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Shabbat Shalom and גאָט בּענטש אַמעריקע

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 celebrate 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: So 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: There is documentation of practicing 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 Savannah, Georgia during the American Revolutionary War. Her financial support and hospitality gained her fame and admiration amongst the troops. There is even some notion that Mrs. Minis met George Washington in 1791 when he was in Savannah; unfortunately, that can’t be confirmed. Her daughter, Leah, however did meet with the president years later. Mrs. Abigail 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 wanted to undergird the patriotism in the Jewish community by reinforcing their significance in the fabric that made up America. 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 important 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.

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
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.
Irving Berlin
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Mazal Tov! Celebrating a Jewish Regency Romance novel~

Welcome June and mazal tov to all! Most likely, you know this common Hebrew phrase. We usually say mazal tov in place of “congratulations” or “best wishes,” but are you familiar with its other esoteric meaning? The word mazal means “drip from above” and it relates to the zodiac signs which are called mazalot. In Jewish tradition, the constellations direct our destinies; therefore, one could say that mazal drips down from the stars.

All of this, of course, is in keeping with my book; and to commemorate the anniversary of Celestial Persuasion, I will be hosting giveaways and participating in book tours throughout the month. Keep your eye on the lovely reviews! It’s all happening on Instagram. Readers across the globe are discovering Jewish Regency Romance and (lucky for me) they’re loving it!

Such is the life of an indie author. Writing a novel is one thing; promoting the book is on another level! Join me in getting the word out, won’t you? Here’s what’s up for grabs:

💙 Signed copy of Celestial Persuasion

Or

💙 Gift from a “Jane Austen” Etsy shop (value $15.00)

Or

💙 Free eBook copy of “Celestial Persuasion”

Or

💙 Amazon gift card (value $15.00)

To enter:

1) If you haven’t already done so, sign up to receive this blog

2) Add Celestial Persuasion to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list

3) Like and share the Instagram post. Use #JewishRegencyRomance and don’t forget to tag me!

The rules of this giveaway are as follows:

1) Must be over the age of 18 to enter
2) US and Canadian residents only 3) This giveaway is not sponsored by Instagram, Goodreads, or any of their affiliates
4) Giveaway ends on 6/30/22 at 11:59 pm EST.

Best of luck & thanks for participating!

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A Salute to Mothers~ With Love, a Jewish Regency Author

It’s been a while since I’ve added to the blog. I thought long and hard on what I could present to this group of well-informed and clever people. In keeping with my modus operandi, I knew that I needed to combine my cultural heritage with my love for all things Austen; and so, I looked to the calendar and found my mark.

It’s May, and here in the United States, we just celebrated Mother’s Day—but not so in other parts of the world. Let me persuade you to take a turn about the globe with me. It’s so refreshing!

Cassandra Leigh Austen

Naturally, I will begin in England! Jane Austen would have been familiar with the festive occasion known as Mothering Sunday. Usually occurring during the season of Lent, it was a day for church, as well as acknowledging one’s matriarch. Even servants were given the day off, so that they could visit with their own mothers and perhaps share a token of their love. I did a little research on Jane Austen’s mother and found that Mrs. Austen was considered witty and quite talented herself with a quill and a bit of foolscap. It is generally acknowledged that the Rev. Austen supported his daughter’s love for reading and writing. However, it appears that Jane might have inherited her talents from her mother. I can easily imagine Mothering Sunday in the Austen household. After church, our dear girl would very likely read from her latest scribblings to honor her mother. Then perhaps, they would have tea with iced cakes or some such. They certainly didn’t head out for brunch or to the nearest salon for a mani-pedi!

In the United States of America, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. It is considered a secular holiday; but when first established by Anna Jarvis on May 10, 1908, it was celebrated during church services—at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, to be exact. I read that Jarvis was critical of the commercialization that quickly took over the occasion and continued to encourage all to reflect upon and honor the important contributions of mothers.

In my native country of Argentina—where Catholicism is the State religion—Mother’s Day originally coincided with the Feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated in October. The feast day was later moved to January, which coincided with summer picnics and family gatherings at the beach. Argentines, however, decided that Mother’s Day would continue to be celebrated on the third Sunday of October. Needless to say, there is a plethora of spring flowers, cards and gifts to help celebrate the occasion.

In Israel, the commemoration of Mother’s Day came along with its own brand of controversy. It all began when the newly founded country couldn’t decide on which day to celebrate the occasion! The Ezra Society, headed by Sarah Herzog, the mother of then-president Chaim Herzog, established the first Mother’s Day on April 6, 1947. However, the city of Haifa initiated its own version when the mayor proposed that the day be linked to the Maccabean matriarch, Hannah. The mayor’s wife was also named Hannah. Hmm? In any event, Haifa celebrated Mother’s Day for many years during the Hanukkah season. Towards the end of 1951, the newspaper Ha’aretz Shelanu declared its own Mother’s Day initiative—perhaps hoping to settle the issue definitively. The editors asked its young readers to suggest a date to honor all Israeli mothers.

Side Note: Sorry! My mind took an unexpected detour. I was suddenly reminded of two other times when young writers responded to newspaper editorials. In October 1860, eleven-year-old Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York, wrote to presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln. She urged Mr. Lincoln to grow a beard because “all the ladies like whiskers” and believed he would have a better chance at winning the election! In 1897, eight-year-old, Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to The Sun and asked whether Santa Claus was real. The newspaper’s response was published anonymously in September of that year. Due to its popularity, it was republished every year during the Christmas season until 1950, when the paper ceased publication. Now back to my story in Israel…

Eleven-year-old Nechama Frankel, responded to the newspaper query and suggested a date to honor the memory of Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah. Although childless, Szold had run an organization that rescued 30,000 Jewish children from Nazi Europe. The suggestion was easily accepted; but on a final note, Mother’s Day recently became known as Family Day. At 72 years of age, Nechama Frankel (now Biedermann) didn’t appreciate the change in the name and wrote her local newspaper—again! She asked that the “lost dignity of Mother’s Day be restored.” Sounds very much like her American counterpart, Anna Jarvis, don’t you think?

Me and my beautiful mom

All these meanderings have brought me to this point: Words have the power to effect change, to stir passions, and to alter the paths of women and men who otherwise might not take action. The importance of a well-written missive is not lost on us Janeites, whether it comes from a loved one across the ocean or a gentleman across the room.

My own mother, of blessed memory, wrote more letters than I can recall. They crossed back and forth from Argentina to our home here in the United States. They were filled with every possible emotion, from the simplest piece of gossip to the greatest despair. But these letters kept us united with our family half way around the world and that was her life-long goal. I am grateful to my mother for the many lessons she taught me. I miss her, and think of her, every. single. day.

In my novel, Celestial Persuasion, Miss Abigail Isaacs also receives a life-altering communication. I hope you enjoy the following excerpt.



“Might you share the letter?” Mrs. Dashwood enquired. Long accustomed to having her young friend’s housekeeper-cum-companion present in times such as these, she handed Mrs. Frankel some tea and cake.

Abigail nodded slowly and proceeded to read her letter aloud. She had no wish to hide the contents of Captain Wentworth’s message; and in fact, she was curious to hear the ladies’ opinions. “And there you have it. Papa and Jonathan are gone from this world.”

“Whatever shall you do?” Mrs. Dashwood asked.

“I am a woman alone, with little means of support and head full of impractical aspirations. In truth, I have no idea at present.”

