Review
By Hal Sachs
from The Southeastern Virginia Jewish News

Your reviewer has had this first novel by Eliezer Sobel on the desk for a couple of months and when the author emailed SEVJN recently with a gentle nudge, like, “Nu? When are you going to read it already?” We duly noted that it had taken him twenty years to write it, so what was the rush? 
So here’s the deal. The eponymous minyan is immediately reduced to nine adult males in their mid to late 30’s having just buried one of their number. Freddy Lipschitz is dead of an overdose, but this gathering is no Big Chill, rather a hilarious introduction to the narrator, Norbert Wilner, and his band of misfits. From Goldberg, the impecunious composer with a shiksa girlfriend who craves clothes; to Bernstein, the Shiva-borcher turned drug dealer who returned from wandering around India in a loin-cloth spreading namaste instead of sholom; to Goldberg, Greenblatt, Finkelstein and the rest, all losers to some degree, Sobel has created a picaresque work which will frequently force the reader to laugh out loud, causing family members to wonder if at last you have lost it. If this were a movie, Sobel could be a kind of Yiddish Almodovar, directing a male version of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Norbert Wilner, irreverent, brainy, and going nowhere fast, is full of doubt and self-loathing, still finding himself, unable to commit to a permanent relationship, and able to shed the harsh light on of self-criticism on himself and his immature friends.

SEVJN readers may recall the recent review of  Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew, by Neil Karlen, in which Rabbi Manis Friedman, a Hasidic Rabbi kabbalah scholar serves as the motive force which through which the author works his way back to Judaism and what can only be described as a happy ending. Norbert too strikes up a friendship and accepts a kind of mentorship from the eccentric Reb Miltie, whose smicha  may be suspect but whose bagel and cream-cheese inspired sessions with Norbert serve as the device by which Sobel’s more spiritual message is introduced. 

Sadly, there is no traditionally happy ending for Norbert, who manages to fall in love but chooses “friendship” over marriage in the end. He does find a kind of salvation through humor and the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. If Neil Karlen starts out as an “insufferable jerk,” Norbert and his friends are at best “sufferable” jerks, baffled by the prerequisites for success in an adult world. Wilner at least is able in the end to make a couple of adult decisions, although the reader, by the end of Minyan, knows him well enough to doubt that he will follow through on anything. 

Sobel has a great ear for shtick and never fails to find the comedic grain in life’s situations, however grim they may be, but there are times when the reader may be forgiven for shouting, “enough already.” That said, one could only hope that another twenty years will not elapse before this very talented writer produces his second novel.

 
       
excerpt
reviews
 
Winner of the Knoxville Writer’s Guild 2003 Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel
 
     
 
       
 

If this were a movie, Sobel could be a kind of Yiddish Almodovar, directing a male version of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

… Sobel has a great ear for shtick and never fails to find the comedic grain in life’s situations, however grim they may be…