Page 133 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

Basic HTML Version

DAVID ELLENSON
Eugene B. Borowitz: A Tribute
On the Occasion of His 70th Birthday
I
n
t h e s u m m e r
of 1969, while waiting for a friend at a Grey­
hound Bus Station in Lynchburg in my native Virginia,
I
pe­
rused a rack of paperback books in the station’s gift shop. I
had just completed an undergraduate seminar on “Modern
Christian Religious Existentialism,” and my eyes raced to a work
entitled
A Layman’s Guide to Religious Existentialism.
To this day,
I have no idea why this book was placed among the rows of
pulp novels that otherwise dominated the stand. However, it
was there, in that most unlikely setting, that I was first intro­
duced to the name and writings of Eugene Borowitz. As I read
the pages, I was struck by the clarity, precision, passion, and
accessibility of the author’s words. Furthermore, as a young Jew,
I was gratified that amidst all the Christian theologians expli­
cated in the work were Jewish ones as well.
Particularly striking was a chapter on a German-Jewish the­
ologian named Franz Rosenzweig. It was with a mixed sense
of gratitude, relief, and excitement that I devoured this chapter.
I was elated to find a Jew who was such a significant participant
in this emotionally and intellectually compelling contemporary
religious dialogue. Borowitz’s exposition of Rosenzweig’s
thought meant a great deal to me on an intellectual level. More
significantly, I was grateful for the guidance to be gained in
a modern idiom from a Jewish thinker on eternal questions
of religious faith and doubt. Several years later, when as a
second-year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-
Jewish Institute of Religion in New York I attended Eugene
Borowitz’s lectures on “Modern Jewish Religious Thought,” I
was given a vocabulary to name and define the religious struggle
I was then experiencing. In his initial lecture in the course,
125