“You might do well to follow Jonathan’s example,” murmured Mrs. Frankel, setting down her plate of seed cake. “You might apply to the Royal Navy.”

“Never say so!” Mrs. Dashwood cried. “Has the Crown gone through all our fine men and boys, that we are now enlisting young ladies to battle the French?”

“No, no.” Abigail shook her head in gentle reproach. Mrs. Frankel ought to have known better than to mention such a radical scheme.

“For some time now, Miss Isaacs and I have been following the news of an extraordinary woman by the name of Mary Edwards,” Mrs. Frankel, now a little recovered, continued unabashed. “The London paper had a full story on her work as a computor for the British Nautical Almanac. She is one of a very few women paid by the Board of Longitude.”

“But what is her work?” insisted Mrs. Dashwood.

“It is rather intriguing,” supplied the housekeeper. “With her mathematical talent and computational skills, she is tasked to calculate the position of the sun, moon, and planets at various times of day. I have no doubt that our dear girl could do the same.”

“Whatever for? I am sure I have never heard of such a thing!”

However sensible Abigail was to her own sad mental state, it did not follow that the dear lady ought to be left to feel bewildered, so she provided further explanation.

“They use the information for nautical almanacs, Mrs. Dashwood. According to The Times, Mr. Edwards took on piecework to supplement the family’s income. After his death, it was revealed that Mrs. Edwards had done most of the calculations. It all came out into the open when she asked that they continue supplying her with work. She had to support herself and her daughters, you see, and they happily complied. This is what Mrs. Frankel was referring to when she suggested that I apply to the Royal Navy.” Abigail saw at once that her friend was aghast at the mere suggestion and waited patiently for her reply.

“I have always thought your education seemed rather …excessive,” offered Mrs. Dashwood. “As your poor mother was no longer with us and able to voice her concerns, I daresay your father was pleased to provide you any pleasure.”

Abigail smiled at the memory of her father’s affection and shrugged her acquiescence.

“You were the light of his life, and I told him so many a time. He was quite amused at my observations and went so far as to explain that your name, Avigail, means a father’s joy in the language of your ancestors. I must say, my dear, they chose your name wisely.”

“Avigail Yehudit—such noble names!” Mrs. Frankel exclaimed. “Such fine examples of female wisdom and valor.”

“Papa prevailed with his first choice,” said Abigail, “but Mama was appeased with the second. Judith was her favorite biblical heroine— or so I have been told. But it was all for naught, for Jonathan had wished for a brother and thought the names too feminine! I simply became Avi to him. But it is of no consequence. Whichever name I choose, be it the English version or that of my ancestors, Isaacs will remain the same.”

Mrs. Dashwood would not have any of it. “But my dear, you are young yet. Might you not consider marriage? Mr. Green has shown great interest in you…”

“Mr. Green, ma’am, is a widower with three children. His only interest in me is knowing that I would make a proper physician’s wife, and I have begun to believe that I am not meant for love. I am intelligent and have received an excellent education, thanks to my doting father and my…my brother’s enthusiasm.” Abigail paused and sipped her now-tepid tea while she attempted to compose herself.

“You might apply to Sarah Guppy and ask for her advice,” Mrs. Frankel insisted. “She too has worked for the Royal Navy. You have yourself informed me of her numerous creations and inventions. Of course, the patents were secured through her husband—”

“My dear…” Mrs. Dashwood set down her tea things with trembling hands.

“Pray forgive Mrs. Frankel. I believe she is merely attempting to call my attention to various alternatives, unconventional though they might be,” Abigail quickly added. “In truth, ma’am, the day’s events have taken their toll. I am pained knowing that Jonathan will not return to us. He was my beloved brother, but he was also my partner, my teacher and confidant. My friends, I am lost. I am drifting at sea without the North Star to guide me.”

“Might you not receive a pension for your poor brother’s service? What would your good mother have thought?”


I’ll sign off now with an amended version of my mother’s famous salutation: With Love, A Jewish Regency Author~

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Keeping it Kosher (lite)

As some of you may know, I set out to write Celestial Persuasion when I came across this painting of Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson. This scene depicts the moment when the Argentine national anthem was sung for the very first time.

The image of ladies and gentlemen in Regency attire was far from what I had expected to find in colonial Argentina. To tell the truth, I would have expected full crinoline skirts and impressive peinetas, such as we find in the satirical work of Cesar Hipolito Bacle.

By delving into the aftermath of the May Revolution of 1810, I discovered that the aristocracy of Buenos Aires was more inclined to follow the fashion trends of Paris or even London. The influence coming from across the pond was not to be denied!

I began connecting the dots and weaved a tale that included English noblemen and naval officers, along with the liberator of Spanish America: Jose de San Martin. Establishing a friendship in between Jane Austen’s Captain Wentworth and my own fictional character, Jonathan Isaacs, was the next step in the process.

Next, I began looking to incorporate that bit of yiddishkeit that is so crucial to my work. For example, I wanted to ensure that the Jewish holidays mentioned throughout the novel occurred in accordance to the Hebrew calendar. In the prologue, Abigail Isaacs writes to her brother, describing their father’s passing—just prior to his favorite holiday: Pesach (Passover).

I must assume that you have not received my news from home, and knowing how you are impatient with all but the essentials, allow me to put it to you in words so familiar they could be your own: our dear papa died on March 26th on the eve of Rosh Chodesh—sadly a little more than a week before his favorite holiday. He had been looking forward to leading the Passover seder this year; but then again, he had been unwell for several months and refused to change his habits.

Rosh Chodesh is mentioned several times throughout the novel, as are other holidays, such as the High Holy Days and Chanukah. I suppose I could have picked any date when these events “usually” occur; but it was important to be accurate, particularly when it came to a certain battle that took place on February 3, 1813. Hopefully, the following snippet helps to explain…

“San Martín plans to engage with a Spanish royalist force in one month’s time,” he muttered beneath his breath. “When do you expect to travel to witness your monumental natural event?”

She grimaced at the small sound emitting from her lips. “I must be in residence at the beginning of the month, though I do not believe it is any of your concern.” Rethinking her statement, Abigail’s voice grew with enthusiasm. “Mr. Gabay!” she exclaimed, “has he chosen the exact date?”

“You cannot imagine that I would share that information, Miss Isaacs.”

Vehemently she shook her head. “I care not for your confidences, at least for the reasons you may suspect. I only ask that you heed me, sir. I must be in Rosario for Rosh Chodesh. There will be a new moon on the first of February. The night’s sky will be sufficiently darkened to allow for maximum visibility of galactic activity. Do you understand my meaning?”

The Battle of San Lorenzo was a turning point for the rebels fighting the Spanish crown. If I wanted to showcase the event in my story—and have it coincide with Rosh Chodesh—it had to be… kosher. I knew I had to get it right! First, I researched the status of the moon phase in February 1813. I found that information here and here. Then, I checked to see if the Gregorian calendar aligned with the Hebrew calendar. I found that here and here. It worked out!

Throughout the story, we follow Abigail as she celebrates Shabbat and Havdalah. Granted, her family is no longer as pious as when her mother lived. Nevertheless, when Abigail is called to London to meet Lord Fife, she ensures to take her ritual items. And when she and Mrs. Frankel find themselves aboard a frigate sailing across the Atlantic, I made sure to incorporate an every day nautical item into a pivotal scene.

