Jewish World Review
June 28, 2004
/ 9 Tamuz 5764
New book looks at life and love in a Jerusalem few see
By Lisa Haddock
Meet the author of the critically acclaimed novel, one that makes for perfect summer reading
That word defines "Seven Blessings," the debut novel by Ruchama King.
The critically acclaimed book (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) set in 1980s,
pre-intifada Jerusalem is a love letter to the faith that King cherishes. That
passion fuels a compelling story about the search for love of G-d, of Torah,
of life, of soul mates in the land of Israel.
"Seven Blessings" tells the story of ordinary religious people in the
spiritually charged city of Jerusalem: matchmakers and singles, bus drivers,
grocers, lingerie merchants, rebbetzins, Torah scholars, and mystics.
"When we think of Jerusalem lately, the images that come up are of death
and despair. And yet the people I know living in Jerusalem family, friends
are going about their lives with a grace, a richness and even joy," says
the Passaic, N.J., resident.
"Of course we should be aware of the terrible things Israelis are going
through. They are fighting our battle the battle against Jew hatred for
all Jewish people, everywhere. But that battle doesn't have to eclipse who and
what Jerusalem is. Jerusalem is life," says King, whose background reflects
some of the diversity of Jewish life. She grew up in a religiously observant
home with a U.S.-born Ashkenazi father and a Morocco-born Sephardic mother.
Just as the Torah itself does not shy away from the flaws of its
characters, King points out, she also wanted to be realistic. She portrays the beauty
and the flaws of the community she loves with poignance and humor.
"People hear 'matchmaker' and their minds turn to farce caricature
Yenta, the local busybody. These are not 'Fiddler on the Roof' characters
from a distant nostalgic haze. These are flesh-and-blood people lovable,
Back in the Eighties, King spent nine years in Jerusalem, where she
studied and taught Torah, volunteered with the disabled, and thrived on the
spiritual energy of the city regarded as the center of the world.
In fact, she gained much of the inside knowledge for her book during the
two years she lived in the home of a matchmaker.
"She told me her secrets of the trade. She critiqued Yeshiva scholars
their hair, their beards, their glasses, and they listened. She took young
women by the hand and decked them out so they looked nice.
"Sometimes I thought these couples continued dating each other just to
have this woman tinkering in their lives," says King.
The author describes matchmaking as a national obsession in Israel and
a natural extension of the belief that all Jews are responsible for one
"You can't go 10 feet without bumping into a matchmaker. ... Bus drivers
and postal clerks get involved. Everyone does. After the Holocaust, every
couple that comes together, every family formed, is cause for national
King's knowledge of Torah and matchmaking pay off. She uses her
characters' relationships with G-d and religion as a litmus test for the difficulties
they have in their intimate relationships.
Her matchmakers are well-drawn characters who face problems of their own.
Judy, the wife of a rabbi who now works as an exterminator, misses the
trappings and honors of being a rebbetzin. Tsippi, a Treblinka survivor who makes
matches as a way of getting even with the Nazis, yearns for a romantic
connection with her husband, who spends most of his time with his nose buried in the
Talmud. Yet both women lay aside these hurts to help make the all-important
"I don't think people realize how much of a psychoanalyst a matchmaker
can or even must be," says King, a native of Nashville, Tenn., who grew u
p in Maryland and Virginia.
And the single Jews she portrays also have their problems. Beth, a
39-year-old American, is afraid to hope that she's met the man of her dreams even as
she struggles with religious questions. Akiva, a 41-year-old Canadian, is
plagued by wild spasms that frighten away prospective mates. Binyamin, a
42-year-old American artist, is so fixated on superficial physical perfection that
eventually, the matchmakers refuse to set him up until he grows up.
King says she also wants readers to go beyond the basic question: Will
these characters find true love?
"Matchmaking and romance are the perfect camouflage for thornier issues.
Along the way, you can slip in a little Torah, a little G0d, a little coming
to grips with the dark side of your own soul and self," says King, who has a
master of fine arts from Brooklyn College.
After her own struggles as a single in a Jewish world that so highly
values marriage and family, she's a happily married mother of four.
Her husband, Yisrael Feuerman, has been a big supporter of her ambitions.
"He is an excellent writer with a background in modern psychoanalysis.
.... I cannot imagine a husband who could be more supportive: on the both the
literary, emotional, and financial end."
For now, King is pleased that she's broken into the literary mainstream.
As for her future literary plans?
"I don't know what will be, but I'm growing more aware of what compels me
to write." She pauses as her dark eyes grow pensive.
"I grew up with a skeptical eye toward religion and spirituality, and at
the same time I was captivated by it. I was inside and outside at the same
time. That's why I write. I'm in touch with that tension."
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Lisa Haddock is the former Religion & Values editor at The Record in Hackensack, N.J. To comment, please click here.
© 2004, Lisa Haddock