The last few months have been awfully busy. Having recently finished a rough draft of my next novel, I’ve been focused on working with my alpha readers and trying to revise, restructure and basically reinvent my ever-evolving storyline. All this is done in stolen moments in between a 10-hour work day and household responsibilities… laundry, grocery shopping, etc. Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings when all I want to do is write. And before I knew it, Passover was upon us and I was not prepared.
Being empty-nesters, the holidays are just not the same any more, especially because my children, and family in general, are spread out across the world. But I still wanted to celebrate the occasion and preserve the traditions, so out came the cookbooks and beloved recipes. I’m not a particularly talented cook, nor am I overly ambitious. And as our diets are restricted throughout the week, I sometimes am at a loss to create things without the prohibited chometz. Or as our family haggadah indicates, we are to avoid anything that “puffs up.” As a side note—or maybe not—I think this haggadah is spot on with regard to a spiritual cleansing of pride and self-importance. Leavened breads, cakes and other yeast or flour products inflate and thicken our bodies. All year long, we are full of chometz, full of ourselves, with no room for God or anything else. For one week, we are told to eat matzah, which is flat and bland, and contemplate our lives and our freedoms. It is the complete opposite of haughtiness and puffiness.
OK, if I haven’t lost you yet, let me get back to my post…
In looking at the family favorites, I noticed how I have tweaked recipes here and there. Ingredients have been swapped out, preparations have been revised. In other words, the recipes evolved, much like my latest novel, depending on whose voice had taken the lead. Depending on which grandmother, aunt, or cousin passed it along, or from which country, culture and timeframe, the difference was notable.
Are you still with me?
I had previously written about Lady Judith Montefiore, and the impact of her cookbook on Anglo-Jewry, but started to think about food in relation to our identity. I am ethnically a Russian Jew who was born in Argentina. But I am also a (proud) naturalized citizen of the United States of America and have been highly influenced by the culture in my adopted land.
“Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are.”
That statement was published by Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1825; and I think, it still holds true! Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver recently stated that “Dishes evolve, impacted by trade, war, famine and a hundred other forces.” I find it all fascinating and here is just one example of how recipes evolve and cultures intermingle.
Almond sweets were all the rage in Sicily; but by 1552, they had gained popularity and became known to the rest of modern-day Italy, Spain, France, and England. And across the pond, in a hand-written cookbook published by the first lady, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery contained a recipe for almond cookies. So, by the 17th century, we have the word macaron in French or macaroon in English. At this time, the world was also introduced to the Sicilian word maccarruni. In English, of course, we know it as macaroni.
To complicate things a bit, a fad developed in the United States in the late 1800s with the importation of coconut from India. Coconut cream pies, ambrosia and custards were very popular— as was the coconut macaroon, which suddenly began appearing in Jewish cookbooks. In 1871, Esther Levy’s Jewish Cookery Book included a recipe for this new dessert; and because they didn’t contain flour, they soon became an American Passover tradition.
Never let it be said that the French were left behind in the world of baking! Soon after coconut macaroons first appeared, bakers Gerbet and Desfontaines created a sandwich cookie by putting almond paste or ganache between two individual macarons. The new cookie was called “le macaron Parisien.” In the United States, the word macaron now referred to the French ganache cookie, leaving macaroon to describe the coconut confection we eat all throughout this holiday week.
Don’t forget the word macaroni. We think of it as elbow pasta. Right? Au contraire! In 18th century England, macaroni had an altogether different meaning. Wealthy gentlemen, who sported outlandish hairstyles and pretentious fashions, were called Macaronis. Why? Because while they did the Grand Tour across the Continent, they acquired a taste for Italian pasta, which was considered an exotic food sensation. For those of us who grew up singing “Yankee Doodle,” this explanation helps to make sense of the song. The chorus makes fun of a disheveled Yankee soldier who attempts to look fashionable. Remember? “…stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.”
At this point, you may be asking yourself: How is she going to tie all these ponderings together? Don’t worry. I’ll tell you.
This year for Passover, I couldn’t find a nice brisket in my grocery store, so I chose to make an American-style pot roast. And because my husband doesn’t care for chicken soup, we ate our kneidalach (matzah balls) in Argentine-style tuco (similar to a Pomodoro sauce). I wonder what Lady Judith might have opined of my international Pesach menu. And what of our beloved, Jane Austen? Did she have an interest in food? In one of her many letters to her sister, Cassandra, she wrote:
“My mother desires me to tell you that I am a very good housekeeper, which I have no reluctance in doing, because I really think it my peculiar excellence, and for this reason – I always take care to provide such things as please my own appetite, which I consider as the chief merit in housekeeping. I have had some ragout veal, and I mean to have some haricot mutton to-morrow.”
Both of these entrées stem from French cuisine. I wonder if Jane ever dined on anything quite so exotic as pasta? I know for a fact she was acquainted with a few Macaronis—at the very least she wrote about them! I can think of a few Austen dandies, can’t you? But then again, our Miss Jane was never at a loss for words about pride…
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.”
I wonder what she would have to say about Pharaoh? Talk about being “puffed up”!
