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“Celestial Persuasion” ~an Argentine historical fiction~ commemorates Jose de San Martin

To commemorate Argentina’s celebration of the May Revolution (el 25 de Mayo), I’m sharing a few images and various snippets from Celestial Persuasion that highlight Jose de San Martin~ Liberator of South America. I hope you enjoy the post, and as my compatriots say, “Viva la Patria!”

Excerpt ***

“Do allow me the honor, your lordship, to further expound on the matter,” said San Martín, his speech colored with a Spanish flair. “Madam, many of my companions were born in the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata. At a very young age I was sent to Spain to complete my education and have pursued a military career as my father wished. I met Lord Fife and several other men of his acquaintance shortly after being discharged from duty. They spoke to me of a movement growing in my native land, of the struggle to gain independence from the mother country. With the earl’s aid and that of his friend, Sir Charles Stuart, I have come to England to meet other South American-born patriots who wish to free themselves from the Spanish crown and form individual republics.”

“Miss Isaacs, this man, who stands so humbly before you, was named an Adjunct General before his honorable discharge,” Lord Fife declared. “You must understand, San Martín is a South American by birth, a freedom fighter by instinct, and a republican by conviction.”

You will be what you must be, or else you will be nothing.”

Jose de San Martin

Excerpt ***

Lord Fife returned to his home, at length, with Mr. San Martín in his company. After a brief conference with Pearson, the earl was directed to his library and could not contain his amusement at the scene unfolding there. Mr. Gabay stood at the head of the desk, holding down a section of a large map, while Abigail immobilized the opposite corners. Mrs. Frankel, peering through a quizzing glass, leaned over the parchment; and, using an ornamental pen knife as a guide, delineated a path from England to the Southern Hemisphere.

“What have we here?” the earl quizzed. “Are we planning to invade at dawn?”

After the pleasantries and salutations had been completed, Abigail approached her host. “Pray forgive our intrusion into your sanctuary, my lord. I discovered this rather extraordinary atlas yesterday afternoon. I could speak of nothing else as we dined this evening; and as Mrs. Frankel showed an interest in studying its contents, I suggested we take a second look.”

“Indeed? May I ask why?”

Abigail raised her chin with not a little pride. “I have made my decision, my lord. I am determined to accept the proposal that has been put before me. I would, however, ask that Mrs. Frankel be permitted to accompany me on this adventure. We are as much as family as any blood relation, and I should like it of all things.”

“By all means. The arrangements will be made as you prescribe. I congratulate you on your resolve, Miss Isaacs.”

“May I impose further on your generosity, your lordship? May I count on your continued assistance whilst we prepare for such a monumental undertaking? Having no previous experience in the matter of travel or emigration, nor any connections in the society which I am about to enter, your guidance would be most welcome.”

“His lordship has graciously offered to supply me with letters of introduction,” said Mr. San Martín. “I have been away from home for many years and will need to move in certain circles if I wish to be of any use. Lord Fife will do no less on your behalf, of that I am certain.”

“Rest assured, madam. I will make all the necessary arrangements, and of course, Mr. Gabay and Mr. San Martín will escort you on your voyage. You needn’t fear on that score,” replied Lord Fife. Delighted and relieved with the young lady’s decision, he would have granted her anything in order to keep his word to Jonathan Isaacs.


Mr. San Martín spotted Abigail and Mrs. Frankel as they made their way to disembark. Executing a crisp bow, he reached for Abigail’s gloved hand and brought it to his lips. “I fear I have been remiss in my duties, Miss Isaacs. Pray forgive my inattentiveness throughout the voyage, but I have been much engaged with matters of La Logia.”

“I understand completely, sir,” replied Abigail. “I wish you great success and hope that we meet again.”

“Of that, there can be no doubt, madam. The society of Buenos Aires is such that our paths will indubitably cross. Ah—good,” he said, upon espying Mr. Gabay’s person looming above the other passengers. “Your escort arrives.”

Abigail peered over her shoulder and saw the gentleman approaching. She had no wish to be escorted by Mr. Gabay; nonetheless, she would have to concede. It would not be reasonable, nor proper, for two women alone to roam about the foreign city.

The gentleman came up to the party and bowed his greeting; but before San Martín made mention of his plan, Mr. Gabay had his arrangements at the ready. “Miss Isaacs, when we were last at port, I took the liberty of dispatching a letter to your new staff at Casa Encantador. The majordomo, Bendoza, and your housekeeper, Señora Tavares, will be awaiting your arrival. I anticipate meeting your man on the docks once we have our papers reviewed and certified.”

Pursing her lips, Abigail allowed herself a moment to recognize the benefits to this design. She would have preferred to have been consulted, but there was no arguing the point at this time. It was very likely his lordship’s doing after all.

“Excellent,” said Mr. San Martín. “That will allow for Miss Isaacs to settle in to her new lodgings while you and I meet with the officials of the Triumvirate.”

Abigail nodded her acquiescence and watched as Mr. Gabay forged ahead of the line. Clapping his hand upon Mr. Alvera’s shoulder, he joined his friend and his wife as they left the ship. While Mrs. Frankel fretted about being lowered onto the awaiting boat, Abigail became aware of a group of men waiting upon the docks. They appeared eager to set upon the arriving passengers. Bringing a well-used spyglass to her eye, Abigail was able to observe that they held writing instruments and were diligently scribbling in their books.

When Mr. San Martín set foot on the dock, several of the men let out a cheer of welcome. The fanfare came as a bit of surprise, for Abigail had understood that the gentleman had been away from these shores for the vast majority of his life. She failed to take into account that San Martín’s heroics had inspired much enthusiasm in the hearts of the criollos, and his arrival merited the spirited reception.

More noise occurs from a single man shouting than a hundred thousand who remain silent.”

Jose de San Martin

Excerpt ***

Abigail followed Mr. Thompson’s gaze, as did his wife. Mr. San Martín appeared to be deep in conversation with another guest. This alone did not warrant much surprise; however, behind the elder gentleman sat a young lady of fourteen or fifteen. Abigail recognized the look in the girl’s eyes. She was besotted.

Mrs. Thompson did not scruple to show her amusement. “Come my friend.” She arose and looped her arm through Abigail’s. “It is time you met the others,” said she and they walked across to the other side of the room.

Feeling quite out of place, but wishing to complete her duties as duenna, Mrs. Frankel silently followed the pair. The threesome stopped short as they approached a grand lady who peered at them from over her fluttering fan.

“Toma,” said Mariquita, “if you are warm, why do you sit by the fire?”

“It is not the fire that has my blood boiling!” answered the lady, glaring at her daughter.

“Do calm yourself and allow me to introduce my new friend. Miss Isaacs has recently arrived from England.”

The woman bowed her head in recognition as Abigail and Mrs. Frankel curtsied.

“This is Señora Tomasa Francisca de Escalada,” the hostess supplied, “but I just call her Toma.”

You may call me Señora Escalada,” the lady rejoined, looking pointedly at the newcomer. “Really, Mariquita! Though we are far from genteel society, we need not lose all sense of decorum.”

“It is my pleasure to meet you, Señora Escalada,” Abigail carefully replied. “May I introduce my companion and dear friend, Mrs. Frankel?”

The lady made a small gesture, but said no more on the subject. Her mind, and her keen eyes, were focused elsewhere. “Look at him. What is Antonio thinking, allowing María to be in such close proximity to a stranger?”

“Mr. San Martín is a guest in my home; and I can assure you, María is quite safe.”

Señora Escalada only plied her abanico with greater vigor. “Yes, but who is he to be introduced to my daughter?”

“Let me explain to Abigail, poor dear, for she is new to our society and does not realize her good fortune in sharing her tea with such a grand dame!” said Mariquita, laughing. “That young lady is María de los Remedios. Her father, Antonio José Escalada, is a prosperous merchant and was also Chancellor of the Royal Audience. The girl has only known the best of families, which is why her poor mama is having a fit of the vapors.”

Abigail nodded and said no more. What could she say? What would Señora Escalada think of her own pedigree? Would the lady be offended if she knew she was taking tea with the daughter of an insignificant country physician? Abigail’s thoughts were interrupted by her hostess’s conversation.

“San Martín has been well received by the members of the First Triumvirate,” said Mariquita. “The lieutenant-colonel’s experience in fighting against Napoleon’s armies will be of great benefit to our cause, or so I am told.”

“But who are his people? He is no peninsular, to be sure! And you forget, my dear. We have just celebrated María’s fiesta de quinceañera. That officer must be at least twenty years her senior!”

Excerpt ***

“It seems you are not without admirers, my dear. Mr. Gabay came round to look after my comfort; but to my mind, he only remained by my side to better observe you. I daresay he was none too pleased that the lieutenant claimed the first dance. In fact, I believe the good man was envious.”

“Mr. Gabay, who would laugh and torment me at my every turn, envious? Not he!”

“Naturally, you have much in common with the lieutenant…”

“Apparently not enough.” She laughed. “Frankie dear, Lieutenant Kaunitz is to be married. To Miss Mathilda Kendall.”

