Women who join the rabbinate may be venerated as spiritual and feminist icons, but what about a woman who tries out being a rabbi and can't handle it? That's one of many questions Amy Sohn's novel, "My Old Man" (Simon & Schuster, $23) explores. In her novel, Sohn, who began her career as a sex columnist, brings us the story of Rachel Block, a 26-year-old rabbinical school dropout.
"I was interested in portraying a character at a crossroads, because I think the most interesting things in life begin to happen when you begin to flail," said Sohn, 30, from her home in Brooklyn.
When we meet Rachel Block, she, like Sohn, lives blocks away from her parents in the same Brooklyn neighborhood in which she was raised. Block is completing her first year of rabbinical school and her father proudly wears a T-shirt that reads: "Bless Me -- I'm a Rabbi's Dad." While on chaplaincy rounds at the hospital, Block is sent to counsel a terminally ill man who suddenly dies and declares with his last words, "You are the worst rabbi I ever met."
Shaken, Block launches into a tumultuous year where she drops out of rabbinical school, has an affair with a much older man and watches her parent's marriage fall apart. Phew. And she thought studying Talmud was hard. Exploring the spiritual and sex lives of her characters in unconventional ways is something Sohn relishes. "The Jewish father-daughter relationship has not been mined as much as the mother-son relationship," Sohn explained. "The stereotype in Jewish families is that all the attention in lavished on the son. I don't think that holds as much truth for our generation."
Through the character she's created in Rachel Block, Sohn uses "My Old Man" to search for her own version of the truth.
Amy Sohn will be reading from "My Old Man" at 7 p.m. on Oct. 12 at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. For more information, call (310) 659-3110.
Ruth Andrew Ellenson is the editor of the forthcoming anthology, "The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt" (Dutton, September 2005).