Pressures both professional and personal test a Twin Cities rabbi.
Congregation Beth Israel provides Rabbi David Cohen (Destined to Choose, 2013) with constant challenges. Law student Ellen Forman wants more activities for singles. Peter Williams wants to convert. Board president Billy Schwartz wants the rabbi to dial it down. So Cohen can’t fathom why his wife, Sara, would want to expand her role in the synagogue, becoming, as she says, a true rebbetzin and not just a rabbi’s wife. With her secular upbringing in an intermarried family, Sara will need patience and seasoning to win the congregants’ trust, and her initial attempts to raise her profile end in disaster. As David struggles to support Sara, another woman stakes a claim on his time: Batya Zahav, rabbi of reform Temple Shalom, starts receiving hate mail. Reluctant to involve her short-fused Israeli husband, Arik, Batya turns to David for help. David responds to both women, as he does to his congregants and to colleagues both Jewish and gentile, with gentle, measured, and incredibly pedantic advice. As sermon after sermon—including two full-length public offerings—rolls from the rabbi’s tongue, the letter writer ups his game, threatening not only Batya but the fabric of the Jewish community.
Galyan’s inside look at clerical life offers an eight-page glossary to help readers understand her characters’ Hebrew but little help navigating the tangle of stereotypes (why do men become progressively more physically unattractive as their level of observance increases?) that inhabit her Jewish world.