“Never say so! How did this come about?”

“It seems they were much together on the George Canning.”

Mrs. Frankel brought her cup to her lips but thought the better of it, and set it down once more. “But whatever do they have in common?”

“It seems the gentleman read to her whilst she was convalescing. I suppose Miss Mathilda’s penchant for flora and fauna increased exponentially with each tutorial.”

“Then it would appear the alteration from teacher to suitor was complete. Pray what alteration must Raphael undergo to be viewed as a suitor?”

Raphael, is it?” Abigail sighed. “I ought to be ashamed of you, Frankie, but I will forgive this contravention of propriety as I believe you are reminded of another gentleman of our acquaintance. Someone whom we all admired and came to regret.”

“I cannot know of whom you speak, my dear.”

“Come now. You know very well I speak of Mr. Bloom. Aside from the physical differences between the two gentlemen, I fear, they are one and the same.”

“Your Mr. Bloom is the handsomest of men to be sure.”

“Please Frankie, lower your voice. I would not wish someone to overhear such nonsense. My Mr. Bloom indeed.”

Mrs. Frankel did not expand on her commentary and Abigail was entirely disinclined to pursue the matter. Mr. Gabay, who had just then been approaching their têtê-a-têtê with refreshments in hand, and did in fact overhear the comment, retreated undetected as the astonished assemblage observed Mr. San Martín lead a blushing María de los Remedios onto the dance floor.

“There now,” said Abigail. “If you must indulge your romantic sensibilities, pray turn your attention to that young couple. Judging by the reaction of the general assembly, theirs will be the stuff worthy of one of your novels.”

Jose de San Martin and Remedios de Escalada
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Author’s Interview with Magdalena Ball

Joining me today on the blog is author, Magdalena Ball.  Magdalena, or Maggie as I’ve taken the liberty to call her, is a novelist, poet, reviewer and interviewer who grew up on Lenape land (NY) in the US, and currently lives and writes on Awabakal land.

She is Managing Editor of Compulsive Reader, Vice President of Flying Island, and her work has been widely published in literary journals such as Meanjin, Cordite, and Westerly, along with many anthologies. She is the author of a number of fiction and poetry books published in Australia and overseas.

From Argentina to Israel, from across the pond to down under; what a thrill it is for me to host authors from around the world! Thank you for reaching out to me, Maggie. I was honored to receive your email and I know the audience will be delighted to learn more about you. Please tell us about your new book, Bobish.

Guest: Hi Mirta, thanks so much for inviting me to talk with you! Bobish is the story of my great-grandmother, Rebecca Lieberman Samberg, who migrated from the Pale of Settlement to NYC on her own at the age of 14. I began researching Rebecca after finding an evocative photo of her (which is now the cover) among my mother’s photos and quite frankly I found her story fascinating. My daughter was studying the Russian revolution and began asking me questions about whether my grandparents were in Russia at the time of the revolution and when I started digging to find out what the correspondences were, I began to realise (as one often does when researching personal history) how linked my family story was with the broader historical waves that were happening through the twentieth century.

Rebecca’s story is the story of the Ashkenazim – who were ring-bound into that area of the western Russian Empire—modern day Belarus, Lithuania, Eastern Poland, Western Russia and Moldova known as the Pale of Settlement – the poor shtetls made famous by Fiddler on the Roof that existed only until 1917 outside which Jews were generally not allowed to live. Unfortunately as the power of Tsar Nicholas II began to wane and after his assassination and in the lead-up to the Russian revolution, life in the shtetls was also unlivable as waves of violence (the pogroms) began to sweep through the villages and the violence, particularly in place where Rebecca lived (Grodno, which is in modern day Belarus) and also Galicia in Poland, was becoming unbearable. I don’t know what she might have witnessed before she left so young, or why she went alone—I could not find those records, but it was enough for her to go, and her story begins with her arrival in NYC, her ship arriving at the Statue of Liberty.

From there it follows her life and the information I’ve been able to get from census records, interviews, landing papers, and anything else I could find along with more general historical research, as it unfolded in the new world where, among other things, she ended up working in the ill-fated Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (she was sick on the day it burnt down), told fortunes with tea-leaves, met my grandfather (who was, by all accounts, an unpleasant and unhappy man-again, who knows what atrocities he might have seen before he took his own journey), and raised three children who all became musicians. 

Host: My own grandparents and great grandparents were immigrants from Imperial Russia. They found refuge in Argentina, thanks to Baron Maurice Hirsch and the Jewish Colonization Association. When I look at old family photographs and see the simchas, the weddings, the bar mitzvahs and ordinary birthday parties, I stop and offer a prayer of gratitude. Their very existence (and mine!) was due to their immigration. Had they remained in the Pale, it is very likely they would have died either at the hands of the Cossacks and their ilk, or from the Nazi onslaught.  I don’t believe that we acknowledge that fact often enough these days; yet, it is that particular fact that was the impetus for my research. I began learning about my family’s history at an early age, encouraged by my father who was equally curious. What intrigued you about this time period? 

Guest:  To me, it seems like this point in history is the genesis of who my family is and what they’ve become (the art, the darkness, and the spirituality) but also the point of original trauma, so it is of great personal significance but also I felt that there was much literature about the Holocaust but not so much on the pogroms and that early diaspora was massive – some 2.8 million European Jews migrated to the US during that period, with 94% coming from Eastern Europe – so it was a critical period in time, and I felt very drawn to understand more about that and what it would have felt like. 

Of course Rebecca lived through both world wars, and my book does touch briefly on how the news from those wars would have filtered through to her. For example, any family who survived the pogroms and WWI would have been killed for certain by Nazis—all surviving Jews in Grodno were rounded up and taken into the woods and shot. So I did feel the need to engage with that and how she would have been feeling through it.

Host: I wholeheartedly agree with your point on the Holocaust. It falls to us to write of other time periods and of other narratives that showcase the beauty of our faith and resilience of our people. As an independent author, I follow the age-old adage: write the book you’d like to read. As a fan of Austen, Gaskell and the Bronte sisters, I have tried to emulate that particular style while introducing Jewish characters and storylines in unique settings, such as the fictional town of Meryton or the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata (modern-day Argentina). How have you incorporated your facts and research with your creative side and personal preferences?

GuestMy book is a hybrid work that is both poetry and memoir. I would say that it’s historical non-fiction but I was really not able to get at everything so I used the poetic form for a number of reasons – firstly, because when you’re looking at history – it really is never simply a telling – you not only have to pick and choose what to include but there is always an element – even if you were there – of recreation.  So I wanted to lean into that complexity in a way that poetry does well, but I also wanted to bring myself into the story – to point put myself in the frame as it were. One of the key things I wanted to do was to find that point of rupture – the migration and the pain and loss – all Rebecca had to leave behind, which in her case became mental illness, and then physical illness – she died quite young – and try, by the sunlight of empathy and compassion – to heal those dark places. 

Host: Maggie, your work is truly unique and inspirational. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it, and yet, it is familiar. I can identify with those key factors of immigration, pain, and loss, because I myself am an immigrant. And I must say, you’ve hit the nail on the head. These nuanced and complex emotions must find an outlet; and more often than not, we see the manifestations in mental and physical illnesses. The immigrant experience is an important story to tell. As Jews, we certainly have sufficient material to draw from. Do you remember your first Jewish fiction that was non-Holocaust related?

Guest: Am I able to call Where the Wild Things Are Jewish fiction?  Certainly Sendak was Jewish and his work does seem to reckon with the idea of being ‘different’, of being an outsider, and by all accounts the Wild creatures were modelled on Sendak’s immigrant relatives who would pinch his cheeks and tell him he was so cute they could eat him up. There is a reading of this work that suggests it is a counter to the Grimms styled fairytale tropes where the otherness is evil, and instead Sendak and Max leans into that wildness and calls it beautiful.

Host:  That sounds interesting! It makes me think of two books I recently read. Rena Rossner’s The Sisters of the Winter Wood and Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver both have the magic realism vibe and Jewish mysticism that I so enjoy. Both books lean heavily on the history of Jews in Imperial Russia. I do so appreciate authors who weave accurate history throughout the storyline. While doing your research, did anything affect or move you? Did anything come as a surprise?

Guest: I knew that my great-grandfather Simon Samberg (the “Fish Smoker” in the book – a reference to his profession) was not a nice man.  He was known for his great rages, his drinking and gambling. Sometimes he would upend card tables and he was visibly cruel to Rebecca.  My grandmother Eve, who is also in the book – Rebecca’s daughter – never spoke of him, but I was able to find out more about him through interviews and records that I found.  He was, in many ways, an antagonist in the book, but what surprised me was how literate his was. He spoke some twelve languages, and apparently was an excellent nimble dancer.  The shock for me was when I realised that the musicality of his children – a musicality that has been passed through the family, and a kind of dark intelligence, came from him.  In many ways, though Rebecca is the focus of the book, what surprised me was how important it was for me to engage with him, and forgive him – to find empathy for what he would have also had to give up – to leave behind, and who he would never have seen again in the old country.  I was surprised by how clearly I was able to feel the burden that weighed and broke him.

