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In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist

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3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  202 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Isaac, 43, a haberdasher, has led a life of “almosts” – almost getting married, almost becoming a rabbi, almost starting a school of his own. After his mother dies, he leaves the Lower East Side and moves to Jerusalem, where he ends up as an assistant to an elderly kabbalist and his wife who daily minister to the seekers who gravitate to their courtyard.

One day on an erran
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ebook, 272 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by NYRB LIT (first published January 1st 2013)
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Cynthia
Delightful

What a long title for so short a book but what a wallop it packs. I was hesitant to read a book with such a religious sounding title because such books can become preachy and tedious. My fears were needless. This book is set in Jerusalem and its two main characters are a Jew and Muslim however the real theme is not so much religion as it is acceptance, humanity, understanding, and compassion.

Isaac was a tailor in New York prior to coming to Israel to pursue his religious knowledge. He
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Helen
Someone called Ruchama King Feuerman the Jewish Jane Austen. I disagree. I think she's the Jewish Graham Greene, traveling to far-away and war-torn parts of the world, teasing apart tangled knots of religious differences.

Isaac is a bearded Orthodox Jew who works as an assistant to the Kabbalist of the title. Beneath that long black coat, he is suffering under the burdens of loneliness, an unhealed broken heart, and preconceived idealized notions of what his wife should be like. Taken together, t
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thewanderingjew
The prologue draws the reader in immediately by perfectly capturing the atmosphere of the kabbalist and his entreaters. In a dry and dusty courtyard, a rebbe and his wife show kindness to those in need: damaged people, people who are disfigured, emotionally disturbed, poverty stricken, any and all who come to seek their advice and food. They serve the needs of these sad misfits with no place else to go to seek counsel or solace. Somehow, their wise and common sense advice, delivered in the simpl ...more
Nathaniel Popkin
Reprinted from my review in: Cleaver Magazine

As I was crossing the street just outside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem one evening this summer, I noticed a Palestinian boy, about 15 years old, flying a kite on the corner. It was about seven and the sun had disappeared already. The light was pink. The sky in the distance was a cloudless blue, but it seemed, at dusk, to have the texture of felt. An orthodox Jewish mother, wearing a headscarf and long skirt, came across to the traffic i
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Jen
In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is one of my favorite books so far this year. Beautifully written with a story that slowly unfolds and reveals wonderful characters who will stay with you for a long time.

The characters are so richly portrayed that I fell in to story at once. This is a novel of individuals, of relationships, of prejudice, of insight and of reflection, of wisdom and understanding.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is one of my favorite books this year, and I've hated having
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Anna Olswanger
In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is a novel about two expatriate Americans in Jerusalem and a deformed Arab janitor whose lives become intertwined romantically, spiritually and dangerously in the courtyard of an elderly kabbalist.It's literary fiction, but plot driven.

Ruchama Feuerman has told a story different from the stories we've all been fed about the Middle East. The unrelenting streams of information coming out from there—the terrorism, the self-important editorials, the never ending
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Sara Prager
This book peels away the layers of politics of a charged environment and draws characters from different backgrounds who walk into our hearts and stay for a while. Feuerman gives us Jerusalem in all of its beauty and grittiness and we are enriched by all of it because this tale takes us to a place of hope and redemption.
Elka Weber
Like Jerusalem itself - full of byways and misunderstandings and odd collisions of religion and politics, antiquity and modernity. This is a story of false starts, love and redemption.
Elaina
Absolutely spectacular. I could taste the dust of the Old City and smell the olive tree in the Rebbe's courtyard. A beautiful, romantic and spiritual tale in a classical vein.
Kressel Housman
I didn't think Ruchama King Feuerman could possibly beat her first book, Seven Blessings, but if this book didn't do it, it definitely matched. Like Seven Blessings, it's a love story set in Jerusalem, but what's different about it is that in addition to the man and woman in the love story, there's a third main character: an Arab. This allows the book to venture beyond the subject of marriage and into the Arab-Israeli conflict, but to call it "political" puts way too mundane a stamp on it. The c ...more
Rochelle
IN THE COURTYARD OF THE KABBALIST
by Ruchama King Feurman
NYRB LIT
260 pages
ASIN: B00C8RZHG0

