Ethan Davidson (right) and his new book (left).
Ethan Davidson (right) and his new book (left).

The book will be discussed at two events.

Ethan Davidson, active in the Jewish community and occasionally appearing as a musician-songwriter, is about to introduce his new book, These are the Developments of the Human, aimed at encouraging independent religious thinking.

Ethan Davison's Book

The book, a compilation from notes taken over many years, expresses thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness style as Davidson combines excerpts from religious teachings, study explorations with Jewish scholars and personal experiences unrelated directly to Judaism.

Because of the depth of subject matter, the book cannot be labeled a fast read. Passages are not declarations or answers; rather, they are starting points for contemplation. Readers can decide whether they want to read from cover to cover or pick out topics that have personal impact.

The book will be discussed digitally from 7:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 26, during a conversation hosted by the Jewish Theological Seminary, and in-person starting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 27, with a reading and book signing at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.

“The first word of the Ten Commandments is ‘Anochi,’ which means ‘I am,’” said Davidson, channeling scholarly thought on Shavuot. “I wrote a little bit about the Chasidic masters and the [significance of that] first letter — hearing the aleph with the vowel under it and maybe [hearing] the stillness that exists at the core of being.”

The diversity of thought can be sensed by reading through the table of contents and introductory remarks by Rabbis Asher Lopatin and Benny Lau. Just four examples from about 35 topics include “Don Quixote Tells Us How to Read Torah,” “Yukon River,” “The Mind is a Burning Bush” and “Your Evil Inclination.”

“I wanted to organize all my notes, and then COVID-19 hit,” said Davidson, who is a director and Grants Committee chair of the Birmingham-based William Davidson Foundation and board chairman of the Michigan Opera Theatre. “We were all locked in our homes, and there was no excuse but to organize.”

Because of the stream-of-consciousness approach, dominant English is mixed with Hebrew and Hebrew transliterations without grammatical conventions.

“When I was an undergraduate [at the University of Michigan], I was a literature major interested in 20th-century American literature,” Davidson said. “You find a lot of stream-of-consciousness literature among the Beats and even before the Beat writers, and I was trying to tap into a Beatnik version of Torah study.”

As he put together the book, which he is distributing with only the cost of postage and the suggestion of a charitable contribution to a Jewish organization, Davidson wants readers to bring their own individuality to religious content. He relates that to his own life, establishing identity as the son of the late William Davidson, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist defined by his son as “the world’s best father.”

Wrestle with Issues

“We’re supposed to continually examine our lives and wrestle with these issues and be more fully actualized as people,” Davidson explained about what he has gleaned from religious studies.

“I think it’s true of all people, not just for Jews. I think it’s particularly true for Jews because we call ourselves Israel, the people who wrestle with God, which means we’re supposed to be the people who wrestle with these questions.

“We might not find the answers, and maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is to continue to ask ourselves these questions and check in on ourselves to find out what the tradition has to teach us about how to be more fully actualized.”

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Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.