After nearly a year, I am happy to announce I’ve completed the first draft of my latest novel. Of course, that only opens the door for the various re-writes, alpha reads, beta reads, etc. In other words, the hard part is yet to come! In the meantime, I want to share the inspiration for this novel. The book is currently entitled, Celestial Persuasion and I hope it can be accepted as a prequel to Persuasion in the hearts and minds of my fellow “Janeites.” But it is much more than that! Allow me then to introduce a few key historical figures that were the impetus for my novel.
It is interesting to note, England was at war almost continually throughout Jane Austen’s lifetime. Most Regency fans are familiar with the Napoleonic Wars and the impact on the Austen family and to her fictional characters. For the most part, these battles and engagements remained on the Continent, with brief mentions of the West Indies and the Caribbean. I’m going to take you further south, all the way to South America; and in particular, to the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata. Today, it’s known as the Republic of Argentina.
Though it was a Spanish colony, the English were very much a part of the area’s growth. From whalers and farmers, to engineers, bankers, and second sons, they journeyed to the Viceroyalty to make their fortunes on the pampas. Things got a little heated, however, when in 1806 and again in 1807, the English decided to invade the territory. Remember, England’s resources had been spread thin, what with those pesky American colonists, not to mention the French. They needed to expand their reach to fill the Crown’s emptying coffers. In the Viceroyalty, the criollos (those born in the New World but of European ancestry) were contemplating their freedom—much like their brethren up north had done—when the English decided to attack. Needless to say, the Redcoats were not successful, having been repulsed by a ragtag colonial militia. The criollos’ victory against a great European power only helped to increase their confidence, and sparked a wave of patriotism and pride.
Now, across the pond, the officers suffered tremendous embarrassment for not being able to hold the line. Sir Home Popham, for example, had captured Buenos Aires and tried to impose an oath of loyalty, but the citizens refused to obey. They locals fought and took back their city and General Beresford had to surrender. A few months later, more troops were sent to engage the Spanish colony, but found themselves fighting in the streets and having to negotiate an evacuation! Their shame was complete. Jane Austen, however, had compassion for their efforts and in a letter dated 1807, we find a poem penned by her own hand.
ON SIR HOME POPHAM’S SENTENCE, APRIL 1807
Of a Ministry pitiful, angry, mean,
A gallant commander the victim is seen.
For promptitude, vigour, success, does he stand,
Condemn’d to receive a severe reprimand!
To his foes I could wish a resemblance in fate:
That they, too, may suffer themselves, soon or late,
It is understandable that Austen would be sympathetic to the officer; she had two brothers in the Navy and would, naturally, support the cause. Nonetheless, there was a large population of English living in the Viceroyalty, many of them had married and had raised their families in the New World. They did not support the English invasion, nor did they support the Spanish crown. In 1807, Napoleon had invaded Spain and the king had been removed from power. The criollos, living an ocean away, believed they had the right to govern themselves until the lawful king was restored to the throne. In January 1809, Napoleon crowned his brother, Joseph, as King of Spain. This act was the perfect excuse for secession and here enter our players: Jose San Martín, Lord Fife and Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson.
If you have read this far, I thank you! I realize that I am passionate about things that put most people to sleep; but once I realized that San Martín was in England, collaborating with Lord Fife, Sir Charles Stuart and host of other aristocrats, I couldn’t get this idea out of my head. And when I discovered Mariquita Sanchez, I knew I had the makings of a wonderful story. Captain Wentworth was an easy choice and I proceeded to create the characters of Abigail and Jonathan Isaacs to bond the entire project together.
I decided to place my fictional family in the town of Exeter, located in the historic county of Devon. Exeter worked well with my storyline because it is adjacent to Austen’s fictional Barton Cottage, as well as the Great House of Uppercross (if you’re a Janeite, you’ll understand). And more importantly, I wanted to place my fictional country doctor and his family among a small Jewish community in Southwestern England. Did you know there has been such a community in Exeter since medieval times? They were expelled in 1290, but were allowed to return and rebuild by the mid-1700s. The synagogue, built in 1763, is the third oldest existing synagogue in the United Kingdom and the second oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in the English-speaking world (Plymouth Synagogue was built in 1762). Rabbi Moses Horwitz was the leader of the community from 1792-1837. One of the town’s more renown citizens, and founder of the Jewish congregation, was Abraham Ezekiel. He was described as a silversmith, engraver in general, optician, goldsmith and print-seller; and “for fifty years and upwards, a respectable tradesman of Exeter.” By 1796, five other Jewish citizens had shops in the fashionable shopping area of town, sufficiently well established as to warrant inclusion in the Exeter Pocket Journal. And so, I placed Doctor Simon Isaacs, widower, in this charming locality along with his children, Jonathan and Abigail Isaacs.
I will sign off with an excerpt from the W.I.P. (Work in Progress) in the hopes that it will tempt you!
Captain Wentworth returned to his ship, and nary a crewman offered more than a silent salute as the ship’s commander stormed to his quarters. Every man, from first lieutenant to cabin boy and everyone in between, had seen that look of their captain’s face before. They knew better than to engage him when he was clearly consumed with a task that required his full attention. He crossed the upper deck and descended the companionway before briefly saluting the marine sentry posted at his door. Cursing, he threw his hat across the room and roughly removed his coat. Normally controlled and reserved, the captain allowed himself a moment to release his frustration. Truth be told, he was more than frustrated. He was angry. Angry with Captain Lawrence for his abject abuse of power. Angry with the Admiralty for turning a blind eye to rogue and lawless officers. Angry with the helpless situations in which young women found themselves when their menfolk failed to respect their intellect and resolve. He could not help himself and thought of Anne again. Would the pain ever subside? Would he be able to set aside the rejection and rally again?
