Page 18 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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10
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
YUSSEL’S ADVENTURES.
Th e bulk o f
God’s Ear
is given over to Yussel’s education in
a suffering tha t is simultaneously comic and heart-piercing. Sur­
rounded by his fa th e r’s rag-tag disciples and a rival band o f
O rthodox Jews who set up shop in the vicinity, by characters
such as Ind ian Joe (who sells Yussel his tribe’s sacred land for
a cool two million) and Lilywhite, a mysterious woman who
blasts secular music from he r mountain top re treat. T h rough
it all, the ghost o f Rabbi Fetner keeps appearing in Yussel’s
uneasy dreams, nagging him with hasidic parables and a rgu ­
ments on beha lf o f accepting his rabbinic destiny. As the ghostly,
pajama-clad Rabbi Fetner would have it, he cannot en te r Heav­
en until Yussel becomes “attached ,” until he can “feel pain ,”
until his “hea rt is broken .”
Th e result is a novel that blends contemporary comedy with
a veritable treasury o f hasidic stories, and tha t places exotic Jews
in an equally exotic Wild West. G ranted, there are times when
one is not quite sure if Lerm an ’s setting is Kansas o r Colorado,
if the extraneous plot details hold together, if Rabbi Fe tner’s
assorted “pun ishm en ts” (for m istreating his first wife) are, in
fact, true. In a very real sense, o f course, all o f this may not
matter. As Rabbi Fetner tells his son, “T rus t, Yussele. T ru s t
completely. Forget the details: Kansas, Shansas. T h e details
d o n ’t m atter. T ru s t , Yussele, and HaShem will p rov ide”
(Lerman, 76). Even more telling, however, is his insistence that
“All stories are true. Even my lies” (Lerman, 115).
What is clear, however, are the novel’s wealth o f one-liners
and Lerm an’s uncanny ability to move Yussel toward spiritual
illumination. Let the following example stand as a rep resen t­
ative sampling o f the former.
Babe’s father was a refugee rabbi who was deaf. When he
met Babe’s husband-to-be, a poet who was a mumbler, the Rabbi
asked, “So, what do you do you should marry my beautiful
Sonya?”
“Poetry,” the poet mumbled.
“Tackeh. The chicken business is a good business. My Sonya
will never be without” (Lerman, 93).
Nor does Lerman leave it at that. Babe’s poet-husband “filled
his notebooks with poems about the Dallas Cowgirls, Dunlop
tires, racoons, frankfu ters, garbage cans, God. Once he spent