Destined to Choose

(Rabbi David Cohen #1)

FICTION / Psychological / Literary

When a college freshman’s philosophy paper on the Holocaust jeopardizes her relationship with her grandfather, a Shoah survivor, she finds herself alone and afraid on the streets of Minneapolis. Help comes in the form of Rabbi David Cohen, who is struggling with his own personal demons. Trained in both psychology and Talmudic argument, David must help this family face the real issue that divides them. Set against the backdrop of a Jewish holiday of mourning, they bring together their experiences as they confront evil itself and answer a cry for help that no one expected.

2015 National Indie Excellence Award finalist

ISBN: 9781592870196
Binding: Paperback
Trim: 6 x 9 inches
Pages: 282

Big Question: Why is there evil in the world?
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“Accessible to people from different backgrounds, relevant for both Jewish and non-Jewish readers, this book is indeed insightful and deceptively easy to read. It is also fun.”

Rabbi Amy Ariel, author of Friends Forever

“…brilliantly written. Author Sheyna Galyan has done an amazing job of integrating everyday Jewish life with a great meaty story. The depth of this novel is exceptional; the education in Jewish life and customs, mixed with fabulous, multi-layered character development, make this an important novel for readers of all faiths.”

Ellen Stanclift, MA Theology

“Ms. Galyan gives her readers plenty of food for thought in the course of the book. The story and the thoughtful way in which the author and her characters wrestle with some serious issues make Destined to Choose a worthwhile and enjoyable read.”

L. S. Jaszczak

Secret hidden accordion section
Read the first chapter

Rabbi David Cohen threw his pen onto the desk in disgust, uttering a few choice words. He had nearly satisfied his need to vent with the last expletive when he looked up to see Kristen Ferguson, his secretary, standing frozen at the door. She opened her mouth as if to say something, then stopped.
David flashed her an embarrassed smile.

“It’s okay, Kristen. I’m done now.”

She raised an eyebrow, her green eyes appraising. “Is this something I should be getting used to?” she asked in her soft Texas accent.

“Only if I have to keep writing sermons.”

“I think you write great d’var Torahs.” Kristen smiled and lowered her voice conspiratorially. “And I’ve been here long enough now, you can use Hebrew with me.”

David raised his eyebrows in surprise. “I’m impressed; that’s almost perfect. One would be a d’var Torah. More than one are divrei Torah.”

“Okay, so I almost got it.” Kristen gave a half-shrug. “Foreign languages were never my strong point.”

“They’re not easy to write in any language.”

“Ah. Well, I’m sorry to break this to you, David, but I think that’s part of your job.” She glanced at the blank page on his desk.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to write if you used a computer?”

David chuckled. “Have you ever seen me type?”

“Come to think of it, no.”

“There’s a reason for that. Longhand is much faster than these.” He held up his two index fingers, stabbing at imaginary keys in the air.

Kristen absently tucked a strand of her copper-red hair behind her ear. “But you could learn to type. And you could use a computer for all kinds of things. Email with other rabbis, Jewish websites. You could even create your own website and publish stuff. Think of all the people you could reach.”

“Hang on,” David cautioned. “I’m a technical neophyte. Besides, there’s no money in the budget for a computer. I’ll just stick to pen and paper. So, what’s up?”

“Mail just arrived. I thought you might want to see this right away.” She handed him a thin white envelope and left his study.

“Thanks,” David called after her, noting the return address. It had to be a decision about the grant proposal he had written for a series of weekend seminars and monthly classes on mitzvot. Approval meant he could present it to the board as a fully-funded package; denial meant stripping the program to a mere skeleton and dealing with board complaints about finding the money to pay for it. Steeling himself, he opened the envelope, his stomach tightening in knots. He scanned the letter for the expected ‘we regret to inform you’ and couldn’t find it. After reading it twice, the words began to sink in and he grinned with relief. The grant was approved for even more money than he’d expected.

The intercom buzzer momentarily startled him. “Yes?”

Kristen’s voice was slightly muffled. “Avram Rosenfeld is on the phone. He says it’s urgent.”

David set down the letter. “I’ll take it, thanks.” He picked up the phone. “Shalom, Avram, what can I do for you?”

“Rabbi, I need to talk with you!” Avram seemed to be choking on his words. What remained of his German accent made him difficult to understand.

“Slow down, Avram. What’s wrong?”

“It is my granddaughter, Anna. No, it is not her; it is me.” He stopped for a moment, catching his breath. “It is my fault she has run away. I do not know whom else to call. I need to find her, to bring her home.”

David remembered Anna as a shy teenager, overcome with grief when her parents were both killed in a car accident the previous year. He had only seen her once since then, when she attended a Hillel-sponsored discussion he’d led at the nearby University of Minnesota.

