The Matchmaker’s Gift: A Novel Book Review

The concept of marrying for love is a relatively new one. In the past, marriage was a business arrangement. Your spouse was based on your status in society, not the person who made you happy.

Lynda Cohen Loigman‘s new novel, The Matchmaker’s Gift: A Novel, was published in September. In the early 20th century, Sara Glikman has just emigrated to America with her family. Moving to the Lower East Side, she has recently discovered that she has a talent for making matches.

The problem is that she is a girl. The men who make a living doing the same thing are far from pleased that their competition is a young lady. After a decade of doing her work in secret, Sara has to find the courage to stand up for herself.

Decades later, Sara’s granddaughter Abby is a divorce lawyer, representing the rich and famous. A child of divorce herself, she takes a cynical view of romance. Soon after Sara’s passing, Abby inherits a series of journals that contains details of her grandmother’s matchmaking. As she begins to go through the pages, she begins to question her career choices and her opinion on love.

I have been a fan of this author since her first book. Kudos to her for creating a dual timeline that is believable and easy to follow. In my experience (as both a reader and a writer), this is one of the harder narratives to craft. The balance between the individual stories while slowly weaving them together is akin to walking a literary tightrope. If one is out of balance, the reader is likely to walk away.

I loved it. It was compelling, entertaining, and inspiring. Sara is a proto-feminist, standing up against those who stand in her way simply because of her gender.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I would go as far as to say that this is one of my favorite new books of the year.

The Matchmaker’s Gift: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

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Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American Book Review

America’s history is made up of immigrants. But as obvious as this truth is, there are still many who will deny this reality.

Wajahat Ali is a writer and the son of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan. His memoir, Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American, was published at the beginning of the year. Growing up as an average American kid, he lived in two worlds: the suburbia that was his childhood and the Pakistani culture that his parents knew. Coming of age during the 9/11 era, he inadvertently became the face and the voice of his faith. Eventually finding his way as a writer, a husband, and a father, Ali has a unique insight as to what it is to live in the United States with its promises and contradictions.

I loved this book. His writing is funny, sarcastic, heartbreaking, and real. What I related to was how universal his experience is. Though my own family has been in this country for more than a century, I’m sure that my forebears would relate to Ali’s story. The names may change, the places may change, and the language may change, but the sentiments remain the same.

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely.

Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American is available wherever books are sold.

The Antisemitic Graffiti at Miriam’s Restaurant Should Spur All of Us to Act

When the members of my family left Eastern Europe for America more than a century ago, they hoped that the antisemitism that forced them out of their homelands would not follow them.

They were wrong.

Last week, Miriam’s Restaurant, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, was tagged via graffiti with the following line “Fuck Jews“.

As of Friday, the perpetrator(s) remain at large.

The message is clear. We are not welcome in New York City.

To say that I am scared shitless is an understatement. I was born and raised in NYC, as was most of my family. I shouldn’t be afraid to express who I am without fear of being attacked, but I am.
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Whoever did this wants us to be afraid. They want us to cower in the corner, watching every shadow that goes by with heart-pounding anxiety.

I have every confidence that officials will do everything in their power to find whoever did this and make them pay. I also know that I will always be proud to be Jewish, regardless of someone else’s opinion.

What I love about this city is how colorful it is. We have everyone from everywhere. Our diversity makes us beautiful and powerful. But until we face this monster head-on, it will continue to nip at our heels.

Enough With the Antisemitic Bullshit: Updates From The Hostages Held up at the Texas Synagogue

When my immigrant ancestors came to this country more than a century ago, they came for the freedoms and opportunities that did not exist in the places of their birth. They were also escaping from the antisemitism that at best limited their chances for a productive life and at worst, killed them for absolutely nothing. I imagine that they hoped that in emigrating, their descendants would be accepted for who they were and not hated/discriminated against for their religious beliefs.

It breaks my heart that this hope still lingers in the distance.

Earlier today, hostages were taken at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. The purpose of this heinous act was to get the attention of the authorities and force them to release Aafia Siddiqu. Siddique is serving a nearly 100-year sentence for attempting to kill Americans overseas.

I am so f*cking tired of this antisemitic bullshit. I’m tired of being forced to choose between being accepted by the wider non-Jewish world and being true to the faith I was raised in. For once, I would like to wake up and know that no one gives a shit about who I pray or don’t pray to. But we live in a world in which hate, prejudice, and fear still have a firm foothold on our reality.

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Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World Book Review

One of the major tenets of Judaism is “tikkun olam“. In English, it means “repair the world” and in our modern lingo, it is social justice.

