Almost a Minyan: Sobel's Art of Being Jewish
By Susan Taylor Hitchcock
from The Hook, December 2004

Minyan, the new novel by Batesville resident Eliezer Sobel, is funny, sad, poignant, absurd, raucous, self-deprecating, compassionate, irreverent, meditative — and Jewish through and through. Its title refers to the rule that a holy gathering must involve no fewer than 10 Jewish men — a minyan.

As Sobel's narrator, Norbert Wilner, explains it, "Jesus said, 'Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there will I be also.' The Jews never had it so easy. They had to gather ten or more before God would show up. Nine other shleppers in the room and what you say counts. Otherwise your deepest soul cry is considered idle chatter upstairs." (Sobel subtitles his book Ten Jewish Men in a World That Is Heartbroken.)

But in the book it's nine Jewish men, plus the one whose death these characters gather to mourn. Wilner's minyan barely squeaks by, then shrinks to eight. Through deaths and near-marriages, antics and memories, we see the world through the eyes of a character who early on tells us that his family's Holocaust horrors so deeply affected him that he was a paranoid baby and he "has been scared of everything ever since."

Sobel says his book took 20 years to write. Then he'll exaggerate and predict that his next will take another 52 years. He shouldn't worry; he has led a rich, productive, exploratory life — including three appearances in The Hook.
He started his quest as a hippie wannabe, journeying through ashrams and meditation centers, going on spiritual retreats and religious pilgrimages.

He led his own workshops and wrote Wild Heart Dancing, a book about releasing one's creativity. From that was born the Wild Heart Journal, which survived five years, featuring local luminaries like Asha Greer, Elaine Sutton, Trew Bennett, and John D'Earth alongside New Age notables like Bhagavan Dass and Natalie Goldberg.

The Minyan manuscript traveled through the hands of three agents and almost 30 editors (all of whom sent it back) before it came in as one of 400 submissions for the University of Tennessee Press's Peter Taylor Prize. Judge John Casey didn't know, Sobel chuckles, that he was choosing an admirer and geographical neighbor of the late Charlottesville writer.

 
       
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Winner of the Knoxville Writer’s Guild 2003 Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel
 
     
 
       
  Minyan, the new novel by Batesville resident Eliezer Sobel, is funny, sad, poignant, absurd, raucous, self-deprecating, compassionate, irreverent, meditative — and Jewish through and through.