I nev­er noticed how few nov­els or novel­las there are about Yom Kip­pur until I’d writ­ten one myself: Yom Kip­pur in a Gym (a novel­la). When my pub­lish­er asked me to iden­ti­fy oth­er books like mine for mar­ket­ing pur­pos­es, I was sur­prised to dis­cov­er that there aren’t many books of adult fic­tion about Yom Kip­pur, and this struck me as strange, giv­en that Yom Kip­pur is the most impor­tant day of the Jew­ish year. 

Inter­est­ing­ly, there is no short­age of fic­tion books about Yom Kip­pur writ­ten for chil­dren. So I won­der if there is some kind of bar­ri­er affect­ing writ­ers of adult Jew­ish fic­tion when it comes to Yom Kip­pur. Do they feel it is too big a top­ic to take on, or per­haps too seri­ous and heavy? Do they fear that Yom Kip­pur will hang like an alba­tross around their necks, weigh­ing them down with somber­ness, and elim­i­nat­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of any fun or humor in their books? Or maybe they’re uncon­scious­ly super­sti­tious, and wor­ry that what they write about Yom Kip­pur might cross the line into sac­ri­lege, and this could come back to bite them at their next Yom Kippur.

What­ev­er the rea­son, Yom Kip­pur in a Gym is elic­it­ing a very dif­fer­ent reac­tion from peo­ple than any of my pre­vi­ous four books have. Nev­er have I been asked so fre­quent­ly, or so insis­tent­ly, about the set­ting and theme of a book I wrote. There are, in this book, var­i­ous themes and sub­themes. Yom Kip­pur in a Gym is about five strangers in a gym dur­ing the last hour of a Yom Kip­pur ser­vice, each per­son strug­gling with a dif­fer­ent cri­sis. Lucy can’t accept her husband’s Parkinson’s diag­no­sis; Ira, reject­ed by his lover, is plan­ning sui­cide; Rachel wor­ries about los­ing her job; Ezra is tor­ment­ed by a mis­take that ruined his career; and Tom con­tem­plates sev­er­ing all con­tact with his sis­ters. Then a med­ical emer­gency unex­pect­ed­ly throws these five peo­ple togeth­er, and in that hour, all their lives are changed in ways they would nev­er have believed possible. 

I was sur­prised to dis­cov­er that there aren’t many books of adult fic­tion about Yom Kip­pur, and this struck me as strange, giv­en that Yom Kip­pur is the most impor­tant day of the Jew­ish year.

Many peo­ple tell me, after hear­ing about my novel­la, that they find its set­ting star­tling or odd, but to me it feels nat­ur­al and even famil­iar because, for over two decades, I attend­ed High Hol­i­day ser­vices in a gym. I led part of the ser­vices, and year after year I spent Yom Kip­pur sur­round­ed by hun­dreds of peo­ple, some­times over a thou­sand, many of whom I didn’t know. Often I found myself gaz­ing at these strangers and won­der­ing who they were and what they were real­ly think­ing about. Espe­cial­ly dur­ing the last hour of Yom Kip­pur, the Neila ser­vice, when, accord­ing to tra­di­tion, our fate is inscribed for the com­ing year. This is a unique moment spir­i­tu­al­ly, emo­tion­al­ly, and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly: our last chance before the gates close” to face our­selves, exam­ine our flaws hon­est­ly and naked­ly, and com­mit to chang­ing and improv­ing in the com­ing year — or not. This moment has always fas­ci­nat­ed me, and a few years ago I began want­i­ng to explore it fic­tion­al­ly. So that’s what I did in this book.

Until com­plet­ing it, I didn’t know that I see Yom Kip­pur as hav­ing a kind of mag­i­cal pow­er. Yet this comes through clear­ly in Yom Kip­pur in a Gym, where Yom Kip­pur is not just part of the back­ground set­ting, but an active play­er and force. Yom Kip­pur — with its con­stant prayers, words, and music — is the ful­crum that pro­pels the action in this novel­la, tip­ping the see­saw lives of these five char­ac­ters just as the gates are clos­ing. In this book, Yom Kip­pur is a char­ac­ter in its own right — and one that is just as impor­tant as the oth­er five. 

To me, Yom Kip­pur con­tains every­thing: dra­ma, sus­pense, pas­sion, hope, love, hate, frailty, strength, truth, lies, fear of trans­for­ma­tion and long­ing for trans­for­ma­tion. What more could a writer ask for? Yom Kip­pur offers us all the nec­es­sary ingre­di­ents for a bril­liant work of fic­tion. So I hope to see many more nov­els and novel­las about Yom Kip­pur in the years to come.

Dr. Nora Gold is the prize-win­ning author of five books and the founder and edi­tor of the pres­ti­gious lit­er­ary jour­nal Jew­ish Fic​tion​.net. Her books have won both The Cana­di­an Jew­ish Lit­er­ary Award and The Vine Cana­di­an Jew­ish Book Award, and her writ­ing has been praised by Alice Munro, Cyn­thia Ozick, and Dara Horn.