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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Her Hidden Genius Book Review

There are some men (both in the past and present) in this world who cannot fathom the idea that a woman can be more than a wife and a mother. When she dares to enter his world, he will do anything in his power to strip away her power and status.

One of these women is Rosalind Franklin. One of the scientists who discovered and published her findings on DNA, her male colleagues claimed her work as their own after her passing. Franklin’s story is told in the new novel Her Hidden Genius. Written by Marie Benedict and published in January, Franklin was ahead of her time. In the years after World War II, the daughter of a respected and wealthy British Jewish family chose work over marriage and motherhood.

Employed by labs in both London and Paris, she was the only female on nearly all-male teams. While working in the UK, three of her male co-workers did everything they could to upstage and unnerve her instead of coming together to reach a common goal.

Benedict does it again. She gives the spotlight to a woman who rightly deserves it. Up until I read this book, Rosalind Franklin was a complete stranger to me. I am thoroughly ashamed that it has taken almost a century for her to be given the credit she is rightly due. The narrative immediately sucked me in. By the time I got to the final page, I felt like I knew her, both a person and a feminist icon.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Her Hidden Genius is available wherever books are sold.

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Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble Book Review

Free speech is the cornerstone of any thriving and legitimate democracy. However, there are limits to this concept (i.e., yelling fire in a crowded theater). There are also those who push this concept to the boundaries. Specifically, when using certain language about certain people.

Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble, by Judy Gold, was published in 2020. A respected and award-winning comedian, Gold argues that comedy has no limits and censorship is a harbinger of what could happen when we stop telling the truth via jokes. Using her own background as a Jew, a woman, a mother, and a member of the LGBTQ community, she speaks her truth. Gold also explores how politically speaking, the last few years have challenged us all in terms of what is funny and what crosses the line.

I enjoyed this book. While speaking about and to her fellow comedians, she is not afraid to speak the truth. We live in a country in which comedy is more than subjective. There are many who have drunk the Kool-Aid and will take offense to anything that does not fit into their worldview. Moreover, they are not above using whatever means they have at their disposal to share their opinion.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Yes, I Can Say That: When They Come for the Comedians, We Are All in Trouble is available wherever books are sold.

Meant to Be Mine: A Novel Book Review

Prophecy is a funny thing. Though it may appear that our fate is set in stone, there is hopefully an opportunity to take control of our destiny.

Meant to Be Mine: A Novel, by Hannah Orenstein, was published last month. Edie Meyer is a twenty-something New Yorker whose grandmother has predicted the romantic future of her family for decades. Upon reaching a certain age, Grandma Gloria has informed each individual as to when they will meet their significant other.

Edie’s date is coming up fast. That morning, she is scheduled to be on a flight for her twin sister’s surprise engagement. It seems that Grandma was right when a handsome musician sits down next to her. Though it seems that he is her person, there are some questions that Edie cannot get out of her head. When a revelation shakes her to her core, she must choose between fate taking control or opening the door to someone completely unexpected.

I enjoyed this book. Edie is the type of protagonist we can all fall in love with. Though she does want love, it is not the defining characteristic of her narrative. I love her humanity, I loved her very unique family, and I wish that everyone would have a grandparent like Grandma Gloria. At the age of 90, she has more energy and chutzpah than others who are decades younger.

What clinched me was the pride in Edie’s Jewish identity. Though her family is far from Orthodox, they do not hide who they are or put up a false front in the name of fitting in.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Meant to be Mine: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

It’s Been 100 Years Since the First Bat Mitzvah

Every culture and society has its own ceremony or experience to mark the point in life in which a young person starts on the road to adulthood.

In Judaism, this commemoration is called Bar Mitzvah (for a boy) or Bat Mizvah (for a girl). Usually held around the child’s 13th birthday, it is both a religious experience and a time for family and friends to celebrate the new phase in this person’s life. While Bar Mitzvahs have been held for centuries, a Bat Mitzvah is a relatively new addition to the Jewish life cycle.

