Brooks has long attended Adas Israel, a Conservative congregation in Washington with many well-connected and politically influential members.The recently divorced Brooks is part of an informal Jewish study group led by Orthodox scholar Erica Brown along with fellow prominent Washingtonians, among them former Meet the Press host David Gregory and Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg.
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He left for a job at Buckley’s National Review, where he made the jump to opinion journalism.
Later, he edited book reviews and op-eds at The Wall Street Journal before moving on to The Weekly Standard.
There’s been a shift in the tenor and content of your columns and other work over the past year or so. There’s a biblical verse, “Blessed are the hungry ones.” So I’m hungry for this sort of knowledge.
This year, you’ve written 51 columns on timeless, big questions about the meaning and purpose of life, and 40 columns on news of the moment, mainly politics and policy. I had a student come up to me at the end of this class I taught at Yale, and he said, “Since I’ve been taking the class, I’m much sadder than I used to be.” And I took that as a win. I have this vision that if I do this long enough, I’ll be the sort of person who, when people come to you for advice, I’ll have answers, I’ll have wisdom.
You’ve been writing about your desire to live with a passion for meaning, about how you want to be more like people who display a generosity of spirit. I’m not sure it will really work that way, but the one measurable thing I’ve noticed in my life is that people never used to confide in me, and now, they do.
You wrote that you want “to be better at balancing my life.” How’s that going? Every day, I try to read something of some meaning. I don’t always know what to say, but I’m getting there.
At the same time, I’m now reading a lot more Soloveitchik and a lot more Heschel.
So in some sense my observance is down but my thinking is up. It’s all so new and green that I’m afraid if I talk about it in public, it will become like my political opinions, just a bumper sticker, not a living, breathing thing. I read everything, and some of it is Jewish and some of it is Christian, and some of it is just humanistic. Parts of Jewish theology I like—the emphasis on agency.
Second, stage in our culture, which has gotten so technology-oriented. So if I’m interested—and I’ve learned, being a columnist, that it pays to be self-indulgent—and if the readers are interested, that’s a home run. If we use a word like “grace,” what does that mean? I don’t have to say, “Don’t be sinful.”No, I didn’t have a midlife crisis.