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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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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.

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Celestial Persuasion~ A Jewish Regency Romance

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my Work in Progress: Celestial Persuasion. You can read about it here.

I’m getting closer to Publishing Day and I can’t wait to share it with you. In the mean time, please take a minute to watch this short trailer. The painting of Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson was the inspiration for the entire project. Please enjoy!

Coming soon! Celestial Persuasion on Amazon.

Abigail Isaacs fears ever again falling under the power of love and dedicates her life to studying the heavens. However, upon her father’s demise she finds herself in reduced circumstances and must write to her brother, who has long been away at sea. When instead Captain Wentworth of the HMS Laconia sends a tragic reply, Abigail is asked to set aside her own ambitions and fulfill her brother’s dreams in the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata.

In his relentless pursuit for justice, Lieutenant Raphael Gabay lends his sword to the Spanish American cause. But as he prepares to set sail with the others, he is entrusted with the care of a young woman. She is quite unlike anyone he has ever known, and Raphael wonders whether the brilliant astronomer will see beyond his frivolous façade and recognize his true nature.

Their destinies have been plotted beyond the celestial veil; their charts foretell of adventure. Can these two troubled souls be persuaded to heed the stars and find love—and their purpose—in this fledgling nation?

Please share and tell all your friends!

The preorder link for the eBook can be found here

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April’s Jewish Book Carnival

I’m delighted to be your host!

This is a monthly event, bringing together those who cover Jewish literature online to “meet, read, and comment on each other’s posts.” Organized by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL), the Carnival is hosted by a different participant’s site on the 15th of every month.

As you can see, I have prepared a lovely tea to celebrate the occasion. Join me, won’t you?


This month on gilagreenwrites, Gila  interviews author Sharon Kirsch on her new book The Smallest Objective. According to Kirsch, the book is categorized as a memoir but it is a “hybrid of genres.”


After a brief hiatus, Life Is Like a Library is back with a review of Rebel Daughter, the new historical fiction by Lori Banov Kaufmann. You can find it here: http://lifelibrary-ksp.blogspot.com/2021/04/with-rebel-yell.html


A Jewish Grandmother, who has been an Israeli for half a century, really enjoyed reading  Because It’s Israel: An Aliyah Odyssey. Batya says, “you’ll love the book whether you’re in Israel or any place else in the world.” https://me-ander.blogspot.com/2021/03/because-its-israel-aliyah-odyssey-book.html


Shiloh Musings reviews a biography of the legendary Hannah Arendt,  On Love and Tyranny: The Life and Politics of Hannah Arendt  by  Dr. Ann Heberlein (Author), Alice Menzies (Translator.) https://shilohmusings.blogspot.com/2021/03/on-love-and-tyranny-life-and-politics.html 


Barbara Krasner at The Whole Megillah interviews Yona Zeldis McDonough about her new middle-grade historical novel, The Woodcarver’s Daughter, published April 1, 2021 by Kar-Ben. Here is the link: https://thewholemegillah.wordpress.com/2021/03/31/authors-notebook-the-woodcarvers-daughter-by-yona-zeldis-mcdonough/


Deborah Kalb interviews a variety of authors on her website, Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb. Here’s a recent interview she did with Jacqueline Jules about her new poetry collection, Manna in the Morning.


In April, Jill at Rhapsody in Books reviewed The Passover Guest  by Susan Kusel, which is a retelling of the famous I.L. Peretz story, The Magician.   Kusel’s story is set in Washington, D.C. during the Great Depression, and it is a delight!   Both kids and adults will love it. [https://rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com/2021/04/01/kid-lit-review-of-the-passover-guest-by-susan-kusel/]


Over on Sara Lesley Arnold’s blog, there’s a recent post reviewing middle-grade novel No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen. https://saralesleyarnold.com/2021/03/19/no-vacancy-by-tziporah-cohen/


At Jewish Books for Kids,  Barbara Bietz interviews publisher/author Margie Blumberg.  Read about it here: https://jewishbooksforkids.com/2021/04/04/interview-with-publisher-and-author-margie-blumberg-mb-publishing/


On The Rachack Review, Reuven just posted a book review of Clémence Boulouque’s new book about Ben Amazozegh. https://rachack.blogspot.com/2021/04/another-modernity-elia-benamozeghs.html


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


On Heidi Rabinowitz’s Book of Life blog, read a double interview with authors Ruth Behar (Letters from Cuba) and Barbara Krasner (37 Days at Sea) to learn about the relationship between Jews and Cuba.https://jewishbooks.blogspot.com/2021/04/cuba-and-jews.html

The Sydney Taylor Shmooze, a mock award blog, offers this review by Stacy Nockowitz of We Must Not Forget: Holocaust Stories of Survival and Resistance by Deborah Hopkinsonhttps://www.sydneytaylorshmooze.com/2021/04/review-we-must-not-forget-holocaust.html


And join me in revisiting a most interesting interview with Israeli author, Sara Aharoni as we discuss The First Mrs. Rothschild and Jewish Historical Fiction:

Author’s Interview with Sara Aharoni


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Pride and Prejudice and Passover Ponderings

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”!

