Tales of the Havurah

September 1, 2020

Tales of the Havu­rah recalls life in the Jew­ish coun­ter­cul­ture in post-1960’s Boston. A mix­ture of inter­re­lat­ed sto­ries both fun­ny and seri­ous, the book ush­ers the read­er into a big old ram­bling house that serves as home to Havu­rat Chaim, a fic­tion­al alter­na­tive com­mu­ni­ty that is also the heart of local Jew­ish coun­ter­cul­tur­al com­ings and goings.

Nar­rat­ed by a talk­a­tive, some­times pot-smok­ing host named Solomon, who is endowed with an unortho­dox, iron­ic, and yet poet­ic reli­gious bent, the sto­ries intro­duce the read­er to a lit­tle uni­verse of edu­cat­ed but not-always-rev­er­ent young adults exper­i­ment­ing in cre­at­ing a new style of close-knit Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty while also seek­ing to forge a mean­ing­ful, con­tem­po­rary spir­i­tu­al life.

Solomon spins out tales about his own and his fel­low group mem­bers’ per­son­al lives, their loves and friend­ships, their inner strug­gles, and their often uncon­ven­tion­al but com­mit­ted rela­tion­ship to Jew­ish observance.

The book cap­tures a par­tic­u­lar moment in Amer­i­ca, when a rebel­lious youth cul­ture inter­sect­ed with tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish prac­tice, sym­bols and val­ues, and ulti­mate­ly brought pro­found changes to Amer­i­can Jew­ish soci­ety at large.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of David Kronfeld

  1. What is your impres­sion of the 1960’s – 70’s?

    a. If you were alive then, what were you doing and what did that time in his­to­ry mean for you? Did you feel pos­i­tive­ly or neg­a­tive­ly to the tur­moil of those days?

    b. If you were not alive then, what are your impres­sions of that era? What images or ideas stand out most for you?

  2. Have you ever had some­thing you would call a reli­gious experience”?

    a. What was it like? How often did it occur?

    b. What were its reper­cus­sions on your life?

    c. How does reli­gious expe­ri­ence rever­ber­ate in Solomon’s life through­out the book?

  3. What do you think of Solomon as a character?

    a. Is he admirable? Is he a jerk?

    b. Is he a reli­able narrator?

  4. Which of the oth­er char­ac­ters’ reli­gious sen­si­bil­i­ties can you iden­ti­fy with?

    a. Which, if any, do you view with crit­i­cism? Which, if any, do you admire?

    b. What does Solomon feel about them? Is he justified?

  5. What do you feel about the use of mar­i­jua­na or oth­er forms of intox­i­ca­tion in the sto­ries, and as a lit­er­ary device?

  6. Focus on any indi­vid­ual sto­ry and con­sid­er its theme and sym­bols. Which sym­bols, in which sto­ry, par­tic­u­lar­ly stand out, to you?

    a.What is the author try­ing to say by manip­u­lat­ing Jew­ish sym­bols and tra­di­tion­al con­cepts? How is he using or chang­ing them?

    b. How does the use of tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish themes and sym­bols func­tion as a way of either sup­port­ing the story’s plot or main idea, or of com­ment­ing upon it in some oth­er way?

  7. Do you rec­og­nize echoes of tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish litur­gy in the var­i­ous sto­ries? Which ones?

  8. How does time – and Jew­ish time – func­tion as a uni­fy­ing device for the sto­ries? What are the var­i­ous lev­els of time and the dif­fer­ent chronolo­gies at play through­out the volume?

  9. Would you like to live in a reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty like the Havu­rah? Why or why not? How is it dif­fer­ent from the com­mu­ni­ty or com­mu­ni­ties you par­tic­i­pate in?

  10. What do you think of the end­ing? What does it say about Solomon and his reli­gious sen­si­bil­i­ties? His Jewishness?