Dropped From Heaven

Sophie Judah
  • Review
By – March 30, 2012

Read­ing Sophie Judah’s book of sto­ries, Dropped From Heav­en, is arrest­ing for any num­ber of rea­sons, not the least of which is that she is new to us as a writer, hav­ing recent­ly received her degree in cre­ative writ­ing from Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty in Israel, where she now lives. Intrigu­ing as well, Judah’s sto­ries are of an ancient Jew­ish eth­nic group hereto­fore almost unex­plored in fic­tion, the Bene Israel from her native India — pre­sent­ed chrono­log­i­cal­ly in this col­lec­tion, enabling us to inti­mate­ly glimpse three recent his­tor­i­cal peri­ods and their impact on this unusu­al group. Thus we have My Friend Joseph,” in which two young men in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry return from fight­ing in an Indi­an unit in the Boer War in South Africa who acci­den­tal­ly dis­cov­er that they are both Jew­ish, then forg­ing a friend­ship for life, their imme­di­ate com­mit­ment now to find them­selves Jew­ish wives . In the next peri­od, after 1930, in My Son Jude,” Judah presents in graph­ic detail some of the hideous human tragedies between Hin­dus and Moslems that fol­lowed the 1947 par­ti­tion of India and the impact on the hor­ri­fied, empath­ic tiny Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty which can only stand by help­less­ly. The peri­od is also marked by Judah of the 1948 cre­ation of the State of Israel, now pro­vid­ing a place for the begin­ning emi­gra­tion of the Bene Israel with all its ensu­ing chal­lenges — the wrench­ing resis­tance to leav­ing fam­i­lies behind, the inevitable bend­ing of tra­di­tions and chang­ing gen­der roles. In the last time frame, one that fast-for­wards to the 21st cen­tu­ry, in a sto­ry The Funer­al,” we see the prob­lems of main­tain­ing con­ti­nu­ity between the new Israeli grand­chil­dren and the aging few who have cho­sen to remain behind in India. This review­er had the good for­tune to wit­ness the tiny but vibrant ves­tige of that oncethriv­ing peo­ple, which can still be found though in small num­bers in Bom­bay and Thana, a sub­urb of Bombay. 

The com­mon thread inter­wo­ven through­out this rich tapes­try of nine­teen sto­ries reveals Judah’s focus on this remote com­mu­ni­ty once her own, its iso­lat­ed ori­gins in the south­west cor­ner of India, which remark­ably retained its com­mit­ment to the tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish laws of cir­cum­ci­sion, kashrut, Shab­bat, the ongo­ing prob­lems of find­ing suit­able Jew­ish mates for mar­riage. Judah’s strengths are her keen eye, her ear for dia­logue, and her love for her Bene Israel her­itage. One sus­pects also, that her inter­est in his­tor­i­cal detail may give way in time to writ­ing in oth­er gen­res. Short sto­ry writ­ing may be just the first glimpse of her many talents.

Ruth Seif is a retired chair­per­son of Eng­lish at Thomas Jef­fer­son High School in NYC. She served as admin­is­tra­tor in the alter­na­tive high school division.

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