Page 27 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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BAUMGARTEN / URBAN FAILURES
21
sions o f life in an ex tended family.16 Unlike Bellow’s novels, in
which Chicago is as much protagonist as setting, Sultan’s centers
on his finely realized characters.
Rabbi
is brilliantly plotted,
weaving the efforts o f the brothers to get the ir father, the p a tria r­
chal rabbi o f the Syrian Jewish community, to move to the ir
oceanside neighborhood , into the encoun ter o f the family with a
cousin from Poland (related to the Yiddish wife o f the eldest
Djubal brother). Twelve year old Rosalie survived the Belsen
Concentration Camp. Now sixteen, like Jason , the oldest son and
protagonist o f the novel, Rosalie stuns her oriental cousins with
h e r story o f flight, privation, concealment in the woods, and then
betrayal in Paris by a half-Jewish, half-Moslem acquaintance who
had befriended her widowed mother. Gamal also has made it to
America, and taken up with the Djubals. He is wealthy and offers
to help build the new Jewish Community Cen ter for the Sea
Beach community; he also is meddling in an unhappy marriage,
spinning a web o f deceit around the ir family affairs. Perhaps he is
the Satan old Rabbi Djubal suspects him o f being.
T he novel takes place at the time o f the declaration o f Israeli
independence in 1948, beginning in the Passover o f that year. In
the background, Israelis, called atheistic Jewish socialists by the
religious Djubals, are p repa ring themselves for the coming strug ­
gle. Rosalie, the daugh te r o f the left-wing member o f the family,
carries on h er family’s traditions, while the Djubal b ro thers
piously deceive themselves into believing they are carrying on
the ir traditional life in the more pleasing neighborhood o f Sea
Beach. Only Jason , the grandson, who falls in love with Rosalie,
and discovers the mysterious and religious qualities o f sexual love
with h e r in some scenes tha t bear comparison with Joyce’s, as well
as Rabbi Djubal himself, understand the ways in which the old
world o f the seamless religious tex ture has been sha ttered by
modernity.
MPACT OF HOLOCAUST
T he te rro r o f the Holocaust pervades this book. Marking
Rosalie’s arm, it defines her attitude to h er own body. As she tells
ason , h er breasts are numb because o f the effect they had on her
16 Stanley Sultan,
Rabbi. A Tale of the Waning Year,
West Whately, Mass.: Ameri­
can Novelists’ Cooperative Publications, 1977.