Israeli novelist Sabato (Aleppo Tales, 2004, etc.) portrays a simple man living an uneventful life of piety.
Ezra Siman Tov’s twilight years are explicated in chapters that combine small stories, parables and religious text with tedious lists of the day’s routines, most of which are devoted to religious practice. Ezra works in a laundry, but his life is devoted to God. He spends every spare moment at the synagogue or in private prayer, reciting psalms or studying ethical teachings. Although he honors his wife and children, this is a story of a man and his maker, not a man and his family. Ezra is praised by the good people of Jerusalem for his kindness, and indeed the stories he is famous for are all tales of the joy he derives from worship. The city’s Great Writer is his friend and comes to depend on him for narrative inspiration. Ezra’s brother-in-law, Dr. Tawil, a pompous scholar of medieval verse, is eventually humbled by Ezra’s wisdom. Yeshiva student Moishe Dovid, who is in the habit of chastising the uneducated Ezra, begins to see the worth of his genuine, undecorated piety. The pleasure Ezra enjoys from living in the sheltering faith of God is acknowledged by all, but will change as the city begins to chip away at the things he loves. When the laundry must close to make way for a broader street and a shopping center, Ezra feels that at last he will have enough time to study the Torah in depth. Then his beloved rabbi and mentor dies. Services are discontinued at his synagogue; classes are canceled at another to make way for more contemporary ideas. An office building is raised next to his apartment, blocking the sunlight to his once-flowering veranda. The old way of life, Ezra’s Jerusalem of tireless devotion, is being brushed aside by a more secular modernity.
A vivid narrative of faith, but, by its very nature, limited in scope and appeal.