Lev Raphael is a talented author. The book, Dancing on Tisha B'Av, brings together nineteen short stories. Throughout his writing, Raphael interweaves his own life story into the stories of his characters. In many of the stories, Raphael's characters explore the intersection and interplays of their Gay and Jewish identities.
This collection was compiled in 1990. Throughout, you can feel the alienation and exclusion of the characters, but also the tremendous sense of happiness and peace that comes from a knowledge of self and personal integrity. The stories offer lessons to all readers, Gay or Straight, Jewish or non-Jewish.
The strength of Dancing on Tisha B'Av comes from the short-story format. Each of the stories is a relatively quick read, so readers with limited time will be able to progress through the book with ease. While themes are repeated throughout the book, each story is self-contained. The reader will be able to put the book down and come back to it later without feeling compelled to re-read.
This collection does suffer from monotony after a while. Each story places the characters in similar circumstances that begin to seem rote and uninteresting. For example, in nearly every story the main character is either a graduate English student or on the English faculty at one of a handful of universities. After a while, a sense of re-reading the same story over and over begins to develop.
Perhaps the most powerful story in this collection was "Abomination" which tells the story of a temporary Professor of English whose reactions to homophobia on campus are influenced by her parent's experience in the Holocaust and her gay brother. This story is unique in that it explores the emotions and feelings of those around the gay person, rather than the gay person themself. This theme is also explored in the story "Dancing on Tisha B'Av" for which the book gets its name.
Raphael's Dancing on Tisha B'Av is worth a read, particularly for gay Jews and those around them who are struggling to reconcile their Gay and Jewish identities. As individual stories the writings are wonderful reflections on identity and the reactions of others to those identities. As a collection, however, the stories become repetitious and lose some of their power. Take your time and enjoy each story for its own contributions and merits.