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Mitzvah Man

John J. Clayton

Mourning the death of his wife after a senseless and tragic accident, Boston businessman Adam Friedman finds solace through living the mitzvot—instructions for goodness, justice, and compassion. In a frenzy of good deeds, he saves lives and helps the needy. Even his adolescent daughter, whose grief is as intense as his own, begins to wonder if there isn’t more than a shared joke to the superhero T-shirt she has designed for him. When a thwarted crime and a supplicant’s good fortune propel Friedman into the headlines, followers gather unbidden on his doorstep. Voices, dreams, and auras visit him. Miracles occur among family, friends, and strangers alike. But while some hail the Mitzvah Man as a modern-day prophet, others brand him a madman in danger of losing custody of his only child. Is he crazy? Is he holy? Through his experiences of love and loss, beauty and pain, language and custom, Friedman’s daily quest reveals the unexpected ways in which God may inhabit us all.

Published by: Texas Tech University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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1

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pp. 3-12

Adam Friedman wasn’t always the Mitzvah Man. He was once a personal success. Shouldn’t victory, success, be climax to a story, resolution of a pattern? So this story begins where a story should end. Of course the victory is merely in his own eyes—and in the mental snapshots he’s clicking to bring his wife. Oh, will Shira laugh! This victory, how did it come about? In January ...

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2

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pp. 13-25

In Boston Shira is at Peter Bent Brigham on life support. A car full of young men, surely drunk, swung around the corner and, skidding on a patch of frozen snow, smashed her as she was opening the door of the car to come home from rehearsal. She was pinned against the open door; held up by ripped door panels, ...

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3

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pp. 26-35

Lisa doesn’t think that her father is in God’s hands. As far as she’s concerned, he’s in her hands, and as a matter of incredibly dumb fact, her hands aren’t nearly big enough. She’s fourteen. Her whole life story now is her mother’s death, but it’s not the same story as her father’s; it’s not even the same mother, who’s grown, for ...

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4

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pp. 36-48

Walking to the beach, just a quarter mile down the twisting sand road, he finds tears in his eyes, not entirely due to wind off the ocean. He’s so proud of her, this Lisa so grown up already. “Honey, well, you did just a fantastic job.” “Well, thanks, Dad,” she says, “and . . . you were great with the police. Thank you.” This Thank you worries him; it shows how uneasy ...

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5

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pp. 49-59

At the Apthorp, the great apartment building between 78th and 79th, they get announced by the doorman and cross the court to one of the lobbies with its twin elevators. Upstairs, Ben Licht is alone. They sit in the ponderous, high-ceilinged living room and Ben fixes ginger ale for daughter—and for father, too, because, ...

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6

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pp. 60-78

...the terrace he’s climbing now, look down at the Metropolitan and out atthe massive apartment buildings along Central Park West and FifthAvenue, one of them his uncle’s, and the lawn where he played ball as akid before the park was restored. Clean and beautiful now, it was funky,trashy, then—the fields with scattered bare patches and litter. Even so,...

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7

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pp. 79-89

Dad—Adam—is temporarily on his own. On his own except for maybe the hand of God guiding him. And Shira—is she in on this? It’s just her kind of playful enterprise. Remember the birthday he met her for dinner at a downtown restaurant in Boston?—tired ...

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8

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pp. 90-109

Lisa takes her violin from its case. If Jennifer played piano, wouldn’t that be great? Anyway, Jennifer went off this morning with a longtime friend who goes to a different school. Lisa remembers a solo passage from the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto she needs to play. Burrowing through her ...

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9

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pp. 110-120

You’d imagine, he thinks on their walk home from the Rosenthals—more than a bit buzzed, he has to admit, on the bourbon à la antidepressant, trying hard not to stumble at curbs and find himself LOOKED at by Lisa with that worried look of hers—you’d think Talia’s tenderness and Jerry’s grin ...

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10

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pp. 121-131

He told Lisa he’d try to find a job, but the notion of working in a corporation or even of starting a new company: dreary, slogging rocks from pile to pile. Why, except to put food on the table? And, food is already on the table. Food and, praised be the One, the ...

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11

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pp. 132-141

Lisa hears her dad take the stairs two at a time to her room, knock, and open. Her mom was always so quiet you’d turn around and—magic—there she was. Not Dad. He clumps around. Now, standing in the doorway, he strips off his outer shirt to show her the ...

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12

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pp. 142-153

It’s one thing to wear a Mitzvah Man tee shirt and write a check to Uri Eisen, another to build a foundation. What is it he’s building? He hears cries for help, but aren’t those cries in his own head? Whom will he help? How will he help them? And why? Is he trying to blur away his own suffering by changing its terms, coping ...

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13

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pp. 154-158

Adam’s been waking up early, no need to adjust his schedule to anyone else’s. He wakes before dawn, exercises, and davens, alone or at the synagogue, then goes to the dojo for practice or a private lesson with his sensei. Some mornings he jogs the paved walk along ...

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14

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pp. 159-172

He and Lisa spend a quiet weekend together. A reporter for The Globe, a reporter for The Herald, call. The NBC affiliate picks it up, wants to bring in a reporter, a cameraman. “Sorry. Not on Shabbos,” he says. “How’s Sunday?” They stop by Sunday morning. Later Rabbi Klein visits, bringing bagels. Lisa talks him ...

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15

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pp. 173-192

At music camp Lisa is getting looks. The kids are talking. All the time, the kids are talking. When she gets to the computer late in the evening, her inbox is stuffed with emails. Her friends from school, even Annie, are all flurried up, gossiping, sympathizing, pretending to sympathize. Her so-called friends at ...

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16

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pp. 193-212

They ride up to Cal’s in an elevator of polished brass and mirror wall. The door opens to a floor of two apartments. Cal is waiting at the door, wearing an embroidered silk paisley robe out of a 1930s’ high-society film. Adam puts an arm around him and kisses his cheek. Lisa gives him a polite hug and carries the ...

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17

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pp. 213-233

Lisa has been holding onto a secret. It’s—not like Jen’s. It’s this. When her father isn’t around, busy raising money for his foundation among business friends from the old days in downtown Boston, or when he’s safely squirreled away in his study, reading, she slips into her parents’ bedroom and from her mother’s side ...

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18

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pp. 234-249

...knew just a little, where everybody was completely used to Jewish cus-toms and she wasn’t. Sure, they always lit candles for Shabbat, she andDad, and Mom before the accident, and yes, she was studying for herbelated Bat Mitzvah. But she didn’t know much. And then—forgetthose vain things—silly worries, really—what about friends? Friends...

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19

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pp. 250-255

It’s two weeks later, again a Sunday. He’s finished fixing dinner; it’s cooking, releasing odors of brisket, onions, and herbs, and now he’s sitting back in his soft papa chair listening to Dvorak. It’s dusk. In a few minutes Talia and Jerry Rosenthal are coming for a tiny celebration — his homecoming, Lisa’s homecoming—an early dinner, an ...

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About the Author

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p. 256-256

John J. Clayton, author of Wrestling with Angels: New and Collected Stories, Bodies of the Rich, Kuperman’s Fire, The Man I Never Wanted to Be, and What Are Friends For?, has taught modern literature and fiction ...


E-ISBN-13: 9780896727564
E-ISBN-10: 0896727564
Print-ISBN-13: 9780896726833
Print-ISBN-10: 0896726835

Page Count: 264

Edition: 1
Series Title: Modern Jewish Literature and Culture