Let­ty Cot­tin Pogre­bin, a found­ing edi­tor of Ms. mag­a­zine, is the author of eleven books, most recent­ly the just-pub­lished Sin­gle Jew­ish Male Seek­ing Soul Mate. Through­out the next week, she will be shar­ing pas­sages that did­n’t make it into the final ver­sion of her new nov­el and explain the deci­sion behind each cut. These posts are a part of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

Because peo­ple often ask writ­ers, What did you leave out of your book and why?” I decid­ed to review the orig­i­nal man­u­script of my new nov­el, Sin­gle Jew­ish Male Seek­ing Soul Mate, to see what end­ed up on the cut­ting room floor.

You won’t find in the book, pub­lished this week by The Fem­i­nist Press, any of the pas­sages I’m going to share with you in this and upcom­ing blog posts, but the back­sto­ry behind each cut may pro­vide a unique glimpse into the edit­ing process.

To under­stand the action behind the fol­low­ing pas­sage from the orig­i­nal man­u­script, you only need know that Zach, the son of Holo­caust sur­vivors, long ago promised his moth­er that he would mar­ry a Jew and raise Jew­ish chil­dren. Despite a fer­vent search for his bash­ert (fat­ed Jew­ish mate), he falls in love with an African-Amer­i­can activist and talk show host named Cleo who appears in this scene. The oth­er char­ac­ter, M.J., is Zach’s neigh­bor and close friend.

In June 1976, as his birth­day approached, Zach became fix­at­ed on the num­ber thirty-six.

You didn’t freak out over thir­ty-five, why this?” M. J. asked after Zach blew out his candles.

It’s a big Jew­ish num­ber,” Zach explained. Mys­tics believe there are thir­ty-six right­eous Jews on the plan­et at any moment in time and it’s only because of them and their acts of decen­cy that our world is spared from destruc­tion. They’re called lamed vavniks because the num­ber thir­ty-six, in Hebrew, is lamed vav. Only God knows who they are.”

But they know,” Cleo ventured.

Nope. And they don’t know who each oth­er is, either.”

M. J. grinned. It’s like a secret soci­ety where the mem­bers don’t real­ize they’ve been tapped and nobody knows the handshake.”

Kind of. The thing is, each of us is sup­posed to behave in the world as if we’re one of them.”

Leave it to the Jews to get folks com­pet­ing to be vir­tu­ous,” Cleo said.

You think you might be one of them?” M. J. asked.

The thir­ty-six?” Zach chuck­led as he plucked out all thir­ty-six can­dles and began to cut the cake. Not a chance.”

For me, this dele­tion was painful. The Tal­mu­dic con­cept of the lamed vav tzadikim (36 right­eous ones), or nistarim (con­cealed ones), occu­pies true North on my moral com­pass. I love the notion that even the remote pos­si­bil­i­ty of the wel­fare of the world rest­ing on our deeds can lead us to greater acts of righteousness. 

Why was the pas­sage dropped? Some might infer that my pub­lish­er ruled a gra­tu­itous detour into Jew­ish mys­ti­cism too inside base­ball” for the gen­er­al read­er. In fact, it was cut after an eagle-eyed copy edi­tor, hav­ing graphed each of my char­ac­ters’ time­lines, year by year, dis­cov­ered that Zach would actu­al­ly be turn­ing 35 at that point in the nov­el, not 36. The error was mine. And the num­ber couldn’t sim­ply be changed to 36 because Zach’s age had to cor­re­spond to the age of anoth­er key char­ac­ter in the book. Short of my rewrit­ing sev­er­al entire chap­ters to jus­ti­fy his cel­e­brat­ing his 36th birth­day, the lamed vavnik detour had to go. 

And so it did.

Read more about Let­ty Cot­tin Pogre­bin here. And if you’re in NYC, you can meet the author and hear her speak about her book on Wednes­day, May 20th at 7 PM at Book Cul­ture, 450 Colum­bus Avenue (8182 St) in Manhattan.

Relat­ed Content:

Let­ty Cot­tin Pogre­bin is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist, wide­ly pub­lished opin­ion writer, acclaimed pub­lic speak­er, admired polit­i­cal activist, and author of sev­er­al non­fic­tion best­sellers, includ­ing Grow­ing Up Free, Get­ting Over Get­ting Old­er, and Deb­o­rah, Gol­da, and Me. Her last book was a nov­el, Three Daugh­ters. She lives in New York.