Deborah Green is a woman of passionate contradictions--a rabbi who craves goodness and surety while wrestling with her own desires and with the sorrow and pain she sees around her. Her life changes when she visits the hospital room of Henry Friedman, an older man who has attempted suicide. His parents were murdered in the Holocaust when he was a child, and all his life he's struggled with difficult questions. Deborah's encounter with Henry and his family draws her into a world of tragedy, frailty, love, and, finally, hope.
Rarely has the life of a rabbi been examined with as much complexity and sympathy as in this second novel by the author of Eve's Apple. Deborah Green is by all accounts a highly capable young woman, adored by her Manhattan congregants, adept at both weddings and funerals. But she can't shake her concern that all good rabbis are, as one of her teachers describes, just "the smoothest fakers around." In her role as a hospital chaplain, she encounters Henry Friedman, a Holocaust survivor who has suffered a stroke and whose diminished abilities have driven him to attempt suicide. This leads her in turn to Henry's son Lev, a science writer and religious skeptic who recently fled from his wedding to a non-Jew. Lev feels overshadowed by his ultra-competent brother, Jacob, and by his friend Neal Marcus, whose energetic mind has been derailed by schizophrenia. Lev's developing relationship with Deborah jump-starts his religious practice, but he struggles with the daily life of having a rabbi girlfriend. Deborah, whose secular family has always questioned her choice of occupation, is beset by lingering questions of legitimacy and professional duty. Rosen, a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the New Yorker and author of the popular nonfiction book The Talmud and the Internet, writes with uncommon assurance about contemporary Judaism, whether the subject is Friedman family dynamics or the insecurities, comedies and small pleasures of everyday rabbinic life. Above all, this is a welcoming and intelligent look at Deborah's efforts to weld her many identities woman, rabbi, Jew into a cohesive whole.