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 herown? 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.
If you have been following the series of author interviews on this blog, you might have noticed a particular question that I often pose. Are you a panster or a plotter? I am most definitely a plotter, needing an outline and a spreadsheet with dates, names and personality traits. That being said, there comes a point, while one is furiously typing away, that the characters take over. Their own unique voice will be heard, even if that means deleting the last chapter and rewriting the trajectory for the entire story. Mrs. Meyerson is one such character in The Meyersons of Meryton. But rather than telling you about the rebbetzin, allow me to introduce you to the lady, as I conduct a brief interview with Hertfordshire’s newest arrival.
Host: Greetings, Mrs. Meyerson and welcome to my blog.
Guest: Thank you, my dear. Pray forgive my ignorance. I am not at all familiar with your modern-day colloquialisms.
Host: I do apologize, madam. A blog is a—well, the arrangement is of little consequence. Suffice it to say, you are joining us today to discuss your arrival to Meryton. Tell me, what was your first impression of that small market town?
Guest: It certainly was vastly different from London, nonetheless, we were greeted graciously by the Bennet family of Longbourn on our first night. I was later pleasantly surprised when we met the congregants of the little synagogue, and understood straight away, the importance of my husband’s presence in that village.
Host: Vastly different from London, you say? What was it that you missed the most? The routs? The balls? The fashionable society?
Guest: Oh no, my dear! We lived in Cheapside—not quite the center of fashionable society. Do not misunderstand me. We had our share of good society. My cousin—rather distant, needless to say—is Moses Montefiore. He and his lovely new bride, Judith, are related to Nathan Rothschild by marriage. I have had the privilege of collaborating with Mrs. Montefiore in doing charitable works within the Jewish community. As to your question, I miss my family naturally. I miss my many acquaintances. And I miss the good work, the tzedakah, I was privileged to undertake. But God is good! Baruch Hashem! I have made new friends in Meryton and have been kept busy with… perhaps, it is best, my dear, if I do not delve into matters that might be too delicate in nature.
Host: Let’s change the subject then. Tell me of your new friends, the Bennets. As a mother of five yourself, what did you think of their daughters?
Guest: Oh! The Bennets! What a delightful family! They were a God-send to us. Jane is an angel, a sweet angel. What more can I say? Mary reminds me of a beautiful, but untended, flower. A bit of attention and some loving kindness is all she needs. Lydia, poor dear, was a whirling dervish when I met her—a Chanukah dreidel spinning out of control! Kitty, or Catherine as I prefer to call her, has been like a daughter to me. In some ways, she has also been my teacher. As the rebbetzin, I am called to lead the women of my husband’s congregation. I am supposed to be learned in the ways of our culture. I am expected to be a good example for the women of my faith. But Catherine reminded me of something very important, when I lost my way, and I am truly grateful.
Host: But you have only mentioned four, Mrs. Meyerson. I believe you forgot someone.
Guest: Heaven’s no! I left Elizabeth for last. Elizabeth is a true Eishet Chayil—a Woman of Valor. I realize that the proverb usually is sung to honor the mother, or the matriarch of the house; nonetheless, Elizabeth has earned this title in my eyes. She exudes the qualities which are attributed to such a woman: Feminine strength, intelligence, wit, and compassion. Even so, I witnessed how she struggled, how she fought to overcome her less than admirable traits, and this made her even more estimable in my eyes. Her worth is far beyond that of rubies, as I am certain Mr. Darcy would agree.
Host: I have no doubt! Now, in order to entice my audience further, what do you say to my sharing a snippet of the story?
Guest: I can only repeat that which someone else wiser, and more clever than I, once wrote: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” By all means, my dear, lead on.
It was many hours later, in the darkest part of night, when a series of harried knocks were heard upon the door that caused the Bennet family to stir in alarm.
“What is it, Mr. Bennet? Who is at the door?” cried Mrs. Bennet pulling the bedclothes under her chin.
“I have not a clue, but I doubt we will learn the meaning of this rude interruption by hiding under the linens!” Mr. Bennet declared in a huff as he pulled on his dressing gown and stuffed his feet into his slippers. Carefully managing the staircase as he held a flickering chamberstick in one hand and wiped the sleep out of his eyes with the other, the master found himself at his front door just as Hill came from behind with a few coins from the household funds at the ready.
