The Frozen Rabbi tells the whimsical story of Polish rabbi Eliezer ben Zephyr, who, in 1890 and while in a meditative state, is unaccountably frozen alive in a block of ice during a freak storm. Lost and presumed dead by his rabbinical colleagues, he’s later discovered by a Polish laborer, still encased in ice, buried in a nearby pond. The old rabbi is preserved as a kind of holy talisman by the worker’s family and carted about, still frozen, to various locations for the better part of a century—until he accidentally thaws out and wakes from his long hiatus in a freezer in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1999. The unlikely and sometimes hilarious adventures of the ancient rabbi, as well as those of his “discoverer,” 15-year-old Bernie Karp, make up the contemporary half of this entertaining adventure.
Another slice of the book describes the rabbi’s icy travels, from Poland and the Old World to the shores of Manhattan, introducing readers to a passel of colorful characters who, in one way or another, see him on his way. The New York part of the rabbi’s long journey provides a fascinating look at the busy, frenetic immigrant concoction that was the Lower East Side at the turn of the century.
Despite its crazy premise, readers will be caught up in the old man’s marvelous journey, which is accompanied by a liberal and magical sprinkling of Yiddish phrases that add depth and humor to a story that sometimes skirts the edges of both pathos and slapstick, while readily surviving both.
In 2000, author Steve Stern won the National Jewish Book Award for The Wedding Jester. With his newest work’s blend of earthiness and more fanciful trips into the astral realm, this gifted writer has allowed readers to share in the long tradition of mythology and mysticism that informs one spectrum of Jewish literature—brought to light in The Frozen Rabbi by way of dazzling prose and a deceptively comic plot.