Rabbi Josh Schwartz

(creator: Kerry M Olitzky)

Kerry M Olitzky
Rabbi Josh Schwartz is "close to fifty" and based at Congregation Birkat Shalom in River Bend on the Ohio River in the midwest. He also taught part-time at the Jewish Institute where rabbis were trained. He "liked Birkat Shalom's ideological inconsistencies and its religious variety" and "was "full of good ideas and never let one pass before putting it into action."

He was "average size, a fraction under 6 feet, although he looked taller, because he always walked erect and held his head upright." He was of "average build without the belly that weighed down many of his friends" and had "a closely trimmed beard" that "retained its original brown black combination. However, hints of grey now peaked at his temples. A good-looking man with an effervescent smile. People felt immediately comfortable in his presence." He "was always known to be fearless, clear-headed and fair."

He is also a recovering alcoholic, but is happily married to Orly who had grown up in Israel, and they have two young daughters aged 14 and 15.

Rabbi Kerry M Olitzky (1954 - ) was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and earned his B.A. (1974) and M.A. (1975) from the University of South Florida. He went on to have a distinguished career in the field of Jewish education and is now recognised as one of the foremost reform rabbis in the USA. He is currently the Executive Director of Big Tent Judaism, a national, independent, transdenominational organization reaching out to unaffiliated Jewish families. He is the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality, healing and Jewish religious practice that take into account the findings of modern scholarship. He is married and his two sons are both rabbis. The Twisted Seminary Knot (reviewed below) was his first attempt at fiction and was self-published on Kindle.

The Twisted Seminary Knot (2013)
The Twisted Seminary Knot
describes how a local Jewish community leader is found murdered in a private chapel on the campus of the Jewish Institute (for training rabbis). Josh Schwartz, the local congregational rabbi is invited to solve the murder - but then another professor (whom Josh had regarded as his main suspect!) is found stabbed to death. Could the glamorous student Nina, who seemed to have set her eyes on both the murder victims, be involved in some way?

The author's strength lies in his background knowledge of what it means to be a rabbi as when he explains that rabbis spend their time on "daily services. Counselling. Teaching. Weddings - not enough of them. Funerals - too many of them. Baby naming - not enough of them either. Community events. And meetings, meetings, meetings - the only thing that Josh truly detested about the politics and process of the organised Jewish community. All people wanted to do was have meetings. As a local rabbi, he was invited to attend many of them. And they all ended with the same decisions, no matter what the topic, irrespective of the organisation that hosted the meeting. 'Let's meet again,' the chair would always decide just prior to adjourning - and just prior to taking any real action that might be considered bold and progressive." It sounds like the author talking, as when he retells the old story about the student, Kahane, who hid under his rabbi's bed and heard his "amorous lovemaking. Some inadvertent action caused Kahane's presence to become known to the teacher. Angry and somewhat embarrassed, his teacher enquired of him, "What are you doing under there?"
The student simply replied, this too is Torah. I have come to learn."
As for Josh, "knowing that Orly was waiting for him upstairs, he didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to bring harmony to the world by coming together with his wife, a basic practice of Kabbalah for Shabbat."

He explains has never heard the word phylacteries "even spoken aloud, let alone used. Prayer boxes, straps, but never phylacteries" - and anyway, the correct Hebrew term is teffilin. He tells us how the Torah pointer "had a practical function. It kept the reader's finger away from the text and prevented the possibility of the oils in the reader's hand from smudging the letters or staining the scroll itself."

Unfortunately the author seems to have little talent as a crime writer. Even when Josh is invited to investigate the first murder he doesn't seem to do anything at all about it for a very long time and the eventual explanation is crammed onto the very last page, with no sense of suspense or excitement. Josh turns out to be a perfectly amiable character but, although a good friend of District Attorney Burt Reynolds, he does not prove himself to be much of a detective, even if he does discover both murder victims have left money to the Jewish Institute. It's an unsatisfying story that keeps wandering off the point. A pity, because, when the author is writing about his own experience, he is never less than interesting.

The author rather surprisingly does not have a website - but perhaps he prefers it this way, as there is hardly anything on the web about his personal or family life.

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The Twisted Seminary Knot cover
It looks a very boring cover - and you cannot see what it shows.
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