“For the runner, sir,” she said with a shaky curtsey.
“Thank you, Hill,” he replied gratefully, for he had not thought of compensating the errant messenger.
Mrs. Hill bobbed once more and stumbled back to her quarters as the master made quick work of opening the door. The messenger grinned an apology at the lateness of his arrival. Handing over the missive, he touched his cap and bounded off into the night. Mr. Bennet, now fully awake and justifiably curious, held his hand high and allowed the candle to illuminate a path to his library. Once there, he quietly shut the door, sat down in his familiar welcoming chair and was adjusting his spectacles when Mrs. Bennet came rushing in, followed by his two eldest daughters.
“How cozy you are, Mr. Bennet!” cried she. “With no consideration to my poor nerves, you have sequestered yourself without further thought of your wife or children who lay trembling in their beds. What has happened?” she beseeched. “Is it from Lydia?”
As he unfolded the object in question, Mr. Bennet peered over his spectacles and looked at his girls. “Jane? Lizzy? Were you all a tremble?”
“No indeed, sir, but we are anxious to know what news comes at this hour,” Elizabeth replied, taking hold of her sister’s hand.
The women gathered in front of Mr. Bennet as he silently read through the brief message. Satisfied that he was at liberty to share the contents, he cleared his throat and turned to his fretful wife.
“I trust you have ordered a good dinner for tomorrow evening, my dear, for I have just been informed we may expect an addition to our family party.”
“Pray, who would be so indelicate as to awaken us in the middle of the night for such a matter? Who, may I ask, wishes to trespass on our hospitality without so much as a by your leave?”
“‘Tis your brother who has written…”
“Edward? Whatever is he about?”
“If you would but calm yourself and allow me to read the letter, all will be explained.”
Jane gently guided her mother to a seat, as Elizabeth lit the candles on the mantelpiece to better illuminate their surroundings. Mr. Bennet hemmed and hawed before commencing:
Gracechurch Street, London
Dear brother, I know you will understand when I say things are well in hand here in town. I have met with Mr. Moses Montefiore and found him to be the best of men, brilliant as he is honorable! Upon his expert understanding of the current situation, Mr. Montefiore conveys the Meyersons to your good care. This letter is to be accepted as means of an introduction for the rabbi and his family into Meryton society. You can expect a party of three—husband, wife and child—to arrive by four o’clock on Wednesday. I have assured them of my sister’s fine hospitality, but tell Fanny not to fuss for their accommodations; they will only be staying the night. Montefiore has made arrangements for a living to be had in town. Fanny, I have no doubt, will be happy to know the Meyersons have need to be settled in that establishment by Friday afternoon! Now, with regards to…
Mr. Bennet stopped at this juncture, folding and placing the letter most purposefully in his pocket.
“I believe therein lies the crux of the matter. The rest involves business that I will need to attend in the coming weeks.”
“How extraordinary!” exclaimed Jane. “Whatever does my uncle mean by ‘things are well in hand in town’?”
“Are you at liberty to divulge anything further on these people and their business in Meryton?” Elizabeth asked, covering a yawn with the back of her hand. “Who is this Montefiore? Can he be a sensible man, ushering these people to us in this manner?”
Mrs. Bennet had more pressing matters to discuss and would not be silenced. “We are in the midst of planning our daughters’ weddings! My poor nerves cannot take much more agitation, Mr. Bennet. What does my brother mean by sending strangers to our home? And what, pray tell, is a rabbi?”
The hour being late and with no desire to entertain any further debate, Mr. Bennet stood and waved his hand, signaling towards the door. “Off with the lot of you. Tomorrow is another day and it will come soon enough. I am to bed and will brook no argument, Mrs. Bennet. Good night, Jane. Good night, Lizzy,” he said, with a kiss to each daughter’s brow.
Elizabeth blew out the candles and followed her father and sister as they wearily climbed towards their warm and welcoming beds. Mrs. Bennet, alone in the darkened room, sat down on Mr. Bennet’s favorite chair and indulged in a good cry, presumably relieving her poor nerves.
THE MEYERSONS OF MERYTON is FREE today on Kindle Unlimited!
