In Mara, Reich, herself the scion of a rabbinical family, took aim at the mores of American Orthodox Jewry. Here, she casts her sly, sardonic eye upon those at the opposite end of the spectrum, so to speakIsraeli penitents. With vigor, irreverence and devastating accuracy, she limns a flock of zany zealots, intoxicated by the rarefied Hassidism of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav. These cultists, former hippies who are now ``high on the One Above,'' are at once delightfully absurd in their revival, even invention, of bizarre customs (such as the paramount pilgrimage to Rabbi Nahman's Ukranian grave to terminate ``nocturnal emissions''); poignant in their misguided, miseducated search for identity and redemption; as self-indulgent in their expiation as they once were in their passions; and alarming in their patent misogyny, racism, deceit, self-righteousness and extreme messianic political agenda. In Reich's hands, plot and character development are sacrificed to an extravagant religious and social parody cum cautionary tale. The penitents remain symbolic figuresas exemplified by an elderly midwife, whose name, Shifra-Puah, evokes her righteous colleagues from the biblical book of Exodus who disobeyed the pharaonic decree to murder male newborns, and Avraham Ger, whose surname, Hebrew for convert, proclaims his adoption of Judaism. (April)
Samuel Himmelhoch was once lighting effects man for notorious rock groups, his wife Ivriya rode horses bare-breasted in Rosh Pina, and Sora Katz was the former Pam Buck of Macon, Georgia, but now they are all members of an extreme Hassidic sect, living together in the Moslem quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Described with affection and great insight, the riotous adventures of these sincere but sometimes misguided penitents easily mix the supernatural with human events. Reich pinpoints absurdity and self-righteousness beautifully, as when Reb Lev Luria pontificates in gematria (talmudic numeric equivalents) derived from his newly donated computer. An arrestingly comtemporary treatment of Jewish spirituality and renewal. Highly recommended. Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Md.