The son of Holocaust survivors has a hard time keeping his promises to his parents.
"By the time he went to bed that Friday night before his bar mitzvah day, Zach Levy had made four promises to his parents: that he would grow up to be a mensch, marry a Jew, raise Jewish children, and tithe 10 percent of his earnings to help keep Israel safe so it would always be there if a Jew needed it." Pogrebin (Three Daughters, 2002, etc.) shows us how difficult it can be to honor these pledges, as her protagonist's difficulties in finding a nice Jewish girl not only prevent him from raising Jewish children, but also lead him into some fairly unmensch-y behavior. The story begins in the Bronx, where 6-year-old Zach finds an old photo album with a picture of a beautiful woman and a baby. He is stunned to learn that it's his mother—now a miserable, pale, "voiceless wraith adrift in a sea of half-done chores"—and his long-dead brother. Zach spends years trying to ferret out the details of his family's tragic history, finally revealed by his father the day after his bar mitzvah. Both parents are dead by the time Zach meets Bonnie Bertelsman outside his office at the ACLU, where she's accosting passersby to sign a petition. They marry and have a child—but at that point things veer off track: the marriage ends early, and his daughter is raised in Australia. He's on the hunt for wife No. 2 when he meets the lovely, outspoken radio host Cleo Scott at the founding meeting of the Black-Jewish Coalition of New York. This somewhat programmatic novel comes to life as it dramatizes the dilemmas Zach faces by loving a black woman.
A cleareyed, courageous presentation of Jewish issues, and not a bad story either.