Ruchama King Feurman’s novel opens with a Hassidic saying. “If I tell you my story, you will listen for awhile and then you will fall silent. But, if I tell you my story and you begin to hear your own story, you will wake up.”
And wake us up she does! Set in Jerusalem, the novel is propelled by the friendship between a brilliant, but schlepy, middle-aged, Hassidic former haberdasher from the Lower East Side
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Cyndi
So... the women in my knitting group have been going on and on about this book. How great it is. How it really isn't a "Jewish" book. etc. etc. I finally decided to read it if only so that I could join in the conversation.

Now I'm not sure how I'll do that.

I found this book to be stereotypical and rather prejudiced. With a good dose of Zionism thrown in.

Yes, the writing was pretty good, but the subject and tone of the book were so offensive to me that I can't recommend this to anyone.
Judy
This novel develops around the unlikely friendship between Mustafa, an Arab janitor from the Temple Mount, and Isaac, an Orthodox Jew who has found refuge from the problems of his own life as the assistant to a revered Kabbalist to whom people flock for blessings and advice.

A small kindness from Isaac to Mustafa sets it all in motion. Mustafa suffers both physical and emotional pain from a deformation that makes his neck irredeemably twisted. Shunned by his mother and rejected socially, Mustafa
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eyes.2c
Powerful and satisfying!

Souls are searched, feelings exposed and motives uncovered in this fascinating novel. A tale of dreams lost and new directions found--however unexpected.
Forty year old Isaac Markowitz left his haberdashery shop in the Lower East Side and came to Israel. He has been assisting a Kabbalist, an unimposing, gentle rabbe who along with his wife dispenses wisdom to the neighbourhood and to those who seek answers.
Mustafa, a Muslim works on the Temple Mount as a custodian. His nec
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Evelyn
I'm so disappointed by this book. The premise was so original. A disillusioned haberdasher from New York moves to Israel and becomes assistant to a Kabbalist, a rabbi who people flock to for help with every problem you can imagine. By chance he meets an Arab who is a janitor on the Temple Mount. The encounter, though brief, has a profound impact on this janitor, who is deformed and has been rejected by his mother. He meets a young woman who has returned to Judaism from a secular upbringing. The ...more
JM Randolph
I loved everything about this book. Beautiful writing, great characters. I wasn't at all deterred by the fact that I know nothing about this world and felt like I accidentally learned something by the end. She's a strong writer who trusts her readers and doesn't spoon feed them or wrap things up all neatly with bows at the end. Fed my soul.
Lois Nachamie
A great read that enriches the reader. The characters are alive and lovable. The mix of worlds is beautifully drawn: the observant Jewish and Arab worlds alongside the more secular Israel. Each character and their relationships with one another ring true. The relationship between Tamar and Isaac is evocative--will he finally! see? The friendship between Isaac and Mustafa is as rich as is each of the characters individually. The Rebbe’s wife is nuanced, as are the minor characters. Emotional and ...more
Chana Billet
Originally published as an ebook in 2013 by New York Review of Books, this was one of 10 books published as a hard copy in 2014. For good reason.
Despite the intense themes woven throughout the novel (ie: Arab-Jewish relations, the Israeli penal and justice system, immigrating to a foreign country, the reputation of the ultra-Orthodox, Zionism, the politics surrounding the Temple Mount) this is a refreshing book one can “relax” into due to its fable-like quality.
The novel is the story of love t
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Julia
Bigotry, even when it's from the perspective of MY tribe, is not ok. In fact, maybe that should be ESPECIALLY not from the perspective of my tribe. I expect more and I would be *mortified* if anybody whose opinion I value read this awful tripe.
Carol
In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is an engaging, beautifully crafted and courageous novel that shatters stereotypes, going beyond the geopolitical tension of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount to reveal the internal struggles and compassion of the heart. Against this backdrop is a multi-layered story of friendship between a lonely Arab janitor -- afflicted with a crooked neck and abandoned by his family -- and a single Jewish man who leaves his unfulfilling life in New York and finds his way as the assis ...more
Kat Warren
Be warned -- it IS just a bit one-sided.
Ariel
I have mixed feelings about this book. I love Ruchama's writing style, how she conjures up a world of spiritual and romantic yearnings and sets it in Jerusalem. There are veils of meaning in her writing and they get peeled off one by one in a most subtle and elegant way. But it's balanced by some troubling things. Her desire to portray a friendship between Arab And Israeli is commendable, but the Arab she picks is so remedial, so damaged on every level--a janitor with a deformed neck--and he's t ...more
Rebecca
In Ruchama King Feuerman's newest novel, we're introduced to Mustafa, a janitor on the Temple Mount, and Isaac, the assistant to a holy mekubal (kabbalist) living in Jerusalem. Each is unmarried and has, in his heart, failed to live up to the potential he knows he has. The first half of the novel introduces us to the various characters in these men's lives, and the challenges they face.