Author's Interview

Author’s interview with Lori Kaufmann

Chag Pesach sameach! A good Passover to you all. Talk about timely…I began preparing this post on the same day the world heard of a new discovery by Israeli archaeologists. Do you read about it? The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that dozens of new Dead Sea Scroll fragments were found in a desert cave and, apparently, they date back to the second century A.D. The team went on to find 2,000-year-old coins, a skeleton of a child and a basket of woven reeds—very likely the oldest of its kind. Do you recall what was going on during this time period in Jerusalem? Does the Bar Kochba Revolt sound familiar? If you answered: the Jewish uprising against Rome between 132 and 136 A.D., you are correct! That brings me to today’s guest.

As soon as this author learned of the discovery of the first-century tombstone that inspired this book, Lori Banov Kaufmann wanted to know more. She was captivated by the ancient love story the stone revealed and resolved to bring it back to life.

Author Lori Kaufmann Photographer credit: Cathy Raff

Before becoming a full-time writer, Lori was a strategy consultant for high-tech companies. She has an AB from Princeton University and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. She lives in Israel with her husband and four adult children


Host:      Lori, this latest discovery must have thrilled you beyond belief! More fodder for a sequel, perhaps? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Welcome to the blog and my series of author interviews. I understand that your book took ten years of research and diligent care, before your dream of publishing came to fruition. Please tell us all about it.

Guest: Hi Mirta. Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to tell your readers about my new historical novel, Rebel Daughter. It’s based on the true story of a young woman in first-century Jerusalem who survives the Jewish revolt against Rome. I don’t want to reveal spoilers but let’s just say, a lot happens! It’s a tale of family, love and courage set in one of the most important periods of human history.

Host: Lori, as you may have perceived by taking a look around my site, I am drawn to the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras. My books strive to incorporate Jewish characters into these typically Anglican backgrounds. Tell us why you chose this particular time period, right before the destruction of the Second Temple.

Guest: That’s a great question. I was never drawn to this time period before. I’ve always loved historical fiction but for me that meant WWII or at the very latest, the Civil War! I decided to write this story after hearing about the discovery of a young woman’s two-thousand-year-old gravestone, an exciting and important archaeological find. It was the mystery behind the stone that drew me in and made me want to know more. Who was she? How did a girl from Jerusalem become a Roman woman buried in Italy? In many ways, I feel that I didn’t choose this story. It chose me.

Host: I’m still struck by the amount of work that went into this project. Tell us about your research.  I’m sure that fascinating doesn’t even come close to describing your findings.

Guest: I felt an obligation to my real-life characters to tell their story as accurately as possible. I knew that there was a lot I had to imagine but I wanted everything that happened in the book to be historically plausible. So I went to a lot of archaeological sites and consulted with some of the world’s experts on this period. I remember one visit with an archaeologist to a recently excavated site in the Old City of Jerusalem. The archaeologist showed me where the stones of the road were broken. Underneath, you could see the sewage tunnels where the Jews had fled when the Romans destroyed the Temple. He and his team had found cooking pots, coins and other valuables in the tunnels. That gave me chills.

Host: I understand that sense of obligation to one’s characters. You spend so much time contemplating their thoughts and their feelings, they became like family. Did any particular character resonate with you? 

Guest: My main character Esther. Even though she lived thousands of years ago, she wants what we all do – to protect our families, live our lives in freedom and dignity, and find love! Plus, she has her faults. I definitely relate to those!

Host: Do you have a favorite scene or event in the book?

Guest: That’s an interesting question. Many events in the book were quite difficult to bring to life. I wanted the the scenes to be not only historically accurate, but also emotionally true. Some of those scenes, especially of the destruction of Jerusalem, are still hard for me to read but I’m proud of them. I feel that I captured the characters’ passions, loves and fears.

Host: As you have been at work on this project for so long, dare I ask? When did you first consider yourself an author?

Guest: A better question would be how long have I wanted to write! I thought about writing for decades but then, as many of your readers know, life gets in the way. I’m not counting the little starts and stops through the years. But I only made a real commitment to myself when I turned 50. I said, “it’s now or never.” Little did I know that I would be a debut author at 61! So now I say, “better late than never!”  

Host: Absolutely! I was a late bloomer as well! My empty nest turned into a writer’s haven, so to speak. Tell me about your writing process. Are you a panster or a plotter? I know it’s the catch phrase of the day, but it does fit the bill, doesn’t it?

Guest: I tried both ways and what I learned is that there is no right answer. Every one has to find what works for them. For me, it’s a combo approach. I need a general roadmap but then enough flexibility to take side-trips along the way. But I only discovered this through trial and error. Actually, many errors!

Host: And are you working on something now?

Guest: I’m working on a novel set in Charleston, South Carolina at the turn of the 20th Century. It’s loosely based on the life of my grandmother and her sisters. It’s fiction because no one would believe the real version! I grew up there and always knew I wanted to write a story set in the South. Charleston is another one of those magical cities – like Jerusalem and Rome – that takes hold of your heart and won’t let go no matter how far away you run or how long you stay away.

Host: Oh! That sounds intriguing, too! We certainly need more diversity in Jewish historical fiction. I look forward to reading your work, Lori. Before we sign off, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Guest: Thanks again for inviting me, Mirta. Here are my social media links:

Website https://www.lorikaufmann.com/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/loribanovkaufmann/

@loribanovkaufmann

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/loribanovkaufmann

Twitter – https://twitter.com/LoriKaufmann

@LoriKaufmann

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The Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata, A Peek into a new Jewish Austen Fan Fiction

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,

The injustice they warrant. But vain is my spite,

They cannot so suffer who never do right.

Credit: http://www.theloiterer.org/essays/warspart5.html

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

Gibraltar

Madam,

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.

Your servant,

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!