Host: That is the beauty of writing, I think. The process of fleshing out a character forces the author to delve into the inner workings of that person. You have to truly understand the whys. I myself have found peace and healing when writing, and those poignant passages have become very near and dear to me. Did you enjoy writing a particular scene? Are there any favorite sections in your book?

Guest: I’m not sure if favourite is the right word, but some of the poems that seem to cover a lot of ground and work really well in public readings are “Empire Erased” which goes through the process of an immigrant on arrival at that time – the motion through the line, the checks, the perception and “A Careless Cigarette” which works through the day in 1911 when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned down – a day when Rebecca, who was known to read tea leaves and had a certain prescience, did not go to work (luckily for me)! 

Host: Our families have lived through hellish times, but the key word is that they lived! It might not have always been pretty, but they always dreamt of a better tomorrow. When I write of my family’s experience, I focus on that particular strength, that daring—that audacity to believe that their children and their children’s children will have better days. Through dark days and moments of despair, we must fall back on our emunah. We must have faith. That is the lesson of the Festival of Lights we have just commemorated. That is also the lesson we must glean from our matriarchs and patriarchs. With your work, Maggie, you’ve honored your ancestors and ensured that this history is not forgotten. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we say good bye?

Guest: Thank you so much for the opportunity to engage with you in this way – it has been an absolute pleasure.  Bobish is now available on Amazon and directly from the publisher. The book is available wherever good books are sold, and if you would like to read it but cannot afford to purchase, please just go ask at your local library – libraries are wonderful places and they will often just buy in a book if you want to read it so please just ask. I would be more than happy to send out personally autographed book plates to anyone who purchases the book and am also always happy to do book club visits – by Zoom if you’re not near me. 

I am finding that poetry is very hot right now (!!) and that lots of readers and book clubs want to engage with it but aren’t quite sure how. Bobish is a really great place to start as it is memoir, and history but also poetry and so it’s pretty easy to engage with – there is a clear underlying narrative and story to follow but it also allows for that complexity and subtlety that poetry can encompass – which I think works particularly when in a memoir like this where there are gaps, and layers of experience that are in different times and places.  I can be contacted via my website

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Celebrate Chanukah, The Festival of Lights, with this Jewish Historical Fiction

What better way to celebrate The Festival of Lights than with “Celestial Persuasion”? Fans of Jane Austen will delight in this “Persuasion” prequel and I know that it will check all the boxes for even the most fastidious Jewish Janeite!

Celestial Persuasion is a wonderful tribute to Jane Austen and will transport you to a time long gone. While I usually prefer other genres, I was instantly captivated by Mirta’s compelling storyline and can not compliment her writing style enough. If you enjoy historical Jewish fiction, this book is perfect for you.”

Marie Anders, Goodreads

If I could give this book all the stars in the Milky Way I would. I have craved GOOD Jewish representation in a book like this and the fact that it centers around my favorite Jane Austen book persuasion only makes it better. The attention to detail is beautiful. I can’t song this book’s praises enough!”

Crystals Roberts, Goodreads

This book is beautiful! The writing, the history, the languages, the diversity in the characters. It is Regency Era fiction with more depth… I learned so much about Jewish history and astronomy and about immigration to Argentina at the time. I felt like I was in South America star gazing with Abigail!” 

Stephanie, Goodreads

Take a peek at my latest short video and then make your way to Amazon~ where your next adventure awaits!

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“The Mother of Chanukah”~ A Jewish Historical Fiction Author Looks at an American Icon

In my attempt to discover Jewish heroines, both real and fictional, I’ve come across Penina Moïse, a teacher, author and proponent of Judaism in early American history. She was born on April 23, 1797 in Charleston, South Carolina. Her parents, both immigrants, met and married on the island of St. Eustace. They arrived to Charleston in 1791 and set up a home for their nine children.

Although the family came from affluence, like many immigrants, they had to rebuild their lives upon setting foot on American soil. However, their path was not an easy one. Penina was only twelve years old when she lost her father. She was taken out of school to help manage the household and to support the family budget with her needlework. In addition, her mother was frequently ill and needed caring, as did her brother Isaac, who suffered from asthma.

Still and all, Penina managed to continue to read and write—a beloved past time. Siblings, Rachel and Jacob encouraged this passion and great gift. No doubt, it was this enduring familial support that helped Penina see her first poem published in 1819.  She began writing for newspapers and magazines throughout the country. Fancy’s Sketch Book, a collection of poems, was published in 1833—the first by a Jewish American woman. Her poetry covered diverse topics including local and current events, women’s interests, politics, and yes—Judaism.

The Moïse family were founders of the Hebrew Orphan Society and active members of Charleston’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue. By 1841, however, Penina’s brother, Abraham, began a campaign to introduce Reform Judaism to this staunch, traditional setting. His committee went so far as to commission Penina to write the new hymnal for the congregation. She took on this work, spirited on by the desire to encourage fidelity to Judaism and to promote the celebration of religious life. With their backing, she went on to compose most of the American Reform Jewish hymnal. This was no small feat for a woman or a Jew in the Protestant South.

It is estimated that there were less than 250,000 Jews in the entire country at this time. Basic items such as a prayer books, candles, or kosher foods were hard to find. And as such, commemorating holidays—let alone Shabbat—called for careful planning and commitment. Needless to say, following such events as Pesach, Sukkot, or Yom Kippur, Chanukah was a minor festival at best. It would have been easy to let the holiday slip by unnoticed, particularly amongst their evangelical Christian neighbors who actively encouraged the community to join their ranks—especially during the Christmastide.  

At the behest of her brother and the leaders of the congregation, Penina composed a hymn entitled, “Feast of Lights” at the onset of a holiday season in 1842.  As powerful reminder of the importance of remaining faithful despite the onslaught of challenges, the hymn extoled the ancient Israelites as they fought to recover and rededicate their temple. Great Arbiter of Human Fate! was written in a contemporary style and expressed a common feeling among many Jews living as a minority.

Penina’s words were meant to inspire pride amongst the congregation and she used every instrument in her toolbelt to make the holiday resplendent and noteworthy. In keeping with the formal style of the Old South and Charleston’s sense of refinement, she insisted that the first night of Chanukah be celebrated in grand style. The chanukkiah was to be lit with pomp and a choir was organized to sing new hymns. Chanukah, The Festival of Lights, become entrenched in Charleston’s holiday season. Penina Moïse, in many ways, became the “Mother of Chanukah.”

The Civil War forced Penina to leave her post as superintendent of the religious school. They sought refuge in Sumter, South Carolina until hostilities ceased. After the war, she returned to her home in what only can be termed reduced circumstances. She, along with her widowed sister and niece, conducted a Sunday school in order to support themselves. Penina never married nor had children of her own. She was a Southerner and a supporter of the Confederacy. However without this woman, American Jews—and very likely, the world at large—would not celebrate the Jewish holiday of Chanukah in the same light (pun intended). The festivities, the importance of family and community, the games, and other traditions all stem from this spinster who championed a cause near and dear to her heart.

Towards the end of her life, Penina’s poor eyesight began deteriorating and she suffered from debilitating headaches. However, during these trying times when she was confined at home, she wrote some of her best work, “rejoicing in God’s mercy and thanking him for his goodness.” Penina died on September 13, 1880 in Charleston. She was the first Jewish American woman to contribute to the worship service, writing 190 hymns for Congregation Beth Elohim. The Reform movement’s 1932 Union Hymnal still contained thirteen of her hymns.

Great Arbiter of human fate!

Whose glory ne’er decays;

To thee alone we dedicate,

The song and soul of praise.

Thy presence Judah’s host inspired,

On danger’s post to rush;

By thee the Maccabee was fired,

Idolatry to crush.

Amid the ruins of their land,

(In Salem’s sad decline,)

Stood forth a brave but scanty band,

To battle for their shrine.

In bitterness of soul they wept,

Without the temple-wall;

For weeds around its courts had crept,

And foes its priests inthral.

Not long to vain regrets they yield,

But for their cherished fane,

Nerved by true faith they take the field,

And victory obtain.

But whose the power, whose the hand,

Which thus to triumph led,

That slender but heroic band,

From which blasphemers fled?

‘Twas thine, oh everlasting king,

And universal Lord!

Whose wonder still thy servants sing,

Whose mercies they record.

The priest of God his robe resumed,

When Israel’s warlike guide

The sanctuary’s lamp relumed,

Its altar purified.

Oh! thus shall mercy’s hand delight

To cleanse the blemished heart;

Rekindle virtue’s waning light,

And peace and truth impart.

