Salita (B Is for Brighton Beach, 2014, etc.) tells a tale of love and Jewish conversion in a new short story.
As the opening material tells readers, giyur is the act of converting to Judaism. For men like Volodya—the Russian-born, Miami-based seller of medical equipment who likes to date gentile women—the giyur is something of a Holy Grail: a way to transform a non-Jewish woman into a Jewish woman (i.e., an acceptable woman to marry). On a cruise ship in the Caribbean, Volodya spies one such shiksa (tall, curvy, blond, with Russian features) but is so intimidated by her beauty that he doesn’t approach. Instead, he falls into conversation with Simon, another transplant from Odessa’s Jewish community, and they discuss their backgrounds and the various ways to woo a woman as beautiful as this one. Luckily for them, they don’t even have to try: the woman, Natasha, is also from Odessa, and, overhearing their Russian dialogue, she walks up and inserts herself into their conversation. Soon, Volodya and Natasha move quickly into a relationship and are forced to confront their disparate religious identities. This story isn’t a comedy; it takes these theological designations quite seriously. In fact, the tale may offend some secular readers, as it suggests that conversion is a sensible prerequisite of marriage. The truly devout may find it unsavory as well: the giyur in this case seems to be made for the sake of romantic love, not for any love of God. The greatest sin committed, however, is against good storytelling: nothing is at stake here, nothing changes, no one grows. One character’s significant revelation makes the whole conversion angle seem less of a leap and more of an empty, vestigial formality. The most interesting part of the story is the early conversation between Volodya and Simon, wherein they speak of the former cultural character of Odessa and the nature of immigrant speech. This proves to have little bearing on the story, however, and Simon soon disappears from the page; the reader is left with only the two one-dimensional lovers and their old world fairy tale.
An odd, outmoded story with little for modern readers.