Judaism Unbound Episode 95: Doing Jewish For Yourself - Fredric Price

Dan and Lex are joined by Fredric Price, the founder of Fig Tree Books and a facilitator of multiple discussion groups focused on Jewish topics [1], in the first episode of our series looking at what "regular Jews" (non-professionals) have built. We learn about Fig Tree Books and the various discussion groups Fred runs, and our conversation ranges across a wide variety of topics, including the advantages of connecting to Judaism later in life, how one's professional life can inform Jewish projects, and an extremely broad (and perhaps unanswerable) question -- what is Jewish literature?

Image Credit: Alison Sheehy

Image Credit: Alison Sheehy

(0:01 - 14:12): To begin the episode, Fredric Price provides a brief overview of Fig Tree Books, [2] the company he founded that publishes literature related to the American Jewish experience. He then looks back at his own upbringing, and his entry into Jewish learning late in life. Specifically, he examines the ways in which his lack of Jewish learning as a child may have had both advantages and disadvantages as he became, in an informal sense, a Jewish leader as an adult. He expands, in particular, on his dissatisfaction with the Jewish offerings at his synagogue, which led him to found a Jewish book discussion group outside of it. [3] The group he put together, called the Shavua Tov Boys Breakfast Club, has met regularly for over eight years and discussed over 100 Jewish books in the process. [4]

(14:13 - 31:38): Price talks about how his group chooses the books that they read, emphasizing the ways that the learning they do together builds cumulatively over time, through what he terms "hyperlinks." He looks back to the earlier question of his late entry to Jewish learning, exploring in greater depth how his lack of Jewish knowledge early in life, counter-intuitively, may have made him an ideal candidate to lead a group like the Shavua Tov Club. He then discusses the origins of another group he titled, entitled Sicha (meaning "conversation" in Hebrew), which gathers to discuss a wide variety of important issues through a Jewish lens. [5]

(31:41 - 49:22):  Self-identifying as a "drug guy," (one of the greatest moments in Judaism Unbound's history!), Price maps out how his background as an executive of pharmaceutical companies that specialize in rare genetic diseases has played an important role in his Jewish projects. [6] He then clarifies why the name Fig Tree Books is an ideal one for a company specializing in the American Jewish experience. [7] To close, he offers his take on what it is that separates Jewish literature from literature more generally, along with what may separate Jewish authors from authors who are Jewish. [8]

[1] Access a bio of Fredric Price by clicking here.

[2] Learn more about Fig Tree Books by visiting its website, FigTreeBooks.net.

[3] Price cites a speech by Eric Yoffie, former President of the Union for Reform Judaism, as particularly influential in his own Jewish journey. Access an article about this speech by clicking here.

[4] Access the full list of books used by his Shavua Tov group by clicking here.

[5] Access a list of all topics used in his Sicha discussion group by clicking here.

[6] In discussing the narrow focus of Fig Tree Books, he cites the most recent book published by his company -- My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wandering Jew, by Abigail Pogrebin. Purchase the book from Fig Tree's website by clicking here. Hear more from Pogrebin by listening in to her appearance on Holidays Unbound Episode 1: Introductions, in which she discusses her book.

[7] Learn more about the name "Fig Tree Books" through the "About Our Name" section of the Fig Tree website. Access the full text of George Washington's letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, which the name alludes to, by clicking here.

[8] If you'd like to explore the topic of Jewish literature in more detail we would recommend Hana Wirth-Nesher's book What is Jewish Literature? , which you can purchase here. For a shorter piece, we recommend "What Is This Thing We Call Jewish Literature?," a 2010 article written by Gerald Sorin for The Forward.