The courage and vision of these women never ceases to amaze me. Like Jane Austen, this brilliant writer composed poetry and other written material that spoke to the world around her. She used her wit and her intelligence to get her point across. She was an immigrant, like me. She was a Jew, like me. She was passionate and stubborn and loyal—like me. We may not have agreed on many points, but on this particular topic there can be no doubt. Am Israel Chai! The people of Israel live! And it is in no small part thanks to the wonderous deeds performed for our ancestors in days of old at this season. Chag Chanukah Sameach! Happy Chanukah! A Gut Yontif! Feliz Januca! ! חג חנוכה

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Celebrating Chanukah with a Jewish Regency Author

Nun —Gimel—Hey— Shin! Watch the dreidel spin, spin spin! I am certain many of you are familiar with those catchy lyrics and have sung along as you’ve tossed your Chanukah gelt into the pot. Some call the dreidel game child’s play, while others deem it a teachable moment. The letters printed on the four sides of the dreidel represent the phrase: Nes Gadol Haya Sham or A Great Miracle Happened There. In Israel, the phrase would be: Nes Gadol Haya Po or A Great Miracle Happened Here.

There are several theories on the origins of the game. Some say that the game was used to trick the Greeks who had outlawed the study of Torah. If a troop of soldiers came upon a groups of students, the Jews would simply say that they had gathered to play a game.

Another theory points out that the numerical value of each letter on the dreidel equals 358; which according the Gemara, is the equivalent to the word Mashiach (Messiah). Yet another tradition says that the letters on the side of the dreidel represent the four kingdoms that tried to destroy us:

*N = Nebuchadnezzar/Babylon

*G= Gog or Greece

*H= Haman/Persia

*S = Seir/ Rome.

There are also theories regarding the Chanukah gelt, the coins used to play the game. After the Maccabean revolt, the Hasmonean dynasty claimed their independence. A true sign of an independent nation is the ability to mint their own coins. In my view, the menorah and the coins are as meaningful and symbolic as the Liberty Bell and the Betsy Ross flag. However, some naysayers dismiss the holiday tradition of playing dreidel as gambling. Their commentaries go hand in hand with anti-Semitic remarks about Jews and money.

We’ve seen the headlines in recent days. These old and ignorant accusations continue to persist and are dangerous. We must address slander against our community. We do not need to apologize for success, but it is incumbent upon us to share our unvarnished stories and explain where we came from, what befell us. What limitations were put on our community and how did we rise up?

Marcus Loew, of MGM fame, was born into a poor, immigrant family who had fled the ghettos and persecution of Austria and Germany. He began working at an early age and had little to no education. From the money he saved at his menial jobs, Loew was able to buy a penny arcade business.  Louis B. Mayer (Lazar Meir) was born in Imperial Russia. He too was from a poor family. Mayer quit school at the age of twelve to help support his family. With struggle and sacrifice, he was able to purchase a small vaudeville theater that catered to other poor immigrants. Szmuel Gelbfisz, otherwise known as Samuel Goldwyn, was born in Warsaw. He left Poland penniless after his father’s death. In Germany, he trained to be a glove maker as career choices and educational opportunities were limited for Jews. Goldwyn later managed to immigrate to England and later to the United States. He became a successful salesman in New York City. The three men who created Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios came from impoverished and persecuted communities. They overcame injustices and prejudice, but they refused to see themselves as victims. Our history must be discussed and not just tossed away as old news that doesn’t pertain to our modern society.

I know this sounds like a stretch, but I hold firm in my belief that playing dreidel is the perfect opportunity to retell the story of the Maccabees. They refused to surrender. They had a vision for their community and fought to reach their goals. There are important lessons to reap from that tale, but none more so than having bitachon—trust. The battle-worn warriors had managed to conquer the invading armies of Antiochus, but not before the enemy defiled the sanctuary. As the Maccabees rededicated their holy space and lit the seven-branch menorah, they knew they only had enough oil to last one night. But they didn’t simply take a gamble and throw reason to the wind. They placed their trust in God. And as we all know, they were rewarded for their faith. That vial of oil did not last for just one night. It lasted for eight. I don’t want to make light of these events (no pun intended), but I am able to weave the importance of this theme of trust into my work.

My characters shall have, after a little trouble, all that they desire.”

Jane Austen

The Meyersons of Meryton delves a bit into the Chanukah story—I’ll share a snippet with you shortly—but the concept of trust and faith is also interwoven in Becoming Malka, Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey and most recently in Celestial Persuasion. As in any book, there needs to be an arc to the storyline. There needs to be growth. The heroine must face her fear and rise above the obstacles placed in her path. In keeping with Miss Austen’s playbook, my characters—Molly, Leah, Abigail and even Elizabeth Bennet—all do have a little trouble, but it is ultimately their trust and faith, that gets them to their HEA (Happily-Ever-After).

I realize that we’re still in the fall season here in the northern hemisphere, and there are other holidays to commemorate before we head into the darkest part of the year. However, in light of recent events (again—no pun intended) I felt that this post was well-timed. Chanukah is called the Festival of Lights for a reason. The candles of the chanukkiah are meant to rekindle our memories of what our ancestors accomplished and how they stood up against their aggressors. They are also meant to spark our bitachon and emunah.

Next month, we will begin preparing our latkes and sufgenyiot for our holiday meals. The dreidels and coins will decorate our tables too. Why not take a moment to contemplate their significance; after all, A Great Miracle Happened There and they will continue to happen if we keep the faith!

An Excerpt from The Meyersons of Meryton

When the happy couples at length were seen off and the last of the party had departed Longbourn, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were found in the dining room quite alone, sharing the last bit of port between them.

“What shall we do now, Mrs. Bennet, with three daughters married?”

Surprised at being asked her opinion, Mrs. Bennet gave the question some thought before replying. “I suppose we have earned a respite, husband. Let us see what Life has in store for us.”

“No rest for the weary, my dear, for soon Mary will leave us and then Kitty. We shall have to make arrangements for the inevitable. Perhaps you shall live with one of the girls when I am gone and Mr. Collins inherits the place.”

“Mr. Bennet,” she giggled, “you should have more bitachon.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Perhaps it was the port, or perhaps it was pure exhaustion, but Mrs. Bennet found she had no scruple in sharing the entire tale of Chanukah with her most astonished husband. “Pray Mr. Bennet,” she finally concluded, “what was the true miracle of this holiday?”

“The logical answer,” he replied dryly, “would point to the miracle of such a small group of men overcoming a fierce and mighty army.”

“No, that is not it.” She giggled, as a hiccup escaped her lips.

“Well then,” he sighed, “the esoteric answer would point to the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights.”

“No, Mr. Bennet. Again, you are incorrect.”

“Pray tell me, wife, what then was the miracle, for I can see that you may burst with anticipation for the sharing of it!”

“The miracle, sir, was that they had bitachon. I do hope I am pronouncing correctly. At any rate, it means trust. They knew they only had one vial of sacred oil and had no means to create more. They lit the candle and left the rest up to the Almighty. And that is exactly what we should do in our current circumstance.”

“My dear, it is a lovely tale and I am certain that it has inspired many generations before us and will inspire many generations after we are long gone, but it does not change the fact that Mr. Collins is to inherit Longbourn…”

“Longbourn is entailed to Mr. Collins if we do not produce a son.”

“Yes, and well you know that we have produced five daughters, although you are as handsome as any of them, Mrs. Bennet. A stranger might believe I am the father of six!” he said with sincere admiration.

“You flatter me, Mr. Bennet. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I wish to say…”

“You were but a child when we wed,” he waved her silent, “not much more than Lydia’s age, if I recall. But, my dear, that is neither here or there, for in all this time a son has not been produced and there’s nary a thing to do for it!”

“Mr. Bennet, there is something I have been meaning to tell you. That is, if you could spare a moment of your time—or does your library call you away?”

His wife’s anxious smile made him feel quite the blackguard. Had he not made a promise in Brighton? Did he not vow he would change his ways? Mr. Bennet decided it was high time he put the good rabbi’s advice into practice. Bowing low, he replied, “Madam, I am your humble servant.”

Happier words had never been spoken.

If you’re looking for a great gift idea for your Jewish Janeite, please consider my latest novel, Celestial Persuasion —or any other of my Jewish historical fiction novels. Chag Sameach! Happy Holiday!

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Author’s Interview with Alina Adams

Alina Adams joins us today. Alina is a New York Times best-selling author, romance and mystery writer, soap opera industry insider, and a pioneer in online storytelling and continuing drama. She received her B.A. and M.A. in broadcast communications at San Francisco State University and firmly established herself in the world of television.

Throughout her career, she has worked as a television writer, researcher, website producer, content producer, and creative director. To say that I am in awe of the scope of her work is putting it lightly!

What an honor to welcome such a talented and inspiring author! Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Host: Alina, I was delighted when you contacted me and am thrilled to have you on the blog today. Please tell us about your latest project.

