As he’s about to turn 16 in the mid-1970’s, Jake Stein notices a prohibition in Leviticus that never caught his eye before: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.” This discovery distresses Jake, an observant Jewish teen, because he’s recently been feeling increased attraction to other teen boys and men. He’s even been engaging in sexual exploration with his best friend. In an attempt to distract himself, Jake joins his high school’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank, but falls in love with the romantic male lead, obsessively fantasizing about him. Jake feels lonelier than ever.
The next year, while a freshman at Princeton University, Jake falls for his handsome roommate, is beset by serious temptations, and engages in a traumatic sexual encounter with a stranger. Seeking help from God, Jake tries to alter his desires, even dates a young Jewish woman in the hopes that she can change him, but to no avail. Jake concludes that God could never love an abomination like him, so he attempts to prove his faith by ending his own life.
After he’s saved by his roommate, Jake receives unexpected support from doctors, family, and friends, some of whom have been suspecting his secret. With their help, Jake explores a different way of thinking about the rules of Torah and himself, and begins to consider that he might actually be a yeled tov, a good Jewish boy, just the way he is.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Lethe Press (April 18, 2018)
I was drawn to the description of Yeled Tov because I continue to look for books to diversify my reading with lives and perspectives that differ from mine. Jake Stein, the main character in Yeled Tov, couldn't be more different from me. He is a Jewish teen, becoming a man in the seventies and struggling with reconciling his sexuality with his religious beliefs in a time and environment where to be homosexual is considered an abomination to God. Jake tries to be a yeled tov--a good boy--for himself, for his family, and for his God. The pressures are enormous and Daniel Jaffe describes them well--with honesty, poignancy, and even a bit of humor. He has created a wonderful character in Jake and had me rooting for him from the beginning. Yeled Tov won't be a book for everyone--the sexuality in it is fairly graphic as Jake explores his sexual identity in thoughts and fantasies and in reality, but it isn't gratuitous and it helps illustrate the conflict in Jake's life. The book moves slowly in the beginning, but the quality of the writing, the story, and the characters engaged me and I found myself caught up in Jake's world and well satisfied with the journey.
Author Notes: Daniel M. Jaffe is an award-winning, internationally published fiction and essay writer. His novel-in-stories, THE GENEALOGY OF UNDERSTANDING, was a finalist and honorable mention for the Rainbow Awards; and his novel, THE LIMITS OF PLEASURE, was a finalist for a ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award. He is author of JEWISH GENTLE AND OTHER STORIES OF GAY JEWISH LIVING, and compiler/editor of WITH SIGNS AND WONDERS: AN INTERNATIONAL ANTHOLOGY OF JEWISH FABULIST FICTION. Also, Daniel translated the Russian-Israeli novel, HERE COMES THE MESSIAH! by Dina Rubina.
Read more at www.danieljaffe.com.
There was a lot of food to be found in Yeled Tov and plenty of Jewish dishes. Food mentions included kosher food, rye bread, brisket with garlic and onions and green beans, Jake favorite "k" foods--knishes, kishka, kasha, kreplach, and potato kugel. There was parve apple pie and chocolate cake (made with no milk or butter), chicken soup, bagels and lox, whitefish salad, noodle kugel, gefilte fih and eggs, blintzes, knockwurst, and chicken schnitzel. There were mentions of tuna and egg salad, sandwiches with chips, tuna noodle casserole, popcorn, split pea soup, Beefaroni, mac 'n cheese, spaghetti in tomato sauce, hot dogs, hamburgers and fries, pot roast, roast beef, liver and onions, fried fillet of sole, pigs-in-blanket, turkey tetrazzini, chocolate chip cake, white sheet cake, and ice cream, pizza pancakes and French toast, brownies and PB & J, and red Hawaiian Punch with orange sherbet.
With the crazy week, I really needed something simple to make which is what drew me to matzo brei. It's simple Jewish comfort food of eggs with matzo crackers that I have made before (see Ruth Reichl's version here). This time I wanted a sweeter profile and had some strawberry preserves and fresh strawberries that I thought would pair nicely with it. I found a basic recipe for Grandma's Matzo Brei on Jalie Geller's Joy of Kosher that I adapted.
Joy of Kosher's Grandma's Matzo Brei
Slightly Adapted from Joy of Kosher.com
(Serves 1 to 2)
2 sheets matzo
2 large eggs
(I added 1/2 Tsp ground cinnamon)
(I added 1 tsp maple syrup)
kosher salt & freshly-ground black pepper to taste
enough butter or oil to cover the bottom of a heavy skillet
strawberry jam and sliced fresh strawberries for serving, if desired
Break the matzo up into bite-sized pieces and place it in a small colander set in a bowl. Pour boiling water over the matzo pieces and carefully stir to moisten all of the pieces. Once matzo has softened, remove the colander from the bowl and drain the matzo crackers.
Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Beat the eggs well with the cinnamon, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Add the matzo crackers and gently mix together so all pieces are coasted with egg.
Add the matzo and egg mixture to the pan in an even layer. Cook it undisturbed for 5 to 6 minutes, until the bottom is nicely browned. Using a long spatula and a plate, gently lift up the matzo brei and slide it onto a plate. Gently flip the plate back over the pan to cook the other side. Continue cooking for another 4 to 5 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and gently transfer the cooked matzo brei to a serving plate. Lightly pat off the extra oil with a paper towel. Top matzo brei with strawberry jam and sliced strawberries and eat immediately. Enjoy!
Notes/Results: This matzo brei topped with jam and fresh strawberries really hit the spot for my Friday night dinner. If eggs and jam seem peculiar, think French toast or a Monte Cristo sandwich--only made here with the matzo crackers. I wanted enough to fill the plate for the picture so I used 2 matzos and 2 eggs, but eating-wise, half the amount would have been fine. Tasty comfort food whether sweet or savory, I will happily make it again.
I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "Yeled Tov" was provided to me by the author and the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.