By – September 18, 2023

Ezra Stein­berg and Yonatan Kaplan are twelve-year-old friends who attend the ultra-Ortho­dox Yael Acad­e­my in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia. A major scan­dal occurs when Rab­bi Joel Hirsch is accused of being a pedophile and prey­ing on the young stu­dents. (The sit­u­a­tion is based on an actu­al Mel­bourne reli­gious girls’ school inci­dent.) In the midst of tur­moil, Hirsch is spir­it­ed away to Israel to escape the neg­a­tive pub­lic­i­ty and loom­ing pun­ish­ment. Some promi­nent mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty are eager to help him, while oth­ers are sick­ened by the secre­cy and cover-up. 

Equal­ly dis­gust­ed by the events, Ezra’s more sec­u­lar-lean­ing fam­i­ly places him in an unfa­mil­iar and unfriend­ly pub­lic high school. Yonatan’s Ortho­dox fam­i­ly warns him to nev­er speak about the sit­u­a­tion, despite his ques­tions, and to also dis­tance him­self from Ezra. These con­tra­dic­to­ry reac­tions trans­form the boys’ lives in rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent ways.

The two men meet twen­ty years lat­er at a ral­ly call­ing for Hirsch’s extra­di­tion. What has drawn them there from their sep­a­rate worlds? They cau­tious­ly begin to rekin­dle a friend­ship at a time when both find them­selves at a cross­roads in their lives.

Although Ash­ley Goldberg’s debut nov­el is invest­ed in the school scan­dal, at its true cen­ter are the respec­tive jour­neys of Ezra and Yonatan. Ezra, now an athe­ist, works for the gov­ern­ment, lives a mod­ern life, and is in a ten­u­ous rela­tion­ship with his girl­friend. Feel­ing like he doesn’t quite fit in, Ezra is plagued by anx­i­ety, self-doubt, and con­stant trou­bling thoughts. Yonatan has become a rab­bi, teach­es at Yahel, and is mar­ried to Riv­ka, an esteemed rabbi’s daugh­ter. He devotes his life to Jew­ish law and tra­di­tions. He and his wife do not have chil­dren, a fact that has left him with many doubts and ques­tions. While Ezra and Yonatan have dif­fer­ent lifestyles, they both grap­ple with crises of cul­ture, val­ues, and secrets. 

Abomination’s well-paced chap­ters alter­nate­ly relate Yonatan’s and Ezra’s sto­ries and per­spec­tives. Gold­berg strate­gi­cal­ly places flash­backs that help us under­stand their char­ac­ters. With descrip­tive lan­guage, the sto­ry is engross­ing and at times sus­pense­ful. Gold­berg employs pathos, sen­si­tiv­i­ty, and hon­esty as he cen­ters nar­ra­tives of friend­ship and relationships. 

The book also illus­trates the dynam­ics of the insu­lar ultra-Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ty, and how its rules and pow­er struc­tures affect both the group and indi­vid­ual mem­bers. It explores the com­forts of accep­tance and tra­di­tion as well as the agony of ostra­ciza­tion. The many Hebrew phras­es and prayers are under­stand­able and explained with­in the text.

Abom­i­na­tion is an intense and reward­ing read­ing expe­ri­ence. Impor­tant ques­tions con­cern­ing moral­i­ty, faith, and iden­ti­ty shape the char­ac­ters’ lives as they search for their own truths.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions

Ash­ley Goldberg’s debut nov­el, Abom­i­na­tion, is a duet. Half of it takes place in Australia’s close-knit ultra-Ortho­dox Jew­ish world, where Yonatan Kaplan is a respect­ed hus­band, rab­bi, and soon-to-be-father; the oth­er half takes place in the sec­u­lar Mel­bourne of Yonatan’s child­hood friend Ezra Stein­berg who has long since chucked away his reli­gious obser­vance. Yonatan and Ezra haven’t spo­ken in years, but when a molesta­tion scan­dal from their time at yeshi­va togeth­er creeps back into the head­lines, their paths cross again. 

Goldberg’s fast-paced, engross­ing, emo­tion­al nov­el offers a win­dow into Australia’s Hasidic com­mu­ni­ty, where loy­al­ty and obe­di­ence are coins of the realm, and there is no room for dis­sent or mod­ern ideas. Gold­berg beau­ti­ful­ly paints the war­ring impulse for jus­tice and truth and chron­i­cles the betray­als and dis­hon­esty one finds in both the reli­gious and sec­u­lar world. At its heart, Abom­i­na­tion is a sto­ry about friend­ship and the bonds that hold two peo­ple togeth­er long after being bat­tered by the forces try­ing to keep them apart.