Just to put it into perspective, I didn’t know this book was written by the guy whose wife said good shabbos to me several weeks ago in Oakland. There was no way to detect that the guy standing across the room at Kiddush, who could only be described as just normal, could have come from a childhood like the one I was reading. In fact, you’d think that sort of upbringing could only render an adult to a life behind bars. But I saw him, in a suit, sporting “a rabbi’s nose”.
Joshua Safran was raised by a doubtlessly well-meaning mother whose weaknesses include lack of discretion, poor judgment of character, and being willing to put up with entirely too much crap from men. He writes of their journey from San Francisco to an even hippy-er Utopia with a darkly comedic hand. The book begins with a little lighthearted humor such his sweet grandmother’s assessment of mom’s deadbeat boyfriend: “At first I thought he was a straight goniff. But this song and dance, he must be a shyster, waiting to pitch something”. However it quickly moves into darker days, when the height of his fantasies includes becoming sick enough to be checked into a hospital for the cough he’s acquired while living under a tarp in the woods, and in the Pacific Northwest rain.
The most surprising thing about the book other than the fact that there’s an actual human being on the other end of it, telling a true story is the occasional reference to Safran’s growing realization that in spite of being witness to some of the most disgusting human behaviors one can imagine, there exists a G-d. My only disappointment in the book was that it didn’t go into his path towards the Torah more, but would instead make vague references to him feeling spiritual stirrings that would take him to the library to do research on the Jews and religion. Not that anyone that goes through that sort of thing would need any other reason to reach out for something, anything.
Bonus: Childhood photos, including one of Mom’s Egyptian occult wedding