When two women intimately close to the Atlanta rabbinate and synagogue life team up, certainly they know a bit about the insider world of shul politics and the private lives of the key players behind the daily operations of a religious institution. Enough for a second novel being released July 25 revolving around the inner workings of an Orthodox Chicago synagogue, its young new rabbi, his mentors, shul president, romantic dalliances, and an endearing cast of associated characters.
Partnering on “The Rabbi’s in Trouble,” their sequel to the 2015 “Fruitfly Rabbi,” are Chana Shapiro, an AJT columnist, rebbetzin and former program director for Congregation Beth Jacob, and Meta Miller, former rebbetzin of Congregation Shearith Israel, among other roles. The pair, both educators, have been friends for some 30 years.
“We know the synagogue ropes from different ends,” Shapiro said. Two or three times a week, they’d see each other at the gym, and the discussion began about filling their retirement with an exceptional undertaking. At first they considered writing a children’s book, but then they zeroed in on other common ground – the synagogue.
What developed was a novel that delves into the drama, mystery, romance, gossip and dubious entanglements that undoubtedly occur in a synagogue behind closed doors.
Or as Shapiro explained, “An unmarried young recent graduate who, by a series of unexpected incidents, finds himself in the middle of one thing after another.”
Shapiro furthered that protagonist Rabbi Joshua Stein enters “a place where he’d be thrown into situations for which he was not prepared.”
Since the release of “Fruitfly Rabbi,” which takes its name from the transformation of Stein from scientist to rabbi (the letters of Fr-u-i-t-fl-y are chemical compounds), the authors have been amused by readers’ questions about the real-life basis of the characters.
“I’ve had at least two rabbis in town say to me, ‘I know who you wrote about.’ It’s not true,” Shapiro said. “There are personalities here and there.” But the authors contend there’s no basis in reality.
“It turns out it might remind people of things, but we were careful not to do that,” Shapiro said.
Still, Miller is pleased the characters and scenes are relatable and realistic to readers. Their questions to the authors about what happened next to the characters in “Fruitfly Rabbi” inspired them to write the sequel.
Like the characters in the story itself, Shapiro and Miller squabbled in our interview about details and themes of the book. Collaborating on a novel is not easy on a friendship, Miller said. “We argued; we fought.” They’d bat around whether a character would speak in a certain way, whether one should be meaner or funnier.
“I know how quirky and bad people misbehave,” Shapiro admitted. “There are many possible liaisons” in the book. “We had to agree.”
One aspect of the drama they agreed upon was the inclusion of food scenes. One of the characters owns a kosher restaurant.
Determined to get it right, the pair rewrote both books four or five times before they self-published. “Then we just wanted to resolve all the puzzles,” Shapiro said, to which Miller added, “We had to tie up loose ends in some way.”
In the end, they hope readers enjoy their second novel as much as the first. “We tried to write a book that’s so enjoyable,” Shapiro said. “I like to say it’s fun.”
Join the authors at their book launch and signing, along with cookies and conversation, at 7:30 p.m. July 25 at Tall Tales Bookstore in the Toco Hill Shopping Center, 2105 Lavista Road, Atlanta.