Joining us today is author Carola Dunn. And when I say author, I mean AUTHOR.
Ms. Dunn has penned 32 Regency novels, several collections of Regency novellas, 23 Daisy Dalrymple mysteries set in England in the 1920s, and 4 Cornish mysteries set in Cornwall around 1970. She was born in England but has lived in the United States for many years, presently in Oregon.
Though I am presented with a wide selection of titles, it can come of no surprise that I choose to focus on one of the author’s novels in particular: Miss Jacobson’s Journey. Set during the Napoleonic wars, Miss Miriam Jacobson finds herself in quite an imbroglio with Jakob Rothschild, Isaac Cohen and Felix, Viscount Roworth. There is adventure and intrigue, of course, along with romantic angst and personal growth. There is a significant nod towards 19th century bigotry which the author addresses with honesty, and even, humor.
Host: Thank you for participating in this series of interviews. Being that you are such a prolific author, I’m especially interested in learning how Miss Jacobson’s Journey came about?
Guest: Thank you for inviting me, Mirta. Let me give you some back ground, starting with the Jewish connection: My father was Jewish, born in a town then in Germany, now in Poland. I never learned about Judaism from him, as he was not religious and my parents split up when I was 6. My mother was an English Quaker and I went to a Quaker school. A friend there also had a German Jewish father and English Quaker mother. We both had relatives in Israel, and we spent the summer there between school and university.
Now on to the Regency background: I started writing Regency romance in 1979. (The Regency was the period in England between 1811 and 1820-21 when George III was mad and his son reigned as Prince Regent; it spawned its own genre of romance.) In pursuit of historical accuracy, I did a lot of research, both specific to whatever book I was writing and general reading about the period. I wrote about 20 before Miss Jacobson’s Journey was conceived.
In the course of research, I came across a mention of the Rothschilds, upstart international bankers who smuggled gold across France to Lord Wellington’s forces fighting Napoleon’s army in Spain. This immediately struck me as an intriguing background for a story. The Rothschilds being Jewish suggested the possibility of creating Jewish protagonists. Traditional Regency romances tend to be set among the British upper classes. But I already had middle-class people among my heroes and heroines, and black characters, and the heroine of The Frog Earl is half Indian. It didn’t seem like too much of a stretch. My editor gave her approval. Miriam Jacobson and Isaac Cohen were born.
Host: That’s why I feel your novel is an important addition to the genre! As you say, traditional Regencies tend to be set among the British upper classes; but at that point in time, it didn’t necessarily mean they were all Anglican. The contributions to society by the Anglo-Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities should not be discounted or ignored. So, I say to you: Well done, indeed! I understand Miss Jacobson’s Journey has two sequels. Does the Jewish theme continue throughout?
Guest: To a lesser extent, yes. In the second, Lord Roworth’s Reward, Miriam and Jacob are no longer the main characters, having been happily married off to each other. Felix, Lord Roworth, who travelled with them through France, is the hero. The heir to an impoverished peer, he is now working for Nathan Rothschild. Part of the reason I gave him the job is that, while researching the Rothschilds, I came across some wonderful stories about Nathan, the brother who settled in London. I simply couldn’t resist using them, which became possible with Felix as his employee.
Miriam and Jacob do reappear in this book. Mr. Rothschild has sent Felix to Belgium to await the result of the impending battle between Wellington and Napoleon. There he meets a young soldier, Frank Ingram, and his sister Fanny. When Frank is seriously injured in the Battle of Waterloo, Felix helps them get to England and takes them to the Cohens, as Miriam is a healer and the Ingrams have nowhere else to go. In the third of the trilogy, Captain Ingram’s Inheritance, Miriam appears only off-stage.
Host: I will make sure to read them both! I have always been an Anglophile, even as a child, and am inexplicably drawn to the culture. As a native Briton, what intrigued you about this time period?
Guest: Miss Jacobson’s Journey takes place during the Regency because that was the period I was already involved with and, obviously, that was when the initial impetus for my story occurred: the Rothschilds’ coming to the rescue of the British government when their ships carrying the army’s pay were regularly being sunk in the Bay of Biscay by Napoleon’s navy.