Guest: Thanks so much for having me, Mirta! My last historical fiction novel, The Nesting Dolls, took place in three time periods, 1930s Odessa, USSR during The Great Terror, 1970s USSR during the Jewish Refusnik movement, and present-day Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. (Well, 2019 Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, which means we got in just under the wire and didn’t have to address the pandemic.) So many of the emails I received and the reviews on Goodreads, etc… focused on the first part, 1930s Odessa (a Southern Ukrainian city that people have heard a lot more about now than they had when I first wrote The Nesting Dolls).

Readers told me they had no idea of what was going on in the USSR under Stalin, how repressive, paranoid, and dangerous it was to speak your mind – or even be accused of having done so. As a result, I decided to set my next book primarily in the same time period, but in a place few ever heard of: Birobidzhan, the first Jewish independent state of the 20th century, located on the border between Russia and China.

Host: I read The Nesting Dolls and can highly recommend it, although Part One resonated with me the most. My father’s side of the family lived in and around Odessa. Thankfully, they were able to immigrate prior to the Russian Revolution. Tell us, what intrigued you specifically about this time period?

Guest: Most of the historical fiction/romance set in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s focuses on World War II and the hideous war-crimes and crimes against humanity that took place there. Little attention is paid to what Josef Stalin was doing to his own people during the same time period. Modern estimates suggest he may have been responsible for as many as 9 million deaths, most of them people he designated as “enemies of the state.”

Yes, the USSR defeated Hitler – at the cost of a staggering 24 million people, including soldiers and civilians – but the country they were defending was, in many ways, no better.

Arriving in New York City

I was born in Odessa, USSR, and grew up hearing stories not just of the war against the Fascists, but also what the Communists did, starting with the revolution, going through the deliberate starvation of the Ukraine (between 3 and 7 million deaths), to Stalin’s accusation that Jewish doctors were poisoning the local populace, knows as “The Doctor’s Plot,” right up until the country’s  collapse in 1991.

In 1988, right after Gorbachev first came to power and perestroika made it possible for former Soviet citizens to go back and visit the country they’d fled, my mother and I traveled to Moscow and Odessa. That trip informs the one my characters take, also in 1988, as they go back to look for those they left behind.

Host: I agree with your assessment wholeheartedly. Novels focusing on that time period fail to consider what was going on in the rest of the world. My own family’s history living under Peron, or men of his ilk, is often overlooked. I applaud your efforts and strongly believe it is important sharing our stories. Why do you think Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, genre?

Guest: Just when it feels like we’ve told all the stories there are to tell, new ones pop up. Since “The Nesting Dolls” came out in July 2020, smack in the middle of the pandemic, I’ve been doing dozens of Zoom Book Club talks.

At nearly every single one, I ask, “What was the first Jewish independent state of the 20th century?” Nearly everyone says, “Israel.” When I tell them about Birobidzhan predating Israel by about 20 years, they’re amazed. Even the most educated Jews have never heard of it!

Host: I admit it. I’ve never heard of Birobidzhan. Kudos to you for highlighting this important piece of history. The Jewish community is a diverse and unique culture; yet—here in America—we tend to focus on two narratives: The Holocaust and Fiddler on the Roof-type themes. As you have pointed out, there is so much more to talk about! As an immigrant, would you care to share your thoughts on this topic?

Guest: Yes, absolutely! One of the reasons I wrote both “The Nesting Dolls” and “My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region” was because I was tired of seeing only Fiddler and the Holocaust as the alpha and the omega of the Jewish experience, especially in Europe. It is so much broader than that.

My son calls it “Azhkanzie-normative,” but it goes even further than that. It’s Ashkanazie Jews in a very particular time and place, as though that were all there was.

Host: I like how you’ve put it: These subjects are not “the alpha and omega” of the Jewish experience. That has been my entire POV (point of view) when writing about Jewish Argentina. Our collective experience is much broader than these topics allow. Do you remember your first Jewish fiction that was non-Holocaust related?

Guest: I loved “Flowers in the Blood” by Gay Courter, about a wealthy Indian Jewish family.

Host: I have just researched the title. It sounds fascinating! Courter presents a unique story about Calcutta’s tight-knit Jewish community—something I don’t know much about. I appreciate authors who weave accurate history throughout the storyline. While doing your research, did anything come as a surprise?

Guest: My mother told me about a propaganda movie in Yiddish and Russian that she remembered being made to convince all the Jews of the world to move to Birobidzhan. We were able to find it on YouTube and watch it together. I don’t know what was worse, the clichés or the outright lies. You can see it too.

Host: Thanks for the suggestion! With your unique heritage and considerable education, you certainly have plenty of material to share. How long have you been writing? When did you consider yourself an author?

Guest: I’ve wanted to be a writer since before I even knew that was a job. My parents claim my first words were “pencil” and “paper.” I started sending out novels to publishers – and collecting rejections – when I was 17, a senior in high-school.

I finally sold my first book when I was 25, to Avon. It was a Regency romance, “The Fictitious Marquis,” which, believe it or not, actually had a Jewish woman as the heroine! Yes, it was possible, but she was also hiding her “tainted blood.” Years later, the Romance Writers of America named it the first #OwnVoices Jewish historical! Who knew?

Host: I’ve read “The Fictitious Marquis” and have included it on my Goodreads list! As a Janeite and a previous blogger for Austen Authors, I’m always happy to spread the word regarding Jewish Regency Romance.

Alina, I want to thank you for this fascinating and thought-provoking interview. I know you’ve touched many people with your stories—this audience included. Please let us know where we can find you online.

Guest: Thank you so much for hosting me, today. I can’t wait to hear what people think of “My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region,” and I’d love to answer any questions your readers might have about it, the USSR, writing in general or really pretty much anything!

You can visit me here and find my latest book here or at Barnes and Noble

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Sound the Shofar! This Jewish Historical Fiction Author Reflects Upon the Season

This month, the British empire suffered a tremendous loss. I dare say, the world at large lost a dedicated and devout leader. Queen Elizabeth’s death touched people from all walks of life, none more so than the Jewish community under her protection.

For over seventy years, congregations across the land concluded their Sabbath service praying that “He who gives salvation to kings and dominions to princes, guard her and deliver her from all trouble and sorrow.” But Jewish prayers for the monarchy, or for any ruling government, are not unusual. After the Israelites first expulsion from Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E., the prophet Jeremiah urged the community to pray to the Lord in order for Him to guide their foreign rules with wisdom and compassion. These prayers were eventually incorporated into the siddurim (weekly prayer book) in the 14th century.

However, the supplications were not solely reserved for the Sabbath service. In England, any royal event may have called the community to prayer. Indeed, if Jane Austen attended a Jewish service in 1787, she would have heard a prayer calling for the preservation of King George lll “from the hands of an assassin.” And in 1817, while the empire mourned the death of Princess Charlotte, Hyman Hurwitz composed Israel’s LamentMourn for the universal woe, With solemn dirge and fault’ring tongue, For England’s Lady is laid low, So dear, so lovely, and so young! 

Of course, there were occasions for happier prayers, such as the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887 and that of Queen Elizabeth II in 2002 and again in 2022.  

Her crown is honor and majesty; her scepter, law and morality. Her concern has been for welfare, freedom and unity, and in the lands of her dominion she has sustained justice and liberty for all races, tongues and creeds.” 

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth

Did you know that the concept of jubilee hails from the Torah (Pentateuch)? According to the Book of Leviticus, a commemoration was held at the end of seven cycles of shmita (sabbatical years). Slaves or prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and “the mercies of God would manifest.” The sounding of a ram’s horn (a shofar) would proclaim the celebration. In fact, the ancestral summons was used to announce a variety of events, including a king’s coronation or the proclaiming of a period of mourning—so apropos during these sad days of September.

This is the moment history stops; for a minute, an hour, for a day or a week; this is the moment history stops.”


If we were living in biblical times, the shofar would have certainly announced this momentous occasion and the community would have responded in kind. Today, Jews worldwide recognize the cry of Tekiah as the call to prepare for the new year and the Day of Atonement.

For over 5,700 years during the month of Elul (which usually falls during August or September in the Gregorian calendar), the piercing sound of the shofar has beckoned us to examine our behavior—to ask for forgiveness and to prepare to make amends for the new year.

I came across another blog post about Anglo-Jewry while preparing this article. Naturally, it led me to another post where I discovered an interesting historical figure by the name of Solomon Bennett. For a variety of reasons, Mr. Bennett made it his life’s work to torment Solomon Hirschell, the Chief Rabbi of the German and Polish Jews of England. To be honest, I would say that both Solomon Bennett and Solomon Hirschell were full of themselves! If ever anyone ought to have heeded the sound of the shofar…The series of events that transpired between these two men borders on the ridiculous. Therefore you cannot fault me, dear reader, for immediately envisioning Mr. Collins and Mr. Bennet of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Mr. Collins is a clergyman. He is tall and maintains formal manners; he comes across as pompous and grave. He takes great pains to inform everyone about his social status, which mostly stems from his noble patroness. Mr. Collins is excessive in his compliments and excessively snobbish. His counterpart is Mr. Bennet of Longbourn. This landed gentleman has a sarcastic, cynical sense of humor which he purposefully uses to irritate his prey. However, his dry wit and composure in the midst of mayhem serves him ill, for Mr. Bennet is weak and largely ineffective as a husband, father, or property owner.

