In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist
by Ruchama King Feuerman
2013/ 281 pages
read by Sam Gunder 9h 36m
rating 6 – / general fiction (Jewish)
This book had been tempting me for a long time – the promise of a good story set in Jerusalem, the Kabbalah, etc. So I nominated it for a reading group – (sigh). Much to my dismay, it’s basically a love story – a romance.
But that said, so is Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and I love that book. I guess there has to be a certain something else – a light-heartedness, a genuinely interesting situation, whatever, for me to enjoy it. In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist has that something.
Yes, I did have to exercise my suspension of disbelief more than once but it never snapped – probably because I really don’t know that much about the actual practice of Judaism – I’m just an interested person who is not taking this book of fiction as an authority on anything.
” If I tell you my story, you will listen for awhile and then you will fall asleep.
But, if, as I tell you my story, you begin to hear your own story, you will wake up.” – Chassidic saying.
The old Rebbi Yahudda and his wife have been instrumental in assisting the community. The two of them are very busy dispensing food and wisdom, praying, etc. Now the rabbi is sick – very sick. His wife needs some help although she is a huge help herself.
Tamar – a young unmarried woman who has just moved to Israel from the US -wants a scholarly Jewish husband . She has been seeking the advise of the rabbi who has told her to pray for days.
Isaac Markowitz – a middle-aged New York Jewish bachelor whose mother has recently died. So he’s adrift and goes to Jerusalem to find himself – to actually succeed at something in a life of “almosts.” He finds himself serving as the assistant to the rabbi.
Mustafa – the young Muslim janitor at the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa Mosque) which includes the Dome of the Rock (Christian) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This is the holiest place, holy to both Jews and Muslims, in Jerusalem as it is where the second Temple is supposed to have stood. There’s a good zoom available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Mount
Mustaa is an outcast to the Jews as well as his own family because of his disabiltiies. Jews and Christians have been kind to him in the past but he really wants to please his mother. There are several other characters interacting with the rabbi and Isaac but those are the basics. But he went to talk to the old rebbi while he was off work for lunch, and now goes to see and talk to Isaac – they become friends.
One day Mustafa finds an ancient pomegranate he has found in the trash at the Temple Mount and brings it to Rabbi Isaac (which is how he becomes known) – this causes some problems as it is appears to be an antiquity. Whose pomegranate is it? Mustafa shows it to Isaac who shows it to somene else and … there’s a lot more than romance to this novel. There are fables and wisdom and laughter and most of all, love.