An Unorthodox Minyan
By Bonny V. Fetterman
from Reform Judaism, fall 2005

"I had no idea what I was getting myself into the day I was born," laments Norbert Wilner, an unreconstructed hippie nearing forty. Still adrift in his life, he panics over his lack of direction.

"What do you do?" Norbert asks the men in his "minyan" — the boys he grew up with in New Jersey who meet regularly at the Carnegie Deli to stuff themselves on ethnic food. Greenblatt answers: "I suffer, I struggle, and I torment myself mercilessly with regret, remorse, resentment, and self-hatred." Weissbaum answers: "I work, I marry, I raise kids, I watch TV, and I go on trips. And I capture every minute of it on tape." These answers do not satisfy Norbert. Collectively, his friends had already tried every available self-help and New Age remedy for angst, from psychotherapy to Sufism.

THen Norbert has the good fortune to meet Reb Miltie, a 60-year-old self-styled, self-ordained rebbe who becomes the group's mentor. Reb Miltie eats with them, teaches them to sing niggunim (Hasidic melodies), and gives them good advice about life and relationships with women — like the one he has with the middle-aged widow Ethel Bernstein: ("I wanted Sophia Loren in her gatkes; I chose Ethel Bernstein in a corset"). For Norbert, the son of Holocaust survivors, Reb miltie offers a special message: "Hitler didn't win, because I'm here, singing..."

For readers who enjoy dark comedy, this quirky novel reads like a stand-up comedian's riff on "the big existential questions" and the search for Jewish answers.

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