Wrapping up warmly in her darkest cape, Abigail reached for the lantern perched above the dresser. It was the same lantern she and Mrs. Frankel had been instructed to use for the Sabbath, for it came equipped with a sliding shutter to darken the room without extinguishing the candle. Abigail smiled, recalling the cabin boy’s shock at their request to kindle the Shabbos candles whilst aboard the ship. He had gone on for nearly a quarter of an hour outlining the hazards and noting the fire stations that equipped every passageway in the event of a crisis...

Abigail had been correct in her estimation. The men were gallivanting en masse at the forecastle and she could remain in peace to the aft. She allowed herself to be guided by the lantern’s light but closed the shutter when she reached her chosen destination and waited for her eyes to grow accustomed to the darkness. In truth, it was a perfect night for stargazing as they had just entered into the new moon phase. Without the moonlight, the galaxy’s core was visible in all its splendor, and Abigail stood immobile in awe of the spectacle before her.

How many minutes had transpired, she could not say for certain. She felt tears trickle down her cheeks, but she could not be bothered to wipe them away. How she longed to share the moment with Jonathan! Not to scribble down the longitude and latitude of their location. Not to calculate or measure, but simply to stand and observe the immensity of it all and to understand her place in the universe. Her tears had dried where they had fallen, but with the wind picking up, she could once again feel bits of salt water on her cheeks as the waves began to swell. It was not until she heard the men shouting and witnessed the crew running hither and thither that Abigail was obliged to return to her room.

She retraced her footsteps to find the ladder once more. The descent, she hoped, would prove to be easier; but as she stepped down off the last rung, the wind and waves combined and exerted such a force on the ship that Abigail lost her balance. With flailing hands she attempted to seize hold of something that would steady her feet; but the action cost her dearly, for the lantern slipped from her grasp and the candle was extinguished. She crept along the passageway, holding on to the walls, helpless in the dark, until the ship pitched suddenly and she felt herself tumble forward.

As my outline began unfolding, I found that I quite liked the town of Exeter for the Isaacs family. The obvious problem was that I knew next to nothing about Devonshire as it related to Jews. Imagine my delight when I came across the wealth of information located here and here. Actually, there are pages and pages of data relating to the Jewish history in this particular county. I not only discovered the location of Exeter’s synagogue, but its officiant as well. Naturally, I had to showcase Abigail’s relationship with her rabbi and her place of worship.

In addition, this map created by Braun & Hogenberg in 1617 helped me visualize the Isaacs hometown.

Approaching the mile mark, she passed St. Thomas’s chapel and the many farms that dotted Byrd’s Lane. Abigail was flooded with bittersweet memories and recalled walking toward the synagogue, her small hand held by her mother, while Jonathan raced ahead and her father followed behind at a leisurely pace. They would meet friends along the way, and the adults would catch up on the weekly gossip before entering the house of worship. Ezekiel and Kitty Jacobs, her parents’ closest friends, had been amongst the founders of the synagogue, for they applied to St. Mary Arches Church to lease the ground for its erection. Whenever Jonathan would complain of the rabbi’s lengthy sermons, Mr. Jacobs would tell the story of the synagogue’s consecration.

Lastly, I wanted my story to lay the foundation for the establishment of the Jewish Colonization Association. Headed by financier and renown philanthropist, Baron Maurice von Hirsch and his wife, Baroness Clara, this organization was created decades after Argentina’s declared independence. However, had it not been for such forward thinking individuals such Wilhelm Loewenthal, a Romanian doctor conducting research in the area, Rabbi Zadoc Kahn, Chief Rabbi of Paris, or my fictional Lieutenant Gabay with his pipe dreams, who is to say if the seeds of change would have come to fruition.

The Battle of San Lorenzo took place in 1813 in the province of Santa Fe. A little over 70 years later, a group of Jews escaping pogroms and persecution in Imperial Russia settled in a town about three hours away from that battlefield. They named their new home Kiryat Moshe, or Town of Moses, to honor Maurice Hirsch. The land agent, who may or may not have been of French origin, registered the name to his own liking and the town became known as Moisés Ville. The inhabitants, these so-called Jewish gauchos, were the first to create a Jewish agricultural colony in Argentina. Of course, my characters had no notion of what was to come, but they had hope.

Captain Wentworth, my last piece of news may be the greatest surprise of all. Mr. Gabay and I shall not reside in Buenos Aires for long. When the fight for independence has been won, my Mr. Gabay—who never intended to make the military his career—will resign his commission. We shall repair to my father’s property in Rosario, where I will be at liberty to continue my research and Mr. Gabay will begin his work in helping the Jewish communities of the Russian Empire. Santa Fe is a wide and open land. Refugees of all faiths and backgrounds may surely make this place their new homeland and dwell in peace without persecution. Praise God, everything does indeed happen for a reason.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed the post!

Until next time,

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December’s Jewish Book Carnival

Organized by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL), the Book Carnival is hosted by a different participant’s site on the 15th of every month. It’s my turn and I’m delighted to welcome you to my blog.

I hope you enjoyed the Chanukah festivities in your corner of the world. What with the candle lighting, dreidel spinning and gift giving—not to mention the making of latkes and sufgenyiot—did you find some quiet time to enjoy a good book or two? If you are looking for more reading material, you’ve certainly come to the right place! Check out these amazing links and entries:

Continuing the Hanukkah spirit, this month on gilagreenwrites author Marcia Berneger, author of A Dreidel in Time discusses diversity in children’s books.

Please note that the Association of Jewish Libraries started a podcast, “Nice Jewish Books,” and launched it featuring Talia Carner and her novel, THE THIRD DAUGHTER (finalist in the National Jewish Book Council Award in the book Club category)

Also, The NJ Jewish Ledger ran a profile of author Talia Carner in connection of her appearance at the National Council of Jewish Women.

On her blog, Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, Deborah interviewed Helaine Becker about her new children’s picture book, The Fabulous Tale of Fish & Chips.

Heidi Slowinski recently reviewed Roy Hoffman’s Chicken Dreaming Corn. Hoffman’s book is literature depicting life as this historical fiction novel explores the Jewish experience in the south.

Barbara Bietz interviews Jeff Gottesfeld about his new picture book, THE CHRISTMAS MIRACLE, a story of faith, friendship, and community.

The Book of Life Podcast pairs Red and Green and Blue and White by Lee Wind with The Christmas Mitzvah by Jeff Gottesfeld. These two 2021 holiday picture books are both based on true stories of allyship and they have a lovely synergy. 

The Sydney Taylor Shmooze is a mock award blog that brings you reviews of Jewish kidlit that is potentially eligible for the Association of Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylor Book Award. Check out this month’s reviews

The new Storytime Solidarity website offers quality resources for getting your storytimes started or boosting them to the next level. A guest post on their blog, “If Hanukkah Is Not the Jewish Christmas, What Is It?” by Heidi Rabinowitz, explores Hanukkah and its context within the U.S. 

Shiloh Musings reviewed a real “cliffhanger,” The Devil’s Breath by Tom Hogan, which a very different sort of Holocaust story. A Jewish couple imprisoned in a concentration camp are asked by the camp head to discover who’s pilfering the stolen gold.

A Jewish Grandmother finds herself in a dilemma reviewing Why We Fly”  in which she finds one of the subplots problematic. Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal’s book is for youth and depicts a religious and ethnically mixed American community in which Jews dating non-Jews doesn’t raise eyebrows. One of the two main characters is Jewish, and she’s very idealistic.

