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Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde: A True Story Hardcover – January 24, 2013
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2013: “You meet a new person and tell yourself a story about him, except it turns out the stories are never about anyone else. They are always about you.” That’s just one of the pithy observations--not to mention self-aware mea culpas--in journalist Rebecca Dana’s winning memoir about coming to live and work in Manhattan. Like Sex and the City with less sex and more city, Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde hilariously details how a not very observant Jewish girl from Pittsburgh ended up with an ultraconservative rabbi (and martial arts student) for a roommate, and how they each navigate this particular city of dreams. Dana comes off as a from-the-suburbs Holden Caulfield, a brainy Mary Tyler Moore, or a very dressed-down Carrie Bradshaw. She’s that irresistible. --Sara Nelson
In her first book, Dana, a senior correspondent for Newsweek and the Daily Beast whose weekly column is titled “Social Diaries,” admits that Carrie Bradshaw of Sex in the City was her role model. Although she was also enthralled by the literary critic Harold Bloom while at Yale. So the countervailing winds blow in this canny, buzz-inducing memoir. Fleeing the scene of her discombobulating breakup with her seemingly central-casting-perfect boyfriend, this secular Jew from Pittsburgh turned Manhattan fashion maven ends up living like a shipwrecked anthropologist deep in Lubavitcher territory in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. Her roommate, Cosmo, is a Russian rabbi without a green card who works in a copy shop and studies jujitsu. Suddenly unsure that her making-the-scene life is all that fabulous, and irrepressibly curious and intrepid, Dana accompanies Cosmo to Shabbas dinners and even attends “yeshivacation” to learn more about the Hasidic tradition. Funny, wily, audacious, and captivating, Dana asserts her passion for glitz and high heels; vividly recounts her crazy adventures, profane and sacred; and saucily ponders life’s big questions. --Donna Seaman
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And once she settled in, she found a job as a columnist for The Daily Beast, and had the chance to attend the parties, wear the clothes, and socialize with the people she always dreamed of, plus she found the perfect relationship. But when the relationship suddenly turns sour, it leaves her confidence shaken and she wonders whether her life's ambitions were the right ones to pursue. She winds up moving into an apartment in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood with Cosmo, a lapsed Lubavitch rabbi who takes jujitsu classes and works at a copy shop while waiting for his green card.
As Rebecca tries to reconcile her job profiling fashion and society with the traditions of the Lubavitch community, she also struggles with questions of faith. A lapsed Reform Jew, she wonders whether she'd find fulfillment if she pursued God, religion, and marriage. But at the same time, Cosmo struggles with his own spirituality, as he tries to decide whether to continue pursuing his rabbinical ambitions or following his less ecumenical desires. The two live somewhat reversed lives for a while, with Rebecca exploring the Lubavitch religion and Cosmo eating bacon.
While Rebecca fancies herself a Carrie Bradshaw prodigy, in reality, she's a much more philosophical person. Her journey of self-discovery is sometimes humorous, sometimes reflective, and it shows her that her ambitions aren't fundamentally wrong and don't make her a bad person. "To understand this, you don't have to abandon your entire life, everything you ever wished for, and move in with a Xerox shop rabbi in Brooklyn, but in my case, it certainly helped."
I'll admit that I was first interested in reading this book because how could you resist one with this title? But I really enjoyed reading Rebecca Dana's writing, and getting immersed in her journey of self-discovery was really engaging and amusing. She's the type of person who you'd think would be totally underestimated, that someone who writes about fashion and gossip might be insipid and shallow, but her story was much more interesting than you'd expect. This isn't a heavy memoir, but it does touch on issues of spirituality and finding meaning in one's life.
"Our first dreams grip us tightest and can refuse to let go." But Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde proves that living your childhood dreams isn't necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes that realization is hard to come by.
At the end of the book I didn't know either of the characters better than I did at the beginning.
I was totally befuddled by the rabbi's metamorphosis. Rebecca Dana's immersion into Judaism did not ring true. I came away feeling this was all a research project for a book, not a friendship.There are better books out there on similar subjects which are much more interesting to read..