Last Friday was the 100th birthday of the first Bat Mitzvah. On March 18th of 1922, Judith Kaplan (daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism) became the first girl to officially celebrate her entrance into the world as a Jewish adult.

Coming only two years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it was just reading from the Torah. It was a revolutionary act, opening the door for future generations of Jewish women to move beyond the traditional spheres of marriage, housework, and motherhood. Since then, it has become standard practice within most streams of Judaism that both girls and boys will have their turn on the bimah.

In honor of this anniversary, an Instagram account has been created to tell Kaplan’s story in a way to speaks to this generation of kids. It’s cute, charming, and reminds me of my own excitement of becoming a Bat Mitzvah almost 30 years ago.

If I am reminded of one thing, is that feminism, like all social movements, cannot exist in a bubble. Without allies, it is nearly impossible to turn slogans and ideas into reality. Rabbi Kaplan, in our modern vernacular, was a feminist ally. It is through him and his daughter, we would still be stuck in the dark ages and the outdated idea of what women can and cannot do.

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The Sisters of Auschwitz: The True Story of Two Jewish Sisters’ Resistance in the Heart of Nazi Territory Book Review

When one nation or people invades another, the decision to join the resistance is not one to be taken lightly. Knowing that you are constantly at death’s door, it requires a certain kind of bravery that could also be deemed as foolishness.

The Sisters of Auschwitz: The True Story of Two Jewish Sisters’ Resistance in the Heart of Nazi Territory, by Rox­ane van Iperen, was published in August. The book tells the story of two Dutch Jewish sisters, Janny Brilleslijper and Lien Brilleslijper. Less than a year after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the lives of the sisters, their family, and every other Jew in the country begins to change for the worst. They have two options. They can either stay where they are and wait for the other shoe to drop. The other choice is to go into hiding and hope that they will all be alive at the end of the war.

The solution is to go into hiding in the woods. Known as “The High Nest“, the property is a safe house for the family, artists, and other resistance fighters. Just as it seems that the Allies are on the verge of taking back Europe, they are betrayed and sent to Auschwitz. Forced onto the train with them is Anne Frank and her family. As the two sets of siblings try to survive, Janny and Lien connect with Anne and her older sister, Margot. Waiting for liberation will test the sisters in every way possible, forcing them to rely on each other and an inner strength that may be the only thing keeping them alive.

When we talk about resistance, the conversation frequently revolves around men. Women are not given their due or an opportunity to tell the story. Having never heard of Janny and Lien Brilleslijper, it was another reminder of how badass Jewish women are. My problem with the book is that I was not feeling the danger and the tension of the narrative. I should have felt the stress and anxiety of what the characters were going through. Ultimately, I didn’t, which is highly dissapointing.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City Book Review

Food is more than the nourishment our body needs to survive. It tells the story of the people who prepared it.

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City by Scott Seligman was published last year. One of the major tenets of traditional Judaism is keeping kosher. That means that certain foods are off limits. Meat and dairy dishes cannot be combined in the same meal. There must be two sets of dishes and two sets of preparation tools. Most of all, the only acceptable meat is kosher. The problem with kosher meat is that it is more expensive than its non-kosher counterpart.

In May of 1902, many Jewish families who resided in New York City were poor immigrants, barely struggling to get by. But in spite of the hardships, they were determined to maintain their traditions. That included the food they purchased and consumed. When the price of the animal based proteins rose beyond what many could afford, women took to the streets, believing that price gouges were responsible for the increase. What started out as a non-violent movement turned into a battle for the hearts and minds of the community. Led by women who lacked the education and opportunities of their uptown peers, it is a story of not just economic survival, but the average person fighting against the powerful.

This book is obviously a niche subject and right up my alley. This is my history and the women I come from. Instead of keeping silent, they stood up for themselves and their community. In doing so, these women blazed a path and helped to created the blueprint for the modern non-violent protest that we see today.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Stolen Beauty: A Novel Book Review

If you can, imagine the following: you have lived a relatively peaceful life. Your family is comfortably settled without major problems. There are haters, but they have little to no effect on your day to day schedule. Then you are othered and everything you know is about to go out the window.

