BY: SUSAN SOFAYOV
On September 15, 2008, Julie Wasserman’s life collapsed. In the morning, she lost her job at Lehman Brothers. That afternoon, she lost her twin brother, Jack, in a car crash. A year and a half later, she returns home to Pittsburgh to start a new job and live up to a pledge to visit her brother’s grave every day. With six weeks to wait before the start of the new job, she steps out of character and purchases a plane ticket to Thailand, the one place her brother dreamed of visiting. She arrives in Thailand, focused on trying to figure out how she is going to live in the world without her twin brother and best friend. But an interruption in the form of a sexy Israeli, Avi, distracts her from this goal. As he tries to make her see that their meeting was bashert, meant to be, she insists that she must return home to live up to her promise to Jack. Feeling responsible for Jack’s death, Julie believes that he wouldn’t want her to be happy, but would expect her to mourn for the rest of her life. Can Avi find a way to convince her they are bashert and Jack wouldn’t want her to stop living, or is Julie doomed to a life of guilt and unhappiness unless a higher power steps in?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Jerusalem Stone by Susan Sofayov, Julie Wasserman loses her twin brother in a car accident. Consumed with grief, she takes a trip from her home in Pittsburgh to Thailand, the one place her brother always wanted to go. Her gut-wrenching mourning is interrupted, however, when she’s distracted by a sexy Israeli man she meets on the beach. Although she thinks he’s a beach bum, she enjoys his company immensely, and she doesn’t object when he wants to see her again. But as the days go by, Julie realizes that she is falling in love with him and she’s happy—something that will never do. Blaming herself for her brother’s accident, she believes she is betraying him by finding happiness and love when he has neither. She thinks she deserves to mourn forever, visit her brother’s grave every day, and be miserable in order to atone for her part in his death. When her new lover convinces her to return with him to his home in Israel, she reluctantly agrees as she can’t bear to be parted from him. But she knows the day is fast approaching when she must return home to Pittsburgh and the new job that is waiting for her so she can keep her promise to visit her brother’s grave every day. But she is about to discover that sometimes prayers are answered in ways that we least expect, and things are not always what they seem.
Written in Sofayov’s unique and refreshing voice, the story is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. I wept and smiled in equal measure. A truly marvelous read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Jerusalem Stone by Susan Sofayov is the story of twenty-three-year-old Julie Wasserman, whose best friend is her twin brother Jack. When Jack is killed in a car accident the same day that Julie loses her job, she is devastated. She believes that if she had not called Jack in a panic, crying, the morning that she lost her job, then he would not have changed his flight to rush home and comfort her and would not have been killed. Thus, she blames herself for his death. In order to cope with the crushing guilt and grief, she pledges to mourn him forever and visit his grave in Pittsburgh every day. With six weeks before the start of a new job, some eighteen months after Jack’s death, Julie decides to go to Thailand since Jack always wanted to go there. She hopes that, by doing so, she will share something special with Jack and somehow learn to live without him. She hasn’t been there long when she meets Avi, an Israeli who introduces himself on the beach and invites her to dinner. Thinking he’ll be a fun beach-side fling, Julie spends most of her time in Thailand with him, quickly falling in love. As her time to leave Thailand draws near, Avi convinces her to come to Israel with him, and she agrees, even though she feels guilty for being happy when Jack has no life at all. Julie assumes that she and Avi will simply continue their fling in Israeli, and then she will leave him and return home to Pittsburgh, where she will live her life in misery, visiting Jack’s grave and mourning him, with only Avi’s memory to keep her company. But Israel comes as a surprise in more ways than one, and Julie is not prepared for what she finds.
Jerusalem Stone is the story of faith, love, and courage in the face of supreme challenges that test even the strongest heart. A deeply poignant story, it will make you laugh, make you cry, and remind you that God truly does work in mysterious ways. It’s certainly not one that you will soon forget.
Patong Beach, on the western side of the island of Phuket, blistered in the tropical sun. People wallowed in the warm ocean waters like hippos desperate for relief. European tourists filled the two-mile stretch of silky white sand, basting their bodies with coconut oil, aiming for skin the color of mocha. But I suspected many of these sun gods and goddesses only created more business for the local hospital’s emergency department burn unit. Something I refused to do.
To avoid the direct sunlight, I staked out a semi-shady spot under one of the coconut trees lining the edge of the beach. Under a neighboring tree, a little boy and a little girl giggled as they attempted to bury their long-legged father in the sand, using dollar store plastic shovels.
The obviously pregnant mother sat on a king size blanket, laughing and snapping pictures. The children’s antics made me smile and wonder if they were twins, like me and my brother, Jack.
The mother’s demeanor radiated love. Occasionally, she set down the camera and grabbed one of the toddlers and planted a kiss on his or her cheek. It reminded me of our childhood family beach trips, except we only traveled as far as the Jersey Shore.
The little boy plopped down and began rolling in the sand, squealing in delight that moments later transformed into a loud screech. He crushed his little fists against his eyes until his mother gently peeled back his hands. Using a small white T-shirt, she whisked away the sand clinging to his eyelashes and eyelids.