Reuven Chaim Klein just posted 5 book reviews at the Rachack Review. Do take a look!

Each week, Erika Dreifus’s My Machberet blog curates links from the world of Jewish books and writing. Here’s one recent example.

And lastly, please take a look at my eye-opening interview with author, Valerie Estelle Frankel. I’m sure you’ll find it fascinating!

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Jane Austen & Jewish Themes Part V~ Delving into Diversity

I’ve been addressing Jane Austen’s work and the correlating themes found in Judaic text. The reason for this exercise stems from my desire to find historical fiction or historical romance novels that contain a modicum of Judaica. Of course, Austen’s work isn’t considered historical fiction. Her stories were contemporary; her readers would have recognized their world amongst the backdrop of her settings. But that’s not my point. Sorry!

While I have scoured endless book titles and conducted mind numbing Internet searches in the hopes of finding some hidden gem, I have very little to show for my effort. That was the impetus to take pen in hand, so to speak, and to write my own fanfiction. And why not? Jane Austen’s work continues to inspire and entertain a diverse, world-wide audience. We are presented with modern interpretations of her classics novels, time-travel storylines, and narratives that focus on any number of ethnicities and cultures. Evidently, our thirst for new and tantalizing Austenesque plots and themes is not so easily quenched! And for this particular reader, it seemed only logical that the Jewish community be represented in Austen’s fandom.

That being said, I am not an advocate of racelifting. By that I mean, I have no need to replace a character’s Anglican faith for Judaism. I am satisfied with the introduction of Jewish protagonists and themes that are a true reflection of our community as a whole. For other authors and readers, I understand that it is imperative to see a Jewish character cast in the original role. And that’s okay. That’s the magic of fanfiction. In The Meyersons of Meryton, I introduce a rabbi and his family to Austen’s fictional town in Hertfordshire. In Celestial Persuasion, I create a friendship in-between Captain Wentworth and the Isaacs siblings that stretches far beyond England’s shores. With Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey, I showcase a story that is loosely based on my ancestors’ experiences. Although this novel is not a J.A.F.F. (Jane Austen Fan Fiction), there is a definite nod to the author and her work. These novels, along with my first title, Becoming Malka, are my small contribution to the lesser known genres of Jewish Historical Fiction and Jewish Historical Romance.

As we are now officially in the “holiday season,” there is an opportunity to address diversity and Jewish characters in other forms of entertainment. For example, Hallmark has attempted to incorporate Jewish storylines and characters in their holiday lineup. These shows are a bit cringe-worthy, I’ll admit it, but at least they’re trying. I’d encourage them to try a little harder. While I do want to see Jewish representation in these soapy movies, I do not want to see Hanukkah downgraded to a Christmas-wanna-be. The whole point of the Maccabean revolt was not to assimilate to the dominating culture. It is a fine line, I understand. Hallmark can do better.

Over at Disney, we were introduced to a Jewish heroine for one episode of Elena of Avalor. The character is supposed to be a Sephardic princess, but she uses Yiddish terminology and speaks of Ashkenazi traditions. And, I’m sorry to say, the princess is not very attractive. Like the folks over at Hallmark, the imagineers could have put forth more effort. This piece needed a little more research into the character’s cultural background and a lot more generosity in developing her aesthetic. Perhaps they could have taken a page from the variety of diverse characters showing up in other animation, comics, and television series and given the Jewish community a proper heroine.

And speaking of television, did you hear the collective “oy!” when fans of Downton Abbey found out that Lady Crawley’s father was Jewish? The writers did not stop there. The series also introduced a Jewish family of the upper echelons of society. Apparently, Lord Sinderby’s family had fled the pogroms and persecution of Imperial Russia some sixty years ago. Sparks fly when his son, Ephraim (he goes by his second name, Atticus) meets and falls in love with Lady Rose…who is not Jewish. This all-too-familiar predicament, as well as other issues of anti-Semitism in Edwardian England, are brought to the forefront. While I was not entirely pleased with the outcome, I was glad that at least our community’s presence was addressed.

With the success of Sanditon and Bridgerton—and the plethora of costume dramas in the world today— it seems clear we are in need of the escapism that these shows provide. We fantasize and yearn for the days of polite society and social graces. How much more pleasing is it to read a novel or watch a show that allows one to identify with a character— someone who stands to represent one’s community, one’s values, and heritage in a positive light? It is time to come out from the shadows of the likes of Heyer, Dickens, and Shakespeare. Their Jewish characters were cliché and demeaning. The Jewish community has played a proud and active role in nearly every culture around the world. We are connected to that history by a chain that spans over five thousand years.

Jane Austen certainly instilled her biblical knowledge and values into her novels. She commented on societal issues with her wit and keen power of observation. Her readers, no doubt, recognized and identified with these truths. If one of my books brings a sense of connection, a sense of community, a sense of pride to a Jewish reader, I would have fulfilled my goal. My books are a link in that ancient chain. They are another opportunity to say: Hineini —I am here. We are here. And we’re not going anywhere.

Chag Chanukah Sameach!

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Jane Austen & Jewish Themes Part IV

Throughout this series, I have been looking at Jewish themes that can be found in Jane Austen’s work. That’s not to say that the renown author intentionally incorporated Judaic messages in her writing; however, as I’ve pointed out in my previous posts, Austen was raised in an observant environment and would have been quite at home quoting from the Good Book or referencing various biblical storylines. I am enjoying finding the similarities. I hope you are too!

SELICHAH, MECHILAH, and KAPPARAH ~ The different forms of Forgiveness. 

I previously touched upon the subject of repentance, but the matter requires further discussion. The theme of granting forgiveness can be found in nearly every book that Jane Austen penned. Just think for a moment. Elizabeth forgives Darcy, Elinor forgives Edward, Fanny forgives Edmund, and everyone is only too willing to forgive Emma!

Illustration by C.E. Brock

In Persuasion, we are introduced to a couple long separated by distance and pride.  Captain Frederick Wentworth has spent years holding a grudge, nursing his bruised ego and feeling the victim. For those who don’t know the story: Miss Anne Elliot had entered into an understanding with the gentleman, but —for better or for worse—was persuaded to end the budding relationship. Years pass before the two are brought back together again. Captain Wentworth tells his new friends that he finds Miss Anne, “altered beyond his knowledge.” Ruthless, heartless man! The gentleman is still licking his wounds…

He had not forgiven Anne Elliot. She had used him ill, deserted and disappointed him; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper could not endure.”

It has been eight years and he still didn’t understand her! Had he used the time to reflect and to try to comprehend Anne’s actions, it would have been emotionally and mentally healthier for all concerned. Of course, that would have changed the arc of the story and no one understood that better than Austen.

In Northanger Abbey, we are introduced to a young lady just coming out into society. She has very little to say in her favor; and in fact, our heroine spends her days daydreaming and imagining herself the helpless victim of some gothic novel.

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine.”

Catherine is invited to stay with family friends in Bath, and finds herself, quite suddenly, in over her head. With no real experience of socializing with others who have more—shall we say—life experiences, her naivete and imagination run wild. She wrongly suspects General Tilney (the father of the young man she comes to admire) of a crime he did not commit. In the end, she is somewhat exonerated, but the acknowledgment doesn’t come without some distress.