It was an interesting time for European Jewry. Many were influenced by the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, moving away from the customs of their forefathers, while others clung to the old ways. On the Continent, Napoleon was attempting to free Jews from the ghettos (Boney wasn’t all bad). In Britain, they still endured the restrictions shared by Catholics, Quakers, and other dissenters from the Anglican church—they couldn’t attend Oxford or Cambridge universities, nor stand for Parliament, among other disabilities. Yet, like the Quaker founders of Barclay’s Bank, the Jewish Rothschilds were able to start building a highly influential business in Britain as well as on the Continent, and were eventually ennobled. David Ricardo, a Sephardic Jew who married a Quaker, wangled a seat in Parliament and became an important economist and reformer and, fictionally, a friend of Isaac and Miriam Cohen!
Host: I don’t want to give away any more of the storyline and can only encourage others to take up this charming book! Thanks again for joining me today. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Guest: I’ve enjoyed sharing this time with you. I’d like to include my social media links, Mirta, and an excerpt for your audience.
Lord Felix, a caped greatcoat of drab cloth now concealing his elegance, watched in angry puzzlement as Herr Rothschild showed an impassive Mr. Cohen some papers.
“These are your passports,” he explained in Yiddish. “You are Swiss admirers of Napoleon, traveling for pleasure to see the country. You and the Fräulein are brother and sister, and milord is your cousin.”
With a mocking grin, Mr. Cohen glanced at Lord Felix.
“What is it?” demanded his lordship. “What is the wretched little Yid up to now?”
“According to our passports, you have joined our family.”
“The devil I have! Do I look like a bloody Jew?”
“Jews come in all shapes and sizes.” He shrugged. “You have a different surname–we’ll be Cohens but you’ll be Rauschberg—so perhaps your father was a goy.”
“Rauschberg? Why not my own name?”
“Roworth is too English by half, unpronounceable in any other tongue. I trust you are not going to expect to be addressed as ‘my lord’?” The last words were a sneer.
“As relatives,” Miriam pointed out, “we ought doubtless to address each other by our first names.”
They both turned to glare at her.
“I can’t see why I must be related at all!” Lord Felix objected furiously.
Hello and Happy new year everyone! I hope you’ve had a chance to read the previous posts featuring authors of Jewish Historical Fiction. Joining us today, I’m pleased to present D.B. Schaefer. The author was born and raised in the American Midwest, but she headed to more exotic locales after university and has flourished there ever since.
She has worked as a journalist, newspaper editor, and a technical communicator at various stages of her life. Schaefer also wrote many novels in her dreams before completing Me & Georgette, her quirky time-travel homage to famed Regency historical author Georgette Heyer.
This book was an absolute must read for me. The creative narrative brought Regency and Yiddishkeit successfully into a shidduch and married the two worlds beautifully. I couldn’t wait to read the end, not because I was eager to set down the book; but rather, I was dying of curiosity to see how the time-travel issue was dealt with…Jewishly.
Host: Let’s get right to it, shall we? Tell us how this bookcame about.
Guest: I was first introduced to the Regency romance genre decades ago. I read several Georgette Heyer novels at the time, but it wasn’t what one would call an obsession. Fast forward several years, and I was married and living in Israel. One day while browsing in a used bookshop in downtown Jerusalem, I came across a bin of old books marked a shekel a piece (about 50 cents at the time) and found several Heyers. I purchased them all. They were perfect reading for the time: clean (because I was a nice religious lady by then), fun, and literate. I became an instant Heyer addict, and the search for more Heyer novels was on. I actually found a different used bookstore whose owner traveled to England several times a year to purchase used books. He had a following of Heyer fans and would hide her novels under the counter. “Do you have any books by Georgette Heyer?” I’d ask, and Dani would surreptitiously pull one or two out for me. Soon I also had friends in American searching for Georgette Heyers to complete my collection. One friend sent me a box full of Heyers that included A Civil Contract, which is one of Heyer’s more mature and serious novels.
After I read it, it occurred to me that there were many similarities (aside from Almack’s) betweenmatch-making and marriage in Heyer’s novels and in the orthodox Jewish community. My imagination was fired, and I soon came up with the idea of a nice Jewish girl from Boro Park who is “on the shelf” and “past her last prayers,” but whose best friend still hasn’t given up hope of finding her a shidduch. When the friend invites her to the Purim meal to check out a possible match, she falls off a chair, bangs her head and is knocked unconscious, and wakes up in Regency England. Me & Georgette was born.