Throwing himself into his chair, uncharacteristically without ceremony or care, Captain Wentworth grimaced at the task before him. He must write to Isaacs’ sister. He—of all men—would have to lay out a new trajectory and pray she would comply. The captain reached for a nearby bottle of claret and poured the ruby liquid into a crystal glass. He swilled the contents down in one gulp, feeling only the burning sensation as it glided down his throat. The feeling was welcome. Considering what was required of him now left a worse taste in his mouth than the fiery wine. Captain Wentworth could not scruple that he was now in the position of having to persuade a young lady in the course of her life. Of all things, he despised the thought of manipulating someone by playing on their respect of his rank and command. And again, he thought of Anne. She too had been young and naïve of the ways of the world, and allowed someone she trusted to guide her. To guide her in such a way as to lead her away from him.
He took another swallow of courage and thought now of Miss Abigail Isaacs. Throughout their friendship and time at sea, Jonathan had provided some of the essentials—she seemed quite unlike other young ladies. But, then again, were not all young ladies easily persuaded?
12th of August, 1811
I take pen in hand to inform you that I am in receipt of your letters, both the one you had so wisely addressed to my attention and the one intended for your brother. It grieves me to relay this information. It is a task no commander ever wishes to undertake; and knowing that you have recently lost your father, this will be a harder blow than any young lady should have to bear. With all my heart and soul, I would wish to spare you this intelligence; however, Isaacs—that is to say, Jonathan—always spoke so highly of his sister, that I take courage in knowing your strength will allow you to rally. Your dear brother, and my good friend, will not be returning home. He has completed his service to the Crown and distinguished himself with great honor. You may hold your head high. Jonathan Isaacs is, and will always be, thought of as the best of men. These are trying times, Miss Isaacs. Wars seem to be never ending, and a grateful nation asks much of the families that are left behind to wonder, to pray, and to grieve. I hope that you have family and friends to help you through these dark and troubled waters; but until you find yourself tranquil once more, pray allow me to guide you to a safe harbor. Your brother charged me to relay some instructions, and I am only too honored to fulfill my promise expeditiously and with great care.
It was your brother’s greatest wish that you meet Lord Fife. You may be unaware of the relationship, but your father and his lordship were friends and business partners. At your father’s bidding, Jonathan was introduced to the earl when he was at university at Edinburgh. Please make whatever arrangements are necessary to travel to London at once. You are expected, Miss Isaacs, and can rest assured that accommodations will be at your disposal with the earl’s compliments. His lordship is making his townhouse available to you and will, naturally, stay at his club for the duration of your visit. I cannot say this more succinctly, madam: Jonathan was most adamant in his declaration and has entrusted your wellbeing to Lord Fife.
I can well imagine your present state of mind. Please forgive my impertinence, but having learned much of your homelife, I feel quite part of the family. The Bible tells us to build our lives upon the stable rock that is God’s love, wisdom, and salvation. I would humbly add to that. My own brother, the Reverend Edward Wentworth, has been the rock in my life. I know what Jonathan has meant to you, as he has told me much of your childhood together. To be sure, I know you are a talented mathematician and astronomer, and that these accomplishments were brought about by hours and hours of your brother’s loving dedication to the betterment of your brilliant mind. I know, too, that you were quite put out and displayed righteous indignation when you were prohibited—at the age of nine or ten— to accompany your brother to university. Pray, do not be vexed with Jonathan for relaying this intelligence. It was one of his cherished memories of his most beloved sister. Jonathan treasured this time spent together, learning and discovering all matter of things. He also spoke of the influences of many of your sex, giants in their fields of expertise. I, myself, had no knowledge of their greatness and readily admitted my ignorance of such feminine luminaries.
Because of these intimate conversations with your brother, I feel that I have been given leave to speak to you thusly. These brilliant women, of whom Jonathan spoke, had shown great courage in forging ahead in worlds that denied their very existence. I am now obligated to help you navigate the trajectory that the stars have so clearly outlined. As the Bible tells us, Miss Isaacs: Be strong and of good courage! I entreat you to make haste and communicate with Lord Fife as soon as you are able.
Captain Frederick Wentworth
I hope you enjoyed the post. I am currently seeking one or two alpha-readers; so if you are interested, please let me know!
In the upcoming months, I will be participating (via Zoom) in two separate book club meetings. Both groups have decided to read and discuss my novel, Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey.
To say that I am humbled, delighted, and encouraged doesn’t even begin to describe what I’m feeling. The book was published in 2017; and as an indie author, it goes without saying, the continued show of interest is invaluable. However, for this book in particular, I should not be surprised. Just about a year after its publication, I embarked on a journey of my own. As cliché as it sounds, I was touched by a fairy godmother all of my own. Talk about a show of interest…
I received an email via Goodreads.com. The note was from a woman who had read and enjoyed, Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey. She went on to explain that a group from the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County were in the midst of planning a trip, their so-called “VIP Mission to Argentina.” Stacey Levy introduced herself as the lead chair of the mission and explained that her team of organizers were preparing an exclusive itinerary in this hub of South American Jewish life. They were planning on visiting synagogues and Jewish schools, and meeting with dignitaries and officials to discuss the needs and the experiences of Jewish Argentines. She also wanted to schedule an afternoon Meet & Greet with a Jewish Argentine author.
