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Marriage, bachelorhood themes of Springfield novelist’s new book

MassLive.com logo MassLive.com 12/2/2020 Cori Urban, masslive.com

The idea for “A Single Life: A Novel,” Daniel Ross Goodman’s first novel, “just kind of came to (him) one day over a snowy President’s Day weekend” in Western Massachusetts in 2017. Once he had worked out the basic details of the story, he enriched it with various aspects of his own personal experiences.

It’s the story of Houston native Eli Newman, the most learned of all his classmates at Yeshivas Chelkas Yaakov in Baltimore, who would like to get married. No one, however, seems to want to marry him. Having made his peace with the prospect of becoming the first Talmudic scholar to remain a lifelong bachelor since the second-century sage Ben Azzai, Newman leaves his yeshiva community in Baltimore to take a position as a Judaic Studies teacher at a Hebrew high school in West Hartford, Connecticut. Content at last — or so he thinks — he meets someone who challenges his every assumption, tests all of his convictions and leads him on an emotional and spiritual adventure he could never have imagined.

This is a timeless story that deals with the fraught emotions of the early stages of a relationship. “Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship can relate to those moments before the relationship is really solidified when you’re waiting to hear back from him or her and you’re wondering, ‘Why hasn’t she emailed/texted/called? It’s been over three days and still no emails. What’s going on?’” said Goodman, who was born in Springfield and raised in Longmeadow.

It’s also a timely story “in that it deals with Black Lives Matter issues like racism, racial tension and some of the more pressing social justice issues of our time” in addition to the pain of isolation, said Goodman, who currently lives in New York, where he is a doctoral candidate at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The first commandment given to humanity in the Bible is “to be fruitful and multiply,” he pointed out.

And according to the Jewish tradition the only way this can be done is in the context of marriage, said Goodman, a rabbi. “Singlehood and celibacy are therefore strongly discouraged in the Jewish tradition, because it means that one would not be fulfilling the first (and one of the most important) commandments of the Torah.”

The book’s protagonist, Newman, struggles with this aspect of the tradition.

Goodman — who is single— knows people who have gotten married during the pandemic and have had to do so with only a handful of people in attendance. “I know that people are still dating. People are still coming together, even though it’s more challenging,” he said. “People are always going to want to get together. It’s the strongest human impulse there is. The biblical book Song of Songs says that ‘love is stronger than death.’ The people who are getting together in relationships and marriages during this pandemic are living proof of this.”

Goodman’s Springfield-area upbringing comes through in his novel: The descriptions of the snow, of the cold New England winters — the way they come as such a shock to the main character, who was born and raised in Houston — as well as Goodman’s childhood love of basketball.

Newman is also a basketball fan. “As someone born in Springfield, Mass., the city where basketball was invented — and as someone who practically grew up in the Basketball Hall of Fame (I had birthday parties there and otherwise would often hang out there with my friends) — basketball is in my blood,” Goodman said. “And that definitely filtered into the character of Eli.”

Goodman’s grandfather, former Springfield Mayor Frank H. Freedman, was a sports fan whose dream job was to be the Red Sox radio announcer), and Eli’s love of sports that was filtered into him through me is something that Goodman said he inherited from his grandfather. “He would take me the Hall of Fame here and talk to me about the history of basketball, what is what like to see Bill Russell and Bob Cousy; he took me to my first Red Sox game; he was the first person I called when the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 (their first Super Bowl, and the first Massachusetts sports championship of my lifetime). So, his influence can really be felt in the novel.”

Goodman writes on art, film, literature and sports for the Washington Examiner, and his short stories have been published in more than a dozen literary journals. He is the author of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Wonder and Religion in American Cinema.”

The 289-page “A Single Life: A Novel,” published in July by KTAV Publishing House," sells for $19.92 on Amazon.

For more information, go to amazon.com/Single-Life-Daniel-Ross-Goodman/dp/1602804044

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