While he only started writing short stories when he was eighty-years-old, Rabbi Dr. Charles H. Freundlich has mastered the genre and become an excellent writer of easy to read fascinating short stories. His plots, depiction and development of characters, and surprise endings are perfect. He catches our interest as soon as we start reading his tales. His stories are both entertaining and thought provoking. I read all of his eight short story collections and enjoyed each of them. This volume has seven tales. If his sermons were half as good as these stories, I missed a lot by not being a member of his congregation.
He tells us in his Preface that his fictional works were inspired by his fifty years as rabbi and educator. He writes that the stories deal with Traditional Judaism, its modern adjustments, confrontations, and achievements, but may address similar themes of people of all religions who are looking for a deeper meaning in life. He maintains, and his tales support his view, that the values and ideals that are distinctively Jewish do not conflict with modernity and can benefit all people.
The first of his seven stories is “A Place of Honor.” In it, after the death of their dad, a brother and sister discuss his unusual character, why he was so liked, and about marriage. “Love is a fragile emotion and is not strong enough to sustain a marriage. The true basis for marriage is giving and sacrifice: what you do, how you care, how you respect, how you share, and how you make your partner happy, as the center and focus of your life.”
“Out of Town,” the second, has two main plots focusing on an Orthodox Jewish nurse. Should a 90-year-old frail woman who along with her family were great philanthropists and supported the hospital be placed at the top of the list for a Covid injection? The local Christian clergy rely on an ancient Jewish decision regarding this priority issue. Second, can the nurse remarry the husband from whom she is divorced whom she still loves?
The third, “A Guest for Passover,” describes a distraught holocaust survivor whose lame sister was murdered by the Nazis and a lame cat that comes to her door on Passover.
“The Promised Land,” number four, is about two young, bright school friends, their opinions about Israel, how they acted on these opinions, and how the opinions effected their children.
Number five, “Yidden,” the Yiddish word for Jews, involves a synagogue which mandated that all speeches in Shul be in the Yiddish language and the reaction to a teacher who spoke in English at a Bar Mitzvah.
Six, “Off the Path,” is about a Hasidic husband and wife who left the Hasidic community because they felt that some of the Orthodox law were absurd.
The last, “Not like the Old Times,” concerns a retired elderly rabbi living in a nursing home who is dissatisfied with his life. He wishes he could give sermons again.