“Do you happen to know of anyone who’d be interested to meet with us?”
In my naiveté, I wrote back, graciously thanking her for her kind words regarding my book. I offered to contact my relatives in Argentina, in the hopes of finding someone to work with her organization. That is to say, an Argentine author of Jewish fiction, who—by the way— spoke English. Several emails later (Yes! I am that slow), my fairy godmother nearly had to slap me with the plane ticket.
“Your book was hand selected. I am inviting you to come speak to the group.”
To say that I was honored doesn’t even come close. Naturally, I accepted the invitation, but how would I explain it all to my family? A complete stranger was inviting me to go to Argentina. My kids were astounded. Hadn’t I always preached the need for safety and precaution when interacting with people on the internet? Admittedly, I did some research and found that I was dealing with a legitimate person from a well-known organization.
There were a flurry of emails and phone calls to organize the event. I was given the opportunity to suggest a venue, and I immediately proposed meeting in Las Violetas, an iconic café in Buenos Aires. The location is even mentioned in my novel. But the café could not accommodate a group of fifty people, so I suggested Café Tortoni. This legendary establishment has been home to Argentina’s most famous artists, literary giants, journalists and politicians. And I, an unknown indie author, would now be joining in their ranks.
Each participant of the trip would receive a signed copy of my historical fiction. As Stacey said, it would “help provide invaluable insight to Jewish Argentina in a substantive, yet entertaining manner.”
The day of the event finally arrived. I was met at the door by the manager of the café and escorted to a private room. I walked by famous works of art and stained glass, noting the lovely display of treats that had been set out. An Argentine afternoon tea closely resembles what one might expect to find in any British setting. Finger sandwiches and fine, elaborated pastries were presented upon intricate silver trays and delicate china. Of course, there were cookies filled with Dulce de Leche, but I couldn’t touch a bite. I took a seat, next to a life-sized picture of world-renown author, Jorge Borges, and sipped my tea in anticipation. I had yet to meet Stacey in person!
At last, the group arrived. They had completed a tour of Teatro Colon; and after my presentation, they would have just enough time to change before dining with one of the city’s officials. Again, I was taken aback at the magnitude of what was transpiring. The entire episode was surreal. With not a moment to waste, Stacey and I embraced— as if we had known each other our entire lives— and she proceeded with the introductions.
Taking the floor, I was overcome with a sense of calm. The nerves were gone and I was “in the zone.” This moment in time was the exact reason I had written Becoming Malka and Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey. I was given this opportunity, not to gloat or to promote my work, but to elaborate on my own family’s history and Jewish Argentina.
Many participants had had the opportunity to read the novel, but there were others who had not. I explained that my book focuses on the experiences of Jewish immigrants at the end of the nineteenth century and speaks to their struggles and their tremendous achievements. It is thanks in part to these unsung heroes, and the Jewish Colonization Association established by Baron Maurice Hirsch, that the community—la colectividad— flourished. Of course, being an enthusiast of novels set in the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian period, I readily admitted that my story had an Austenesque flair. Nevertheless, it was important for my audience to understand the book’s true purpose. Destiny by Design-Leah’s Journey intentionally pays homage to this particular era and to the immigrant merchants, teachers, tailors, and farmers, who became Jewish gauchos. Afterwards, I was approached by members of the group who eagerly shared their thoughts.
“I loved your presentation!”
“I felt connected with the Jewish gauchos and their descendants after reading your book; more so, than after visiting the synagogues and museums.”
“You painted such a vivid picture—I was right there with you and Leah!”
In a moment that could only be described as supernatural, I felt surrounded by all my ancestors. The bobes and zeides were kvelling. I felt. I knew it. Their voices had been calling out to me. They had carved out a path for us and showed us the true meaning of courage, faith and determination. My books are solely a vehicle to illuminate their work. In preparation for my upcoming events, I will continue to focus on that point.
My trip to Argentina was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Of course, I have been back on numerous occasions (that’s a subject for another book), but this trip was unique. I traveled alone and with a specific agenda. My roots were in the provinces; my ancestors were the founding pioneers of several Jewish colonies. I had the opportunity of visiting these places, of placing stones on graves, of touring their rural synagogues and schools, of meeting people who knew my grandparents in their early days. Every time I am invited to speak, it is an opportunity to honor their memory. It is an opportunity to underscore the importance of what took place in that “New Jerusalem.” I hope my readers enjoy the experience and come away with a new understanding of Jewish Argentina.
A few weeks ago, as you know, I decided to launch this blog. As an indie author it is imperative to market and promote your work and to remain in the public eye. But maintaining a blog is time-consuming and takes a toll on the limited brain cells (and creative juices) I have left remaining after a 10-hour workday. Just writing about my books wasn’t going to cut it; and to be honest, the blog would certainly not keep anyone’s attention for long. By inviting other authors to share their work, I hope to shed light on this genre of Jewish Historical Fiction. Its diversity and educational significance, as well as its entertainment value is sure to please. Having said that, I couldn’t be happier to present today’s guest.