Stolen Beauty: A Novel, by, Laurie Lico Albanese was published in 2017. In the early 20th century, Adele Bloch-Bauer is a young newlywed who is at the top Vienna‘s social circle. When she meets artist Gustav Klimt, the mutual inspiration transpires beyond the canvas and the bedroom. But not even his gift with the paint brush can keep the growing anti-Semitism from reaching Adele.

Nearly 40 years later, Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann, is herself a newlywed. But the city she has known her entire life has turned against her after the Nazi Invasion. Suddenly, her Jewish faith has made her, her family, and her co-religionists outsiders. Forced out of her home and praying that her husband is released from prison, she has two choices. She can stay and hope that this is the worst of it. Or try to get out and save her family’s legacy from abroad.

A literary companion to the 2015 film, Woman in Gold, this book is wonderful. The switch between Adele in 1903 and Maria in the late 1930’s is seamless. Though history tells us that Maria would get out of Europe and eventually reclaim her family’s property, the question of when and how holds the reader until the last page.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel Book Review

It is easy to judge someone based on a stereotype or a first impression. But when we get to know them, we hopefully will get to see the real person and not who we think they are.

Pam Jenoff‘s new book, The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel, was published in May. In Krakow, Poland in 1942, 18-year-old Sadie Gault’s life has been turned upside down. Because she is Jewish, she and her parents have been forced to move into the Krakow Ghetto. When the Nazis decide that it is time to liquidate the ghetto, they escape into the sewers beneath the city. Hiding with her pregnant mother and another family, she looks up one day and sees a young woman her age looking back to her.

On the outside, Ella Stepanek is living a comfortable life (relatively speaking). Her Catholic faith has so far kept her alive and safe. But once she gets home, it is another story. Ella is the only one of her siblings still living at home. Both of her parents are deceased. Her stepmother would love nothing more than to have an empty house. She has also opened her doors, literally and figuratively to the new regime.

As the two girls become friends, Ella starts to provide Sadie with as many provisions as possible. But with both the war and the hunt for hidden Jews ramping up, they realize that the decisions that must be made have life-changing consequences.

I have been a fan of Jenoff for the last few years. She perfectly balances the historical record with fictional characters, telling stories that transcend the time and place in which they are set. I also very much appreciate that most, if not all of her protaganists are female. We can talk all we want about representation. But until writers, readers, and publishers step up, male protaganists will still dominate the world of fiction.

Reading this book, I am reminded that the Holocaust is not ancient history. Many who survived are no longer with us. Without their testimony and the recording of their experiences, this dark day in history will be lost to memory. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the younger generations to listen while we can and make sure that what they lived through is preserved, re-told, and never forgotten.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Milk Fed: A Novel Book Review

Food is more than the physical nourishment our body needs to function. It can also be stand in for something else in our life that has not been entirely dealt with.

In the new Melissa Broder novel published earlier this year, Milk Fed: A Novel, Los Angeles transplant Rachel was raised Jewish, but those days are long gone. Outside of her job at a talent agency, the most important thing is her physical appearance. She counts calories like the world is ending and can be found after work at the gym, furiously working off whatever she eat earlier that day. Following up on her therapist’s recommendation, she cuts of all communication with her mother for 90 days. Since she was little, Rachel has been constantly reminded to watch what she eat.

Shortly after, she meets Miriam, the zaftig employee behind the counter of one of Rachel’s favorite frozen yogurt places. Miriam is more orthodox in her practice of their mutual faith and intent on making sure that her soon to be new friend is well fed. Taken by Miriam, Rachel goes on a journey of family, faith, sex, and learning to love yourself.

I loved this book. Instead of being one of those obnoxious skinny women who makes the rest of us feel unattractive, Rachel is human, complicated, and completely relatable. I loved her emotional trek as she opened herself up to eating, Miriam (and everything Miriam represented), and learning to let go of the parental criticism that makes itself too comfortable in our consciousness.

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely.

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