An eczema-riddled, middle-aged former Lower East Side haberdasher, Isaac Markowitz, moves to Israel where he becomes, much to his own surprise, the assistant to a famous old rabbi who daily dispenses wisdom (and soup) to the collection of seekers gathered in his courtyard. It is there that he meets Tamar, a young American woman on a mission to live a spiritual life with a spiritual man, and who sees Isaac as that man long before he sees himself that way. Into both of their lives comes Mustafa, a devout Muslim, deformed at birth, unloved by his own mother, a janitor who works on the Temple Mount, holy to both Muslims and Jews.
When Isaac, quite by accident, runs into the crippled custodian going about his work and suggests that he is, by cleaning this holy site, like a Kohain, a Jewish high priest, Mustafa is overcome: This Jew is the first person in his life who sees him as someone worthy. In turn, Mustafa sees Isaac as someone wise who can help him. When Mustafa finds an ancient shard of pottery that may date back to the first temple, he brings it to Isaac in gratitude. That gesture sets in motion a series of events that land Isaac in the company of Israel’s worst criminal riff raff, put Mustafa in mortal danger, and Tamar trying 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.
Feuerman demonstrates no small amount of moxie. She provides us with a rather unusual fictional twist on the hackneyed subject of Arab-Jewish relations in the complex reality of Jerusalem….the writing is punchy and often gritty, compassionate without being sentimental. Writers often imbue Jerusalem with a mystical, mysterious aura….Feuerman’s eye, in contrast, tends here toward the earthy and does not shy away from the less aesthetic sides of life….Feuerman has a talent for striking images and innovative language that, unlike in some writing, does not obstruct the reading but rather does what it should—add literary pleasure….In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is ultimately a story of love transcending deformity, both inner and outer. It is a book that speaks of seeing beyond appearances…
—Yael Unterman, Ha’aretz
Feuerman is certainly worthy of attention. Her first novel, Seven Blessings, was published by St. Martin’s Press, and one reviewer hailed her as the “Jewish Jane Austen.” Her new book is more nearly a thriller, although it is, like her earlier work, much concerned with romantic intrigue, too….One of the great pleasures of her novel, in fact, is her rich and vivid evocation of contemporary Jerusalem, and especially the people and places in Jerusalem that would not be out of place in a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer…Along the way, Feuerman displays a sharp eye for the rhythms of real life in Jerusalem…Here the author shows that she may be the Jewish Jane Austen, but she is also something of a Jewish Graham Greene. —Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal
In Ruchama King Feuerman’s second novel, she 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. —Sandee Brawarsky, Jewish Woman Magazine
The unlikely friendship of an intellectual New York Jew and a working-class Jerusalem Arab drives Feuerman’s evocative second novel…This friendship is all the more unlikely because it occurs in the divided city of Jerusalem… The city itself emerges as a character: its climate and topography are depicted with a lyricism that contrasts with the area’s political tension. [The] story unfolds as a belated coming-of-age tale….[written in a] quiet, lovely mood. —Publishers Weekly
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.
In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is a beautifully written, emotionally evocative novel enriched by fascinating characters and an unparalleled portrait of the magical city that is Jerusalem.
Absorbing, fascinating, intriguing and more, written by a creative storyteller with an amazing skill for originality.
—Sybil Kaplan, The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
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.”
—Steve Stern, author of The Wedding Jester
How do people get along when they have been taught they can’t? Who do ancient artifacts belong to—the person who unearths them or the people who valued them in the past? This is just one of the story lines in this lively, witty, and entertaining novel. Ruchama King writes with a light touch and great insight. This book is hard to put down.
—Alice Elliott Dark
The new New York Review of Books e-book plumbs the depths of men and women, of Israelis and Arabs, and finds both common ground and common fear. The tour through their hearts and minds, particularly Isaac’s and Mustafa’s, makes for some of the most deeply interesting, challenging reading of the year….It’s a short book, but a densely packed one with moments worth re-reading as you go.