This NYPost Reporter Wrote An Authentic Novel About Orthodox Jews

Mainstream media loves to glorify stories of Orthodox Jews who flee their communities. Reuven Fenton, a New York Post writer and second time novelist, flips the script on this trope. His new novel Goyhood, distributed by Simon and Schuster, tells the story of Georgia-born Mayer Belkin who thought he was a Jew, but finds out upon his mother’s death that he is not halachically Jewish. His world is upended, and the only remedy is to convert. As Belkin travels through the Deep South to trace his mother’s family’s history, with his twin brother (his polar opposite), Belkin takes a journey of self, as well. 

Fenton, who grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts became Orthodox with his family when he as twelve years old after his mother got connected to Chabad. He switched from public school to Maimonides Day School, spent a year in Israel in yeshiva and then graduated from Yeshiva University. He wrote the book to tell an interesting and authentic story of a group usually misrepresented. Fenton had his brother, who’s a rabbi, read the manuscript to ensure that details were accurate and that the Orthodox world of Brooklyn that he created felt believable. 

For most converts, the process of becoming Jewish is lengthy and arduous. Joining an eternally hated people is a bizarre move in most cases. Why would anyone sign up for their families to be doomed into persecution? For Mayer Belkin, his shocking revelation both challenges and reinforces his identity and commitment to the Jewish people. In our post-October 7th world, Jews who once comfortably fit into other communities have found themselves rejected and isolated due to “anti-Zionist” sentiments. Many formerly less connected Jews are now reaffirming their commitment to their heritage. 

Will a Jewish novel written by a Zionist repel readers? Fenton wondered this, because although Goyhood has nothing to do with Israel, his New York Post articles do. There are campaigns to cancel Jewish writers who have expressed sympathies for Israel, but Fenton fortunately has not made the list yet. “When you read the list,” Reuven notes, “your blood goes cold because you feel like you’re back in a situation with actual persecution going on.” In this vein, being “deeply Jewish” doubles as exposing himself and embracing his identity. While Goyhod wasn’t written with Israel or October 7th in mind, Mayer Belkin’s leaning into Judaism can be paralleled to many Jews in the disapora who had a major wake up call. 

Goyhood has is being read by Jews and Gentiles alike, and it’s not published by a Jewish publishing house. Despite its deep Jewishness, it’s a human story that leads one to think about where they come from. Anyone can relate to this journey. Fenton’s goal was to subtly show the humanity of a group often dehumanized, to show the common emotions and life experiences all people share. In an age when Jews are being isolated and othered, this book is the perfect solution. Fenton hints that a sequel is something he’d consider!

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