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Roy Neuberger, author of 'From Central Park to Sinai'

Roy Neuberger is the author of "From Central Park to Sinai: How I found my Jewish Soul," a book about his journey to find spirituality. A former Director of Conservation for the City of New York, Neuberger has also worked in publishing, newspaper editing, hedge funds, and yeshiva administration. CNN: What prompted you to write this book?

ROY NEUBERGER: First of all, a sense of gratitude. I've had a very fortunate life. At first, I felt lost in the world, and that's a very frightening experience. So people are very grateful if they can find a way of life that makes sense and enables them to navigate in this world effectively. I feel very grateful for that, and want to express that gratitude. I've had a lot of wonderful people who helped me along the way. My parents gave me a certain sensitivity to moral issues. I also met a great woman, Esther Jungreis of the Hineni Organization, who taught us the Jewish way of life. And to my wonderful wife, who has a lot of patience with me. Not only that, I feel maybe my story could be a signpost to other people, Jew and non-Jew, who feel as if they're looking for some way to find God.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How do you define spirituality?

Message Board: Religion today  

NEUBERGER: Spirituality is a very practical thing. Sometimes we think spirituality is just a philosophical concept, but really, it's a way of bringing the reality of God into life, so we can use the wisdom of God as a guide for every decision we make in life. For sure, life is filled with thousands of decisions a day, from the mundane -- what will I have for lunch -- to the very complex: how do I raise my children, how do I choose the right person as a husband or wife. Spirituality is a very practical thing.

CNN: How important is spirituality in this day and age?

NEUBERGER: That's a good question. How important is spirituality? Especially in this day and age, when we think we've become the masters of the world, I'm talking about 21st century man. We've achieved the ultimate in technology, we're on the Internet right now! But I think every thinking person acknowledges that we're kind of also in a mess. Not just in general, but so many people feel lost and empty, and they ask themselves, with all my material gains, why do I feel like my life has no direction or meaning? So, spirituality is essential, it's the most important thing there is, to know that there's really a God out there, and He's running the show, whether I know it or not, and He knows every interaction I have. Everything I do is on videotape. When you have that perspective, it changes your life.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is your spirituality defined by the Torah, and if so, do you find other religions in violation of its terms?

NEUBERGER: First of all, I want you to know, hopefully, with God's help, you'll never hear a put down of someone else from me. It's not up to me to tell someone else how to live. And you should know that the Jewish people care, and this is a Torah concept, about bringing blessings to the entire world. We're all meant to get along together, and make this a place where everyone can get along together. Certainly, for Jewish people, the parameters of life are defined by the 613 commandments of the Torah. Everyone, every man and woman, has free will. It's up to us to decide if we'll follow those commandments, but they are there. I'll give you a quick metaphorical explanation. If you come to a red light in your car, you have a choice. You can stop, or go through it. It's your free will. But if we do go through, there are consequences.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What can organized religion do to be more relevant to young adults?

NEUBERGER: These are great, great questions. Organized religion has to get back to our roots, and we all have to understand that everything comes from God, and we're all human beings. Every person in the clergy has to understand that all of us, including clergy people, have to make a self-investigation every day: are my actions in accordance with what God wants for me? If we all do that, we'll find that our allegiance is to God, and not to something that is false.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do the recent suicide bombings in Jerusalem and the Middle East conflict play into your theory?

NEUBERGER: With all due respect to that theory, I'm trying to state accurately the view of the Torah, which has guided the Jewish people since Mt. Sinai. If I go off track, it's my fault, but the Torah is the Torah.

To answer the question, I just returned from Israel, and what I saw over there is that the pressure we (the Jewish people) are under now, is doing what pressure has always done to us. We've been under pressure for 2000 years, ever since our temple was destroyed, and whenever the pressure increases, we draw closer to each other, and closer to the source of protection, our God, and that's happening now in Israel. People all over the world are drawing closer together. I remember when I was a kid we had a basketball coach that taught us a slogan: when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

The Torah teaches that we are not allowed to rely on miracles, so without stating military strategy, and I'm not in a position to do that, we do however have a right to defend ourselves. I'll give another metaphor. If you're in your house, and a robber comes into your house, God forbid, and he's pointing a gun at you, you're going to defend yourself. That's what's happening to us now, and we have to defend ourselves.

CNN: Why is there a movement of Jews turning back to their heritage?

NEUBERGER: There is not only a movement of Jews turning back to their heritage, but there's a movement of all people, goodhearted people in the world, who are looking for a way to navigate this chaotic world around us. They're not looking for new solutions, but looking to the source of truth in the world. And most go to the same source; they understand that the Bible is a source of strength. Every spiritual person in the world, with few exceptions, understands that that is the source of our strength. The more people that find they're up to here with material things, and it's not producing satisfaction, the more they want to find God. It's a worldwide phenomenon.

It says in the prophets that in the days before the Messiah, children will bring the hearts of their parents back to God. In my family, there's a perfect illustration, because my father, who is a Wall Street legend, and he was not raised in a religious fashion. He has a son who was not happy with material things, and I had to search for spiritual things. Man does not live by bread alone. My father and I are the best of friends, but I looked for a new and added dimension in life.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What is your take on separation of church and state and the secular movement's goal to keep the 10 Commandments out of schools and other public places

NEUBERGER: Really, according to our Torah (and I know this may seem a strange point of view in the 21st century) every aspect of life is regulated by commandments. God has guidance for us on every aspect of life. The ideal, according to the Jewish point of view, is that civil, government, business relationships and interpersonal relations all have guidance from the Bible. The fact is, if we'd listen to the Bible more closely, I think we would have peace in the world, and peace between us. After all, it says on the American dollar bill, "In God we trust." Again, I'll state that I'm not telling people how to live. It's not my job or my intention, but I simply want to explain what I have discovered through my study of the Bible.

CNN: How did your upbringing affect the way you look at spirituality?

NEUBERGER: It's very interesting. My mother passed away a few years ago, and my parents are very different people: opposites attract. My mother was a self-critical person, who was always pushing herself to higher heights of service to the world; a wonderful, fine lady. That got passed onto me. My father is not so introspective. He's a street-smart person, and he always wanted to find the way he personally could contribute to the world. When he discovered in the 1920's that he had no talent as an artist, he decided to try to make money so he could support great artists. I think that that rubbed off on me also. In other words, find out what you're good at, and pursue it with a passion. I want you to know that my father supported great artists like Jackson Pollack, and he didn't make money through it, but because he could improve the world. My parents' wonderful influence rubbed off on me, that introspective influence from my mother, and that action point of view from my father. It's a good combination.

CNN: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?

NEUBERGER: Yes. First of all, I want to thank you for having me here. I'd also like to mention my book, if people are interested, which tells the whole story about how this anti-religious guy became a believer. It's called "From Central Park to Sinai: How I found my Jewish Soul," and the publisher is Jonathan David, and my name is Roy Neuberger. But this book is not just for Jews. I hope it's a book that will appeal and speak for anyone who is truly anxious to discover the way to navigate the orders of this chaotic world we live in.

CNN: Thank you for joining us.

NEUBERGER: Thank you so much.

Roy Neuberger joined the chat room via telephone from New York and provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Thursday, August 09, 2001 at 12 p.m.

• "From Central Park to Sinai" Web site

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