Reva Mann, daughter of a London Modern Orthodox rabbi and granddaughter of the Chief Rabbi of Israel, shares vivid memories of her early rebellion from her outwardly happy but dysfunctional family and of looking for love and oblivion on the streets of London.
After dropping out of school, living with a Christian man, and being disowned by her parents, she travels to Israel to study to become a mid-wife. While there, a startling vision sends her to a women's yeshivah [school to study scripture], and she swings to the other extreme of the ultra-Orthodox. She marries a young scholar, Simcha, and begins her family, only to find that his love and devotion to scripture and Torah overshadow his life.
The author writes as a witness for herself, cool and dispassionate for much of the book. After her divorce and the reemergence of her passionate nature, she must deal with cancer, supported by her lover Sam. Here, we find a Reva who relates more of herself. The deaths of her father, her mother, and Sam's brother seem to be the catalyst for change and introspection. Mann also writes of her relationship with Simcha, which continues with tenderness and appreciation after their divorce. I wouldn't want to be married to him, but I'd like him in my life. That is, if he were allowed to have a woman other than a wife in his life.
The book ends with a colorful and heartfelt description of the author and her maturing children observing an Indian festival, then moving off to honor Shabbat and the first night of Succoth at a Chabad House—a Hassidic enclave providing a familiar scene for the thousands of Israeli who travel to India. Mann is still a relatively young woman with much of her life to live. Perhaps we will have the next installment in twenty years. She writes, "I was surprised to discover that hell is not an infinite suffering, simply a transient anguish that has to be waited out." May her inner peace and comfort with herself continue into the future.
Reva Mann lives in Jerusalem with her three children. She writes a weekly column for the Jewish News London and the Jewish Advocate Boston.
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