Solomon Hirschell

I now present Rabbi Solomon Hirschell. He was said to be a tall and imposing sort of man. He was a traditionalist and did not apologize for wanting to maintain ancient standards and customs. The rabbi liked to boast of his long line of impressive ancestors and benefactors, such as Sir Moses Montefiore and the Goldsmids. Although he had no formal secular education, Hirschell was proud of his Talmudic training and made it known that he possessed an impressive rabbinic library.

In 1811, the European Magazine published an interview with the clergyman. Hirschell proclaimed that he was direct descendant of the royal house of David. He believed his election as chief rabbi to be a natural turn of events. His fiercest enemy, Solomon Bennett, had a field day with that announcement. An author, artist, and a Hebrew scholar in his own right, Bennett publicly ridiculed the rabbi by declaring that he was only given the position due to his connections. But it didn’t end there. He claimed that Hirschell was barely competent in the English language and that he hid behind his father’s precious library to mask his illiteracy.

Of one thing you may be assured, Hirschell could only have known my English publications at second hand because he could not even understand them in the original language, of which his knowledge is so slender.”

Bennett continued to write scathing remarks about the shocking lack of rabbinical publications put out by the Hirschell administration. The Magna Bibliotheca shows that the chief rabbi only published three sermons. Of note: one marked the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and another, which warned the community against sending their children to secular schools. The rabbi was so set in his ways, the sermons were given in Yiddish and had to be translated into English for publication.

Sometime around 1815, Rabbi Hirschell endorsed a book of Jewish studies written by another Solomon —Solomon Jacob Cohen. Bennett was highly critical of the work and published a 66-page pamphlet where he called the rabbi “a proud, savage, and tyrannical Pontiff…in his orthodox piety on the one hand, and his ignorant malice on the other.” 

Solomon Bennett

The public did not appreciate Bennett’s wit and he did not succeed in defaming his nemesis. In fact, the project was a complete failure and Bennett lost money— a £100 to be exact. Short of funds, he was unable to pay his publishers and was sent to debtor’s prison—blaming Hirschell for his misfortune all along the way.

For all that was said against him, Rabbi Hirschell appeared to hold England dear. In one particularly poignant speech, the rabbi expressed his gratitude that “providence permitted me to return to this my beloved native Land.” During the Napoleonic wars, Hirschell encouraged his congregants to enlist and to serve their adopted nation. It was also said that the rabbi secured permission for Jews to “stay away from church parades and to be sworn upon the Book of Leviticus—instead of the New Testament.” This was in keeping with his lack of interaction with his Christian counterparts and his sermons against the newly established Reform movement. On the other hand, Hirschell was known for his charitable organizations and worked to help the relatively newer community of Eastern European Jews.

In 1811, he aided the Westminster Jews’ Free School to open its doors. In 1817, the Jews’ Free School was founded. In 1820, the Western Institute for Clothing and Apprenticing Indigent Jewish Boys was opened; and in 1824,  the Society for the Relief of Indigent Poor began providing widows with five shillings per week.

During his administration as chief rabbi, the problem of poverty was investigated, reforms were suggested, and solutions were implemented (certainly not in keeping with a Mr. Collins).  In the face of these good deeds, Mr. Bennett’s cynicism should not have prevailed; however, it did. To this day, Solomon Hirschell’s legacy remains tainted. He has been labeled as a pompous, unwavering traditionalist, ignorant and out of touch.

Without wishing to overstep the boundaries of a simple blogger (who has no right to sit in judgment), it would seem that the call of Tekiah fell upon deaf ears with these two men. Talk about pride and prejudice! Perhaps they ought to have heeded Elul’s message; they should have recognized the error of their ways and made amends. History might have been kinder to both if the had learned to compromise a bit; but to paraphrase Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, I leave it to be settled, by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of these two gentlemen is to recommend tyrannical rivalry or reward stubborn constancy.

May the sound of the shofar awaken us to be kind to one another and to cherish the moments that make up the days of our lives. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life and may the new year be blessed with health, happiness and goodwill.

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Jane Austen Argentina~ Tea for Two

Jane Austen’s work encompasses a worldwide audience. Her writing has touched us, inspired us and has undoubtedly changed us. A simple search on social media will illustrate the scope and magnitude of her reach. Can you imagine taking tea with Jane? Who wouldn’t want to spend an hour with this remarkable—influential—woman, chatting about anything and everything? Alas, I don’t possess a magic wand to whisk us back in time. Instead, this is what I propose…

The tea things are set out. Tea for two, to be exact. I’m the hostess, so I’ll pour. I hope I’m equal to the task.

I may not be able to invite Miss Austen, but I do have the pleasure of welcoming the president of Jane Austen Argentina, Miss Yerimen Iglesias. And since this is my dream world, I’m going to pretend that we’re enjoying afternoon tea in the famous confiteria Las Violetas in Buenos Aires.

  • If you’d like to read Yerimen’s original text in Spanish, please scroll down the page.

Yerimen, I am delighted that you could meet with us today. I’m sure we all want to know more about Jane Austen Argentina! Tell us a little about your group. How was it formed? Do you all reside in Buenos Aires?

Thank you for inviting me, Mirta!  The group was originally formed in 2013 on Facebook;  and soon after, we created a webpage. Later, several social networks were added so that we could connect with our many followers. That same year—thanks to the Austenitas group from Spain— I was able to meet other young women who also read Jane Austen.

By the end of 2013, we had our first in -person meeting. But we are not only from Buenos Aires. There are participants from other provinces. For example, in Tucumán, there is a member of JA Argentina who is starting a group that will hold events in the Argentine Northwest.

I am very impressed! And not a little jealous! The enthusiasm and devotion is quite evident. Just recently, your group held a ball—The Netherfield Ball, to be exact. By all accounts, it was a great achievement! Congratulations to all the ladies and gentlemen who organized and participated in the event. It must have been quite an undertaking.  How did the idea of holding such a grand event come about?

We have always been fascinated by the great balls and historical re-enactments of the Regency era that are usually performed in Europe or in the United States. As we were not able to travel, we decided to organize our own dance in our city, La Plata. We had previously held another dance in 2015, but with fewer attendees.

Yerimen, I have seen countless pictures of your many and varied events about town. Book club meetings, dance tutorials, picnics, strolls throughout the park…How do people react when they see you out in public? I imagine the group draws a lot of attention.

Yes! People are struck by it. There are even people who can’t understand why we gather in historical clothing to honor a writer who passed away so long ago. The important thing is to do what we like, and in case of receiving unpleasant comments, we always ignore it. These comments lose importance compared to the happiness that our activities bring us.

Brava!  I applaud that manner of thinking—that desire to fulfill your dreams. No doubt, Jane Austen would have approved. As an author myself, I was fascinated to learn about Mariquita Sánchez de Thompson, another lady with these same qualities.  Her story, and that of José de San Martin’s friendship with James Duff, the Earl of Fife, inspired me to write a novel that couples the viceroyalty era with Persuasion.

My own family’s history of immigration, along with my love for Jane Austen, explains why I wrote Celestial Persuasion; but tell us, how did you come to be interested in the regency era of England and the novels of our beloved Jane?

I have always been interested in stories from 19th century England, but in the case of Jane Austen, I am also moved by the simple fact of reading how the characters live on a daily basis, and also connecting with the characters who, despite living in a totally different era, I can feel some identification.

On the other hand, historical fashion is one of the reasons why our literary group is so influenced by historical re-enactment. I love researching the online archives of museums around the world that show us much more than what we see in the costumes of movies set in the Regency era and the rest of the 19th century. Learning about everyday life and costumes helps to understand many details that appear in Jane Austen’s novels.

The colonial era of Argentina—with the tertulias, gentlemen in uniform, and elegant ladies, dressed in the style of Empress Joséphine—was a period of romance and passion. But, it was also a period of great courage and rebellion. While England fought against Napoleon, the people of the viceroyalty fought for their independence. Oh! The stories Jane could have written about those times! 

Imagine for a moment that you are having tea in Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson’s drawing room. Seated to your right is Miss Remedios de Escalada, the future First Lady. Here is my final question: What are the three of you talking about?

As you know, Mirta, the beginnings of Argentina’s independence was very hard. The young government did not have enough money to support the armies fighting the Spanish. In these tertulias, or gatherings, I imagine that we ladies are probably talking about the political situation in the country, the war, or the anguish we would feel if our fiancés and husbands do not return. But we also discuss how we could help the armies.

In 1812, fourteen Patrician ladies (Mariquita and Remedios were among them) decided to buy thirteen rifles which were donated to the armies of the young nation, together with two ounces of gold. The name of one of the ladies was engraved on each rifle along with the inscription, “I armed this brave man who assured his glory and our freedom.” In other cities of the viceroyalty, other groups of women also collaborated by sending money, provisions, or making flags and uniforms.

