Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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PINSKER / THE CONTEMPORARY JEWISH-AMERICAN NOVEL
15
fessed that he “cannot pray ,” Reb Lev advised the time-honored
regimen o f hasidim since the Baal Shem Tov: go to the meadows
and fields and converse with God there; break your hea rt before
Him; speak to Him in your own language, with song, with tears,
with a hea rt pou red ou t like water. And should you have d if­
ficulty, simply repea t a single word over and over again, and
God Himself will tu rn your word into prayer.
A TRUE HASID
T he denizens o f Uman House may bicker with one another,
may disagree about how best to in te rp re t N ahman’s words, bu t
about Himmelhoch they are in accord: He was a hasid among
hasidim. And it is here that the novel’s comic spirit tu rns darkly
serious, where the comic possibilities o f religious fundam en tal­
ism take on shivery dimensions. For one g roup at Uman House
seeks to destroy the Dome o f the Rock and to rebuild the T em ­
ple, while ano the r makes an arduous jou rney up Mount Sinai.
All the while, the spectre o f Shmuel Himmelhoch haunts the
novel as a ghostly presence, and as a harb inger o f the Messiah.
W ha t began as a series o f comic in te r lu d e s end s with
Himmelhoch playing Abraham to his son’s Isaac, as past and
present, the decisive moment on Mount Moriah and the Dome
o f the Rock, merge into one charged, surrealistic movement.
He [Himmelhoch] removed the bundle of wood from the boy’s
back and arranged the sticks on top of the stone mount he had
constructed. Then he bound the boy with the rope he had used
to scale the wall. He placed the boy on the mound of stones,
over the bed of sticks. The man thrust his hand under his outer
garment and drew the knife from his belt. He raised the knife
to slaughter the boy . . .
Crying words — “Don’t lay a hand on that boy! Don’t do a
thing to do!” — two Israeli soldiers pulled the man down from
behind . . . “God sees!” the pinioned man was heard to call out.
“Now I see that God sees!” From the direction of the Western
Wall, below the mosque compound, came a series of long and
sustained shofar blasts. “And there’s the ram!” the man cried
rapturously . .. The message from Mount Moriah was clear: the
Messiah had finally come (Reich, 231-38).
For all its comic spirit, Reich has written a disturbing novel,
not only because religious fanatics o f the sort she describes with