A limited but promising debut collection of 19 stories, 18 of which have themes of being gay or Jewish, or both. Raphael shows considerable deftness and sensitivity in these unusual pieces, with their sympathetic expositions of gay love and Jewish religion and family culture. Sometimes the combining of these themes, as in the title story, works to powerful effect; at other times it seems contrived. All of Raphael's characters are outsiders or victims trying to come in from the cold--casual Jews attempting to become orthodox, or accepted as gays; gays attempting to blend with their largely heterosexual environment; Jews who are trying to reconcile their present lives with their concentration-camp experience. But despite Raphael's substantial skill, his focus is extremely narrow, and reading these stories sequentially is a claustrophoic experience. In more than half of the collection, the characters are graduate students or teachers (of English); the balance are about the narrator's mother and father; everyone is unrelentingly upper middle-class. All sexually attractive men have dark hair and blue eyes; women scarcely exist except as mothers or sisters. The few in evidence are often compared to movie actresses in particular roles rather than fully characterized. And a number of pieces share the same plot, reworked from different points of view. Raphael has a very obvious talent; hopefully he will escape the strictures of his parochialism and self-constructed clichÃ‰s.