Hi there! Today I’m sharing a fantastic contemporary M/M romance from E.M. Ben Shaul. FLYING WITHOUT A NET is a book about finding common ground between the desires of the heart for an Orthodox Jewish man who recognizes that he is gay–and the cautious partner who walks a path with him. Really, really sweet.
Catch an excerpt, my review and get in on the $25 GC and books giveaway below!
About the book:
Dani Perez, a secular Israeli working as a software engineer in Boston, has never had trouble balancing his faith and his sexuality—until he meets Avi Levine, a gay Orthodox Jew and sign language interpreter. As they fall in love, Dani finds himself wanting Avi in his life, but he can’t understand how Avi reconciles what his religion demands with what his body desires. And although he wants to deny it, neither can Avi.
Despite the risk of losing Avi forever to a religious life that objects to their love, Dani supports him through the struggle to find an answer. Will they be able to start a life together despite religious ideology that conflicts with the relationship they are trying to build?
How about a little taste?
From Avi’s prayer…
Tefilah: Create for Me a Pure Heart
In these, the earliest hours of the day after Yom Kippur, please, Hashem, hear my request.
My heart is torn. I am caught between love of You and Your mitzvot and love of myself. Love of myself and love of my family. Love of my family and, perhaps, the possibility of love for another man.
I know. It’s too early for me to call any feelings I have for Dani anything other than friendship. And I know that from the perspective of halacha, of Your laws, there is no sin involved in thoughts, in feelings.
But what if those thoughts, those feelings, cause others pain? What if by my actions, or at least by my consideration of future actions, I am causing pain to another person.
To my parents? To my family?
I stood next to Abba at shul all day. We sat in the same seats that we have used for as many Yom Kippurs as I can remember. But I was a different me from whom I have been. And when we struck our hearts with our fists and asked forgiveness “for the sin we have committed with false denial and lying” and “for the sin we have committed by disrespecting parents and teachers,” I couldn’t help but look over at him and also think about Ima sitting in the women’s section on the other side of the mechitzah. When they find out, when they learn that I am not exactly the son they think I am, when I tell them that I am still their Avi and I hope they can still love me, how will they react?
I have friends who have left Your path when they could not find a way to reconcile their love for You with their love for another man. I do not want to turn away from all of Your laws, from the way I have been taught and from the life I have grown up loving. But I fear that my parents will reject me outright when I tell them.
I should have more faith in them. I should have more faith in You. Please, Hashem, help me to have faith.
Lev tahor be’rah li, Elokim–God, create for me a pure heart. Al tashlicheni milfanecha–do not send me away from before You.
From Dani’s point-of-view
“All of the dati people I knew before I came out, they all thought that gay people were an abomination. And while, yes, I’m learning that not all dati people feel that way, I still have trouble understanding how someone can identify as dati and gay,” Dani said. “I mean, yeah, halacha doesn’t mandate thought, just action. But how many people know that? How many people practice that?”
“A lot of people know. Think of it this way. Halacha has a lot to say about kashrut. But not everyone keeps the same type of kosher, even among the dati community. So, for example, I don’t hold that you have to only eat glatt meat or chalav Yisrael milk, but other people do. That doesn’t make my type of kosher any less legitimate than their type of kosher. The people who only eat glatt or chalav Yisrael won’t eat the food I make, but that’s because of how they interpret the rules. In my experience, most of them don’t believe I’m not keeping kosher; they just hold by a greater stricture.”
“We have a difference of opinion on how to interpret the law,” Avi continued. “Judaism allows for that; we have a long tradition of different communities having different standards, all of which are considered legitimate interpretations of halacha. Same with this. My interpretation of halacha has no problem with my being gay and my being frum. Someone else’s opinion of halacha may not be as inclusive, but those people may also say I don’t keep kosher enough or that the fact that I have a television in my house or an Internet connection means that I’m not frum. I disagree. My community disagrees. If they don’t like my interpretation of halacha, they can leave me to my life. I’m not going into their houses and saying they have to be accepting of my kashrut standards, but at the same time they cannot come into my house and tell me that I cannot eat my own food to my own standards of kashrut.”
Avi stopped and took a breath. Dani closed the distance between them and took Avi’s hand. “Okay, motek, I get it,” he said. “I think. I mean, it’s still a huge thing for me to work through, since I have been so used to the dati community that I know judging me simply for whom I choose to love. I just… Until I met you, I had never met an Orthodox Jew who was open-minded about gays. So I admit it will take me some time to adjust my biases. Please be patient with me, motek.”
“We’ll be patient with each other,” Avi said, bending for a kiss.
Some fun thoughts from author E.M Ben Shaul:
Favorite location you’ve ever written about?
It’s a tie between Boston and Jerusalem. I have written much more about Boston, because I’m from Boston and know it very well. Boston is my home, and it is in my blood. But Jerusalem is in many ways my spiritual home. I lived there for six months between high school and college, and I visited before then, but even though my actual exposure to the city was not very long, Jerusalem is in my bones and in my heart.
What’s your favorite season and favorite activity for that season?
I would like to be able to say that Spring is my favorite season, because after a long, cold Boston winter, there’s something very special about the weather warming up, the snow melting, and the trees starting to bud. But I’m allergic to tree pollen, so Spring is also the time when I cannot breathe comfortably. Also, in Boston we get allocated five true spring days per year, and we try not to use them all at once, so we’ll have weather in the 60s one day and then it will be back down in the 30s and snowing. So, Fall is my favorite. I love to take long walks in the Fall. The trees are gorgeous while their leaves are changing color, and the air just smells crisper. The days tend to be comfortable for walking, and the evenings are cool enough that it makes sense to pour a hot cup of tea and curl up with a good book.
