This fictional memoir of an actress researching the role of Regina Jonas, the first female Rabbi, becomes an ode to one of history’s overlooked heroines and a cry of repentance for a dark family legacy.
Elise Lermont is a successful actress at the height of her career. She has just been offered the starring role in a film about the life of Regina Jonas, the world’s first female Rabbi, ordained in Germany in 1933 and killed in Auschwitz in 1944. The role of Regina inspires Elise to research the character, and in doing so, she stumbles across uncomfortable dissimilarities between the life of the young Rabbi and the lives lived by her grandparents during the occupation. Not only were her grandparents anti-Semitic, they also profited from the war, as champagne dealers to the occupying forces. From the biographer on whose book the movie is to be based, she learns of the trials the young Rabbi faced: from her own community, as a woman wanting to be ordained; from the man who refused to return her affection; and from the Nazi regime responsible for her deportation and death.
The title of the novel comes from a line of Paul Célan’s, printed on the last page: “Et la nuit s’est ouverte et elle est restée déclose” (“And the night opened, and remained unclosed”). Elise will never play the role of Regina, as the producer loses his backing. But she does, for a moment, become the character, who now lives in her, and it is for her, and against forgetting, that she writes this book, in her own now, and forever, open night.