In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist
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 first 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.
Confused about the background of the Gaza conflict? This vibrant evocation of modern Jerusalem may shed some light.
Romantic, suspenseful and insightful.
...[A] beguiling novel...Feuerman writes with grace and wit...'In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist' is as wise as it is heartfelt.
A delicate balance of courtship tale and thriller.... beautifully detailed and vivid.... I strongly recommend it.
—Rebecca Stumpf, Dallas Morning News
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.
—Barton Swaim, The Wall Street Journal
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.
—The Brooklyn Rail
Feuerman tells a tale of human beings who seek to make connections with each other against all odds....One of the great pleasures of her novel.... 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.... She may be the Jewish Jane Austen, but she is also something of a Jewish Graham Greene.
—Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Jewish Journal
Feuerman's novel has the most vivid, alive characters, like [the] big huge novels from India by Rohinton Mistry.
—Bill McKibben, Boston Globe
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.
—Dara Horn, author of Guide for the Perplexed
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.
—Yael Unterman, Ha'aretz
[A] testament to the power of the imagination.... a rare talent.
—Beth Kissileff, The Jerusalem Post
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.
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.
—Rebecca Stumpf, Dallas Morning News
[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.
—Sandee Brawarsky, Jewish Woman Magazine
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 Book of Mischief
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.
—Marakay Rogers, Broadway Books World
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.
—Liz Rozenberg, author of The Laws of Gravity
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 most delectable questions in the form of a fable.... infected, like the novels of Meir Shalev, with a kind of Jewish mystical magical realism. She is a wonderfully empathetic and perceptive writer.... masterful.
—Nathaniel Popkin, Cleaver Magazine
The unlikely friendship of an intellectual New York Jew and a working-class Jerusalem Arab drives Feuerman's evocative second novel.... [Jerusalem] itself emerges as a character.... 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.
A tender, almost Malamudian fable of chosenness and redemption, In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is not content to tread lightly upon sacred ground, but dares to dig for treasure below.
—Robert Cohen, author of Amateur Barbarians
Feuerman is such an engrossing story writer, we want to keep reading and reading.... absorbing, fascinating....written by a creative storyteller with an amazing skill for originality.
—Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
Feuerman writes with authority and convincing detail that soon draws readers into her story with its 'mishmash of cultures.' With its colorful and believable cast of characters, this book is a hearty and flavorful chicken soup to warm the spirits of anyone interested in....Middle Eastern society with all its blemishes and hopes.
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, author of In the Gloaming and Think of England
This is a story that toys with, then rejects, cliches, politics, and religious stereotypes. Too many people choose to see this part of the world as either black or white. Ruchama King Feuermam paints it in a hundred shades of gray.
—Helen Maryles Shankman, author of The Color of Light
A richly woven tale of self discovery, romance and culture clash against the backdrop of Jerusalem.... [this] elegantly written novel spins the tale of three enchanting characters whose search for love and meaning is bound to resonate with readers.
—Deena Yellin, Jewish Standard
I love fiction that teaches me something. The Courtyard of the Kabbalist not only taught me about the Koran, the Kabbalah, archeology, and the Mideast, it also taught me much about how the window of the human heart can fling open, allowing light into the darkest places.
—Rochelle Jewel Shapiro, author of Miriam the Medium and Kaylee's Ghost
An amazing novel that lets you in a magical exotic world. Both entertaining and enlightening.
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.
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