Dani Perez is a secular Israeli who lives in Boston. He’s introduced to Avi Levine by a mutual friend and is immediately attracted, but warned off. Dani has a reputation for having flings, and Avi’s friend knows that Avi isn’t that sort of man.
Avi is an Orthodox Jew, and growing up in his dati/frum (religiously observant) community he’s known that he can only have romantic physical contact with the person who would be his marriage partner. He’s 33 years old, only recently came to grips with his attraction for men, and has kissed three women in his whole life. He is, in his own words, an innocent. And he’s scared to give himself physically to anyone, as it’s a sin outside of marriage. The catch? Gay marriage is still not accepted within the Orthodox community.
Dani is willing to build a friendship with Avi, and see if it leads to more, because he finds Avi’s spiritualism and deep consideration of his morality to be a refreshing perspective. The more time these men spend with each other, the more they connect–and the harder it is for Avi to completely devote himself to a pure life. He’s also afraid that his parents, and shul (temple), might cut him off, and this would be emotionally devastating.
This is a beautifully written and engaging story about finding a path that reconciles conflicting desires. Avi is a student of Judaism. He discusses his conflicts with his rabbi, and seeks advice regarding how to be a sexually active gay man, and also how to still live within God’s law. It’s also a story about patience and building a deep love, because Dani is the catalyst for much of Avi’s study–Avi would have looked into it on his own, at some point, but he does it now, with fervor, knowing that Dani is willing to walk this path at his side, and at his pace.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t troubles; because there are. Dani’s afraid to love Avi too much, and learn that Avi simply won’t ever become a partner to him. He’s also afraid to pressure Avi in any way, physically, and he considerately waits for Avi to make his moves. Avi’s unused to physical touch, as this is not part of his dati life. Even holding hands and hugging is something only done between married partners or close relations. I honestly loved the tenderness that resulted from these tenets. Dani understands what it means when Avi tentatively touches his hand, or takes it when they walk, or offers a fleeting kiss. He accepts that Avi is closeted, with the understanding that Avi will come out…eventually. (It totally happens, though I wished we’d seen his reveal to the parents!)
The book is almost all told from Dani’s point-of-view, and his experience of being beside Avi on this adventure into love. We get Avi’s most intimate thoughts in the form of prayers he makes on his journey. He’s so remarkably earnest, begging God to help him find balance between his devoted spiritual life, and his desire to have a fulfilling relationship. Avi’s not content being asexual; he wants whatever sexual contact that he can have within the strictures of his faith. I found that so immediately relatable, as I’ve seen that same desire present in persons of the fundamental Christian faith, where I was raised. Seriously, I pretty much teared up whenever I read one of Avi’s prayers. I so wanted him to have the love of his God and his life, and not be in spiritual conflict.
Dani has his own hurdles, namely Avi’s family, to surmount. He’s an outsider to their community, and a contemporary gay man. Could he possibly be a good partner for Avi? It’s more than simply knowing the prayers, and understanding the terminology. Avi’s Orthodox faith is a constant presence, between them, at first. His dietary restrictions and shul responsibilities aside, Avi’s very much wrapped in his dati world. But as the story goes on, it’s easy to see how this faith grows and envelops both men. There are moments of extreme frustration for Dani, without question. But, he doesn’t become bitter. His love is so tender and patient, and he finds contentment in their closeness, even if it doesn’t quite become physical–or very physical. Being the first man for Avi to kiss, or touch, or see naked, it’s a gift, almost, for Dani. Because he understands how hard Avi considered before making those overtures, and Dani finds that is in itself fulfilling. Dani doesn’t want Avi to sacrifice himself for Dani’s own needs, Dani wants Avi to choose him wholeheartedly, so that they can both revel in their love for one another. And, spoiler, this happens.
The book is not a sexy book. There are some moments of sexytimes, but they are few and fraught. The romance is heady, nonetheless, with Dani and Avi both finding exactly what they’d needed in each other. There is a whole lot of Judaism, which I found interesting, but I’m a goy married to a secular Jew. (My hubs likes the idea of me being a shiksa, but I digress.) I’ve heard or spoken some of the prayers, I’ve been around the Reform community for twenty-five years. For me, this was a window to a beautiful religious experience, though I can imagine others might not be so captivated. And, I loved the handy glossary at the back, because holy smokes is there a lot of Hebrew and Yiddish terminology. I didn’t find it inaccessible, as the definitions and context clues are well-placed, but it was nice to have an official resource.
Finishing this book, I had one thought in my head: I sure hope Avi finds a way to adopt a child with Dani, because I want these beautiful men to have a family. They were that real to me.
Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link to win a $25 IP Gift Card + Multi-format eBook of Hold. Five winners receive Flying Without a Net eBook.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!
About the Author:
E.M. Ben Shaul lives in many communities. An Orthodox Jew and writer of gay fiction, E.M. lives in the simultaneously gay-friendly and Jewish-friendly Boston area with her husband and twin daughters. A technical writer by day and freelance editor by nights and weekends, E.M. likes to knit, cook and coin neologisms. E.M. seeks to explore the seeming conflict between religious teachings and the heart’s desires.