Caroline Warfield is an award-winning author of family-centered romance set in the Regency and Victorian eras. She has been many things, but above all she is a romantic. She began life as an army brat who developed a wide view of life and a love for travel. Now settled in the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act.
When she isn’t off seeking adventures with her Beloved or her grandson down the block, Caroline works happily in an office surrounded by windows where she lets her characters lead her to even more adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart, because love is worth the risk.
Host: Caroline, you will forgive me, but I’m a little star struck. I’ve read your work and appreciate your standing in the Regency world. It goes without saying, I pretty much loved everything about your book, An Open Heart. There was a certain lightness to it, similar to any other Regency romance, but there was no denying the substantive material in the narrative. I was bursting with pride when the storyline touched upon the contributions and achievements of Anglo-Jews, but I believe my favorite scene had to be the impromptu Shabbat service held in the Duchess of Haverford’s drawing room. What motivated you to write this book?
Guest: I belong to The Bluestocking Belles, an authors’ support group and marketing co-op. We do an anthology or a “boxed set” every year, often with loosely connected stories. The year I wrote this we had a house party theme. The Duchess of Haverford invited young women who worked with her on charity projects to sponsor a holiday ball for charity. We all added characters to her committee. Jewish characters popped into my head that year; stories sometimes happen that way. Esther, a wealthy, but not aristocratic, young lady was part of the planning committee from the beginning. An Open Heart is a standalone book, but there are minor characters who appear in the other stories, and Esther and Adam appear in some of the others. The collection as a whole was called Holly and Hopeful Hearts.
As an aside, we’re a multi-faith family. While Beloved and I are Catholic, we often celebrate with our daughter and her family who are Jewish. Our grandson celebrated his bar mitzvah last year.
Host: Mazal tov to the Bar Mitzvah and to the whole meshpucha! I love the name, “Bluestocking Belles.” Sounds like my kind of group. But my goodness! A boxed set every year? Tell us, why do you think we are so fascinated with this particular time period?
Guest: The Regency era is a mythical Romantic era. I say that because of the sheer volume of stories classified as “regency.” They don’t always necessarily reflect history. I like to hope mine do.
Host: I, for one, can attest to the historical content of your work. In fact, I am striving to achieve that educational and enlightening component myself! Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, genre in my view. What are your thoughts?
Guest: Good question! I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to answer that. Insofar as it contributes to the body of truth about history—emphatically yes. My own concern is that the historical romance genre in general realistically portray the diversity of previous eras. Realism matters, and, frankly, all that white bread story telling gets boring.
Host: Since we are speaking of weaving accurate historical events into our storylines, tell us about your research. Were you surprised by your findings?
Guest: I was struck by the efforts of the Jewish community of London to make certain their sons had access to high quality education. They were less concerned about educating their daughters, a blind spot they shared with the rest of England, one my heroine complains about vociferously. Women’s education has always been a passion with me. Several of my books touch on it.
Host: Ah—I think I may know the answer to my next question. Which of your characters resonate with you most?
Guest: Actually, Adam does. His struggle to maintain his identity, his faith, and his attachment to tradition while working in the larger culture was something I relate to strongly. My daughter once told her rabbi that her mother can’t have too much tradition, and she was right. We best appreciate the traditions of others when we cherish our own. The richness of sharing is dear to me.
Host: I would have thought you’d choose Esther; but having read your response, I can clearly see why you went with Adam. To be honest, either character would have been a great pick! Here’s another question along those same lines. Do you have a favorite scene in the book?
Guest: I love the scene in which Adam arrives at the home of his former teacher, Rebbe Benyamin Nahmany, “the finest Talmudic scholar in Europe,” who lives in a house nestled on the French side of the Pyrenees with his large family. Adam and an English officer are on a mission to bring funds to Wellington and the family is helping them. He realizes with surprise that he has forgotten Chanukah (which after all was a minor feast) when he sees the mother lighting five candles. He enjoys the warmth of the family’s celebration, and I love that he gets his comeuppance by the scholarly learning of one of the daughters. Afterward he is forced to rethink many of his assumptions.
Host: Yes! That was a great turning point in the story and your research served you well. Tell us, are you working on something now?
Guest: I’ve reached the point of projects accumulating in my mind faster than I can write them. I’m working on two new series at the same time. One is set in a small village in England and centers on two interrelated families. It has less of that diversity I value, but a lot of strong family ties, which are also important to me. The first book The Wayward Son will be launched in July.
At the same time, I’ve been working on a new series that continues my Children of Empire series. The hero is an English archaeologist working in Egypt and Nubia. The heroine is a French woman who is also a hakima, a medical professional trained to treat women, more of a nurse practitioner than a midwife. It is heavy on history and has a very diverse cast of characters, including Muslim colleagues of the main characters. That will be published by a different publisher, also in July. It is called The Price of Glory.
Host: I’m in awe, Caroline. I can’t imagine undertaking two projects at once. I currently have a Work-in-Progress that started off with a bang, but now is competing with everyday life and a million other distractions and commitments. Which brings me to my closing point. I appreciate your time and thank you once again for your participation today. I’m delighted you’re sharing an excerpt and your social media links with the audience.