Host: There seems to be a wide variety of genres these days, what with the advent of fan fiction and indie books. Why do you think Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, subject?
Guest: History is usually written by the side of the victor or the politically correct. Jewish historical fiction gives a real voice to our history, which has been generally ignored, suppressed, or rewritten by non-Jewish historians and Jewish historians with an agenda. Jewish historical fiction is especially important in light of the younger generation, many of whom do not know where we originate and where our wanderings have taken us over the millennia. Due to their lack of education and anything to Jewish to latch on to, they are in danger of losing their Jewish identity. Historical novels provide an easy entry point into researching more about our history.
Host: Well said! To that point, I think it must be mentioned, at least as a brief aside, Georgette Heyer has been deemed an anti-Semite. In her book, The Grand Sophy, she fashioned a Jewish character to resemble every stereotype imaginable. He was a moneylender, “a thin, swarthy individual, with long greasy curls, a semitic nose, and an ingratiating leer.” The man even sported full, long peyot when, in reality, most Jews of the Regency era did not observe this commandment. Heyer published her book after the atrocities of the Holocaust were well known throughout the world. She deliberately exaggerated caricatures to enforce the idea of Jewish “otherness,” in a time when Regency Jews were striving to acclimate and fit in with their Anglican counterparts. I learned of Heyer’s predilections after reading your novel. I must admit, I felt some satisfaction in thinking that positive, well-rounded Jewish characters had made their way into a Heyer fan fiction. It would be equally satisfying to know her thoughts on the subject!
But, back to your comment regarding our history, do you remember your first Jewish fiction that was non-Holocaust related?
Guest: Two novels stand out for me, both taken from my father’s library. I think one was called A Dangerous Madness or A Type of Madness, although I am not sure of the name and I’ve never been able to track it down. Even many of the details of the plot elude me. But it was about a Jewish sailor who traveled to Elizabethan England to track down the man who betrayed his wife to the Inquisition. The second was a stunning, sweeping historical novel by Brenda Lesley Segal, The Tenth Measure, which is set during the Jewish-Roman war in the Second Temple period.
Host: Even though I grew up a “Pan Am brat,” my father’s airline benefits only afforded us trips back and forth from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires. As an anglophile, one day soon, I hope to make it to England and the Jane Austen circuit. Have you had the opportunity to visit any of the locations you have written about?
Guest: I’m a Kansas girl. I’ve never even been to Boro Park! I have been to London, but not to Gloucestershire, where Me & Georgette takes place.
Host: Curiosity begs me to ask: are you a panster or a plotter? Do you outline your story and know how it will end, or do you go with the flow and allow your characters to lead the way?
Guest: With Me & Georgette, I started as a “panster,” although I knew how the story was going to end (and even what the climax, which is one of my favorite scenes, would be). At some point I realized I needed to develop the plot that would get me to that end point. Somewhere along the line that plot took on a life of its own, and it was great fun getting from A to Z.
Host: That’s the best part, isn’t it—when the plot takes on a life of its own? The characters practically tell you what they want to do or say. Do you have anything in the works now? I enjoyed your book very much and hope there are more to come!
Guest: I have a Regency sequel to Me & Georgette I’ve been writing on and off for the past several years. Because I am employed full time in another profession and have a complicated home life, I don’t have much time or head space to devote to this newer novel. The sequel, which takes place at Ravenscourt (the central location of Me & Georgette), isn’t a Jewish novel, although there are still some Jewish elements to it. But I hope eventually to weave the Jewish characters in and out of the series, possibly through more time-travel in either direction.
Host: Sounds intriguing! I look forward to reading it. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Guest: Thank you for hosting the interview, Mirta. I wrote Me & Georgette during a difficult year when I needed FUN. And writing it was indeed fun. This year, too, was difficult–perhaps the most difficult in my life. Baruch Hashem (thank G-d) I had my job, my health, my family, and a roof over my head. That is more than many people can say. But for personal reasons I don’t want to go into, it was unbelievably difficult. And so I found myself reading mostly escape literature. Once again, I needed fun. Friends I spoke to told me the same thing. They were unable to read anything heavy and reverted to their comfort reads.
