Celebrated on the 6th day of the hebrew month Sivan, the holiday of Shavuot is a highlight of the Jewish calendar. As one of the three Biblical pilgrimage holidays, Shavuot has significance as a celebration of the harvest and as an agricultural festival. It is also celebrated as the time when God gave the Israelites the Torah at Mount Sinai, establishing God’s eternal covenant with the Jewish people. Bikkurim – the bringing of the first fruits from the annual harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem – was an essential part of observing the holiday in ancient times. Artists throughout the ages have been inspired by this practice and we are looking forward to sharing their work.
What does a rabbi do all day? This is the question at the center of this lively and entertaining introduction to Rabbi Pearl Ross. Readers join her journey as she steps into her position as Assistant Rabbi at a large and prosperous Reform congregation near her hometown, falls in love, and addresses a long-time rift with her estranged sister.
Robert Schoen and Catherine de Cuir’s writing, particularly their humor, keeps the tone of the novel light and well-paced. As we get to know Pearl, her family, and the Lakeshore Temple community, the characters jump off the page and invite readers into their stories. The authors ably balance their characters’ fallibility and humanity, with emotional depth and dramatic life experiences. In a day at the Lakeshore Temple, it seems like anything can and will happen. Readers, along with Pearl, are encouraged to meet these challenges with a strong sense of humor.
While the book doesn’t shy away from the more difficult experiences of death, aging, illness, and imprisonment, it does approach them with a some privileged rose-colored glasses. The congregation that Schoen and de Cuir create is financially wealthy, with supportive lay-leadership, and an incredible staff; even its bar and bat mitzvah students and their families are intelligent and enthusiastic! Pearl’s dating, marriage, and motherhood have no apparent impact on her career. While not everyone is always happy, Schoen and de Cuir are letting Pearl live the dream. Just enough reality gets into the novel to make it relatable – alas congregational life is rarely as neat and tidy as they allow it to be here.
The Rabbi Finds Her Way is a book with easy appeal for anyone who has ever spent any time with, or has an opinion about, organized religion, whether Jewish and other. The narrative includes a number of scenes with sermons and speeches about various Torah portions that would contribute to a book club, adult education, or synagogue meeting. For those who remember Harry Kemelman’s Rabbi Small series, Schoen’s Rabbi Pearl Ross-Levy has the potential to follow his lead for a new generation.
BooksAndBlintzes received a free copy of this book for the purposes of writing this review. It represents the sole opinion of the reviewer.
More information about the book and its authors is available at: https://www.robertschoen.com
The verse we selected for the Hebrew month of Shevat focuses on the connection to the land of Israel inspired by the holiday of Tu B’Shevat. The annual celebration of the “birthday of the trees” takes place on the 15th of this month, and connects Jewish ideas of environmental stewardship, homeland, and peoplehood. Communities plant trees and gardens (as Israel enters its mild spring), and savor the seven species named in the Torah. Together we seek to celebrate the gift of the promised land – the land flowing with milk and honey.
All contemporary fiction eventually becomes historical fiction, especially when it’s translated and re-published 125 years after its initial release. Yiddish readers first celebrated Jacob Dinezon’s novels in 1877, but thanks to Tina Lunson’s new English language translation of his debut The Dark Young Man (adaptation by Scott Hilton Davis), his writing is now more accessible than ever before.
Reading Dinezon’s work, it’s easy to understand why The Dark Young Man became a best-seller in its time. Dinezon is a natural story-teller, maintaining humor and suspense throughout the book. His diverse cast of characters, while sometimes veering towards the predictable, jump off the page with a vibrant humanity. Readers may feel like they’ve met them before, but it’s with this sense of familiarity that Dinezon brings authenticity to their voices.
With its cosmopolitan setting, The Dark Young Man offers a sharper, less nostalgic image of Jewish life in Eastern Europe than readers of Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer may expect. Yosef, the book’s protagonist, navigates the tension between his traditional upbringing and exposure to modern ideas without succumbing to unbearable angst. The business of middle-class life, trade, and politics all occur in tandem with the Jewish calendar and life cycle events. Above all, The Dark Young Man is the story of a family – the lovers at its center and the forces that threaten to upend their happiness. As such it has a timeless quality, with themes as relevant now as they were 100 years ago.
Lunson’s faithful translation maintains Dinezon’s original pacing and is painstaking in its attention to Yiddish idiom. Non-Yiddish speakers will be perfectly at home in this narrative, although those more familiar with the language might find it overly formal in places. Characters take leave of each other with “go in good health”, an accurate if solemn expression of the Yiddish “zei gezunt”. Others are described as “idlers” when they’re clearly schnorrers. Most readers would probably experience smoother sailing if Lunson had simply left such phrases untouched. Alas, in the debate for colloquialism versus consistency, consistency must have won the day.
Readers who enjoy a good story with a strong plot and well-developed characters will find much to appreciate in The Dark Young Man. It is well-suited to book club discussions and as a starting point for examining the lives of middle class Jews in Russia in the 19th century. As an example of popular Yiddish literature, it’s a fun and fast read, perfect for a relaxing Sabbath afternoon.
BooksandBlintzes received an Advance Reader Copy of this book at no charge for the express purpose of writing this review. The views included here are solely those of the reviewer. The Dark Young Man has a publication date of February 12, 2019. Additional information about the book and its adaptation can be found at https://www.jewishstorytellerpress.com/the-dark-young-man-press-room
Photo by Mushki Brichta: “A granite stone from the area of mount Sinai showing what seems to be a depiction of a bush, created naturally by a concentration of manganese oxide which forms into this shape in the rock.”
[CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stones_of_Sinai.jpg)
The Weiser Memorial “Burning Bush” sculpture at the Northern Hills Synagogue in Cincinnati, OH. Designed by Julie Staller-Pentelnik and sculpted by David Klass, created in memory of congregant Norman Weiser in 2006.
Celebrating Yaffa Yarkoni, a First Lady of Israeli music.
Born December 24, 1925 in Mandate Palestine.