I’d always dreamed of having children. As a five-year-old, I informed Jack that someday he and I would marry a set of twins just like us, a brother and a sister, and buy side-by-side houses so our children could play together every day. The crushing sensation that accosted my ribcage every time I thought about Jack returned with a vengeance. I pulled my book from my bag, rolled onto my stomach, and started reading.
“Do you know that over two hundred and fifty people each year are killed by falling coconuts?” a male voice announced.
Based on the volume, the voice sounded close. I closed my book and rolled over.
He smiled, and his white teeth shone against his tan skin. “That may be an urban legend, but why take the risk?”
I looked up at a bunch of coconuts, dangling high above my head, appearing hard and loose on the branch. “You may be right. Those do look rather ripe.”
“Yep,” he said, inviting himself to sit down on my mat. “I’m Avi Gold.”
He looked like a career backpacker, tan skin, but not the worked-on tan tourist guys sported. His looked native, as if he’d spent the last six months surfing under the tropical sun. But his most striking feature was brown dreadlocks, bleached by the sun and sea salt, falling a few inches lower than his shoulders. “Now,” he said. “This is the point in the conversation you’re supposed to tell me your name.”
“Yep, common introductory courtesy dictates that I tell you my name, and you respond in kind. So, your name is?”
I shifted to a sitting position and couldn’t help but notice that he smelled delicious, a sweet scent mixed with an Earthy musk. “Excuse me.” I reached behind him, grabbed my cover up, and pulled it over my head.
“You do have a name, right?”
“Julie.” I shifted on the mat to see his face without the sun blinding me. His eyes were blue, not the blue-green of the Andaman Sea in front of us, but the blue of the Caribbean, pure and bright.
“Nice, but surprising, I pegged you as an Emily or Jessica. What’s your Hebrew name?”
“Your Hebrew name. All American Jews have one. You should know your own Hebrew name.” His gaze remained fixed on my face, which caused a tingling sensation to zap through me.
This guy was presumptuous, but instead of feeling insulted, I struggled against an urge to run my hand along the day-old stubble on his cheek. “What makes you think I’m Jewish?”
“Well, for starters, the gold Star of David hanging around your neck.”
I reached for my neck and felt the small star. Damn. I’d forgotten I was wearing it.
“Second, I saw you last night at the Chabad House, eating dinner all by yourself.”
His smile lit his face, and his eyes twinkled. It appeared this Avi guy was proud of himself–gloating over some imaginary victory.
“Really? I don’t recall seeing you there, and the place wasn’t crowded last night.”
He leaned back on his elbows, stretched his long, lean-muscled legs, and shook the sand off his feet.
Why did I buy a two-person mat? Who in the hell does this guy think he is? “Please, make yourself comfortable,” I said, hoping he’d catch the sarcasm in my voice.
“Thanks. I’ve been combing this strip of beach since noon, looking for you. I was a few minutes away from giving up. The sand fried my feet. I don’t know how these pasty tourists stand it. Maybe it’s like that tribe in Africa that can only see green and red because those are the dominant colors of the jungle. Maybe all these Scandinavians can’t feel the heat because it’s so damn cold in their country.”
What the hell was this guy talking about–hot sand, Scandinavians, and looking for me? “Huh?”
“What don’t you get?” he asked, rolling onto his side and propping his head on his hand. “The Africans that can’t see colors or the hardy-footed Swedes?”
“Neither! Why were you looking for me?”
“Every Monday and Wednesday night, I study Talmud with the rabbi and a few backpackers. Last night, when I walked into the building, you were sitting alone at a table by the wall, reading your book, and eating what appeared to be schnitzel.”
“So, you decided to stalk me, because of my taste in food?” At this point, I didn’t understand why, instead of being creeped out, I was mentally wrestling against an urge to run my finger down his stomach muscles, which rolled like moguls down a ski slope.
“Stalk, no. Find, yes.” He sat silent, scanning me from hair to feet, leaving me with the feeling he was confirming that I was, in fact, the same woman he saw eating at the Chabad House. It appeared as if his assessment was complete when his beautiful features settled into a position of contentment.
“Well, you found me,” I said, crossing my arms in front of my chest.
“Excellent. Let’s hang here for a while, and then we can grab some dinner at Chabad. It’s a good day for swimming. The beach isn’t crowded.”
I’d met many types of people in my life, but never, ever, did I encounter someone this presumptuous. “What makes you think that I want to ‘hang here’ with you and eat dinner with you?”
He gazed into my eyes for a moment, and I suddenly felt hot–very, very hot.
“Do you want me to leave?”
His eyes never flinched, gripping mine in a way that made my stomach flutter. I’d always been attracted to guys who wore suits to work, polo shirts on weekends, and exuded an air of responsibility and ambition. This Avi person appeared to be none of these things, just a beach bum with no ambition and from the look of his ripped cargo shorts, no steady income. But he was sexy beyond words.
