I love tucking into a good novel. I love not knowing anything about a book and gingerly thumbing through those first almost blank pages to get to the first section of real text. I mentally cross my fingers and hope that the writing is going to live up to my expectations. I hold my breath as I’m introduced to the characters and I let it out slowly as they pull me into their lives.
I don’t get a lot of time to read. I have two little kids and a demanding list of writing obligations. So if you see me pick up a book and, two or three pages in, sink back into the couch cushions to get comfy, you know I’ve been captured by the story. And if you see me smile or gasp a little as I read, then you know that I’m a lost cause. Any missing sock, required glass of water, or sibling squabble is just going to have to wait.
Some topics get my heart racing a bit more than others. As a convert to Judaism I’m fascinated with anything having to do with the Jewish faith or the Jewish people. Bonus points go to stories that touch on the oddities of the Orthodox Jews. My goal here is not to offend anyone, honest, but I honestly just don’t get the Orthodox Jews. And I especially don’t get how people chose to become Orthodox. It’s one thing to have been raised in a very controlling faith, a whole other thing to chose it. But as a Reform Jew, I’m not exactly welcomed into the Orthodox world with open arms. In fact, they don’t even consider me to be a Jew. So it’s a little hard for me to explore this world that both fascinates and puzzles me.
Enter my insatiable thirst for books that touch on the topic.
Who by Fire by Diana Spechler dives right into the heart of my fascination by taking a regular ol’ American boy and sending him to live in an Israeli Yeshiva. I stood by this boy as he studied and worried about his soul and family. I watched as he struggled with his decision to chose this life. And I pondered what really pushes people to make that leap.
A part of me nods right along with the author: of course you’d have to be running from something major like the guilt of letting your sister be kidnapped in order to punish yourself that way. But in my gut I know she’s taking the easy road. It’s highly unlikely that every boy in a Yeshiva has a terrible dark secret in his past. There has to be more to it than that. Right?
Although it was a fantastic read, this book didn’t answer that question for me. I think I’m going to have to keep searching.
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