Guest: Thank you for inviting me, Mirta. A last note: I will happily send an eBook copy of An Open Heart to one person (randomly selected) who comments.
An excerpt from An Open Heart:
“—I don’t understand how your father could send you to that school. Your parents are entirely too secular in their outlook. The Talmud suggests—”
“I wouldn’t know what your precious books suggest. I’m excluded from that kind of learning.” There. She had given voice to her greatest resentment. Let him make what he would out of that.
“Leave my mother out of this. My mother taught me what I need to know about Shabbat and the holy days. And who are you to criticize?”
Adam colored, red blotches staining his cheeks. “Of course, I have no right. I had hoped before I left—”
Esther felt light-headed for a moment. Had he spoken to Papa? Breath rushed back into her lungs, but she raised her chin. “What is it you hoped, Mr. Halevy?”
Adam’s eyes softened, and Ether found herself leaning slightly toward him. A moment later, he stiffened and took a step back.
“My wife will respect our traditions and keep a traditional home,” he announced.
“I wish you luck finding such a paragon, Mr. Halevy,” Esther responded, pulling herself up as tall as she could. “My home will respect tradition and the people we meet.” When he simply glared at her outburst, she went on, “And my daughters will know as much about our faith as you do!”
“Good luck to you in that endeavor, Miss Bauman,” he said with a jerky nod. He tapped his hat on his head with more force than needed.
When he stepped out the door, Esther couldn’t control the urge to dart out after him. “Adam—Mr. Halevy—wait!”
His frown looked more puzzled than angry when he turned to her.
“Where you’re going—it will be dangerous.” Her lack of breath made the words sound uneven.
“I—” The expression on his face stopped her before she could continue. “I’ll pray for you,” she finished at last, “and the success of your journey, of course.”
A sad smile transformed his face. “I would be grateful for your prayers, Miss Baumann.”
What’s a nice, Jewish girl to do when the vast majority of the world is snuggling by a roaring fire with Hallmark movies and Dickens classics? Well, I’ll tell you. If she has written a Jewish Austen Fan Fiction, she shares a snippet that illustrates the true meaning of the season. Let me set the stage, before you go on to read the final chapter:
Due to a variety of unforeseen circumstances Mrs. Meyerson, the rabbi’s wife, and Mrs. Bennet find themselves much in one another’s company. At this point of my story, Miss Catherine Bennet (Kitty) has endeared herself to the lady and her young daughter, Rachel. In a rather poignant moment, Kitty makes an emotive declaration and Mrs. Meyerson is most profoundly moved.
“My dear, you have stirred my soul! While I have striven for emunah, I have lacked bitachon,” she whispered. “Kitty, you have reminded me of an important lesson. Faith and trust are two different things.”
Mrs. Meyersons goes on to explain these foreign words; and by relaying the story of Chanukah to her Anglican friends, she emphasizes their significance throughout the joyous celebration. Mrs. Bennet was astonished to find that, while Chanukah was commemorated during the wintry months, it had nothing to do with her own holiday. The next phrase, uttered by the rabbi’s wife, is what I’d like us to focus on today.
“Not at all, Mrs. Bennet, for each has its merits and, closely scrutinized, each holiday speaks of bringing Light into a dark world. Kitty has reminded me: We must keep our faith in front of us and we shall reap the rewards.”
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 can 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 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. Oh, 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.”
“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,” she said, suddenly quite subdued. “If you could only 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.
Chag Chanukah Sameach~ Happy Chanukah~ Feliz Januka~ חג חנוכה שמח
Being an avid novel reader and great fan of period dramas, I decided to take a closer look at George Eliot’s, Daniel Deronda. Why this particular work? The answer is simple. My own book, Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey is also set at the cusp of the Zionist movement, just as Eastern European Jews begin to seek refuge in the United States of America, Argentina, and the Holy Land. I am not by any means equating myself with George Eliot; however, the thought of working in the same vein as this well-known and respected author is intriguing and must be further explored.
As a young educated woman, George Eliot (born Mary Ann Evans) associated herself with freethinkers in political and religious matters. She felt that Jews were ostracized in Britain and that they suffered from prejudice which was, at best, thinly disguised. It was some time in 1860 that Eliot met the Jewish scholar, Emanuel Deutsch. It seems that the author was so taken with the subject of Anglo Jews; she would later pen a novel and base the character of Mordecai on her close friend and early Zionist. That novel was Daniel Deronda, a classic work that speaks to Universal Truths. It is about a group of people dealing with romance and heartache, scandals, treachery and agonizing soul searching. First published in 1876, this was Eliot’s only contemporary novel; and because of its sympathetic representation of Jewish characters, her final statement on Victorian society was quite controversial.
Elliot’s provocative narrative interlaced two seemingly distinct storylines, allowing the audience—possibly for the first time—to peek into the world of Anglo-Jews; and in this attempt, she created complex characters very different from stereotypical roles. The author’s life partner, George Henry Lewes, apparently opposed Eliot’s objectives. Upon the novel’s publication he stated: “The Jewish element seems to me likely to satisfy nobody.” George Eliot’s friend, John Blackwood, also shared his poor estimation when he said, “The Jews should be the most interesting people in the world, but even her magic pen cannot at once make them a popular element in a novel.”
