A novel of Jewish manners makes gefilte fish of any stereotypes readers may have about Orthodox Jews.
In Brooklyn, Tzippy Goldman, 22, is desperate to find a husband. Pressure comes from her mother, Shayna, whose less religious upbringing and marriage to the big-dreaming/small-earning Herschel have left her insecure about her place in their tight-knit Ultra Orthodox community. Tzippy slogs through countless organized “dates” until she escapes through a year of study in Israel. Meanwhile, in suburban New Jersey, Shayna’s college roommate Naomi and her lawyer husband Joel send their kids to Orthodox Jewish schools but also eat pizza, love baseball, and integrate themselves into the larger community. They’re shocked when their son returns from a term of study in Israel after high school to announce that he’s become Baruch and intends to continue Yeshiva studies in Israel rather than attend Columbia as planned. Tzippy and Baruch/Bryan meet and fall in love, their courtship more or less strictly following religious law. But their marriage uncovers festering tensions in both their parents’ homes. In the fervor of his new religiosity, Baruch/Bryan is obnoxiously know-it-all and defiant against his parents. Fuming at his son’s intransigence, Joel faces his own indifference to strict observance, while, secure in her belief, Naomi explores a more personal, New Age spiritual Judaism. In the meantime, Tzippy’s escape from her overbearing mother seems complete when she and Baruch move to Memphis to manager a kosher restaurant for Herschel. Surprised by how much he enjoys running the restaurant, though it fails under Herschel’s interference, Baruch turns to his competent father for advice, while Tzippy begins college and discovers secular books. As the newlyweds find themselves, the parents (excepting the hopelessly irrepressible Herschel) go through their own metamorphoses. Characters and relationships evolve, defying easy categorization.
Joyously sweet-natured second outing by Mirvis (The Ladies’ Auxiliary, 1999)—and also pointedly insightful about just how complicated it is to lead a religious life.