Your imagination may be overactive, but your instinct was true. Our mother did suffer grievously and at the hands of our father…No vampires, no blood. But worse crimes, crimes of the heart.”

Like any biblical story that focuses on Teshuva, Catherine experiences growth through pain. She recognizes her failings, repents, and determines to improve her behavior. The arc of her story is in keeping with Austen’s philosophy. The mean-spirted and conniving Thorpe siblings, however, do not see the error of their ways and they suffer for it. Austen uses their storyline to illustrate her point once again. Those who merit a HEA (happily ever after) will be rewarded in the end.

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

I can’t help but think of the period leading up to the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We begin by commemorating the holiday of Selichot and use the time before “the gates begin to close” to think of those we have wronged.

Asking for forgiveness, for selichah, is the first step we must take. This is where we realize our error, we apologize to the injured party, and we show remorse.

When our poor behavior has caused much pain, we speak of mechilah. We ask that our transgressions be wiped away. We want things to be as they were; or better yet, to go on stronger than before. This can prove to be difficult for the injured party; for though many of us can forgive, it is very difficult to completely forget.

If the wrongdoing is of biblical proportions, a person may feel they are not worthy of forgiveness. They believe that there can’t be a positive outcome, no matter the excuse, no matter how many promises are made. Most people are not capable of forgiving an act of this magnitude. In fact, the forgiveness we seek, the kapparah, is beyond human capacity. The atonement, in fact, comes from a higher source, such as on Yom Kippur. This is when G-d looks into your heart, sees your repentance and says, “Be comforted.”

Illustration by C.E. Brock

In Persuasion, Jane Austen presents us with a scenario that is just as relevant today as it was three hundred years ago. Secure in his righteousness, Captain Wentworth needlessly wallows in Anne’s perceived betrayal. Obstinately holding on to his resentment only succeeds in polluting his view of the truth! Their meeting again gives them both a second chance to speak their heart. It’s a story full of angst and it is sometimes intolerable to witness their pain. When the captain overhears Anne speaking of love and loss to another gentleman, he finally comes clean. Captain Wentworth writes to Anne and bares his soul—as he should have done years ago.

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”

In the ensuing paragraphs, Austen satisfies our need for the couple’s reconciliation. Anne and Frederick speak honestly to one another, exposing their vulnerabilities and the various misunderstandings that led to such despair. They forgive one another (selichah), their love is stronger for it (mechilah); and because they merit a HEA, they are comforted (kapparah). Quintessential Austen. Brilliant. Just brilliant!

In my latest novel, Celestial Persuasion, it is clear that Miss Abigail Isaacs shares similar characteristics with her newfound friend, Captain Wentworth. Fear and resentment have colored her view, not only of her ever-changing circumstances, but of a certain gentleman. As Mr. Bennet— of Pride and Prejudice fame— urges: read on, friend, read on…


A soft scratch upon the door shook her out of her musings, miserable and disheartening as they were. Abigail bade the interloper to enter, as she wiped away her tears.

“I have brought you some broth, my dear,” said Mrs. Frankel. “I thought you might be hungry, as we had not had to opportunity to dine. Do you think you might take a little?”

“I am much too shaken to eat, though I thank you for your concern. Will you not have it in my stead?”

“I have had some sent to my room, Avileh. I will leave you to rest then—oh, but I nearly forgot!” Mrs. Frankel exclaimed. “I have a letter for you, my dear. It is from Mr. Gabay.”

“Mr. Gabay! Whatever could he want? He barely spoke two words together in my presence. I fear his affections have been won over by Miss Kendall, Frankie dearest. They must have quarreled, for he was scowling all evening. Did you not notice?”

“No, indeed. However did you come to such a conclusion? Truly, my dear, you can see clear into the heavens but you cannot see what stands right before you.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Never you mind. Have a bit of your soup and read your letter,” she insisted, placing the envelope upon the bed. “Good-night, my dear.”

Abigail watched as Mrs. Frankel closed the door behind her. She eyed the broth with little interest and settled her gaze upon the letter instead. What could he have to say? Another jest? Another commentary on the state of the new union? Upon closer inspection, she noted that he had hastily folded the missive, it had not been sealed and it had not been addressed. Though she had had her fill of surprises to last a lifetime, her curiosity would not be neglected. She would read his letter and be done with it. For what could he possibly have to say that would lighten her heart?


What do you think? Will Mr. Gabay’s words cause more harm than good? Will Abigail be able to forgive past transgressions, even if that means forgiving herself? I invite you to read the story and come to your own conclusions. Until next time, thank you for stopping by!

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Jane Austen & Jewish Themes Part III

In this series, I have been examining the works of Jane Austen and finding parallel lessons within the vast teachings of Judaism. I am not a literary scholar or theologian, but I am drawn to the subject and am enjoying my findings. I hope that you, dear reader, feel the same way. As the title suggests, this is the third post of the series. I began by pointing out the long-held Jewish tradition of midrash~ the reworking of sacred text in order to personalize a story or to reimagine a story in a different setting. It is my theory that Jane Austen had mastered this skill. She was raised by an Anglican minister and was devout in her faith. Having been exposed to the sacred text of the Five Books of Moses (the Pentateuch) the whole of her life, she would have easily been able to combine her knowledge with her wit and keen sense of observation in the creation of her novels.

Lo tov heyot ha-adam le’vado ~ It is not good for Man to be alone

I realize that the quote mentioned above is from Genesis, but are you familiar with the Book of Ruth? I find even a cursory review of that story—or any story in the Torah, for that matter—shares similar socioeconomic truths found in Austen’s fictional town or settings. Don’t believe me? I offer Sense and Sensibility as an example for comparison. In the biblical story, Naomi (Mrs. Dashwood) has lost her husband. Her sons are out of the picture as well (think Mr. John Dashwood). She is practically penniless and loses her home (Norland Park). Naomi (Mrs. Dashwood) has lost her place in society without the protection of her men. We are then introduced to Ruth, one of Naomi’s daughters-in-law. In my mind, Elinor Dashwood matches Ruth’s stalwart qualities. Ruth is the fearless, faithful, and rational daughter. Ruth (Elinor) strives to maintain some order and to see her family flourish once again. In comes Boaz, a man alone (Mr. Edward Ferrars or Colonel Brandon, if you prefer) to save the day!

Whether we read Torah or an Austen novel, we understand that the marriage state is desirable for the female protagonist. It ensures her financial and physical wellbeing. For the male, marriage obviously allows for the continuity of the family line; an heir to take on the role of provider and protector. Marriage, of course, is a sacred and divine institution. Entering into this holy covenant is a necessity to propagate the human race (Gen. 1:28). But in order for the marriage to be successful, both the biblical author and our Regency author require that the couple have a deeper understanding of the importance of morality and their significant role in preserving the fabric of society. It is evident in both types of stories that happy endings are granted to those of moral character. Elinor exudes this characteristic. When Marianne asks her sister how she could bear her disappointment regarding the loss of Edward, Elinor replies:

By feeling that I was doing my duty. My promise to Lucy, obliged me to be secret. I owed it to her, therefore, to avoid giving any hint of the truth; and I owed it to my family and friends, not to create in them a solicitude about me… I did not love only him; and while the comfort of others was dear to me, I was glad to spare them from knowing how much I felt.”

