Book Review: Doublelife by Harold Berman and Gayle Redlingshafer Berman
When I was asked to review this book I hesitated. I didn’t want to read another book about how great Judaism is and how being Jewish conquers all. How many ways can that story be told and still be fresh? I am thrilled to say that this was not that kind of book.
As usual, I started reading Friday night – Shabbat is the only time I am able to read without other things / people pulling me in a thousand different directions. I finished reading it Shabbat morning, not getting out of bed until the last page was turned.
In essence, this is a love story – between Harold and Gayle, and with Judaism. Harold and Gayle meet, and it’s the quintessential coup de foudre – love at first sight. I know that feeling well. When I met my KoD I knew he was the one for me, instantly. There is no rhyme or reason, it’s just the way it is. Harold, a Jew, was not much involved in Judaism, and Gayle was the Minister of Music in a Texas church.
This book is written as a series of letters - initially I was worried that it might take away from the story, but actually it was a lovely way to weave the tapestry of their life together. These letters take us through the ups and downs of the Berman’s life together, chronicling the big things and the small. Gayle starts out completely uninterested in converting to Judaism, and Harold doesn’t even think about asking her to do so. They are happy with their lives the way they are.
Over time, things changed for them. Harold started to discover the joy of Judaism, and slowly wanted more and more. We feel Gayle’s confusion when she writes that Harold took on more Jewishly without discussing it with her, and how that hurt her. We read of her struggles with Christianity, trying to reconcile her double life of Judaism at home, and Christianity at work.
We travel with them to adopt their son from Russia, and later their little girl. They had decided at the beginning of their marriage that they were not going to have children. That there was no need. After a while there was a void that only children could fill, and they recognized that and worked together to be on the same page.
Gayle’s journey toward conversion and Orthodoxy was a difficult one, but one that she undertook wholeheartedly. As I read the letter about her immersion in the mikvah for conversion purposes the tears were streaming down my face. KoD happened to come into the room at the time, and was worried about how much I was crying. Books rarely touch me so much that I cry. Gayle’s joy at the culmination of such a long journey was something so pure and so holy – and so well encapsulated in the words that have been written.
This is a wonderful book, a must-read – for Jews, for those converting or having converted, those returning or having returned to Judaism, or for those who just want to read an account of what true love looks like.
I was left with a few questions – I wanted to know Gayle’s reaction to learning the laws of Family Purity. I wanted to know what a headache it was to kasher their kitchen after the conversion. I also wanted to sit down with Gayle (I identified more with her than Harold – go figure) over coffee and just shmooze. If I had the chance I’d have a list of questions a mile long.
I was not compensated for this review but I did receive a free copy of the book.