● Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde
Amy Einhorn Books, 288 pages, $25.95
“Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde,” Rebecca Dana’s chronicle of the time she spent sharing a Crown Heights apartment with Cosmo, a martial arts enthusiast and spiritually confused Hasid, is a study in contradictions.
Take, for instance, the odd-couple pairing in the book’s title. Consider too the strip of bacon prominently featured on the front cover, and another, for good measure, floating on the back cover — a suggestion of godlessness in a book that repeatedly returns to a need for some connection to the divine. And then there is the book’s tendency to simultaneously mine and mock “Sex and the City.”
But, though all of the above might make the book sound insufferable, Dana just about makes it work. She wants to have it both ways, to be the second coming of Carrie Bradshaw and to hold on, however tenuously, to a belief in the coming of the Messiah. By memoir’s end, she manages to balance the two. More impressive still, Dana’s attempt to convince the reader that her two belief systems are compatible, even mutually elucidating, is often quite entertaining.
Formerly a columnist for The Daily Beast, Dana covered fashion and entertainment and attended fabulous parties — and she wears fabulous shoes. A transplant from Pittsburgh (“technically, [she’s] not even from the pea-size industrial city.… but O’Hara Township, a small suburb to the north”), Dana arrives in New York in January 2005. Having quit “a job [she] never liked as a reporter for the Washington Post,” she has come “to participate in the world’s largest choose-your-own-adventure story,” which, at least initially, involves working at the New York Observer and realizing her long-standing “Sex and the City” fantasies. She meets and moves in with a lawyer she dubs, for the purposes of the memoir, “Chad” (a sure giveaway that this relationship is inevitably doomed), and fully commits herself to this “beautiful fairy-life.”
And of course the fairy tale collapses. (Like Chekhov’s proverbial gun, a happy romance introduced in the first chapter of a memoir must be destroyed in the second.) Dana learns that Chad has been prodigiously cheating on her, a revelation for which he offers as justification his sense that she is simply not pretty enough. And just like that, Dana — who grew up in a secular family, who finds the idea of God “far-fetched,” who, as an adolescent, enjoyed tormenting the rabbi with her inquiries into the specific timing of the Messiah’s arrival — is confronted by the apocalyptic demise of her love life and the loss of her faith in the gospel of Carrie Bradshaw.