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In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist
Cover of In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist
In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist
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2013 National Jewish Book Award Finalist

American Library Association Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title 2015

An eczema-riddled Lower East Side haberdasher, Isaac Markowitz, moves to Israel to repair his broken heart and becomes, much to his own surprise, the assistant to a famous old rabbi who daily dispenses wisdom (and soup) to the troubled souls who wash up in his courtyard. It is there that he meets the flame-haired Tamar, a newly religious young American hipster on a mission to live a spiritual life with a spiritual man. Into both of their lives comes Mustafa, a devout Muslim, deformed at birth, a janitor who works on the Temple Mount, holy to both Muslims and Jews. When Mustafa finds an ancient shard of pottery that may date back to the fi rst temple, he brings it to Isaac in friendship. That gesture sets in motion a series of events that lands Isaac in the company of Israel's worst criminal riff raff, puts Mustafa in mortal danger, and leaves Tamar struggling to save them both.

As these characters--immigrants and natives; Muslim and Jewish; prophets and lost souls--move through their world, they are never sure if they will fall prey to the cruel tricks of luck or be sheltered by a higher power.
2013 National Jewish Book Award Finalist

American Library Association Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title 2015

An eczema-riddled Lower East Side haberdasher, Isaac Markowitz, moves to Israel to repair his broken heart and becomes, much to his own surprise, the assistant to a famous old rabbi who daily dispenses wisdom (and soup) to the troubled souls who wash up in his courtyard. It is there that he meets the flame-haired Tamar, a newly religious young American hipster on a mission to live a spiritual life with a spiritual man. Into both of their lives comes Mustafa, a devout Muslim, deformed at birth, a janitor who works on the Temple Mount, holy to both Muslims and Jews. When Mustafa finds an ancient shard of pottery that may date back to the fi rst temple, he brings it to Isaac in friendship. That gesture sets in motion a series of events that lands Isaac in the company of Israel's worst criminal riff raff, puts Mustafa in mortal danger, and leaves Tamar struggling to save them both.

As these characters--immigrants and natives; Muslim and Jewish; prophets and lost souls--move through their world, they are never sure if they will fall prey to the cruel tricks of luck or be sheltered by a higher power.
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About the Author-
  • 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. Her first novel, the highly acclaimed Seven Blessings (St Martin's Press), praised by The New York Times and other publications, was a Hadassah Book Club selection. Dubbed the "Jewish Jane Austen" by Kirkus Reviews, Feuerman has had stories and essays in many publications, and is a winner of the 2012 Moment Magazine Short Fiction Prize, selected by Walter Mosley. She lives with her family in New Jersey.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 22, 2013
    The unlikely friendship of an intellectual New York Jew and a working-class Jerusalem Arab drives Feuerman’s evocative second novel, following Seven Blessings. This friendship is all the more unlikely because it occurs in the divided city of Jerusalem, to which Isaac Markowitz moves in 1999, at age 40, after his beloved mother’s death. The city itself emerges as a character: its climate and topography are depicted with a lyricism that contrasts with the area’s political tension. Isaac meets the humble, optimistic Mustafa, whose job as a janitor on the Temple Mount earns him the former’s highest respect. Their friendship is forged in mostly short chapters that alternate between the two characters in point of view. Isaac’s story unfolds as a belated coming-of-age tale in which he finds a new life for himself, as well as a romantic partner to share it with in the young and beautiful Tamar. At one point, Isaac sits under an olive tree, staring at pink clouds as cool night air brushes against his neck, and reminisces about his past before he moved to Israel—a moment that encapsulates the novel’s quiet, lovely mood. Agent: Anna Olswanger, Liza Dawson Associates.

  • Daily Mail "Confused about the background of the Gaza conflict? This vibrant evocation of modern Jerusalem may shed some light."
  • Hadassah Magazine "Romantic, suspenseful and insightful."
  • Rebecca Stumpf, Dallas Morning News "A delicate balance of courtship tale and thriller. . . beautifully detailed and vivid. . . I strongly recommend it."
  • Barton Swaim, The Wall Street Journal "A sophisticated and engaging book that treats an endlessly tangled topic--relations between Palestinian Arabs and Jews--with intelligence and originality. . . . a manifestly terrific novel."
  • The Brooklyn Rail "How easy it would have been for Ruchama King Feuerman to write the typical Jerusalem novel, with the typical Middle East obliquities: Arab-Israeli/Israeli-Jew friendship pitted against the external tension of social and political pressures....But Feuerman isn't typical, and in her new book, In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, she tells a story that is spiritually generous and astutely realistic about an Arab-Israeli and an Israeli-Jew, who may be the most unlikely pair of friends we've seen in current fiction."
  • Bill McKibben, Boston Globe "Feuerman's novel has the most vivid, alive characters, like [the] big huge novels from India by Rohinton Mistry."
  • Dara Horn, author of Guide for the Perplexed "A beautiful novel that coils the history and mystery of Jerusalem into a private and vivid tale of personal dignity, ownership, love--and the overlap of all three, the space we call the soul."
  • Yael Unterman, Ha'aretz "In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is ultimately a story of love transcending deformity, both inner and outer. . . a book that speaks of seeing beyond appearances: beyond large entities such as the Arab or Jewish collectives to the individual standing before us. . . extraordinary, delicate and memorable."
  • Beth Kissileff, The Jerusalem Post "[A] testament to the power of the imagination. . . a rare talent."
  • Rebecca Stumpf, Dallas Morning News "The descriptions of Jerusalem and its inhabitants in Ruchama King Feuerman's new novel. . . are so beautifully detailed and vivid that it's almost as though the city carries its own voice in the narrative. While political turmoil always exists in Feuerman's Jerusalem, it rarely takes center stage. The story is a delicate balance of courtship tale and thriller. . . I strongly recommend it for anyone who appreciates fiction about Israel, traditional Jews or the Mideast conflict."
  • Sandee Brawarsky, Jewish Woman Magazine "[Feuerman] creates a compelling world within a world in Jerusalem. She conveys spiritual longings and the yearnings for human connection, all informed by the heavenly city and its mysteries."
  • Steve Stern, author of The Book of Mischief "In her irresistible novel In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, Ruchama King Feuerman writes with such contagious affection for her characters that they're likely to supplant your own family until you finish the book. Her Jerusalem, riven though it is by tensions between the sacred and profane, remains an intoxicating place, where diffident lovers inhabit an atmosphere as romantically charged as The Song of Songs."
  • Marakay Rogers, Broadway Books World "The emotions in Feuerman's small but gripping story are love and fear. . . . The tour through [these characters'] hearts and minds, particularly Isaac's and Mustafa's, makes for some of the most deeply interesting, challenging reading of the year."
  • Liz Rozenberg, author of The Laws of Gravity "Ruchama Feuerman combines qualities of I.B. Singer touched with the melancholy humor of Sholom Aleichem and Bernard Malamud, sparked with magical realism worthy of Isak Dinesen. Her vision is large and generous. In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is exactly the kind of book I
    wish I'd written myself."
  • Nathaniel Popkin, Cleaver Magazine "Whose holiness matters? Whose claim on the land is longer, more lasting, more vital? Whose God is best? These most vexing of questions, which trap otherwise smart and even liberal-minded people in boxes they can't seem to get themselves out of, emerge from this one spot in this one city. But what if, Feuerman wonders, a Muslim would offer irrefutable evidence of the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount? And what if a religious Jew would open his heart to save the life (and soul, presumably) of the Muslim? Could the boxes be broken? What if the answers lie right beneath our feet? Feuerman asks these mos
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Ruchama King Feuerman
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