That magic pen tackled a few sensitive subjects such as anti-Semitism in 19th century England, Zionism, and Feminism. I also found that Eliot addressed three poignant and thought-provoking themes. Let’s explore, shall we?
SEARCHING FOR LOVE
While we tend to romanticize period dramas and their love stories, marriage was a serious matter. The idea of marrying for love—of finding that one perfect person—was the stuff of fantasy. In Daniel Deronda, we see that women could only assert their place in society by seeking an advantageous match.
We watch as Gwendolen Harleth marries Henleigh Grandcourt to save her family from financial ruin, but she is helpless against his abuse and is trapped by societal expectations.
We watch Daniel struggle with his feelings for Gwendolen, a magnificent beauty who is in dire need of salvation and Mirah Lapidoth; a delicate, sensitive creature who lives—and nearly dies—in quiet desperation.
“You have a passion for people who are pelted,” Daniel’s guardian often reproached his lovesick ward. One could only wonder: which woman would come to Daniel’s rescue?
SEARCHING FOR IDENTITY
Daniel Deronda is a young man plagued with uncertainty. Although he has been raised by a devoted guardian, Sir Hugo Mallinger, Daniel’s inner turmoil derives from not knowing his roots. Where does he come from? Who are his people? When circumstances reveal the verities of his history, Daniel represses his self-identity to suit his position as a true Englishman. After all, in 19th century England, Jews were mysterious foreigners. What did he know of those people?
When we are first introduced to the would-be heroine of the novel, we find Gwendolen Harleth to be a somewhat petulant beauty, yet one who dazzles friends and family with her charms and accomplishments. She is spoiled and prone to hysterics, but Gwendolen is tested—as we all are in real life. She struggles to surmount the endless bombardment of obstacles and misfortunes that shape her life. Finally, in a testament to her true mettle, she determines to prove herself worthy—for her own sake—and reinvents a better self.
Mirah Lapidoth’s first appearance in the novel is one of despair and despondency; however, her childlike mannerisms and endearing characteristics are deceptive, for she has survived much. Torn away from a traditional Jewish home, she lost her family and was subjected to ridicule and rejection by her own father’s cruel actions. Mirah quickly became aware of her insignificance in the world, but when Daniel saves her from the river’s edge, she slowly rebels against her circumstances. Longing to reunite with her true essence, Mirah aligns herself to her people—her passion—and rallies once more.
SEARCHING FOR DESTINY
Sir Moses Montefiore and Lady Judith—arguably the most influential Anglo-Jewish couple of the Georgian and Victorian eras—visited the Holy Land in 1827. They returned on several occasions, donating generously to promote industry, education and health in that beleaguered region. By the end of the 19th century, a movement for the re-establishment of a Jewish nation was led by Theodor Herzl. Eastern European Jews, fleeing tyranny, segregation, and famine, made their way to the Holy Land and other countries willing to receive the massive wave of immigration. Meanwhile in Paris, another organization was coming to light under the direction of Baron Maurice Hirsch. “The Moses of South America,” Baron Hirsch established the Jewish Colonization Association to help the persecuted Jews find their freedom and their destiny in the fledgling nation of Argentina.
While protagonist was certainly not in dire straits—neither fleeing for his life nor foraging for his dinner—Deronda would not inherit Sir Hugo’s title and land, as he was not Mallinger’s legal heir. Daniel was presented with another definition of destiny. His guardian suggests a talented and passionate individual should carve his own path in life and, at length, we find that Daniel does indeed discover that he can be the master of his own fate.
Unassuming and gentle Mirah finds the wherewithal not only to survive, but to thrive in her new found path—and happily, so does Gwendolyn. Although she loves Daniel, Gwendolyn relinquishes him to what she knows to be his rightful path; and in doing so, she proves to herself that she is good. I see both Gwendolyn and Mirah in my own young protagonist, Leah Abramovitz of Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey. Leah has much to learn, and much to achieve, as she makes her way from the Pearl of the Black Sea to the Argentine pampas.
Those of us who are ardent lovers of period drama, appreciate a story that takes us to another place and time. That is what I have attempted to do with my books. We admire stories that are rich with longing, struggle and redemption because—whether we share the same ethnicity, culture or religion—we can relate to the various Universal themes.
Perhaps George Eliot’s true controversy was to show that growth and peace of mind comes from self-knowledge and not from societal status, a difficult concept to grasp—whether in the Victorian era or in the present day. Once we peel away the labels, whether self-inflicted or imposed by others, we can see ourselves in the narrative and find the way to fulfill our own destiny.
The hosting, and attending, of morning calls, house parties, routs, balls and assemblies was imperative for those entering the upper echelons of society—think of Mr. Bingley and his sisters, who had so recently borne the “stench of trade.” How much more so for foreigners…
During the nineteenth century, Jews were experiencing unprecedented mobility in English society; and while this certainly was a blessing, the process of acceptance in the Anglican world threatened to erode their level of religious observance. The simple act of sharing a meal among friends presented certain complications. Cookbooks of the era did not take into consideration the ingredients or combinations that were prohibited in a kosher kitchen, such as the mixing of meat and dairy, or the partaking of shellfish or pork. Lady Montefiore (née Judith Barent Cohen 1784-1862) was the first to affirm, in so public a fashion, the existence of a distinctive Jewish cuisine and to draw from both Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions (in general terms, Sephardic Jews hail from the Iberian Peninsula, but also such places as Italy, Greece, and Northern Africa. Ashkenazi Jews encompass Eastern Europe).
