On the Page: Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde by Rebecca Dana

Rebecca DanaJujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde

Rebecca Dana

(Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 288 pp., $25.95)

The cover of Rebecca Dana’s charming, frequently hilarious memoir, Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde (Amy Einhorn Books, 288 pp., $25.95), features a single slice of bacon—a fitting image for a book about two Jews lost in New York. It turns out that the only real bacon consumed in this book is not only raw, it’s eaten by Cosmo, a Russian rabbi who has no congregation but is “the smartest employee at the Fast Trak Copy Center” in Crown Heights.

Cosmo doesn’t belong there, no more than Ms. Dana belongs in the mouse-infested apartment they share. A refugee from Pittsburgh, Ms. Dana is the daughter of chemists who studied plastic and rust. Ms. Dana knew she was meant for New York: her world revolves less around God than “atoms, molecules, and clinical depression.” Her dream life in Manhattan had come true—she is a journalist (originally in these pink sheets!), has the right hair and shoes at last, and has juice-cleansed her way to 212 thinness.

While Ms. Dana writes about fashion all day—she’s embarrassed that she can’t cure a cleft palate, but really likes clothes—her handsome boyfriend hooks up with other ladies. When Ms. Dana discovers his treachery, she finds the cheapest apartment available, splitting the rent with Cosmo, the ultra-Reform Jew, in the center of Brooklyn’s Orthodox community.

Her experience with this odd Russian is punctuated by his colorful expressions—“You could be from Mars for that price”—and his disaffection from Judaism. Meanwhile, Ms. Dana dips a toe into religion, attending a few classes at a local center and a handful of shabbats in Crown Heights. It’s a shame that she is unable to find a middle ground between the Jew-lite of her childhood and the full-on corset of Crown Heights. I wish she had tried jujitsu just once with Cosmo, if only for comic value. But the months in Crown Heights restore her, and Ms. Dana returns to her life in Manhattan, grace and terrific humor intact.