The House of Love and Prayer: and Oth­er Stories

  • Review
By – May 15, 2023

Tova Reich’s short sto­ries have rat­tled read­ers with their bit­ing satire since the mid-nineties. She finds absur­di­ty in cer­tain Jew­ish prac­tices and events, a humor that riffs on shared under­stand­ings with­in the diaspora. 

Using long sen­tences with strings of com­mas, Reich mer­ci­less­ly skew­ers the prin­ci­pal of an all-girls yeshi­va in The Lost Girl.” When one girl goes miss­ing after a Lag B’Omer out­ing, the prin­ci­pal dis­miss­es her as a nobody to a Times reporter. He also reveals his dis­gust for the phys­i­cal­i­ty of high school girls. Mean­while, Reich ten­der­ly shows the miss­ing stu­dent hold­ing her own in the woods as she gets her first period.

A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of these sto­ries focus on dark aspects of post-Holo­caust life. The tit­u­lar sto­ry car­ries Ortho­dox reli­gious fer­vor to the extreme in a real Haight-Ash­bury reli­gious com­mune of the six­ties; a young rab­bi starves him­self to death to become holi­er. Dur­ing a Gobi sand­storm in Bei­jing, a rab­bi dubbed the Zad­dik of Sin brings the unwant­ed Chi­nese girls and babies he is traf­fick­ing for Amer­i­can adop­tion to pray in the For­bid­den City. Gilguli, a young Chris­t­ian who iden­ti­fies as the trans­mi­grat­ed soul, or gilgul, of a Jew­ish man killed in the Belzec mass exter­mi­na­tion camp, ends up aid­ing the con­struc­tion of a con­tro­ver­sial memo­r­i­al there. A Pol­ish pianist screams stock anti­se­mit­ic phras­es at an Israeli audi­ence, while his Jew­ish page-turn­er stands shocked and silent by his side. 

Depen­dent on knowl­edge of a com­mon cul­ture, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly on shared opin­ions, Reich’s work will be best appre­ci­at­ed with­in the Jew­ish community. 

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er and a school librar­i­an for forty years in NYC, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

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