K's Reviews > To Play With Fire: One Woman's Remarkable Odyssey

To Play With Fire by Tova Mordechai
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's review
Jul 05, 2012

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bookshelves: memoirs, spiritualityreligion, should-ve-been-shorter, jewish
Read from June 30 to July 06, 2012

Not quite as well-written as Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son's Return To His Jewish Family but a similar story in many ways -- a woman who always thought of herself as Christian eventually comes to discover that she is actually Jewish and to connect with Judaism. In a sense, Tova Mordechai's story was a little more interesting than that of Stephen J. Dubner because Tova was not your run-of-the-mill Christian woman. At sixteen, Tova's preacher father placed her in a Pentecostal institution where Tova rose to a position of significant leadership and influence before eventually becoming disillusioned and moving toward Orthodox Judaism.

What I liked about this book was Tova's honesty. Rather than claiming that she immediately loved Orthodox Judaism and its constituents, Tova describes a great deal of struggle to adjust and back-and-forth which, she admits, is not entirely over even after all these years (although it doesn't sound as if she experiences any longing to return to the Church at this point). This was an important aspect of the book which saved it from being a sanctimonious Targum-Feldheim read and actually gave it some provocative moments. It was also interesting to read about the religious institution Tova was affiliated with and the spiritual appeal combined with the abuse of power.

What I liked less was the need for an editor. Tova's writing, while not lyrical per se, was certainly readable; at the same time, the book was a little long-winded and over-detailed. Sometimes I read a disclaimer at the beginning of a memoir which states that some events have been condensed or written as composites of several events in order to ensure the flow of the narrative. While I wonder whether that disclaimer grants the memoirist too much liberty with the truth (as in Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots), in this case I think it would have been advisable for Tova to either combine, condense, or simply eliminate several of the events she describes. Certainly the excerpts from her journal were unnecessary, and I think the book would have read better and been more enjoyable had some of the more trivial anecdotes been streamlined.

Overall, though, I'm not sorry I read it. Though a bit of a slog at times, the book mostly held my interest and raised some interesting questions for me about heredity vs. environment when it comes to spirituality.
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01/11 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by M (new)

M Well THIS should be interesting


message 2: by K (new) - rated it 3 stars

K It actually is. I was afraid it would be too Targum-Feldheim-ish but so far it's been fine. It reminds me a little of Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son's Return To His Jewish Family.


message 3: by M (new)

M Yeah I had the same TF concern... eager to hear more


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