Hasia R. Diner‘s 2017 biography of the late businessman and philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald is entitled Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World. Born in 1862 to Jewish immigrants, his early years were modest. As an adult, he took over the helm of Sears, Roebuck & Company and made it the retail giant of it’s day. He also ahead of his time in the manner that he treated his staff and his approach to those who were not as fortunate as he was. Instead of putting his names on buildings and using his wealth for conspicuous consumption, he was passionate about giving back. In addition to supporting his co-religionists, he supported the African-American community in a way that many Caucasians did not in that early 20th century.

Before reading this book, I had no idea who Rosenwald was. He is one of those figures in Jewish history who is not as well known as others of his day. This is a quick read (in a good way) and a story that I think is inspiring for us all, regardless of faith or family origin. It shows that it is possible to be a mensch and not give into the preconceived notions of other people.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Nanny Character Review: Yetta Rosenberg

*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series The Nanny. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. The general on screen image of a grandmother is that of a loving, openhearted woman whose focus is her family. On The Nanny, Fran Fine‘s (Fran Drescher) grandmother, Yetta Rosenberg (the late Ann Morgan Guilbert) is not one of these women.

As a young girl, Yetta immigrated to the United States, where she was supposed to marry the man chosen for her. Though she fell in love with another man, she decided to marry her husband when the man her heart was set on disappeared. Later in life, she would travel between Europe and America, experiencing quite a few major historical events of the first half of the 20th century.

When we meet Yetta as a woman in her sunset years, her mind has started to slip. She is known to frequently smoke, in spite of her ailing health. Unaware that Fran is working for Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy), she believes that he is her grandson-in-law and that his children are her great-grandchildren. But if the viewer knows nothing else about Yetta, she loves her granddaughter intensely. When Fran eventually marries Max and brings their children into the world, she is there as a only proud grandmother can be. Yetta also re-marries before Fran walks down the aisle, creating a running joke. Her new husband is Sammy, played by the late Ray Charles.

To sum it up: Though Yetta is far from the grandmotherly character type we expect to see, she feels like she could be anyone’s grandmother. Her love of her grandchildren is obvious, her mind is not what it was, and she still has conflicts with her children.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

This will be my last character review post for the The Nanny. Come back next week to find out which group of characters I will be reviewing next.

The Third Daughter: A Novel Book Review

History seems to always have a way of teaching the current generation, that is if they are willing to listen.

Talia Carner‘s 2019 novel, The Third Daughter: A Novel, was published last fall. In 1889, Batya is a fourteen year old Jewish girl trying to escape Europe with her family. The many pogroms that have turned her world upside down. Along the way to hopeful freedom, a handsome and wealthy man presents himself. He wants to marry Batya and give her a new life in America.

It seems like a fairy tale ending to what has been a horrific experience. But like many fairy tales, it is nothing but a sham. Batya is sold into prostitution or “white slavery” along with thousands of other young immigrant women in Buenos Aires.

As the years pass, she adjusts to her forced circumstances, but still dreams of the day when she will be reunited with her family. When an opportunity appears to become a Tango dancer, Batya takes it. It is also an opportunity to get justice for herself and the other women forced to earn their living on their backs.

Previous to reading this book, I thought white slavery was a story told to young girls to keep them chained to the patriarchy. To say that I was educated by the novel is an understatement. I thought that I knew almost everything there was to know about Jewish immigration around the turn of the 20th century. I was wrong.

I loved this book. It was well written, entertaining and educational without hitting the reader over the head.

I recommend it.

Salome Of The Tenements Review

In 1923, Anzia Yezierska, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe published her third novel, Salome Of The Tenements.

It is the fictionalized story of Yezierska’s contemporary, Rose Pastor Stokes, who married the older and Christian JG Phelps Stokes. Weaved into this novel is the author’s failed relationship with John Dewey.

Sonya Vrunsky is a Jewish emigrant originally from Eastern Europe. She joins many of the immigrants of that time, residing in the Lower East Side.  She is working for a newspaper and is sent to interview John Manning. John Manning is a native born, Protestant philanthropist who is eager to extend a helping hand the lower, working classes.  They are attracted to one another, but their differences may tear them apart.

It’s been wanting to read this book for a few years. What I didn’t expect and didn’t like was that the characters were too stereotypical for me. Sonya, in her need to attract John and keep him interested in her, is almost mercenary in her task.  The other characters within Sonya’s world are very much what one thinks of a Jewish stereotype.

Do I recommend this book? Only if your interest is New York City in the early 20th century and the emigrant denizens of the Lower East Side. If not, then I would recommend to find another book to read.

 

 

 

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