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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 26, 2610 By Jonafhan Kirsch Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles "The Marriage Artist" by Andrew Winer (Holt, $26) opens with a shocking scene --a young woman and her suspected loverare found dead on a New York sidewalk. Was it a crime committed by the woman's jealous husband? A lover's quarrel that ended in a murder and then a suicide? Or perhaps a double-suicide? So, from the very first page, the novel presents itself as a mystery, a romance and a ghost story, and the author is adept at weaving all of these narrative threads into a single compelling tale. But what stamps "The Marriage Art- ist" as something especially memorable is the author's use of the ketubah--the traditional Jewish marriage contract, a work of art as well as a legal instrument--as a symbol for the "mysterious repetitions" that are present in every marriage, whether it turns out to be happy or sad, fruitful or blighted. A man named Josef Pick, whom we first encounter as a boy in Vienna in the turbulent 1920s, is "the Mozart of Mar- riage Contracts," an artistwho composes and illuminates the ketubot with uncanny genius. "Love may be pure, but marriage is not," says Josef's grandfather, who is also his mentor. And so, the old man explains, "the most crucial ingredient--in any ketubah worth its sale--is mystery." A parallel narrative focuses on Daniel Lichtmann, an art critic in contemporary New York, and his wife, Aleksan- The art and my sJ!ery of the Ketubah dra, whose death we witness on the opening page. He has mysteries of his own to solve, most of which focus on the artist whose career he has championed and who ends up a corpse on the sidewalk next to his dead wife. Daniel's odyssey carries him across both time and space as when he follows the clues from New York to Southern California. "Daniel felt like some brooding German migr who had just arrived, fresh from Hitler's Reich, amid the palm tree-packed Pacific Palisades," writes Winer. "But even the Palisades and the rest of Los Angeles had its share of sorrow." As the author flashes back and forth in time, we descend through the circles of hell that can consume a human life. "This Jew insists he is to be married to a woman with a visa to Palestine--but he could not produce her name for us!" says a Gestapo officer who encounters Josefand the woman he has arranged to marry at their first meeting. "I would have to put this Jew on last night's train to Dachau if I wasn't so curious to see his bride-whore--because only a whore would marry a man who didn't know her name!" Inevitably, the two narra- tives will intersect, and we are drawn through Winer's extraordinarily rich and artful book as if it were a thriller. And, in fact, there are mo- ments of horror and heart- break in "The Marriage Artist" if only because the author has imagined some of the ways in which men and women in contemporary America are linked to those who endured the nightmare of history during the Holocaust. "Jew- ish America--it clings to the ghosts of six million Jews so itwill not feel alone," observes one of almost spectral figures who lead Daniel toward the truth he seeks. At the heart of the matter, then, "The Marriage Artist" is a meditation on human relationships. We are shown more than one troubled family in intimate detail, and Winer confronts us with the de- mands and disappointments that afflict husband and wife as well as parent and child, the toxicity ofsexualinfidelity and even deeper forms of betrayal. Thus, for example, the death of his wife--and the death of his marriage--reduces Daniel to despair. "Perfect understanding of another person was a delusion, he had come to believe; the struggle to attain it was sheer vanity, the result of self-love gone awry: a person felt they were so worthy of another's perfect understanding of them that they would do any- thing--marry, take lovers, divorce, and fight and fight and fight--to bring someone else to it,"writes Winer. "What a waste of life!" Yet the despair is ultimately transmuted into something like redemption. At a stun- ning moment, Daniel comes upon yet another ketubah, and by then he has discovered whathe needs to know in order to recognize its significance: "[I]t was the triumph of love, or rather of love's innocence (and this was the biggest surprise--how had the artist done it?), that made the piece sublime." Exactly what Daniel has discovered, of course, is something that should not be explained in a review because it is the reward that awaits the reader. At one point in "The Mar- riage Artist," Josef Pick looks back at the turning point in his young life when he first picked up the calligrapher's pen. "Hardly more than a decade later, when every- thing he knows will be gone forever--this life of his, the people in this room, Vienna itselfreally--hewill lookback on this moment and marvel at how randomly a life gets made," writes Winer. "His life will seem as if it could not have been any other way." Precisely the same words can be used to describe how a novel like "The Marriage Artist" gets made. Jonathan Kitsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at www jew- ishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at books@ jewishjournal.com. This ar- ticle was reprinted by permis- sion of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles; ww- wjewishjournral.com. Israeli author Ragen sees peace talks as 'useless,' haredi lea, ters as 'evil' By Robert Wiener New Jersey Jewish News In seven popular novels, the American-born Israeli author Naomi Ragen has offered readers an insider's access to the world of the haredim, or ferventlyOrthodoxJews.Using the conventions of romance, historical novels and even thrillers, she steeps her books in the rituals, customs and ten- sions of insular communities buffeted by the outside world. She is also widely known for her political commentary, which evinces a deep mistrust of the Mideast peace process as well as scorn for Israel's religious establishment. Herself Orthodox, Ragen grew up as the daughter of non-observant Jews in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York, attended an Orthodox day school, and made aliyah in 1971. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband, as do three of her four grown children and seven of her 12 grandchildren. Her eighth novel, "The Tenth Song," is in bookstores now. She spoke with the New Jersey Jewish News earlier this month at the start of a two-week book tour. NJJN: What is "The Tenth Song?" What does the title mean? Ragen: It comes from the Talmud, in a saying that "the world has 10 songs to sing and has already sung nine of them." There is always something left that can be transformative. The book is about a nice Jewish family in Brookline, Mass., very well-to-do, that stands to lose everythingwhen THREE WAYS FOR DEH LOVERS TO CELEBRATE THE CHAIAAHDAYS. Ship, ship, hurray! Send Too Jay's signature i delights anywhere in the USA. Only '19 s  most locations east .... of the Mississippi/ www.loojays.com/mail-order Gift Cards Give y online today at www.toojays.com. Gij Cards are also available flbr sale at all of our locations. om.MIOO Colonial Marketplaza (407) 894-1718 SOUTHWEST ORLANDO The Marketpiace at Dr. Phillips (407) 355-0340 EAST Waterford Lakes Town Center (407) 249 9475 ALTMIOI Palm Springs Shopping Center (407) 830-1770 I. MARY Lake May Centre (407) 833-0948 0COEE Shoppes of 0coee (407) 798-2000 the father is accused of doing a terrible crime, financing Arab terrorism. A family who thought they had everything then has nothing. They lose their friends. They lose their money. This transforming situation comes about, and they have to see the world as it really is. NJJN: You have very little faith in the peace process? Ragen: I don't believe the Palestinians want peace. The people who want peace are afraid to open their mouths, because the people in charge will murder them. There are Palestinians who want peace. I've met them. They want to see a situation where we can live together as neighbors. But if they were to come out for that publicly they would be murdered. We're not talking about the Democrats and Re- publicans. We're talking about the Middle East. It is a useless thing to talk to people who are interested in a jihad and a Judenrein east Jerusalem and a Judenrein West Bank. NJJN: What do you see for the future? Ragen: You have to look back and say, "What did you see for World War II?"Youwere facing an enemy that was uncom- promising and wanted to take over the world. Israel is not the only one being targeted. Mr. Obama is going around trying to make a deal with Iran. What happened when people tried to make a deal with Hitler? Czechoslovakia got eaten up, and then he invaded Poland. The West has to defend itself. NJJN: You've said that Sarah Palin is "a girl after my own heart." Ragen: I love Sarah Palin, and I don't care who knows it. She tells it like it is. You see professors at universities who are moral idiots. I'd rather have somebody who may not be very smart and doesn't know facts and doesn't know geography, but she is at least a moral person. NJJN: You've written several novels about the haredim. Ragen: They connect with my feeling about the way they treat women. I am an Orthodox Jew. I love the Torah and I love God. One of the most impor- tant lessons the Torah teaches is to pursue justice. The haredim are not a ho- mogenous community. You have people with different points of view. The leadership, the people who have the power, are evil. They are completely removed from the Torah. They are completely removed from any sense of justice. They are leading the haredi community off a cliff. They won't prepare haredi men to have jobs to support their families and they are becoming more extreme in their attitude toward women, which is really like the worst parts of the Islamic world. It has no part in Judaism. They have inordinate power in the Israeli government. They hold the Israeli government hostage. NJJN: What should be done? Ragen: A lot of haredim are very unhappy. Theywould like to work. They would like to serve in the army. They are very unhappy about being called "parasites ." But because of their leadership, the minute they try to change anything in that community they will be ostracized. You need some courageous people to speakout publicly, maybe in the Modern Orthodox community. NJJN: What is your opinion of the latest conversion bill, which critics say would put more power in the hands of the rabbinate? Ragen: I think the whole situation with conversions is a disaster. I feel awful for converts. In many cases haredi rabbis have cancelled their conversions retroactively. This is unheard of in Jewish law. It is a travesty. NJJN: How do you feel about the Women of the Wall, the group that organizes women's prayer groups at the Kotel? Ragen: I personally don't feel the necessity to wear a tallis or read the Torah at the Wall, but I think they have the right to do this. It is wrong to say the Wall belongs to the haredim and other groups are not allowed to participate in something meaningful to them. But the Wall is after all, incorporated as a synagogue. You can't walk into an Or- thodox synagogue and decide where people are going to sit. NJJN: Some might label your foreign policy views as conservative and your opin- ions of the haredim as liberal. How do you reconcile the two? Ragen: The motivating force behind everything I do is justice. All of my novels have at their base a sense of outrage against injustice, whether it be against the haredi world or Arab terrorism. Robert Wiener is a staff writer for the New Jersey Jewish News from which this article is reprinted by permission.