“What makes you think she’s run away?”

“I am sad to say it, but we were fighting. She was angry when she left, and I have not seen her again. I am afraid it is my fault.”

“Let’s try to find her instead of assigning blame. Is it possible she went over to the university? Or maybe to a friend’s house?”

“She knows no one at the dorms. It is perhaps possible she is at a friend’s home. I am so worried, Rabbi. Minneapolis is not a safe place for a girl like Anna. You must help me find her.”

“I’ll do what I can, Avram.” David tore a blank page from his writing pad and wrote Anna’s name and address on it, adrenaline giving him a rush he found both exciting and disturbing. He asked Avram several questions about Anna’s appearance and current interests, writing the answers down on the page. The overall profile gave him a sinking feeling.

“Do you have any idea why she might have left?”

There was a long silence on the other end. “She left because of me. Because I told her I did not want her living here anymore. How could I have said such a thing?” Avram’s voice broke. “I cannot live if anything happens to her!”

“I’m sure she’s okay, Avram.” David made sure his own concern didn’t reach his voice.

“Start from the beginning, and tell me what happened.”

“We had a very big fight the day before Yom HaShoah, and it has not been better since. I thought she would get over it, but we keep fighting. Then yesterday morning I wake up and find her cooking bacon, which she eats in front of me. It is a slap in my face. Worse, it is a slap in God’s face. I was angry and said many things I should not have said. Then she left for her job at the daycare center and I have not seen her again.”

“Have you called the daycare center?”

“Yes. They said she quit shortly after she came in yesterday.”

“What about her friends?” David suggested. “Have you called any of them?”

“Yes. I called her best friend from last year, but she has not seen Anna since they went out last week. I do not have a number for anyone else.”

“Does Anna have an address book?”

“Yes! Why did I not think of that? Will you wait for a moment while I find it?”

“Sure.” David thought for a moment about all of the teenagers he’d counseled over the years. Anna’s recent history placed her in the high-risk category, and running away wasn’t out of the question.

Avram came back on the line. “I have it here. At least some of her friends are listed in here. I recognize names she has talked about.”

“Okay, Avram. Call her other friends, even her classmates. See if any of them know where she is. It’s very possible she just went somewhere to cool off and let you do the same.”

“Perhaps. And perhaps she will be home tonight. We have a long-standing rule in our house that fights are resolved or at least put aside for Shabbos. She has never missed a Shabbos dinner. But I will call her friends, as you suggest.”

David sensed denial creeping into the older man’s voice. “Good. Let me know what you find out. You can reach me here until about four-thirty, but probably not after that since Shabbat services start tonight at six.”

“I will. I am sure you are right, and I will find her having fun with her friends. Thank you, Rabbi.”

David hung up the phone, pain tugging at his heartstrings. Having lost his own father after many years of illness as a direct result of the Shoah, he always felt a certain kinship with the older man. And the fact that both his father and Avram came from the same area of Germany added another dimension to their relationship with which David wasn’t always comfortable.

He glanced at the clock and drew the curtains of his mind shut against the decades-old memories. Setting aside his concern for Anna, he knew there was nothing more he could do until he heard from Avram again.

Read the discussion questions
    1. To which part(s) of the story do you think the title relates? What is the choice, and why is it destined? Is there more than one choice, and if so, which ones are inherently required?
    1. How does free will play a role in the story? Do you think it adequately explains the issues raised concerning how people treat one another? Why or why not? What other explanations might you give?
    1. With which character could you most identify? Why? Which character motivated you the most? In what way?
    1. One of the themes of the book is reconciliation. To what extent do you think reconciliation is important today? What limits do you think should be placed on attempts to reconcile?
    1. If you could spend a day with one character from the book, asking any question you wanted, with whom would you spend that day, and what would you ask?
    1. In the book, David struggles with balancing work and family life, which is a common problem for congregational clergy, who are always on call. What solutions would you suggest for someone in this position? Have issues of work-life balance affected you, and if so, how have you dealt with it?
    1. How does the presentation of egalitarian Judaism make Destined to Choose different from or similar to other works of Jewish fiction you’ve read?
    1. In what ways does the book address the assimilation of difficult experiences, such as child abuse, bullying, mental health issues? How does it address the integration of the Shoah into the psyche of the Jewish community?
    1. How does the book’s setting in Minneapolis affect the story? In what way might the story be affected if it took place in a bigger city such as Los Angeles or New York? How might it be affected in a small town?
  1. Does Destined to Choose support or challenge your idea of Jews and Judaism? How?

Download the discussion questions


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