As the novel progresses, the pace really picks up. A suspenseful subplot is pushed to prominence. Isaac discove
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Kathe
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Perlie
Feuerman weaves a number of threads of Jewish tradition to create a satisfying and touching story. The presence and credence given to kabbalah rings true; the prisoners portrayed in the jail chapters called to mind an updated retelling of people from a Baal Shem Tov story. I thought that she struck a balance in creating characters that were likable but not perfect. Feuerman also captured the romantic tension in religious dating and relationships.
I thought she did an adequate job explaining the p
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Jack
Topical novel set in Jerusalem featuring three protagonists: two recent American immigrants, one is a devout man who works for a Rebbe and helps solve struggling people''s problems, a woman who is looking for a faith based life and a Torah studying man, and a disabled Arab janitor. The plot concerns recently found ancient artifacts and the impact they have on the Arab/Israeli conflict and on the relations between the main characters.
Scalacpa
This book is like sitting in front of a fire with a warm cup of cocoa. You feel warm all over. It is about good people making a difference in their world with their mitzvahs. I would like to read her other book "Seven Blessings"
A quote from the book which is referred to as a verse from a Psalms "The mountain and hills will burst into song before you and all the trees of the field will clap their hands"
Miriam
I read this book in one sitting almost as soon as it came out. I didn't relate to it quite as well as I did to Seven Blessings, but the quality of the writing is excellent, and she shows the same gift for writing about faith and treating characters with respect and compassion. I will definitely reread this.
Betty Schwartz
Troubled souls who look for answers, and find them when they truly open their eyes, populate In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist by Ruchama Feuerman. All are religious but love of God is not enough to fill a void in their lives. It is the love of other people they crave, and they find it in very unusual combinations. The book excels in its visual descriptions – some beautiful, some capturing the downtrodden and not so pretty parts of life. Readers will enjoy the satisfaction of coming to know Isaa ...more
Annie
Read my full review of this book on my blog, Summer Reading Project, at In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, by Ruchama King Feuerman.
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Ruchama King Feuerman was born in Nashville, grew up in Virginia and Maryland, and when she was seventeen, bought a one-way ticket to Israel to seek her spiritual fortune. Seven Blessings (St. Martin’s Press), her celebrated first novel about match-making, earned her the praise of the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News, and Kirkus Reviews dubbed her "the Jewish Jane Austen." She wrote her ...more
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“He chuckled. “Be focused. Direct all your thoughts to one point. Let the prayers take effect. Let them change you into a new person, Tamar. Just like Moses, after forty days of talking to God on Sinai, became a new being.” The tabby crept past and squeezed between his legs.” 1 likes
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