“No. You can stay,” I said, not believing the words came from my mouth. “For a while.”
“Excellent,” he said, lying flat on his back. “I wasn’t joking about the coconuts. Maybe we should relocate this mat.”
We moved my bag and mat to a shady spot under the sprawling branches of a heliotrope tree. Avi wanted to swim, so I followed him to the water and stepped into the surf. The sea was calm, clear, and clean. Three years ago, the pharmaceutical company Jack worked for named him top salesman of the quarter and with that honor came a week-long trip to Puerto Rico for two. The girl he loved was busy serving in the Israeli Army, so he dragged me along.
I loved the azure color of the Caribbean Sea, but it was too warm to swim for extended periods, like a hot tub, I had to jump out every twenty minutes. Jack, on the other hand, adored the warmth and spent hours just floating around and snorkeling. The water of the Andaman Sea was just the right temperature.
It didn’t take long to figure out that Avi loved two things, swimming and talking, which was fine by me, talking was never my strong suit. My mom always said that Jack was the talker and I was the stalker. No matter where Jack was in the house, you could hear him, talking to his toys, the television, and quite often, himself. Mom said that I moved through the house so quietly that many times she would turn around, startled to find me standing behind her.
Eventually, Avi ran out of energy, and we returned to the mat. As I dried myself, I considered offering him the use of my towel, which turned into a bigger decision than I expected, because of the mesmerizing effect the water sliding down his body had on me. More than anything I wanted to catch a drop on my finger and taste it. “Hey!”
He flipped his dreadlocks forward like an elephant spraying with his trunk, soaking me and the towel. He tossed his head back, laughing.
“What the hell!”
His eyes beamed unabashed joy. “Sorry, you looked really hot all wet in that bikini. Your towel screwed up my visual.”
I found a dry spot on the towel and began mopping his hair spit off my chest. “Did anyone ever tell you that you’re rude and slightly obnoxious?”
“Sure, at least once a day.” He plopped onto the mat and pointed for me to sit next to him.
Logic would dictate that I tell this strange guy to get lost or leave me alone, but his smile, like my brother’s, could melt rocks. I sat next to him and spent the next hour listening to him describe the high points of Southeast Asia and occasionally drifting off, imagining what kissing his full lips would feel like.
The sun dipped lower on the horizon, and he stood. I thought he was leaving, but instead, he reached for my hand and pulled me to my feet. “Time to take a walk.”
“I can’t leave my stuff. Someone might take it.”
He scanned the area. “Do you really think that anyone on this beach wants another damp towel, a beat-up beach bag, and a worn copy of The Drifters? By the way, I’m impressed with the reading choice. Personally, I love Michener. He’s terribly underrated these days. The Source is my favorite, but The Drifters is a close second.”
We walked side by side in the surf for about a half a mile until three very pretty bikini-clad girls yelled and waved. “Hey, Avi.”
“Not really. I know them from Chabad. They eat there every night, too.”
We talked about food and the sanitary conditions of the Thai restaurants, agreeing that no one would ever call either of us “foodies.” Listening to him speak had the same effect on me as hearing Morgan Freedman narrate anything. His deep, throaty voice lulled me into a mellowed out state, until we were interrupted by more people waving and yelling. “Hi, Avi.”
“You seem to know a lot of people in this town.”
“Well.” He shrugged. “When you hang out on this beach, you meet people. I’ve been here for about a month.”
We returned to the towel just before the sun leveled with the horizon and sat side by side watching the sunset. He described it as God painting stripes of blue and orange around the setting sun. And he was exactly right. As darkness blanketed the beach and only a tinge of orange remained on the horizon, fireworks exploded from the part of the island that jutted into the sea. Someone was wishing the sun a goodnight.
“Where are you staying?” he asked.
“Not far.” I pointed in the general direction of my hostel.
“I’ll walk you back, and we can figure out what time we’re meeting for dinner.”
There was no reason to bother acting indignant over his assumption that I would have dinner with him. Other than the fact he was an unemployed beach bum, there was no reason for me not to want to spend many more hours with this guy. He was smart, charming, and possibly the sexiest man I had ever encountered–ever.
We reached my hostel and agreed to meet in front of Chabad in an hour and a half. Avi turned to walk away and, for a moment, I let myself enjoy the sight of his stride and the way his shorts hung low around his hips. As I was about to enter the hostel, I heard him. “Be forewarned, before this night is over, I do plan on kissing you.”
© 2018 by Susan Sofayov
My favorite author of Jewish-themed books, Susan Sofayov, has created a remarkable follow-up to The Kiddush Ladies with her latest novel, Jerusalem Stone. Inspired by events and travels that took place in her own life, Susan has shaped them into a fictional story that’s remarkably rich, full, and moving…What I enjoy most about Susan’s books is how relatable the characters are. She creates real-acting people going through real-life stuff; it’s not always pretty and it’s never perfect, but it’s always so moving. ~ thejewishlady.com READ FULL REVIEW