The Book of Lights is divided into three sections. The first details the seminary days of Gershon Loran and Arthur Leiden at Riverside Hebrew Institute in Manhattan. The second section follows Gershon in his year of chaplaincy duty in Korea right after the war. The third is a moving account of the visit to Kyoto and Hiroshima by Gershon and Arthur who are now reunited.
After his parents were killed in terrorist cross fire in Palestine in 1937, Gershon was taken in by his aunt and uncle. His aging uncle, afflicted with emphysema, attempts to run the decaying apartment house in which they live. The surrounding Brooklyn neighborhood is itself decaying, and there are frequent fires. Gershon is reared in pious Judaism but chooses to attend the nonorthodox Riverside Hebrew Institute. There he is introduced to the academic study of Jewish mysticism by one of his professors, Jacob Keter. Gershon’s plodding, unorganized ways as a student give way to a fervency in his exploration of what Keter called the feeling side of Judaism.
Arthur Leiden becomes Gershon’s roommate at the institute. Arthur, a Harvard graduate, had fled his studies in physics for the rabbinate. He is disorganized, taciturn, with something strange inside waiting to explode. Arthur comes to depend on “dear Gershon” for help in his studies.
Gershon comes to the institute at the outbreak of the Korean war; even after the war has ended, there remains a great need for chaplains for American military personnel stationed in Korea and elsewhere. Indeed, as a condition of graduation, those in the institute are required to make themselves available to the chaplaincy corps. Gershon, without understanding why, volunteers to serve in the army. Nevertheless, his entrance into the service is delayed a year because the institute awards him the first Leiden prize.
The award is named after Arthur’s brother, who was killed during World War II. Gershon learns that Arthur’s father, Charles Leiden, had worked closely with...
(The entire section is 829 words.)