The Arty Semite

Reading and Thinking About Books

By Tom Fields-Meyer

  • Print
  • Share Share

On Monday, Tom Fields-Meyer took a look at autism and God. His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite, courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


EachSaturday morning, I ask my son Ezra the same question. As our family prepares to head out for the walk to synagogue, I stop Ezra with five words before he gets to the door:

“Do you have your books?”

This sends him to his bedroom to fill his red backpack with a handful of volumes: the “Pixarpedia,” a detailed taxonomy of Pixar’s animated movies; a 600-plus page animal encyclopedia; and sometimes a canine almanac called “The Dog Breed Bible.”

It’s an unusual selection, but Ezra, who is 15, is a singular kid. High-functioning autism makes it difficult for him to sit in one place, whether that place is his math classroom, a restaurant booth or the pews of our neighborhood synagogue. Since he was young, the one thing that could get Ezra to sit still was a book.

He’d take “The Cat in the Hat” on the school bus to ease the transition from school to home. He’d sit at the local pizza parlor, poring over Richard Scarry picture books. And in synagogue he always had his red backpack.

His teachers say that reading is among his significant deficits. At his special-needs school, Ezra takes a remedial reading class designed to improve comprehension and fluency. But that would surprise the people who know him from synagogue, the ones who would hardly recognize my son without his head buried in a book.

The truth is that he does struggle with long passages of writing: dry science textbooks, say, or young adult novels. But for what specialists call his “topics of interest” — principally animals and animated movies — Ezra has endless focus, and an uncanny ability to absorb and remember facts.

That’s what he’s often doing in synagogue while the rest of the minyan is paying attention to the Torah reading or that week’s sermon (or, occasionally, dozing).

Like many people with autism, Ezra tends to isolate himself, but in synagogue the books connect him. People sitting nearby take notice, and he’ll show them what he’s reading. Or he’ll make his way to the lobby, where my wife and I sometimes find him sitting on the floor, sharing a book with a young child.

Transitions can be difficult for kids like Ezra, but having a book is a way to bring his world with him and make almost any place comfortable and secure. Having his books with him has helped make synagogue a second home for Ezra, and a happier place for the rest of the family.

Occasionally, we’re running late on a Saturday morning and rush out the door. Then, halfway to the synagogue, I realize we’ve forgotten the red backpack. That used to mean certain disaster. One of the delights of watching Ezra enter the teen years has been his increasing self-awareness, his growing ability to handle the unexpected.

“You want me to go back and get your books?” I ask.

“No, that’s okay,” he says with a smile. “I’ll just think about them.”


Tom Fields-Meyer is the author of “Following Ezra.”


The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit organization devoted to the reading, writing and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books and book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Visit My Jewish Learning for thousands of articles on Judaism, Jewish holidays, Jewish history and more.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Parenting, Tom Fields-Meyer, Following Ezra, Books, Autism, Author Blog Series

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.