It never ceases to amaze me what a group of determined ladies can accomplish! Jane Austen was a woman of information and strong opinions. Today, I believe she would be known as an “influencer”—much as Mariquita Sanchez was in her time…and much like you! Jane would have been delighted to have taken tea with these ladies of the viceroyalty, as I have enjoyed this time with you.

Thank you, Yerimen, for shedding light on these interesting subjects. Let me, again, offer my congratulations on your Netherfield Ball. You and your friends look like you’ve come straight out of an Austen novel.

Please send my regards to the members of Jane Austen Argentina. One more thing before I take my leave: How do people get in touch with you for more information?

Thank you, Mirta. It was my pleasure to attend this lovely tea party!  I will leave you with a few of our social media links:

Yerimen, encantada de recibirte esta tarde, junto con la audiencia de Austen Authors. ¡Queremos saber más sobre Jane Austen Argentina! Contanos un poco sobre tu grupo. ¿Cómo se formó? ¿Todos residen en Buenos Aires?

Gracias Mirta por tu invitacion. Se formó en el año 2013 como grupo en facebook y poco después hubo página, Luego se fueron agregando varias redes sociales para conectar mucho mas con nuestros seguidores. Gracias a Austenitas de España pude conocer ese mismo año a chicas que también leían a Jane por lo que a finales del 2013 tuvimos la primera reunión en persona. No somos únicamente de Buenos Aires, también hay de otras provincias, por ejemplo en Tucumán hay una integrante de JA Argentina que está iniciando un grupo para realizar también eventos en la zona del Noroeste Argentino.

¡Estoy maravillada! ¡Y un poquito celosa! El entusiasmo y la devoción es evidente. Recientemente, tu grupo promovio una danza de la epoca—para aclarar: The Netherfield Ball. Según todos los informes, ¡fue un gran logro! Felicitaciones a todas las damas y los caballeros que organizaron y participaron en el evento. Debe haber sido toda un projecto. ¿Cómo surgió la idea de celebrar un evento de esta magnitud?

Siempre nos fascinaron los grandes bailes y recreaciones históricas de la época de regencia que se suelen realizar en Europa o Estados Unidos. Pero no teníamos posibilidad de viajar, así que decidimos realizar nuestro propio baile, en nuestra ciudad, La Plata. Previamente habíamos realizado otro baile en 2015, pero con menos asistentes.

Yerimen, he visto innumerables fotos de los variados eventos por toda la ciudad. Reuniones de lectura, tutoriales de baile, picnics, paseos por el parque… ¿Cómo reacciona la gente cuando los ven en público? Me imagino que llaman mucho la atención.

Si! A la gente le llama la atención e incluso hay gente que no logra entender porqué nos reunimos con ropa histórica a homenajear a una escritora que falleció hace tanto tiempo. Lo importante es hacer lo que nos gusta y en caso de recibir comentarios desagradables siempre lo ignoramos ya que pierde importancia frente a la felicidad que nos da realizar nuestras actividades.

¡Brava! Aplaudo esa forma de pensar, ese deseo de cumplir tus sueños. Sin duda, Jane Austen lo hubiese aprobado. Como autora, me fascinó conocer a Mariquita Sánchez de Thompson, otra mujer con estas mismas cualidades. Su historia, y la de la amistad de José de San Martín con James Duff, el conde de Fife, me inspiró a escribir una novela que combina la época del virreinato con Persuasion. La historia de inmigración de mi propia familia, junto con mi amor por Jane Austen, explica por qué escribí Celestial Persuasion; pero contame, ¿cómo llegaste a interesarte por la época de la regencia de Inglaterra y las novelas de nuestra querida Jane?

Siempre me he sentido interesada por las historias de la época del siglo XIX en Inglaterra, pero en el caso de Jane Austen también me conmueve el simple hecho de leer cómo viven cotidianamente los personajes, y también conectar con los personajes que, a pesar de tantos años de diferencia y vivir en una era totalmente diferentes, podemos sentir algo de identificación. 

Por otro lado, la moda histórica es una de las razones por la cual nuestro grupo literario tiene tanta influencia de la recreación histórica. Amo investigar en los archivos online de museos del mundo que nos muestran mucho más de lo que vemos en los vestuarios de las películas ambientadas en la época de regencia y en el resto del siglo XIX. Aprender sobre la cotidianeidad y el vestuario ayuda a entender muchísimos detalles que aparecen en las novelas de Jane Austen.

La época colonial de Argentina—con las tertulias, caballeros en uniforme, y damas elegantes, vestidas en el estilo de la emperatriz Joséphine—fue un periodo de romance y pasión. Pero, también fue un periodo de mucho valor y rebeldía. Mientras que Inglaterra batallo en contra de Napoleón, el pueblo del virreinato lucho por su independencia.  ¡Que historias pudo haber escrito Jane del pueblo criollo! Imagínate, por un momento, que estás tomando el té en el salón de los Thompsons. Sentada a su derecha está la señorita Remedios de Escalada, la futura Primera Dama. Aquí está mi pregunta final: ¿De qué hablan?

Mirta, como sabes, los comienzos de la independencia argentina fueron muy duros. El joven gobierno no tenía suficiente dinero para mantener a los ejércitos que combatían contra los españoles. Me imagino, como en todas las tertulias, que probablemente estamos hablando de la situación política del país, de la guerra, o de la angustia que sentiríamos si nuestros prometidos y esposos no regresan. Pero también discutimos cómo podríamos ayudar a los ejércitos. 

Por eso, en 1812, 14 Damas Patricias (incluyendo Mariquita y Remedios de Escalada) decidieron comprar 13 fusiles que donaron a los ejércitos de la joven nación, junto a dos onzas de oro. En cada fusil se grabó el nombre de una de las damas junto a la inscripción “yo armé el brazo de este valiente que aseguró su gloria y nuestra libertad”. En otras ciudades del virreinato, otros grupos de mujeres también colaboraron enviando dinero, provisiones o confeccionando banderas y uniformes.

¡Nunca deja de sorprenderme lo que un grupo de mujeres decididas puede lograr! Jane Austen era una mujer de información y opiniones fuertes. Hoy, creo que sería conocida como una “influencer” al igual que Mariquita Sánchez lo fue en su tiempo… y muy parecida a ti! Jane hubiese estado encantada de haber tomado el té con las damas del virreinato, al igual que yo disfrute esta oportunidad de conocerte. Gracias, Yerimen, por compartir estos detalles y informacion tan interesantes. Permítime, una vez más, felicitarlos por su Netherfield Ball. ¡Parecen haber salido directamente de una novela de Austen!

Por favor, envía mis saludos a los miembros de Jane Austen Argentina. Antes de despedirme, una pregunta mas: ¿Cómo podemos contactarnos con el grupo para obtener más información?

Gracias, Mirta ¡Fue un placer asistir a esta encantadora fiesta del té! Aqui les dejo algunos de nuestros enlaces a redes sociales

As I said, I think Jane would be a social media influencer today. Mariquita Sanchez certainly was in Argentina. Can you name another lady (Jane’s contemporary, but from your country, culture, or heritage) that could be nominated for this title? Please do share your thoughts.

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Jewish Regency Romance~ An Author’s View of the World

As a writer of Jewish Regency Romance and Jewish Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF), I can relate with the desire of wanting representation of my culture in a period piece; but my need goes as far as introducing new characters into Austen’s world. For me, it is enough to envision the diversity in the background, such as with the introduction of Rabbi and Mrs. Meyerson in The Meyersons of Merytonor in the forefront with Miss Abigail Isaacs and Lieutenant Gabay taking the lead roles in Celestial Persuasion.  Some would argue that Austen’s worldview was restricted and insular—that she never met a Jew—and that I’m missing the point.

I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a letter dated December 17, 1816, Jane Austen describes her work to her sister, Cassandra, as “the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour.” Is it possible that even the author doubted her talent? In my view, Austen was very much present and interested in the world. She was well read and acquainted with the work of her contemporaries, however, Jane Austen transcended these novels that so often demanded and preached by creating her own nuanced style.  It is precisely her iconic wit and sardonic commentary of society that is quintessential Austen.

Austen’s contributions have been so widely adopted and adapted by other authors, it can be easy to forget how groundbreaking her work really was.”

Elizabeth Wilder, Stanford University

In a thesis presented at Leiden University, it is postulated that “Austen’s notion of realism stems from the detailed portrayals of her characters’ emotions and the social environment of the landed gentry.” This paper goes on to address what we Janeites already knew. Jane Austen was well aware of the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, socio-economic, and socio-political issues. The issues of the day were a given—she didn’t need to beleaguer the point. Austen provided just enough of a backdrop for her audience to lose themselves in the fiction, yet feel completely ensconced in realistic scenarios.  