Elinor Dashwood is held up as a role model. We are meant to admire her qualities, to condole with her when she suffers, and to celebrate her merited happiness. In our biblical story, we know that Boaz admires Ruth’s dignified and modest behavior. He feels protective of her and fulfills his duty towards Ruth— that is, once the scene is set and all obstacles to their union are removed. Likewise, Elinor and Edward find their happiness. But the couple is only rewarded because they adhered to societal rules and remained fixed to their moral compass. The story would not have the same meaning if Edward reneged on his promise to Lucy and ran into Elinor’s waiting arms. Not wanting to leave Colonel Brandon on his own, Austen grants Miss Marianne and the gentleman their H.E.A. as well; but only after the young lady reevaluates her life, and is found deserving of such happiness.

My illness has made me think…My feelings shall be governed and my temper improved. They shall…be regulated, [they] shall be checked by religion, by reason , by constant employment.”

Naturally, Austen does not grant Lucy Steele the same consideration as the other couples. Lucy doesn’t deserve it, neither does her popinjay-of-a-husband, Robert Ferrars. To do so would go against Austen’s philosophy and theology. I’m certain the biblical author would agree.

In my latest novel, Celestial Persuasion, Abigail Isaacs is a young lady with many unique qualities. Charts and instruments and mathematical equations are her forte; but when it comes to matters of the heart, Abigail is at a loss. Having known disappointment at a tender age, she is quite determined not to err again. Don’t misunderstand me, dear reader. She no longer finds fault with the young man of her youth. Oh no. She squarely lays the blame at her own door. Because of this, Abigail decides she can’t trust her instincts. The intoxicating sensations of her first love are overwhelming, they cloud her judgment and eclipse her path.

In the following passage, see how Abigail unburdens her heart to a new friend, Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson.


Mariquita smiled. “I know what it means to live in the shadow of men. But no more of that! All this talk of study and work…what of love? Why have you not married?”

“Ah, here is a frequent and familiar question. You must seek alliance with Mrs. Frankel and join in her enduring campaign.” Abigail thought to make light of it but sensed she would fail. “In truth, it is a painful subject to discuss.”

“If it haunts you so, perhaps you do better to share it with a friend. It will extinguish the power it holds over your heart.”

Abigail arose and began to pace the length of the gallery. She battled with the emotions that raged within and recognized that a transformation was, indeed, under way. The girl she had been in Exeter would not have dreamed of exchanging such intimate history with a relative stranger. But she recalled Mariquita’s candid declaration of her own tribulations and now felt tempted to pronounce her own.

“I was but seventeen when I found myself in love,” began Abigail. “I was a pretty young thing then and believed myself quite capable of living a happy, full life as a wife. His name was Mr. Bloom. Gabriel Bloom. He was four-and-twenty when he came to live with us, as an apprentice to my father’s medical practice. I had taken one look at him and fell under his power. His golden hair and light eyes shone like the sun. Everyone who knew him could not help but enjoy being in his presence.” She paused, staring across the garden yet seeing something altogether different in her mind’s eye.

“And was he a good student? Did he hold your father’s favor?”

“No, not at all. In fact, he would fail miserably at his tasks. But such was his affability, that my father granted him leniency time and time again. As time progressed, Papa could no longer disregard the errors or his lack of skill. Gabriel would laugh even as Papa scolded him. The admonishments continued, and yet Gabriel would not be moved. Somehow he believed his patients would heal, and better themselves, simply by his caring heart and tender ministrations. And then one day, Gabriel offered for me and promised a life full of laughter and adoration. I was mesmerized; his conquest was complete, and I willingly accepted.”

“Did your father dismiss Mr. Bloom from his service?”

She shook her head, as a tear made its way down her cheek. “If only that had been the case. Perhaps it would have been Gabriel’s salvation—and mine. What came to pass was altogether more painful. Papa had gone to Uppercross, a village not far from home. There had been a fever spreading around the villagers, but we had not thought it had reached Exeter or the surrounding farms. That evening, we had a knock upon the door. It was one of our neighbors, distraught and concerned for his babe. The child had broken out in a rash and was burning with a fever.”

“Oh, my dear!” cried Mariquita. “Tell me your father returned in time to save the child.”

“He did not. I begged Gabriel not to go in my father’s stead, but he chided my lack of faith. Quoting some witticism, he packed away his potions and powders with no regard to my pleas. Instead he rushed out following in the farmer’s footsteps.”

Abigail returned to her place alongside her friend and took up her now-tepid tea as if it could provide the sustenance necessary to complete her story. “The child did not survive, and when my father returned, he found a shell of a man. Gabriel could not forgive himself, though my father had reviewed the case and found no error had been committed. For weeks he suffered from a merciless depression. He refused to work; and when my father pressed him, one night at my urging, Gabriel became incensed. He railed at us, saying that we were in the wrong. How could he claim any happiness for himself? he demanded. He thought himself unworthy of any such absolution.”

“Indeed, it is a sorrowful tale,” said Mariquita.

“Gabriel left that evening, late at night when we were all abed. He scribbled a note begging my father’s forgiveness—and mine. My father wrote to his home and sought information from his parents. They had not heard from him in months. Then, one day, a patient came to the house. He told my father he had seen Gabriel Bloom in Plymouth. He was penniless—a vagrant, they said. I thought of him, wandering the streets, alone and miserable. Such needless suffering. I was heartbroken, but that sentiment rapidly evolved into something darker. I grew angry and afraid. You see, I had trusted him implicitly. All prudent thoughts were lost when I was with him, his hold over me was absolute. Had I followed Mr. Bloom in his wake of self-destruction, I would have condemned myself.”

“For all his devil-may-care affectations, it seems the poor young man was not strong enough to face life’s trials,” Mariquita replied. “You, my dear friend, are much stronger. Of that there can be no doubt.”

“Yet, sometimes, in the deepest, darkest part of the night,” Abigail murmured, “when the house is silent and still, I feel I understand him completely.”

“How so, querida?”

“I have come to Buenos Aires to start my life anew, but my heart remains heavy. I have lost everyone I have ever loved. My brother’s life was taken mercilessly. My mother and father are gone, long before their time. And I lost my Mr. Bloom—my only love, I fear.”

“Why should that be? You are young yet.”

Abigail’s weary sigh affirmed her resignation. “Like Mr. Bloom, I am not altogether certain that I merit much happiness. No, I will live out my days filling each moment with productivity and, hopefully, in service to others.”

“That is utter foolishness!” cried Mariquita. “Once I have you securely tucked under my wing, you will soon heal your wounds and fly free! And there are many of my acquaintance who are—let us say, they are well situated in society. You will wish to speak to them about your projects.”

The impromptu meeting did much to unite the women, for the bonds of friendship are made stronger when put to the test. Mariquita made her farewells with the understanding that they would meet in two days’ time. As she saw the carriage off, Abigail sent up a prayer of gratitude. She had never spoken of this burden, though she believed Mrs. Frankel had some notion of it, for she was known to recite Deuteronomy chapter and verse whenever she saw Abigail appear downhearted: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse, And you shall choose life

Gabriel Bloom did not do away with his life, but neither did he choose to live it. Did she truly wish to follow in his footsteps? Did she have the courage to live life to its fullest? Her head began to ache, the emotions of the morning wiping away any impetus to work. She found a cozy nook with a comfortable chair. Settling in under a soft coverlet, Abigail closed her eyes and was soon fast asleep.


