Three novella-length tales chronicle a devout family whose experiences parallel recent Jewish history.
In stories that are as much religious mediation (with generous quotations from the Torah, Talmud, and other holy writings) as they are accounts of a particular place—here Aleppo, Syria—the author vividly intertwines the ties of faith and family. Aleppo, long home to a thriving Jewish community, was ruled by the French between the two world wars, and the first two stories are set there during the French occupation. The third has an Israeli setting, as the family emigrates from what is now Arab-ruled Syria to Jerusalem. In “Truth Shall Spring from the Earth,” a young Yeshiva scholar learns that his great-great grandfather, once regarded as one of the foremost sages of Aleppo, was banned from teaching and that his baby daughter died soon after. Determined to learn what happened, and why the child died so suddenly, the young man consults old manuscripts and finally discovers the truth. In “The Wheel Turns Full Circle,” Raphael, a brilliant Aleppo student whose father had studied in France before WWII, also goes to Paris to study. His pious family expects him to become a rabbi, but, in Paris, he becomes involved in radical politics and disavows his religious heritage. This direction changes when a planned revolt against the French government fails and Raphael has time to think about his faith, his past, and Israel. The third story is a poignant tale, told by the grandson of an aging and distinguished rabbi who emigrates from Aleppo to Jerusalem but there lacks a congregation of his own. When a Hasidic rabbi dies suddenly on the eve of the Sabbath, the rabbi is asked to deliver the eulogy at the funeral. Preaching, he feels he is back in Aleppo with his old congregation, though the listeners find his accent strange and his sermon too long.
In all, a thoughtful and affecting addition to the literature of the Diaspora.