Eat your heart out, JK Rowling, Ari Barak has arrived!
The book is set in the fictitious Yeshivas Nekudas Habechira (the Yeshiva of the Point of Free Will) near Ramat Beit Shemesh in Israel. The hero is Ari, an American and his chavruta (study partner) is a South African, Howard Segal. Then there is the rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Tuvia White, driver Igor, a superhuman mute, and genius technical professor, Avi Naresh.
The setting is not static in time or place. It moves to Gan Eden, the time of slavery in Goshen and wherever the time traveller takes the characters.
We meet up with many biblical characters en route, including Eve, Cain, a squat pharaoh and Yocheved and Miriam.
“I’m a science fiction/fantasy fan. I loved the Harry Potter series, as well as Artemis Fowl, Bartimaeus and other such books,” Behr tells the SA Jewish Report. “One day I turned to my wife and said: ‘I feel really bad about reading this stuff; it’s so escapist and unreal. If it were food, it would be empty calories. But I enjoy it, and there’s just nothing in this genre in the Jewish world! So, she looks at me and says: ‘Nu? Do it!’ So, I took up the challenge and wrote this book.”
Ari Barak brings out Behr’s expertise as an Orthodox rabbi, software professional, running enthusiast and knowledge of Israel, where he has lived since 2002.
The yeshiva in the book is far removed from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but whatever the bochurim do is based on an innate knowledge of Chumash, Gemara, Torah, engineering, Judaism and science.
The writer, known in South Africa as Saul, was born and raised in Johannesburg. He attended King David Linksfield, where he won the National Mathematics Olympiad in 1990.
He obtained a degree in electrical engineering from the University of the Witwatersrand and attended the Yeshivah Gedolah in Johannesburg under Rabbi Azriel Goldfein.
He received his smicha in Israel from Rabbi Daniel Channen earlier this year.
Living with his wife Andy (née Lewus) and five children in Ramat Beit Shemesh, he practises as a software architect, teaches a daily mishna class and is the founder and operator of the popular Johannesburg Jewish Community Forum (JJCF).
The book will attract readers across the board – from young to old, from religious to secular (all the Hebrew and scholarly terms are comprehensively explained) and is humorous, absorbing and in the escapism genre of Alice in Wonderland – with Rabbi White (note the play on words) wearing tzitzit.
The book can be obtained in South Africa by phoning 082-871-4878. It is also available from freebook.shaulbehr.com or Amazon – Paperback: http://bit.ly/ari-barak-amazon and Kindle: http://bit.ly/ari-barak-kindle.