Ruchama King blessed again

Ruchama King has another great review for SEVEN BLESSINGS, this one from the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

It shimmers.

How else to describe “Seven Blessings” ┬áby Ruchama King?

Its setting is suffused with the glint of Jerusalem light, its characters infused with the city’s spirituality and its story line just magical enough to make the reader believe in its happily-ever-after ending. In short, a gem of a novel, much less a debut effort, by King, who lived for 10 years in the holy city where she taught at a number of women’s yeshivot and was immersed firsthand in the world of Jewish matchmaking.

The story turns on – what else? – the search for love and marriage in Jerusalem, where the pursuit is imbued with religious obligation as well as human aspiration. King creates a host of characters to play on her theme, deftly capturing the physical desire, human need and spiritual longing that inspire a match.

Readers meet Beth Wilner, an American of a certain age, or past a certain age, who is the object of the matchmaker’s determined efforts. A ba’al teshuvah, a returnee to what is termed observant Judaism, or a form of Orthodoxy, a lapsed Torah student, she lives in a Sephardic enclave in the city, works as a bookkeeper at a social service agency and volunteers at a local psychiatric hospital. Her malaise is evident, as is her inherent appeal, and grocery store owner cum matchmaker, Tsippi Kraut-hammer, initiates a match.

This American, writes King, “brought moods to the grocery store. Sometimes she walked down the aisles, poking, squinting, yearning for something Tsippi’s shelves couldn’t deliver; sometimes she seemed annoyed, scowling at an eggplant, shrugging at a tomato; and sometimes her hands moved with happy efficiency, like the hands of a regular ba’alabusta whose years of list-making had already been absorbed into her very fingertips…

“Now this American woman … intrigued her … she would have to go through her list more carefully to see if anyone sprang to mind…”

So Tsippi, who in the course of the novel also rediscovers new romance in her own marriage, suggests an introduction to Akiva, 41, also a ba’al teshuvah, a part-time house painter and yeshiva student, who, as she describes him to Beth, has a slight problem, a twitch.

“‘A twitch?’ Beth said. ‘Do you mean an eye tic?’

“‘No, it’s not an eye tic,’ Tsippi said slowly. ‘It’s hard to describe.'”

So the story begins.

Along the way, King introduces readers to Rochel Leah, a resident in a Jewish old-age home, who writes flowery love notes to Reb Israel, a revered Torah scholar on his deathbed; Binyamin Harris, a malcontent ba’al teshuvah in search of an ideal partner; and Judy Bartosky, a wife and mother of six who gradually recovers her love of learning while finding new ways to deepen her relationship with her husband.

While the ending may have been preordained and predictable, King’s sympathetic characters and artful intertwining of their lives transcend the ordinary with luminous incandescence.

A gem of a novel? Perhaps, in terms of its ability to engage the reader and capture the essence of religious life against the backdrop of Jeru-salem. But King’s first effort glows rather than sparkles, some of its facets not yet polished to real brilliance. The words beg for more precision, the syntax to be more finely tuned.

But, a novel, like a good marriage, can always be burnished to shine. Look forward to King’s next effort while savoring her first.

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