Bath Royal Theatre

Jane Austen may have lived a relatively quiet life as a parson’s daughter, but she was not without culture. She enjoyed books, plays, and operas written by foreign artists and compatriots alike. In fact, much has been written regarding a certain German author and his influence on Austen’s work. August von Kotzebue was tremendously popular during the Regency era. Over 170 editions of his plays were published, translated, and performed throughout Britain. While living in Bath, Jane attended a performance of one of his plays, Die Versöhnung (The Birthday) on June 19, 1799. It is very possible that she returned to watch another performance of the same play at the Bath Theatre Royal on May 21, 1803.

The Austen family had been keen exponents of amateur drama, and Jane herself was a discerning theatergoer.”

Joan Rees, author of Jane Austen: Woman and Writer

We don’t know what Austen thought of these performances; however, there is evidence that the play influenced her writing—specifically with Emma and Mansfield Park. Readers will recall that while the patriarch, Sir Thomas, is away from home, the Bertrams and Crawfords decide to try their hand at an amateur theatrical. They settle on the lascivious, Lovers’ Vows—an adaptation of Kotzebue’s Das Kind der Liebe.

Austen doesn’t specify the play’s author (or translator in this case) in her book. Just as she has done in other works, Austen trusts her audience is enlightened and up to speed on current trends. However, by using Kotzebue’s play as a plot device—with its open flirtation and seduction—Austen cleverly address the changing social mores (or lack thereof) in British culture. She also proves that she was in touch with the world around her and not “imprisoned in her wretched conventions of English society.”

For my purposes, I prefer to leave Austen’s characters as she would have imagined them in her own mind’s eye and add my cultural influence to the periphery. There were Jews in England in Austen’s day and they lived in various social spheres throughout the land. By not imposing this fact or truism upon beloved, fictional characters, I hope to follow Austen’s example. I’m simply adding another layer of dimension in the Regency world.

Just as Austen looked to Kotzebue for inspiration, I have looked to others to emulate. One such author was not Jane’s contemporary. Kate Emanuel was born to a family of German immigrants. Her grandfather had been a merchant and a goldsmith; however, by the time of Kate’s birth in 1844, the family was well established in Portsmouth and well known within the Jewish community. At the age of seventeen, Kate was a Sunday School teacher and devoted much of her free time to reading and writing.

It has been suggested that Kate delayed getting married—afraid that she wouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to write. Does that remind you of someone? Unlike Jane Austen, however, Kate was fortunate in her choice. She married her second cousin, Philip Magnus in 1870; and happily, her fears were unfounded. Her husband’s position as a teacher and rabbi at West London Synagogue allowed Kate the time, energy, and focus to become successful in her own right. She published The Outlines of Jewish History in 1880 and later Jewish Portraits, a series of essays on Heinrich Heine, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, and Moses Mendelssohn, amongst other subjects. In 1886, Philip was elevated to the peerage for his work in reforming national educational policy and the couple’s place among society was secured.

Lady Magnus speaks in the easy, cultured persona of the educated upper-class Englishwoman, often using irony and sarcasm…”

Cynthia Scheinberg, literary scholar

Again, I am reminded of that “other” British authoress. And much like Jane Austen, Kate Magnus did not underestimate her audience. She wrote as she saw, but didn’t impose her understanding of contemporary issues on others.

Lady Magnus

In 1906, The Jewish Encyclopedia compiled a list of over three hundred British citizens who, from 1700 on, “distinguished themselves in service, the arts and sciences, government, finance, and education.” Among these are fifteen women writers, including Kate Emanuel, Lady Magnus.

In dedication to her works, her son, Laurie, wrote: “Readers of Lady Magnus’s books, who knew the author, will know how steadfastly she practiced many of the virtues which she praised in the heroes of her religion. All her lifelong, she never omitted to spread the white cloth and light the candles in honor of Sabbath. From the beginning, her life and her writing were proudly Jewish.”

Austen and Magnus: two women who continue to influence my writing with their wit and understanding of the world. Who knows? Perhaps—”after a bit of labour”—I will find that my “bit of ivory” will also produce some effect.” Stay tuned and we shall see!

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Shabbat Shalom~ Commentary from a Jewish Regency Romance Author on Celebrating Independence Day

Here in the United States of America, we will soon celebrate the 246th anniversary of our independence. And as a grateful immigrant, I will soon be celebrating my 60th year in this great nation. The blessings are boundless; a deep sense of pride and patriotism continues to fill my heart.

I come from a long line of immigrants. I wish I could trace my lineage with some level of accuracy beyond that which I know: Russian Jews that settled in Argentina thanks to Baron Hirsch and the Jewish Colonization Association. My family later immigrated to the U.S. and I’ve spent a life time explaining, to all who ask, why there are blue-eyed Jews that speak Spanish.  I try to explain the diaspora. I try to explain the complex history of our immigration. I try to explain that there have been Jews in South America since 1492… “when Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Quite often, this fact is met with shock. Quite often, this fact only brings up the next question:

How long have Jews been in the good ol’ USA?

As a history buff and a great fan of historical fiction, these questions—for the most part—please me. It is a subject near and dear to my heart! But it is for that very reason, that these questions are also bittersweet. Most people have some understanding, or knowledge, of the massive wave of immigration in the early 20th century. Stories of Ellis Island have been made popular and encompass the history of many peoples that came to these shores. But the story of Jewish immigration doesn’t begin with familiar scenes from “Fiddler on the Roof” or “Yentl.” Here’s a fact for you: Jews have been in both North and South America since the fifteenth century. They found their way here escaping the Spanish Inquisition; however, there is documented proof of observant Jews in colonial America. In fact, it is estimated that there were approximately 2,000 Jews living here and at least seven Sephardic (Iberian Peninsula Jews) congregations. Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in New York City in 1655. Rhode Island’s Yeshuat Israel in Newport began 1658. Congregation Mickve Israel served the people of Savannah, Georgia as early as 1733.

These Jews were from all across Europe. Their list of reasons for leaving hearth and home were the very same that other immigrants could enumerate. They sought freedom. They sought prosperity. They sought peace of mind. And when the colonies united against England, these Jewish immigrants answered the call in some form or fashion.

Haym Salomon rendered immeasurable service to the Revolution by providing financial support in desperate times. His service to this nation should be heralded by all. Aaron Lopez of Newport and Isaac Moses of Philadelphia also had the means to assist the cause. Risking their source of revenue, as well as their lives, these merchants sailed their own ships past British blockades and brought clothing, guns, and food to deprived soldiers. Many other Jewish patriots took up arms. In South Carolina, for example, one troop had so many Jewish soldiers, they were dubbed the “Jews’ Company.” In 1776, Francis Salvador, the first Jewish State Legislator of South Carolina, was killed fighting against Loyalists and their Cherokee allies.  In 1777, Lieutenant Solomon Bush discovered a spy in George Washington’s headquarters. The lieutenant was taken prisoner by the British, although he was later released.

Needless to say, women also supported the cause. Abigail Minis was a prominent businesswoman in Georgia during the American Revolutionary War. Left a widow at a young age, she took charge of the family finances. A patriot, Minis also put her hospitality and resources to good use— earning fame and admiration amongst the troops. Legend has it that Mrs. Minis met George Washington in 1791 when he visited her tavern in Savannah. Unfortunately, that can’t be confirmed. Her daughter, Leah, however did meet with the president years later. Mrs. Minis was 91 years of age at the time. She was surely kvelling at that honor, as any mother would!

The Mill Street synagogue was a central anchor for the Jewish community in the city of New York since its founding in 1730. In 1766, Gershom Mendes Seixas became the hazzan, or cantor, of the congregation. Although he was not an ordained rabbi, he lead the Jewish community and encouraged their integration into their new society. He was an ardent patriot and supported the cause; and when the British captured New York, Mendes Seixas led the congregation to its temporary home in Philadelphia.  

In the Post-Revolutionary period, Mendes Seixas strived to undergird the patriotism felt by the Jewish community. To reinforce their significance in the American tapestry, he wrote President Washington and asked for a statement of recognition—and reassurance—from the new government.

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events) behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People—a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance—but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental Machine

In probably one of the most important presidential letters in American history, Washington wrote back.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. . .

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy...”

This message highlights an extraordinary moment in history and for American Jewry. Here, in this great country, we were given freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And as an immigrant, I know that freedom is rare and fragile. On this Shabbat, and on this anniversary of independence, I simply wanted to acknowledge that fact and say thank you. God Bless America!

God bless America,
land that I love.
Stand beside her
and guide her,
through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains
to the prairies
to the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
my home sweet home,
God bless America,
my home sweet home.

גאָט בּענטש אַמעריקע,
לאַנד װאָס איך ליבּ,
שטײזע בּײַ איר,
מַדְרִיךְ זײַ איר
איבּראל לײַכט א שטראל אונז צוליבּ
פון די בּערג בּיז
צו די פּרײריעס
בּיז די יאמן װײַס מיט שױם
גאָט בּענטש אַמעריקע,
מײַן זיסע הײם
גאָט בּענטש אַמעריקע,
מײַן זיסע הײם