I mentioned earlier that Abigail is a young lady accustomed to calibrating instruments and taking measurements. She jots down her findings and follows their projected trajectories. But will she follow her internal compass and allow love into her heart, or will she reject all the signs—Heaven sent, or otherwise— and continue to walk alone? You’ll have to read the story and find out for yourself. Next time, we’ll look at Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Thanks for stopping by!

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Jane Austen & Jewish Themes~ Part II

It is a truth universally acknowledged that our sages and their faithful students have been reinterpreting biblical texts in the hopes to discover new insights, to make them more accessible, or even to reveal different conclusions. As I mentioned in the original post of this series, it is in keeping with our traditions to recreate these sacred passages, to personalize the story with our own life experiences or our imaginations. In Judaism, these reworkings are known as midrash.

Jane Austen was the daughter of an Anglican minister. Her upbringing in the church would have given her sufficient exposure to Judaic theology to help me make my point: Austen used her knowledge of sacred text and reimagined the lessons into the workings of her famous novels. Today we’re going to examine Emma for Judaic themes.

TESHUVA ~ Repentance

In most cases, it is the author’s duty—and the reader’s expectation—to allow a story to unfold in such a manner that the protagonist evolves throughout the tribulations of the novel. The transformative journey is, after all, what the audience craves. Setting aside the specifics, it is within this transformation that the reader intimately identifies with the struggle, the lesson, and the resolution.

But it hasn’t always been this way. Interestingly enough, in many ancient cultures, such as within Greek society, it was not an accepted belief that one could change one’s behavior. Rather, it was thought that a person behaved just as his or her destiny foretold. Great Britain’s Rabbi Sacks (baruch dayan ha’emet) spoke of this message in a sermon fittingly prepared for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. He even mentioned Jane Austen’s Emma.

A well-to-do, “handsome” young lady, it could be said that Emma Woodhouse has been spoiled the whole of her life. In addition to that, she is a bit of a snob.

She possess the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.

With little else to do, she goes about the county doing—what she believes to be—good works. In fact, Austen’s heroine is a yenta. She imagines that her matchmaking skills will bring about much happiness and shalom bayit to every hearth and home in Highbury. But Emma’s attempts at pairing her acquaintances are not as successful as she would have hoped. This is not surprising in the least! How can a young lady understand the workings of the heart in others, when she doesn’t understand her own? It is through personal struggles that Emma comes to understand her errors. When she is faced with her own heartache, Emma determines to change her ways.

Every year, as we commemorate the High Holy Days, we repeat the words of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer and consider our missteps, our mistakes, and our failures. But then we hear: “Teshuvah (Repentance), Tefillah (Prayer), and Tzedakah (Charity) avert the evil decree.” During the ten days in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are meant to examine our lives and to reflect on bettering ourselves. In Rabbi Sacks’ sermon, he postulates that Judaism was probably the first religion to ponder Free Will for this very reason. We can decide to do better.

Jane Austen presents us a storyline that highlights a young woman’s emotional growth. Three thousand years after the sacred text of the High Holy Days appear in our liturgy, Austen allows her protagonist to confess her sins, to show remorse, and to show a desire to improve herself.

Emma grows before our very eyes when she decides to learn from her mistakes. She becomes more charitable towards the other members of Highbury’s diverse society. She becomes more charitable towards herself when she opens her eyes, and her heart, to Mr. Knightly.


In my latest novel, Celestial Persuasion, I introduce Miss Abigail Isaacs, a young lady whom most believe to be past her last prayers. While she has had an offer of marriage, Abigail’s dreams have been shattered on more than one occasion. Her friends encourage her to marry, for security at the very least. This she cannot accept. Rather than opening her heart to the possibility of love, Abigail retrenches and strives to build a life of seclusion, safe within the confines of an astronomer’s observatory.

I have begun to believe that I am not meant for love.”

According to those familiar with her upbringing, Abigail’s education and access to the world of academia has had secondary effects. She is quick to judge and often times thought to be haughty. Her snobbish ways are not unlike Emma’s—though she is not a woman of means—and her comments are usually kindly meant. She is bookish and awkward in the company of strangers. In truth, she is an innocent; and more often than not, Abigail misjudges perilous situations and societal obligations. It is when she is entrusted into the care of Lieutenant Raphael Gabay that Abigail meets her greatest challenge. The gentleman has little patience with her improper pride.

Might I suggest you set down your astronomer’s paraphernalia to examine what is before you, here on earth, and not in the night’s sky? You have excused me of shielding my truths with incessant jesting, but it is you, madam, who hides behind instruments and tomes.

Will the young lady repent and change her ways? Can she forgive, and forget, and give love another chance? Join Abigail on her journey to the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata and find out for yourself. But stay tuned! Next time, I’ll discuss Sense and Sensibility.

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Jane Austen and Jewish Themes

As an emerging author in the realm of Jane Austen Fanfiction (J.A.F.F.), I have introduced Jewish characters thus far into the world of Pride and Prejudice, as well as Persuasion. I purposely didn’t alter the beloved characters created by Austen’s imagination. I mean, of course, that Anglicans remain Anglicans. Instead, I present the reader with a different—more inclusive—makeup of the communities where said characters reside.

Some people may question why I chose this path, rather than the racebending or race-lifting phenomenon we are seeing today in fandom. Transforming the Bennets or Mr. Darcy as Jewish role models would not have satisfied my creativity. Instead, I wanted to personalize the canon with my heritage, so that our collective experiences in that period—known as The Regency—would not go unacknowledged. Some may question why I would want to meddle with works of art in the first place. They are classic novels, loved the world over. The answer is simple: It goes back to the practice of creating a midrash.

I’ve read several editorials and essays that pose an intriguing hypothesis. The authors stipulate that the concept of fanfiction is an accepted and familiar practice in Judaism. And I wholeheartedly agree. It is a truth universally acknowledged that our sages and their faithful students have been reinterpreting biblical texts in the hopes to discover new insights, to make them more accessible, or even to reveal different conclusions. It is in keeping with our traditions to reimagine these sacred passages, to personalize the story with our own life experiences or even to postulate the unknown—the “what-ifs.” These new interpretations or reworkings are known as midrash.

According to penlighten.com, “Fanfiction is basically fiction written by fans or, to put it in a better way, admirers of the original work. Fanfiction writers include much of the same characters and also sometimes choose to add new ones. Fanfiction stories often reflect the writer’s view (in this case, the view of the reader of the original work) as to what should have happened in that particular story.”

The great Ibn Ezra’s opinion on Midrash Aggadah was pretty clear.  There are words, and there are meanings. As long as the reader gets the meaning of the text, it doesn’t matter how the message is communicated. Therefore (Finally! I’m getting to my point!) in my next series of blog posts, I mean to provide a ‘drash on Judaic themes in Regency literature by expressing how we can find Judaism in Austen’s work. Hopefully, this will encourage other authors, and readers, to open their minds to this particular genre. And that might have the happy chance of prompting even more discussion!

While Austen was the daughter of an Anglican minister, she didn’t follow the admonishments of clergymen such as James Fordyce, a Presbyterian minister infamous for his Sermons for Young Women. However, her work—or her “pestiferous” novels, as labeled by Fordyce—were characterized by morality. This could be recognized by her characters manners, their sense of duty to society, and their religious affinity. Furthermore, no self-important or indolent clergyman was safe from Austen’s eagle eye and sharp wit.

