While on vacation in Jerusalem, an older man becomes “a born-again Jew,” much to the chagrin and displeasure of his daughter.
Honey Black, the novel’s narrator, is not pleased when her father begins to become an observant and orthodox Jew, for she has spent much of her life either indifferent or hostile to her religious upbringing. She’s thoroughly secularized, a successful lawyer who feels she doesn’t need rituals she sees as ludicrous in the 21st century—not being able to turn lights on or off, for example, or not being able to relax with her favorite TV programs on Shabbos. She and her sister Susan stage a “rescue operation,” flying to Jerusalem to save Dad from what they see as, at best, a character weakness, at worst a sign of oncoming dementia, but they’re astonished to discover that their father has a newfound peace of mind and depth of soul that he’d never demonstrated in his previous life as the most successful vendor of scaffolding in Brookline, Mass. Evelyn, Honey and Susan’s stepmother, is proud of her husband’s orthodoxy. In fact, the couple is so content that they’re considering moving permanently to Jerusalem, where they can participate in orthodox ceremonies and visit the Wailing Wall for prayer. Honey uses every strategy in her arsenal (especially sarcasm—she calls her father “yarmulke man”) to try to coax Dad home and away from what she sees as the baleful influence of Jerusalem and religious superstition, but he resists at every turn. Eventually, even Susan begins to see some validity in their father’s position, and Honey feels doubly betrayed. Since her neighborhood association back in Massachusetts is battling the expansion of a Hebrew school, she also feels she’s fighting on two fronts.
Like her protagonists, Miller (Welcome to Heavenly Heights, 2003) shows respect by taking religion seriously.