Much like Jane Austen, Lady Judith was a keen observer of human nature. Her book, The Jewish Manual; or, Practical Information in Jewish & Modern Cookery, with a Collection of Valuable Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette, therefore, was much more than a guide to cooking within the Jewish dietary laws known as kashrut. She meant “to guide the young Jewish housekeeper in the luxury and economy of the table, on which so much of the pleasure of social intercourse depends.” She encouraged homemakers to present elegant dinners, and to not draw any undesirable attention to the kosherness of the preparations. The end result would produce “haute cuisine that was invisibly Jewish and gastronomically exceptional.”
Montefiore was a great proponent of female education; and in keeping with Austen, she had a profound understanding of a woman’s lot in Regency England. The author pointedly wrote about the importance of cultivating the mind, and stated that womanhood should encompass “individuality, self-control, reason, intellect and fine feeling.” Miss Elizabeth Bennet is the personification of that description, don’t you think? In her final chapter entitled “Influence of the Mind as regards Beauty,” Lady Judith professes that “all the milk of roses and essence of lavender in the world could not make a woman beautiful whose inner life was not up to standard.” It seems that Lady Judith and Miss Austen were of the same mind. Recall Mr. Darcy’s rejoinder when he said: “And to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
“Let those females, therefore, who are the most solicitous about their beauty, and the most eager to produce a favorable impression, cultivate the moral, religious and intellectual attributes, and in this advice consists the recipe of the finest cosmetic in the world.”
Judith Barent Cohen was a child of an immigrant linen merchant; and while her father was successful, Judith identified with the “middling” class. Although they practiced strict religious observance at home, her father was a devotee of Moses Mendelssohn, a leader in the Jewish Enlightenment movement. Because of this alignment to a philosophy that encouraged secular studies and modernization, Judith was highly educated and spoke several languages. After her marriage in 1812, she held a place of some importance within England’s upper class. Her book offered suggestions “so that a lady’s physical appearance, accomplishments, inner qualities, and even her table could be an extension of herself—not as a Jew, but as a civilized person.”
Here is a snippet from The Meyersons of Meryton, where Mrs. Bennet—of all people—teaches us a lesson in civility:
“Do tell us about your good works, Mrs. Meyerson. Your husband mentioned such provocative activities. I would hear it from your own lips.”
“Mr. Meyerson tends to flatter when, in truth, I am the fortunate one. Charitable works are a blessing for the giver as well as the receiver.”
Mary nodded her agreement and quoted a favorite verse, “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good works.”
“Truly, the repayment, if it may be considered as such, is the great privilege to work alongside generous, intelligent women such as Judith Montefiore. Currently we are working on establishing a school for underprivileged Jewish girls. They will learn a trade and be able to find work in Jewish houses which, you must understand, are always looking for employees who are familiar with our ways.”
“Pray, enlighten us,” Lady Lucas said. “While it is true that good help is hard to come by, why should standards be any different in a Hebrew household?”
“The girls are taught to work in kosher kitchens for the elite in our society who keep our dietary regulations,” Mrs. Meyerson replied.
“If your people wish to socialize with The Upper Ten, they must needs learn to adapt to British fare and give up their dietary regulations altogether!” Lady Lucas retorted rather emphatically.
“Many families, sadly, have done just that, and others, such as in my household, attempt to find a solution that is appropriate for their circumstance. My husband and I, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Montefiore, do not concern ourselves overly much with kashrut when we are away from home. In truth, I tend to make do with what is put before me, but Judith is quite formidable! She is ever experimenting and creating new recipes, refusing to lower her standards, for she is adamant we need not suffer by keeping faith with our laws.”
“I dare say, if these Montefiores are truly in society, they would not venture to impose their peculiar ways upon the ton.”
“You would be mistaken, Lady Lucas, for my cousins entertain many prominent families of the highest social circles and, even more astonishing, their Christian acquaintances are demanding their own chefs learn to prepare a kosher cuisine. It appears The Upper Ten find it not only satisfying, but a delight to their fastidious digestion.”
Mrs. Bennet smiled at one lady and then the other. While Lady Lucas was a person of some import in Meryton, it was clear the Meyersons had notable connections in Town. Who was to say that their acquaintance would not prove to be advantageous for her girls? It was necessary to speak a little; it would be odd to be entirely silent on the subject. Therefore, Mrs. Bennet, in her effort to appease both parties, believed she had found some common ground. “Perhaps,” she suggested, “these recipes would not only benefit ladies of the Hebrew persuasion. Pray recall, Lady Lucas, we ourselves are charged to make dishes without meat or dairy many times throughout the year such as during the Lenten or fasting holy days. Perhaps it is not so peculiar as it appears to be at first glance.”
Elizabeth overheard this exchange and was astonished. Why, her mother’s words were practically revolutionary!
Originally posted on Austen Authors.net on October 30, 2020