Friday, September 28, 2007

I have just finished reading the most lovely book with my book club, The River Midnight by Lilian Nattel. The book is set in a mostly Jewish shetl, or small village, in rural Poland during the second half of the 19th century. This was the most beautiful book I have read in a long time.

I often feel like the books I read are all the same, but this book excited and invigorated me becuase it was so unique. Nattel's writing style is beautiful and poetic, but accessible. Her characters; women, men, children, ghosts and even animals, were very well developed and were fascinating. The rearranged sense of time that the book was written in was somewhat confusing, but also reflected the deep sense of history and connection with the past that the residents of the shetl had. What I really loved about this novel was the wonder and magic with which the people of the shetl approached their lives. The book certainly made me long for more spirituality and magic in my own daily life.
It was interesting to read this novel during the Jewish High Holy Days. The climax of the book occurred on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, which I just observed last weekend. My mother and I were in attendance at the Judaism Your Way services at Hudson Gardens. The services were nice and the setting was beautiful, but I came away from the day with a bitter taste in my mouth about the hypocrisy that surrounds most religous traditions in this country. The most glaring example of this was the family who sat two rows in front of me for most of the day. They were stylish and beautiful and obviously rich, and I came to later find out they were the owners of the Torah that the organization was using that day. You'd think that Jews who actually own a Torah would be observant and devout and believing. Well, it was hard to believe that about this family, because they whispered to each other for 3 straight hours during the services!! It was very distracting and made it so I was unable to listen to the rabbi and spend the day reflecting on the past year and the year to come. I couldn't help but compare my Yom Kippur experience with the beauty and reverence with which the Jews in the shetl approached the day in The River Midnight.

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