Photo Credit: Gefen Publishing House

Title: Bridges Across the World
By Rachel Pomerantz
Menucha Publishers, 472 pages

 

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I started this book on a long, quiet, winter Friday night. I bentched licht and sat down with that Shabbos menucha sigh of relief, looking forward to enhancing my Shabbos with some interesting, kosher Jewish fiction. I’ll confess that I’m not a huge Jewish fiction reader so I really wasn’t sure what I was getting into. I picked up this book because the blurb appealed to me. A psychologist struggling to raise twin daughters, and a broken friendship that needs repair.

I was gripped by the story pretty quickly. I spent a happy few hours reading after dinner until I fell asleep. I grabbed a pleasing couple of hours reading when I woke up a little before sunrise. By the last hour of Shabbos, I had about 150 pages left and I decided to extend my Shabbos by curling up on the couch and finishing the book. A perfectly satisfying Shabbos read.

One of the things I most relished in the story was how family life is portrayed. I really appreciated the model of a functional marriage, where the partners supported each other, liked and respected each other, leaned on each other and consulted each other. They had trouble with their son, and I found myself wondering how I would handle that kind of situation:

“Eddie, what did you do with the hundred dollars?”
“I didn’t take it,” said Eddie sullenly.
“Eddie, you know that you took it, and I know that you took it. Why lie about it?”
“Didn’t take it,” said Eddie.
And Karen couldn’t get another word out of him for the rest of the day.

I particularly savored the descriptions of the politics involved in academia, and the whirl of balancing family and career. I’m not in academia and never have been, but I’ve read a few books with the backstabbing and politicking and rivalries that come up, and they can be very dramatic. Pomerantz’s character modeled how to be sensible, intelligent, strategic, kind, firm, courageous and principled. I enjoyed all of the sticky situations she was in, and I admired how she handled all of them. And I was extra delighted to read the note at the end that Rachel Pomerantz (a pen name) is herself a mathematician, and much of this comes from her own experience taking her turn as chair of the department!

This book is essentially a story of a friendship between two college roommates that fell apart when one of them decided to convert to Judaism, and the course of how they re-established their friendship. I enjoyed reading the path of how the non-Jewish friend softens her stance towards the cultural and halachic demands of Judaism because of her own life experiences. She describes two of her Orthodox Jewish colleagues navigating halachic and hashkafic challenges and comes to respect them.

Another thing I appreciate about the book was having all the drama of interpersonal relationships without it being tawdry or lurid. In that sense it reminds me of the series Shtisel.

I savored the maze and interconnectivity of the Jewish community. The book is full of the casual Jewish geography that is the hallmark of the close-knit Orthodox society. I sometimes lost track of the characters because it was so very true to life – this one is close to this one and knows this one and thinks of a great shidduch for that one. So that soon every character we’ve heard about is good friends with or marries or sets someone up with or is somehow connected. Three different continents? Not a problem. What is a continent’s distance when every Jew is your brother?

If you’re looking for an entertaining and engaging read with Jewish themes, I highly recommend this book.

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Jessie Fischbein is a Tanach teacher, popular lecturer, and author of the book Infertility in the Bible. She homeschools her children in Far Rockaway, New York.