Just like there is a real place for Jewish literature, escapist literature also plays an important role in our lives. We don’t always need to be pompous or heavy, philosophical, or political. We authors who write light literature also have something important contribute: a welcome release in a cataclysmic world. In this new secular year, may we all share in the fruits of the efforts to control, heal, and stop this horrible virus. The vaccines are rolling out, but many additional advances have been made in medicine and science as a result of the pandemic. May we all merit many more years of the opportunity to read Jewish historical literature.
I’ll just leave your audience now with a short excerpt to whet their appetite.
Devorah returned slowly to consciousness. She became aware first of smells: the odor of fresh sweat, followed by the more subtle scents of earth and grass and wildflowers and, perhaps, weeds. Next came a feeling of extreme warmth, as if a ray of heat were pounding down, enveloping her. She was so hot, so very, very hot and thirsty. Then came the excruciating throbbing at the back of her head, as if she had been viciously battered by a sledgehammer. She moaned and tried to open her eyes, only to be blinded by a blaze of sunlight. She shut them again and tried to rest, to ignore the brutal pain in her head and the parchedness of her throat.
“Look, Adam, she’s coming to,” said a disembodied voice with a precise British accent.
“She appears to be slightly disoriented, as if she has a concussion. She must have sustained a blow to the head, though how the deuce—?” an older, more arrogant voice answered in the same, elegant Queen’s English. “Brandy is what’s needed. Do you have any on you?”
“No, but Mother, you know, always keeps a flask in the carriage for just such emergencies as may arise. I see the team rounding the bend now. Shall I signal John Coachman to spring ’em?”
“No need. Just go wait for them and explain what has happened. The lady—if I may call her that—appears to have gone off again. I’ll see whether I can rouse her.”
Devorah made a supreme effort to open her eyes and focus on the figure crouched before her. Dark, piercing eyes set in a harsh, unfamiliar face stared back at her. She took in the strange cut of their owner’s black hair, then her gaze traveled wonderingly down to the white cloth tied at the stranger’s neck, the uptilted points of his exaggerated shirt collar and the antiquated cut of his blue jacket. Involuntarily, her gaze traveled still further down, and she saw with some embarrassment that he was wearing tightly fitted buff breeches fastened with buttons.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, startled, as her eyes flew up quickly to meet the stranger’s own.
“Come, that is better now,” he said in a slightly amused voice. A smile flickered at the corners of his mouth.
Devorah struggled to raise herself, and he reached out to help pull her into a sitting position. “Much better,” he said coaxingly. “How is your head?”
Devorah, still trying to assimilate the stranger’s unusual costume, felt the back of her head at the exact spot where the sledgehammer was battering her and realized with some shock that a lump had sprouted there. “Better, I guess,” she said. But where was she? Who was this man? If only she didn’t feel so confused.
A coach and four came rushing into view and, obeying signals from the younger man, slowed to a halt. This latter person, too, was clothed in knee breeches and boots and an antiquated coat, and when he turned toward his companion, Devorah saw that he sported a similar neck cloth and shirt points. Where had she seen that dress style before? It was strange, but—at the same time—familiar. It looked like something out of Regency England, she realized, the thought coming to her out of nowhere.
“Oh, no!” she cried out, falling backward. She knew, then, what had come of reading too many Georgette Heyer novels.
A few weeks ago, as you know, I decided to launch this blog. As an indie author it is imperative to market and promote your work and to remain in the public eye. But maintaining a blog is time-consuming and takes a toll on the limited brain cells (and creative juices) I have left remaining after a 10-hour workday. Just writing about my books wasn’t going to cut it; and to be honest, the blog would certainly not keep anyone’s attention for long. By inviting other authors to share their work, I hope to shed light on this genre of Jewish Historical Fiction. Its diversity and educational significance, as well as its entertainment value is sure to please. Having said that, I couldn’t be happier to present today’s guest.
Caroline Warfield is an award-winning author of family-centered romance set in the Regency and Victorian eras. She has been many things, but above all she is a romantic. She began life as an army brat who developed a wide view of life and a love for travel. Now settled in the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act.
