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Faith For Beginners    by Aaron Hamburger order for
Faith For Beginners
by Aaron Hamburger
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by Pat Elliott

Helen Michaelson, laboring under the false hope that a trip to Jerusalem will heal family wounds, drags her terminally ill husband and her son Jeremy on the trip of a lifetime; The Millennium Marathon 2000 cruise and tour of Israel. Helen wants to feel closer to Jeremy and to take a family vacation before Mr. Michaelson passes over. Helen is not much concerned about Jeremy's sexual orientation (after all her other son is also gay), but wants Jeremy to reconnect with his faith, get rid of his nose ring, change his hair from green to a more conventional color and spruce up his wardrobe which, at the moment, consists of shorts and a tee shirt with poot written across the front.

The tour consists of young, handsome, hairy, Rabbi Rick Sherman and his mother Sherry, along with various and sundry individuals looking for fun and faith in the beleaguered nation. Mom Sherry is determined the group will receive a full dose of history and religion amidst the many activities she has planned. Rabbi Rick, in his teeny, tiny Speedo, is not as concerned with religion or history, and is soon groping Helen in the bushes. When Papa Michaelson declares he's had enough and is going home, Helen wonders if he knows of her indiscretion. Meanwhile, Jeremy is getting an education in the local gay cruising park. He meets a deaf kindergarten teacher named George who shows him around Israel and the gay community.

The novel - whose author, Aaron Hamburger, also wrote a short-story collection, The View from Stalin's Head, and teaches writing at Columbia University - is not what I expected, as this not the Israel of the Bible, nor does it depict an inviting place to visit. Helen's and Jeremy's journeys take place against a backdrop of Israel's seething battles - secular Jew vs. religious Jew, tourist vs. native, love vs. sex, and Palestinian vs. Israeli. But mother and son do eventually find they have more in common than they realized, and Jeremy actually begins to refer to Helen as Mom.

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