Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde by Rebecca Dana

If Oscar and Felix are the original Odd Couple, Rebecca and Cosmo aren't far off, at least on the surface, in this sweet memoir of their brief time as roommates.  Rebecca is a journalist who writes primarily about pop culture and fashion.  She's twenty-seven years old and just coming out of a failed relationship that she expected to be her happily ever after when she moves from her beloved Manhattan to the Orthodox community of Lubavitchers in Brooklyn.  Even more startling than moving from the incredibly secular world she inhabits is the fact that she moves in with Cosmo, a Russian immigrant and ordained rabbi who is having a crisis of faith.  In a way, both of them are floundering around without any clear direction for their future and their exposure to the life of the other helps to nudge them gently in the direction they each ultimately want to travel.

Rebecca long dreamed of moving to New York and escaping her native Pittsburgh, a place she never felt she belonged.  She is very much a secular Jew so the fact that she ends up on the fringes of an Orthodox neighborhood when she and her boyfriend split up can only be put down to the vagaries of Craigslist ads rather than a desire on her part to examine any religious heritage.  The fact that very conservative and traditional Cosmo preferred a male roommate and yet acquiesced easily to Rebecca's interest in moving in is less easily explainable.  But no matter how they ended up in the same two bedroom, kosher-kitchen apartment, it is certain that each of them is a foreign country to the other one.

On the surface a modern fashion-conscious journalist with access to some of the most exclusive and fantastic parties in New York has less than nothing in common with a traditional Lubavitcher rabbi waiting for his green card, learning jujitsu, and working in a copy shop in Brooklyn.  And yet, both of them are searching for something to replace the dreams they once entertained about their futures and which haven't worked out the way they had hoped.  They are faced with questions and finding meaning in their lives, a coming of age in adulthood when they'd already thought their questions would be long since answered.  Dana is very open and honest about her life in transition, her slowly developing friendship with Cosmo, and the seemingly inexplicable interest she develops in the women of the community on the edges of which she finds herself.  She is clearly not perfect herself and never suggests as much as she hunts for identity.  The tale is humorous at times and poignant at others.  Quite well-written, it is very definitely a New York tale and the cast of people who walk across the page could only exist in a city like New York.  But they are interesting and appealing, their uncertainty is thought-provoking, and spending time in the pages of their lives, especially Dana's and Cosmo's, is interesting and worth the time.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

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