I don’t know how many of you who visit here have read Destined to Choose, but I’m going to assume most have not. (Yet?) Therefore, since I’m sure I’ll be referencing my characters from time to time as I finish Book 2 (Strength to Stand) and start working on Book 3 (already), I thought I ought to present you with a cast of the major and otherwise important recurring characters, who they are and what they do, and maybe a bit why this ensemble is so important to me.
Rabbi David Cohen is the main protagonist in the series and a Conservative rabbi at the fictional Beth Israel synagogue in Minneapolis, MN who leans about as far right as one can go within the Conservative movement and still remain egalitarian. David entered the rabbinate one semester and a dissertation short of a Ph.D. in clinical/counseling psychology after he found himself drawing from Judaism for all of his class projects. His father was a Shoah (Holocaust) survivor with multiple severe health problems; his mother died of a pulmonary embolism after giving birth to his younger sister, Naomi. He grew up in Milwaukee WI, living with his father, sister, and maternal grandparents. Though his first loves are family and Torah, he occasionally takes on challenges that get him into one form of trouble or another, especially when with his friend Arik.
Sara Cohen is David’s wife and a stay-at-home mom to their three children. A former real-estate agent, Sara was raised non-observant and remains self-conscious about her lack of Jewish learning growing up. Sara has lived on the periphery of shul life until events lead her to want to take a more active role in both the shul and her husband’s career.
Ben Cohen is the eldest of Sara and David’s children, age eight in Destined to Choose. He simultaneously idolizes and resents his father and blames his father’s job for the time it takes away from their family.
Jonathan and Judy Cohen are Sara and David’s twins, four years younger than Ben.
Naomi Cohen is David’s sister. Fiercely non-religious, she is a defense attorney in Los Angeles, CA and prefers little to no contact with David, despite his attempts to the contrary.
Rabbi Batya Zahav is a Reform rabbi at the fictional Temple Shalom in Minneapolis, MN and a friend of David’s. Batya grew up Orthodox and rebelled in high school. When she announced her plans to become a rabbi in the Reform movement, her parents declared her dead and said Kaddish for her. Knowing David’s personality and psychology background, Batya sought him out to help her cope while she worked to reconcile with her parents. She is firmly committed to the Reform movement and believes patrilineal descent may hold the answer to the end of antisemitism.
Arik Zahav is Batya’s husband, David’s only non-rabbi friend, and a sergeant with the Minneapolis Police Department. Born and raised in Israel, Arik came to the States on a sports scholarship after his army duty, met Batya, and decided to stay. After working several years in the domestic abuse unit, Arik made the move to homicide because, as he says, he “was tired of seeing the torture in action.” Intensely secular, Arik tolerates religion and fails to see its relevance to his life. He first met David when he almost arrested him.
Rabbi Eli Lowenstein is David’s study partner from rabbinical school and one of his closest friends. Eli has a pulpit at the fictional Am Echad synagogue in Spokane, WA and jokes that he needs to get his excitement by hearing what trouble David has gotten himself into. He is remarried after divorce and has a teenage daughter, Danielle, by his ex-wife.
Bev Lowenstein is Eli’s second wife and well-loved by their congregation. She loves to cook, entertain, and teach all things domestic.
Talia Friedmann is the wife of a rabbi who teaches at several Twin Cities MN universities. She is a close friend of Sara’s and considers herself a “free agent rebbetzin.”
Rabbi Shimon Gerson is an Orthodox rabbi and a friend of David’s who “agrees to disagree” on their differences, and is about to become quite a bit more important in David’s life.
John Clausen is a pastor at the fictional Calhoun Lutheran Church in Minneapolis MN, an advocate of dual-covenant theology, and a friend and colleague of David’s.
When I created this ensemble, I wanted to illustrate the struggles that rabbis have, both with their congregants and with Jewish tradition and law. I wanted to give readers something they could relate to, the possibility of seeing themselves on the pages. To that end, I tried to represent different perspectives and motivations while creating characters that were fresh, unique, and entirely human.