt wrestle daily.

This has always been true for our vulnerable city, but in the nearly five years since Hurricane Katrina, the wrestling has gotten more furious. And all this time, I’ve been living with Franz Kafka in my head, writing a book about a man of doubt who lived at the border of faith. More than anyone Kafka brings a strange sense of humor to our search for meaning. In fact, according to Google, Kafka is invoked about 75 times per day. But during and after Katrina, I came to wonder if the haunted, angel-eared prophet had become a permanent New Orleans resident... Read on...