Larry Goldsmith was a teenager growing up in Chicago when the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, or Woodstock, took place in upstate New York in 1969. He never attended, he says, but the music and lore surrounding it were teeming with ideas for a novel. It was just a matter of what kind.
“I got into the book [through] the side door. I was listening to a song from the Woodstock album that I bought. And I kept picturing how many kids were born from that weekend, because it was a crazy time; it was during [what] they called…the Days of Rage.” Those hypothetical babies would become the catalyst for Goldsmith’s latest historical novel, Bashert, a romance-turned–courtroom drama that explores New York’s Hasidic community, the global ramifications of the Cold War, and the realities of compromise in a mixed-faith marriage in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Goldsmith now lives in the more suburban Highland Park, Illinois, and moonlights as an author when not working as the director of a financial firm’s litigation division. While writing is a solitary endeavor, he threads in not only his personal experiences in both law and accounting, but also those of his friends and colleagues.
The protagonist, a young Jewish trial lawyer named Michael Goldman, attends Woodstock with the intention of having a groovy time. He meets and instantly falls for Shira Lefkovitz, who, unbeknown to him, is an Orthodox Jewish teenager who was given LSD without her knowledge. Nevertheless, they sleep together, and Shira gets pregnant, which means that they have to get married. What at first seems like a life-ruining event for Shira and her religious family—Goldsmith affectionately calls them “black hatters”—blooms into a loving marriage as she and Michael succumb to their feelings without having to compromise their respective religious values.
While Goldsmith identifies as Jewish, he’s not necessarily devout and only knew one Hasidic classmate while growing up in Chicago public schools. Shira, Goldsmith says, embodies the same characteristics as a young Hasidic girl he previously dated; Shira’s story includes the tribulations of his personal friends who are in interfaith relationships. Michael is also admittedly his own fictionalized reflection as an educated and imperfect young man.
“You can’t characterize them all as one kind of person. I fell in love with this religious girl that I had dated because she had such a sweet heart, and she was such a giving person. Michael falls in love with [Shira] because of her heart.” But upon the birth of the Woodstock baby, Ben, Goldsmith pivots the story as Shira’s father, an esteemed Brooklyn rabbi and community leader, is put on trial for financial crimes tied to his work trying to help Jewish families in the Soviet Union immigrate to America.
As an attorney and financial forensic accountant, Goldsmith has investigated the gamut of embezzlement, laundering, and financial sleuthing, though he did not defend clients in court as Michael does. The work involves ample research, and it was soon after he began writing the book, which took him a year, that he turned his sleuthing toward the country’s tangled political past, including the Manhattan Detention Complex (the Tombs) uprising, Nixon’s nuclear arms deals, the Vietnam War, and the mechanics of political corruption.
“There’s very little said outside of ‘Everyone was a hippie and smoked dope in the ’60s and wore bell-bottom pants.’ They had the riots in New York in the prisons; they had Mayor Lindsay. In high school, I was active in the Soviet Jewry Movement. And I’ve dealt with a lot of unethical attorneys,” he says. “So I tried to put some of that into the book.”
The trial intensifies when Shira’s brother and father are taken into custody, and Michael and Shira’s relationship suffers from the stress. As the narrator, Goldsmith paints Michael as a tolerant, if at times self-centered, man who finds purpose in love. His humor also tempers the dourer aspects:
I needed time to collect my thoughts and evaluate what I wanted with my future. What were the ramifications? Marriage? Was I ready for marriage? How would I break the news to my Mom that I was getting married to my pregnant teenage girlfriend? How would I tell my friends? What about her parents? Oh shit!
praises the book for its compelling legal plot and nuanced family dynamics with “strong connections to historical events” that “involves tangled political and financial matters, which Goldsmith handily clarifies as Michael highlights essential facts that could have been obscured by the prosecution’s blizzard of evidence.”
At the core of Goldsmith’s book is a family living within a community largely misunderstood by outsiders who do their best to observe their faith, take care of their family, and support the global Jewish community. As he has moved to the suburbs and stepped away from the intensity of his financial career, Goldsmith sees the same political issues repeating themselves. Michael’s willingness to defend his father-in-law despite violations of laws even causes him to veer from his legal ethics, but it raises the question: Is what is legal always what’s right? For Michael and his family, and for the United States at large, the answer isn’t always clear.
“I’m from Chicago. And sometimes if you need to get things done, you need to make contributions to the alderman’s campaign fund,” says Goldsmith. “It’s something that’s done every day in our society. Is it all that legal? No. But if you had to donate money to a campaign to save people’s lives? The rabbi in Bashert admits it. He says, ‘There’s nothing more important than saving a person’s life. I didn’t know it was illegal. But I might have done it anyway, because I needed to.’ ”
But Michael and Shira’s story doesn’t end there. Goldsmith has started working on a sequel, titled Hezbollah, that will center on their son, Ben, as he pursues law as an adult, part of a new generation with its own, timely issues.
Amelia Williams is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Leafly.