The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

November 24, 2015 by

Talking in Shul

TheBookofFaithSmart yet tender, funny yet deep, The Book of Faith, is a sly, witty send-up of squabble-filled synagogue politics deftly penned by Elaine Kalman Naves.  At the heart of the novel are Faith, Rhoda and Erica, three bosom buddies, not young but not old either, affectionately known as the Three Graces. When Rabbi Nate announces that he wants a new building to house their congregation, he sets the community into a small uproar, and each of the women—well-drawn, sympathetic and complex—have a role to play in advancing or impeding the conflicting agendas that emerge. Will Rabbi Nate get his heart’s desire?  Can Erica appease the whims of a rich and unpredictable donor? What does Rhoda learn and what becomes of Faith?  Below is a teaser; you’ll just have to read the book to find out more. 


Erica backed out of her driveway on Saturday morning in some haste. It was five past ten—she would have to hustle to make it. Since Faith’s investiture as president, this had become their routine. Instead of lingering over the fat Saturday paper, catching up on phone calls, or doing the groceries, they were off to shul together.

Erica had learned to be on time for these outings; Faith was starchy if kept waiting. “On time,” though, meant a calibrated degree of lateness. Services started at ten, but being there for Mah tovu, the first of the morning prayers, showed greater eagerness for religion than Faith deemed necessary. On the other hand, she considered arriving after 10:20 bad form for her new presidential status. A decorous entrance before the Amidah, the standing prayer, was just right.

Erica pulled up in front of Faith’s brick and stone split-level on Rosedale, just as Faith, who’d been watching for her from inside, came sailing down the stairs.

“A new outfit?” Erica asked her as she buckled up.

“Rhoda and I found it on sale at BCBG. It was a steal.”

“That leopard print is very you, but however do you manage on those spiky heels?”

“They’re not that high, Erica, really. Not when you’re as short and round as me.”


Erica and Faith entered the sanctuary just as Rabbi Nate was intoning the yotzer. The square room was hinged towards the east, its focal point a row of slender stained glass windows above the Aron Kodesh. Through the narrow panes the sun cast prisms of colour onto the bimah, both illuminating Nate’s face and tingeing it with a hint of mystery. His expression flickered in an almost imperceptible greeting— from past experience, Erica knew that after the service he would be able to give an exact accounting of who had been present, even on Shabbatot when there were a couple of hundred congregants in attendance.

She was faintly surprised when Faith took her arm to steer her towards the central section of the sanctuary rather than their habitual spot on the left side. “O God, you have created us in your image and have made us to share in your work of Creation. You have given to each generation the task to shape the future of humankind,” the rabbi was reciting as Faith made a beeline for seats directly in front of Marty Riess and Abigail Rosen, checking to make sure that Erica was in tow. Erica’s puzzlement grew. Why had Faith brought them into such proximity with Abigail, who as Faith was well aware, was no fan of Erica’s?  

A poet of uncertain renown, Abigail, in fact, disapproved mightily of Erica, for having merely congratulated her on the publication of her latest collection, instead of rushing to interview her for The Gazette—as she clearly believed was her due.


 Having located the exact seats for her purpose, Faith nodded briskly at Erica, and the two of them sat down, Erica still wearing an expression of bemusement.

Bent on a little clandestine matchmaking research, Faith wondered what Marty was doing next to Abigail, who was at the very least eighty-five and neither charming nor beautiful. Was it his well-known and unabashed admiration for the arts? Did he have a mother complex? During the Shema, she noted that he had a pleasant singing voice and good Hebrew pronunciation. At the same time, she was taking mental stock of those in attendance.

It was a surprisingly large group, for the Shabbat following the holidays. In the front row on the right hand side, ancient and bent, Moish Stipelman, founding rabbi of Congregation Emunath, with Sylvia, his battle-ax of a second wife. A few rows behind them, the sleek blonde page boy of Leona Riess—that was it! Leona had staked claim to the family pew, forcing Marty to relocate beside Abigail. Then there were a few youngish couples, all accompanied by prepubescent children, the next crop of bar and bat mitzvah candidates. Faith made a mental note to greet and welcome each of them at the kiddush after services.

“The Shatzes are here,” she whispered to Erica.

“Uhuh,” said Erica, her nose in her siddur.

“Haven’t you heard?”

“What?” Erica, apparently lost in prayer, sounded vaguely exasperated.

“The son’s having an affair with the Golda character in Fiddler.”

“What?” Erica nearly dropped her siddur as she turned to stare at Faith in a most satisfying display of attentiveness.

“You do know the Yiddish Theatre is doing Fiddler?”

“Yeah. So?”

“So Jason Shatz, and the father—Mike Shatz—and his father, old Solly Shatz, are all in the play. And Jason’s sleeping with Barbara Walfish, the woman playing Golda.”

“So what?” Erica’s voice kept rising as Faith expertly reeled her in.

“What d’you mean, so what? He’s twenty-four and she’s forty-seven! And married! Or was, till recently. Apparently she’s having to give back the Mercedes.”

“I should think so!”

“The Shatzes all think it’s great, Jason having the sexual prowess to satisfy a sex bomb like Barbara.”

Erica’s shoulders began to heave with the effort of suppressing the storm of laughter that threatened to erupt at the idea of puny Jason Shatz in the guise of Don Juan. Faith was quite content at the effect she had produced. But before she could supply another lubricious detail, Erica’s features contorted in a grimace of pain. Startled, Faith snapped her head around. Abigail’s arresting liquid brown eyes—her one fine feature—were burning at her with wrath. She wagged a bony finger—the one that had just poked Erica between the shoulder blades—in her face.

“Grow up, you two,” Abigail hissed amidst a scraping of feet as the congregation rose for the Amidah.