“I focus on what I have and not what I lack. The project of maintaining health anchors me. I don’t believe one can control cancer, but by keeping clean in body and soul, I know I am doing my best to keep it at bay”
– Reva Mann, “The Rabbi’s Daughter“
Growing up, I had often been called a “super Jew” by some of my less observant friends. And, each time, I laughed. Knowing that I am nothing of the sort. I don’t keep Kosher. I rarely, if ever, attending Shabbos services. I memorized the prayers required of my Bat Mitzvah and wore as opposite as you could possibly get (at age 13) to orthodox dress. I kissed boys and shook hands with strangers of the opposite sex. I love LOBSTER and all things “shelled.” The only thing I did, and did it fervently, was participate in B’nai B’rith Girls…..which isn’t even an Orthodox youth group.
So, naturally, when I picked up this well-written memoir by Reva Mann, I couldn’t help but laugh at the statement that I was a “Super Jew”. If you judged me based on the actions and lifestyle of those about whom this book is written, I might as well be Catholic!
If “coming of age” weren’t so over-used in modern litterature, I would say that this memoir shares some characteristics to it. While, no, Reva is not an angst-filled teen, rather a woman in her early to mid-20s, the book chronicles the maturity of her faith and her beliefs.
The daughter of a prominent London Rabbi – and the granddaughter of a Chief Rabbi of Israel, Reva’s youth is comprised of one rebellion after another (drugs, promiscuity, alcohol) – culminating in a scene that is not so different from one of my own youth ….dating a man named CHRIS!!!! and an “excommunication” from her family (of sorts.)
[Ok, so let me sidetrack here with my own anecdote….I dated ONE (yes, only ONE) Chris growing up – and it was the cause of such a throwdown that it still causes my parent tsores (pron. SURRES) or grief/trouble. Why, you may ask, did it matter – well, probably because the name Chris is usually short for Christopher…..which, according to my parents, is really Christ….and that’s not very Jewish, is it? Like most Jewish parents, they wanted me with an NJB (nice jewish boy) anyway, I digress……]
Upon the disolution of her relationship with Chris, Reva decides to visit Israel – always feeling a connection there. As her life in Israel evolves, she is “called” (if you will) into a life of Jewish study – an Orthodox lifestyle – one that is the WHITE to the BLACK that had been her former life.
She throws herself into her Jewish Studies and meets and marries a man entirely dedicated to his studies. She financially supports the family and maintains the house: cooking, cleaning and making babies. She IS living the life of an Orthodox Jewess in Israel – until it begins to unravel.
This memoir addresses the very question I’ve had each time I hear of friends who’ve made (more than) Alliyah and are now living among the Orthodox in Israel: How can one change THAT much? Can one who ate traif, used hard drugs,
made out with had copius numbers of sexual partners really transform into the a polar opposite and not feel displaced?
While slow in the early pages – I did almost consider giving up – once the story evolves into Reva’s life outside the yeshiva, I could not put it down! I stayed up all night to finish it and, when the clock struck 3 and I knew I had to be up for work in 3 short hours, I put it down only to pick it back up while blow-drying my hair this morning.
It’s a fascinating look at one woman’s journey to find her own faith; her own relationship with G-d and the relationship she forms with her children, spouse, sister and parents. And, the reason I’d compare it to a “coming of age” novel is because its truly about Reva’s relationship with herself and how she came to “find” herself.
Character Development: A
- When rituals have meaning (or not) (midlifebatmitzvah.wordpress.com)