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
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
Judge John Casey didn't know, Sobel chuckles, that he was
choosing an admirer and geographical neighbor of the late