A blandly assimilated Manhattan-Jewish family survives a central trauma and grows into new perspectives and Jewish Roots--in an earnestly Message-y treatment of a familiar theme. While the Silversteins celebrate Christmas together, with a twinkling tree and pile of presents, Columbia student Gershom--son of kind, failed ghetto-school teacher Sam and smothering Celia--storms out to ""lead his own life"". . . and disappears for a year. Possessive mother Celia, in shock, is rendered literally speechless for months. But then, warmed by the filial attentions of Holocaust survivor Rafe Toledano, Gershom's history teacher, Celia knows she can ""wait"" for her son no longer: she returns to life and renewed love for husband Sam. Meanwhile, Celia's sister Leah--a family feud-er--is trying to control the life of daughter Johanna, wife of understanding Seth. (Johanna, who finally stands up to Leah, runs Public Notices week after week in the Times, addressed to the absent Gershom.) And meanwhile, too, Celia's niece Miriam, who's having an affair with gentile Arthur (a loving guy but ""surface""-living), is teased by the hint that somewhere there's something more substantial, ""something precious whose value you have overlooked."" That something, unsurprisingly, is orthodox Judaism, which offers ""some order, something bigger to plug into""; so Miriam ""makes her decision for Moses,"" dumps Arthur, and studies side by side with Rafe, who also becomes renewed by orthodoxy. And since the couple's glowing happiness revives familial love and allegiances, Gershom finds a newly Jewish home waiting when he returns after a year (helped by some advice from a rabbinical student). Heavyhanded proselytizing--grounded in some convincingly gloomy domestic details.