The Frozen Rabbi

  • Review
By – September 8, 2011

In 1897, as the mys­tic Rab­bi Eliez­er was in a trance by the side of a lake, a sud­den storm, then drop in tem­per­a­ture, caused the holy man to be encased in ice. His fol­low­ers hap­pened by, and not know­ing what else to do, kept the body frozen, await­ing instruc­tions. One fam­i­ly assumed cus­tody. The saintsi­cle’ endured flee­ing var­i­ous pogroms in a rick­ety cart, a transat­lantic cross­ing in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, and oth­er per­ilous voy­ages. Then, in a 1999 pow­er out­age, the sleep­er awak­ens as a stranger in a strange land.’ He quick­ly accli­mates and decides the Gold­en Med­i­na, Amer­i­ca, may be a par­adise, but it doesn’t have a soul. How­ev­er, he can fix it. 

The care of the frozen (and thawed) rab­bi is a fam­i­ly saga, span­ning three con­ti­nents and five gen­er­a­tions, full of inter­est­ing char­ac­ters and events. Each suc­ces­sive care­tak­er under­goes major trans­for­ma­tions in response to the bless­ing (or curse) with which he or she has been sad­dled. Major events in Jew­ish his­to­ry— those men­tioned above; the Amer­i­can immi­grant experience(s); and the strug­gle for the State of Israel are han­dled with grace and humor, but with­out trivialization. 

Most fam­i­lies pass down a body of tra­di­tion in some fash­ion. This fam­i­ly had a real, tan­gi­ble body. Steve Stern’s inno­v­a­tive nov­el fits in with oth­er con­tem­po­rary mod­ern Jew­ish fan­ta­sy writ­ers like Cyn­thia Ozick, Philip Roth, and Michael Chabon.

Sydelle Shamah has been lead­ing book club dis­cus­sions for many years, and is a pub­lished sci­ence fic­tion writer. She was pres­i­dent of the Ruth Hyman Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Mon­mouth Coun­ty, NJ.

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