“In the spring of 2013, in a garden overlooking Jerusalem, I spoke with a rabbinic student named Amichai about the deeply interiorized myths that keep the Jewish people bound up in suffering…. Amichai hails from a long line of rabbis. His grandfather was fifty years old when he led his congregation to the gas chambers of Treblinka with a Torah scroll in his arms.

“Finding himself undeniably gay in the Orthodox world in Jerusalem opened for Amichai the reality of the other. His break from his family’s religious community was enormously painful, he told me, but it freed him to think differently about many things.

“ ‘The myths we tell and how we tell them define our values,’ Amichai explained. ‘We [Jews] are recycling the story of the firstborn, and we are recycling our traumatic reactions, and we are forever Isaac on that mountain with the patriarchy at our throat with a knife!’

“ ‘You know the night I really got it?’ he asked me with wide-eyed intensity. ‘The night Yitzchak Rabin died. I was sitting on my roof in Jerusalem looking down. That year I was studying the sacrifice of Yitzchak, and I was obsessed with rewriting the text of Abraham going up to the mountain to worship.’

“ ‘Right,’ I filled in. ‘Abraham is taking his beloved son Isaac [Yitzchak] to sacrifice him on the mountain. He believes he has heard God ordering him to do it.’

“‘Yes, and I asked myself,’ Amichai continued. ‘What if Yitzchak says no? And what if Abraham changes his mind? And what if Sarah steps in? And what if Ishmael shows up…a lot of midrashim [new legends] were coming to me.’

“ ‘That night [after hearing of Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination] I thought: Akedat Yitzchak just happened again! The sacrifice of the son just happened all over again! And this is the sequel! Yigal Amir [the assassin] said: “God spoke to me!” And he killed Yitzchak Rabin! Only this time, no angel intervened!’

“ ‘Our stories are wide awake and alive!’ Amichai cried. ‘And we are perpetuating them unless we pause and get into the stories and start futzing with them so they can go elsewhere.’ ”