Without a doubt, she had strong opinions of correct and proper behavior, but Heaven help the poor soul that was caught in her crosshairs! She examined and cross-examined everyday life. Everyone was fair game. Everything was questioned and brought to light.

That is the epitome of Jewish study, is it not?

Throughout Austen fandom it has been said that Jane very likely never met a Jewish person; but her upbringing in the Anglican church would have given her sufficient exposure to Judaic theology and that is enough for me to proceed. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, today’s post will deal specifically with Pride and Prejudice.

EISHET CHAYIL~ A Woman of Valor

In Chapter Eight, we find Mr. Darcy, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Miss Caroline Bingley, Mr. Bingley and Mr. and Mrs. Hurst in the drawing room. Miss Bennet is holding her own against Miss Bingley’s abuse. She is being chided for wishing to read, instead of joining the party at cards. The point of the conversation is to draw Mr. Darcy’s attention to Miss Bennet’s lack of social graces and accomplishments. But Miss Bingley miscalculates in offering her definition of a lady of Quality and Mr. Darcy, indubitably, puts her in her place.

All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

Elizabeth Bennet expresses her amazement at Mr. Darcy’s description of an accomplished woman. To my ears, it all sounded vaguely familiar.

I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”

Where do we find similar commentary within our liturgy? 

Take a look at Proverbs, and in particular, Eishet Chayil, A Woman of Valor Who Can Find? Austen’s use and understanding of biblical language seems to be jumping off the page! Without a doubt, Jane Austen was familiar with these words. Her own dear brother made certain to memorialize her using a quote from the same Proverb 31.

She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness”  

In today’s society, a woman is expected to be a superhero. She must be a good daughter, wife and mother. She must be teacher, nurse, caregiver, friend, homemaker, and provider. As Jewish families gather around the Shabbos table, husbands sing King Solomon’s praise of their Eishet Chayil. I would guess many women, exhausted and possibly overwhelmed, may secretly wonder if they are worthy of such a tribute. Can anyone truly live up to such perfection? I believe that is Elizabeth Bennet’s question. She challenges Mr. Darcy’s remark with great bewilderment.

I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united.”

But according to a midrash, King Solomon was not actually describing one perfect woman. He was describing the combine attributes of our matriarchs and biblical heroines. They each brought their own treasured qualities and values. King Solomon did not expect one woman to do it all. Rather, the idea was that each woman should be held in high regard for her own precious and unique gifts.

Mr. Darcy, through the wisdom and creativity of Austen, was able to comprehend “a great deal.” He observed Miss Bennet’s skirts covered “six inches deep in mud…her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!” Instead of censuring her lack of grace, he saw a woman who cared not for her appearance. Her mission that day was to attend her sister, Jane, who was ill and needed nursing. He saw a woman who could not be swayed by the pressure of the group and stood her ground to read a book, rather than to play at cards. We know that Mr. Darcy despises cunning and deception; and in my view, Austen portrayed Elizabeth Bennet —at least in this chapter—as an Eishet Chayil. Her true character is showcased by her good actions and generous spirit.

LASHON HARA~ Gossip

We are introduced to George Wickham, that evil cur, in Chapter Fifteen when he arrives in Meryton to join the militia. He is handsome and amiable. Miss Elizabeth Bennet quickly falls for his charms. Although she prides herself for being astute and a good judge of character, Elizabeth is easy prey for Wickham’s mean-spirted insinuations and outright lies.

Mr. Wickham was therefore at leisure to talk to Elizabeth, and she was very willing to hear him, though what she chiefly wished to hear she could not hope to be told—the history of his acquaintance with Mr. Darcy.

It is not until Chapter Thirty-six, when Elizabeth is presented with a letter from Mr. Darcy, that she comes to terms with her error in judgement. Had she behaved according to the precepts of her faith, her upbringing, and her own good sense, Elizabeth would have refrained from participating in such idle gossip. 

She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.

In allowing herself to listen to Wickham’s diatribe against Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth all-too eagerly solidified her poor impression of an innocent man. And in doing so, Elizabeth causes needless distress to herself, Mr. Darcy, to her family, and to Meryton at large. Shortly after, George Wickham’s evil nature is exposed for all to see when he steals away with Lydia Bennet, the youngest sister. Elizabeth suffers cruelly for the part she played in her family’s undoing, not to mention her own broken heart. Again, I say, this speaks to how much Austen’s Judeo-Christian upbringing influenced her work.

In our tradition, we are commanded to remember how siblings, Miriam and Aaron, listened to gossip about Moses’ private affairs with his wife… “And God heard.” Miriam was considered the instigator of the incident and was severely punished with Zora’at—leprosy. When you take into consideration that brother and sister spoke to Moses privately and apparently with his best interests at heart, it is clear that the sin of lashon hara is grave, indeed. Mr. Wickham and Elizabeth spoke behind Mr. Darcy’s back. A worse affront, to be sure. Elizabeth’s penalty was not of biblical proportions; nevertheless, Austen’s message comes through all the same.


ZELOPHEHAD and his FIVE DAUGHTERS

Several years ago, a clever man suggested that the film, Fiddler on the Roof, shares common themes with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In his blog, Robert Lockard brings up the similarities in between the Mother/Father relationship, rejecting a marriage proposal, forbidden love, soul mates, and losing one’s home. Needless to say, the author also mentions that the Bennets have five daughters, as do Tevye and his wife. I’m willing to take it one step further. Could Austen have been thinking of Zelophehad and his five daughters when she plotted out her storyline?

In Numbers 27, we are introduced to a family of five sisters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. As their father, Zelophehad, has died, the women are dependent on marriage to secure their future. Just as we see in the Bennet household with regard to the entail of Longbourn, these sisters may not inherit their father’s land. But here is where the two stories differ. Unlike the Bennets, these sisters speak up! They take their claim to Moses, who refers the question to God. And He says:


The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them

Numbers 27:7

Of course, if Austen followed the suggestion found in her bible, her plot would have lost its arc. Mr. Darcy— and his ten thousand a year— would have been superfluous! Perish the thought! I still hold fast to my hypothesis and will continue with my examination of Judaic themes in Austen’s novels; only now, I will offer up my own work as an example.

LECH LECHA~ Go forth or Go towards yourself

In my book Celestial Persuasion, Abigail Isaacs finds herself at a crossroads. With few alternatives before her, Abigail chooses to heed her brother’s wishes and leaves home and hearth to make her way to a strange and distant land. I can’t help but connect this with the message that was given to Abram.

Go from your land, from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.”

Genesis 12:1

In researching this parsha (this section), I was drawn to a Kabbalistic interpretation of these famous words. Go from your land, becomes Go from your will—set aside your plans, your limited views of what you can become. From your birthplace, is understood to mean, walk away from your emotional self—which, as often is the case, is the product of one’s environment. From your father’s house, refers to the intellect or that which has the authority over one’s feelings and behavior. This interpretation fits my protagonist to a T.

Abigail Isaacs is a woman torn. She had set her eyes on a certain path and dedicated herself to fulfilling that one goal. In the process, Abigail closed the door on love, on the possibility of being hurt, of making mistakes. Tucked away in her observatory, she was safe. She set hard boundaries and felt secure. When her brother seemingly speaks to her from beyond the celestial veil, Abigail—much like Abram—is challenged to go forth and to become what she was always meant to be. I only can add that I hope you pick up a copy of the book and see how the story unfolds.

That’s all for today, my friends, but stay tuned. Next time, we’ll take a look at Emma.