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?
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This story was amazing. I adored Avi and Dani together. They compliment each other so well and watching their story unfold was beautiful. The way Dani took Avi’s faith and his gentle nature into account was so sweet. The emotions between these two leapt off the page and had me engaged right from the beginning. I couldn’t put the book down until it was over. I adored Ms. Shaul’s voice in this story. She writes profound characters and crystal clear emotion. I cannot wait to read more by her in the future.
Dani was such a powerful character. The way he cares for Avi and all of the hurdles that they have to overcome was wonderful to see. Dani is gentle with Avi and only pushes when he knows he can. His frank conversations with his brother, and eventually Avi’s brother, give us insight into just who Dani is and how deep his feelings go. I loved how Dani worked hard to prove himself to not only Avi but Avi’s family as well.
Oh Avi. Dear, sweet, beautiful Avi. From the moment he showed up on page I knew he was going to be a wonderful character. And I was right and oh so wrong at the same time. He was wonderful. But he was so much more than that too. His faith was as much a part of him as the color of his hair or the shape of his face. They’re all things that can’t truly be changed about a person. Avi lived his life as authentically as possible and walked a path that was as close to halachic perfection as he could get. The way Avi found a balance between his physical wants and religious needs was awe inspiring and just a little bit humbling. The prayers to Hashem throughout the story were fabulous. I loved getting to see inside Avi’s mind and how he’s coping with his relationship with Dani.
The journey these two go on in this story was such a joy to read. The slow built to their relationship and how they go from friends to testing the waters to boyfriends to partners is consuming. You get dragged in and immediately want to see them make it. The characters around these two make a fabulous family. They each have their own personality that shines in the story but doesn’t overshadow the purpose; Dani and Avi’s love. By the time we get to the end of the story and their amazing happily ever after, you have all the feels. The epilogue with these two shows you how perfect they are together and also gives you a glimpse at what their life will be like for the rest of their days. And it’s happiest of happy looks ahead.
Four and a half
I’m so excited to have Avi join us today. He’s here to talk about one of my favorite subject of all times. Music! He shares his top five “much loved” songs. Some many will recognize while others might be new to you. I hope you check out all five songs and give them a list. Read and enjoy!
Hi, I’m Avi, and I’m here to answer some questions. What’s that? You’d like to know about my five favorite songs? That is a harder question for me to answer than you might think, because I sing with a professional a cappella group. We sing a lot of different types of music, so picking just five is very difficult. But I will try to do my best. This is an unranked list, and they’re all classics. While I like a lot of more recent songs, it takes a while for a song to make it onto my much-loved list. So these are mostly older songs.
- “Yihyeh Tov” (“It Will be All Right”) by David Broza. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtI7h5A9eEQ) Written in 1977, it is a song that speaks of the harshness of day-to-day life, but it also expresses hope for the future, hope for a day when things will be all right. And I like the message that we shouldn’t lose hope when life gets difficult.
- “Three Little Birds,” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaGUr6wzyT8) Again, it’s a song of hope and not worrying about the current situation because everything will turn out all right. I’ve been through a lot of changes recently, and it’s nice to have something to reassure me that a stressful situation will not last forever.
- “Me and Julio Down by the School Yard” by Paul Simon. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46Cfrl7hMoQ) I can’t help but dance when I hear it. It will pop up on my phone while I’m out for a walk or riding the T, and I just have to at least do a few dance steps. It embarrasses my siblings like crazy, but I honestly can’t bring myself to care.
- “Shut Up and Dance,” by Walk the Moon. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JCLY0Rlx6Q) Another song that makes my feet move almost on their own. It’s upbeat, it’s happy, it makes me smile. The “me” in the song reminds me of myself sometimes. I mean, I’m the one who is caught up in the what ifs, the what-might-happens, and Dani’s the one who says, “Don’t worry – we’ve got this. Just keep your eyes on me and we can do anything.”
- “Al Kol Eleh,” by Naomi Shemer. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Iq9JZyAgAY) It’s a song about the contrasts and contradictions of life, it’s a song about the simple things in life, and it’s a private prayer. It is one of the quintessential songs of the Land of Israel that resonates with me on a fundamental level. Despite its age – it was written in 1980 – its themes are timeless. All any of us truly want is to know that the things that we cherish will be protected. And we have to learn to take the good with the bad, the bitter with the sweet. I cannot even remember when I first learned the song; it was sung at every Jewish summer camp I went to. But that ubiquity fits well with the universal message of the song.
Avi looked at him, concern plain on his face. “What is it, Dani? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. I just realized that I really needed to tell you now.”
“Tell me what, Dani?”
“I love you. You’re… you are the best person I’ve ever met, and I’m proud and humbled to call you my boyfriend.”
He paused, part of him wondering why this was all spilling out now. It’s not as if he hadn’t known, probably since Avi’s bike accident, that he loved Avi, but he hadn’t been ready to say anything. And what he’d said to Avi was true—he wasn’t saying this because he expected to receive anything in return or to hear anything specific from Avi.
In that moment, he wasn’t sure what Avi would say or how Avi would react. The silence, though it had only been seconds long, was making Dani twitchy.
“Avi?” Dani was terrified that Avi would see his declaration of love as manipulative, as a ruse to try to get Avi back into bed, which it wasn’t at all. “I… I don’t expect you to say it back. I don’t want you to feel compelled to express feelings you don’t actually feel just because I said it. It’s just that, while I was sitting in the bedroom trying to give you space and time to process, all I could think about was how much I wanted to wrap my arms around you and hold you and make you comfortable and happy.”
“Oh, chamudi, I…” Avi put his head on Dani’s shoulder. “I love you with all my heart. I feel like I’ve loved you forever.”
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.
Connect with author E.M. Ben Shaul at embenshaul.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/EMBenShaul and on Twitter at @embenshaul.
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Thank you so much for having me here today, and thank you so much for your kind words about Avi and Dani! I will come back later and answer any questions people have. And for those of you in the United States, happy Thanksgiving!
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