In the opening of the verse novella Eugene Nadelman, Michael Weingrad introduces us to the titular protagonist, an “acne-speckled” fourteen-year-old “nerd” living in Philadelphia. Set in 1982, the first chapter describes Eugene’s adventures at his cousin Steve’s bar mitzvah in the suburbs. Herewith, an excerpt:
The temple is a mausoleum
Constructed out of stone and glass,
A kind of history museum
Of Jews who reached the middle-class.
It’s one of many edifices
With parking lots and benefices
For clergy paid to sermonize
And tell the people when to rise
And when to sit. The “Neveh Shaloms,”
In Hebrew words no one can read
(With English prayerbooks there’s no need),
Are chiseled over marble columns
Through which few people come to pray
Save for occasions like today. . . .
His Uncle Sol’s already snoring,
Eugene slides past him on the pew.
Must services be quite so boring?
They haven’t even gotten to
The Torah portion yet. The droning
Of Cantor Borowitz intoning
A Hebrew dirge, inscrutable
To those assembled in the shul,
Is interspersed with somber pleadings
From Rabbi Kaplan in his gown
To turn the page, stand up, sit down,
And join him in responsive readings.
With organ playing all the while,
It’s Protestant but with less style.