When she isn’t off seeking adventures with her Beloved or her grandson down the block, Caroline works happily in an office surrounded by windows where she lets her characters lead her to even more adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart, because love is worth the risk.
Host: Caroline, you will forgive me, but I’m a little star struck. I’ve read your work and appreciate your standing in the Regency world. It goes without saying, I pretty much loved everything about your book, An Open Heart. There was a certain lightness to it, similar to any other Regency romance, but there was no denying the substantive material in the narrative. I was bursting with pride when the storyline touched upon the contributions and achievements of Anglo-Jews, but I believe my favorite scene had to be the impromptu Shabbat service held in the Duchess of Haverford’s drawing room. What motivated you to write this book?
Guest: I belong to The Bluestocking Belles, an authors’ support group and marketing co-op. We do an anthology or a “boxed set” every year, often with loosely connected stories. The year I wrote this we had a house party theme. The Duchess of Haverford invited young women who worked with her on charity projects to sponsor a holiday ball for charity. We all added characters to her committee. Jewish characters popped into my head that year; stories sometimes happen that way. Esther, a wealthy, but not aristocratic, young lady was part of the planning committee from the beginning. An Open Heart is a standalone book, but there are minor characters who appear in the other stories, and Esther and Adam appear in some of the others. The collection as a whole was called Holly and Hopeful Hearts.
As an aside, we’re a multi-faith family. While Beloved and I are Catholic, we often celebrate with our daughter and her family who are Jewish. Our grandson celebrated his bar mitzvah last year.
Host: Mazal tov to the Bar Mitzvah and to the whole meshpucha! I love the name, “Bluestocking Belles.” Sounds like my kind of group. But my goodness! A boxed set every year? Tell us, why do you think we are so fascinated with this particular time period?
Guest: The Regency era is a mythical Romantic era. I say that because of the sheer volume of stories classified as “regency.” They don’t always necessarily reflect history. I like to hope mine do.
Host: I, for one, can attest to the historical content of your work. In fact, I am striving to achieve that educational and enlightening component myself! Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, genre in my view. What are your thoughts?
Guest: Good question! I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to answer that. Insofar as it contributes to the body of truth about history—emphatically yes. My own concern is that the historical romance genre in general realistically portray the diversity of previous eras. Realism matters, and, frankly, all that white bread story telling gets boring.
Host: Since we are speaking of weaving accurate historical events into our storylines, tell us about your research. Were you surprised by your findings?
Guest: I was struck by the efforts of the Jewish community of London to make certain their sons had access to high quality education. They were less concerned about educating their daughters, a blind spot they shared with the rest of England, one my heroine complains about vociferously. Women’s education has always been a passion with me. Several of my books touch on it.
Host: Ah—I think I may know the answer to my next question. Which of your characters resonate with you most?
Guest: Actually, Adam does. His struggle to maintain his identity, his faith, and his attachment to tradition while working in the larger culture was something I relate to strongly. My daughter once told her rabbi that her mother can’t have too much tradition, and she was right. We best appreciate the traditions of others when we cherish our own. The richness of sharing is dear to me.
Host: I would have thought you’d choose Esther; but having read your response, I can clearly see why you went with Adam. To be honest, either character would have been a great pick! Here’s another question along those same lines. Do you have a favorite scene in the book?
Guest: I love the scene in which Adam arrives at the home of his former teacher, Rebbe Benyamin Nahmany, “the finest Talmudic scholar in Europe,” who lives in a house nestled on the French side of the Pyrenees with his large family. Adam and an English officer are on a mission to bring funds to Wellington and the family is helping them. He realizes with surprise that he has forgotten Chanukah (which after all was a minor feast) when he sees the mother lighting five candles. He enjoys the warmth of the family’s celebration, and I love that he gets his comeuppance by the scholarly learning of one of the daughters. Afterward he is forced to rethink many of his assumptions.
Host: Yes! That was a great turning point in the story and your research served you well. Tell us, are you working on something now?
Guest: I’ve reached the point of projects accumulating in my mind faster than I can write them. I’m working on two new series at the same time. One is set in a small village in England and centers on two interrelated families. It has less of that diversity I value, but a lot of strong family ties, which are also important to me. The first book The Wayward Son will be launched in July.
At the same time, I’ve been working on a new series that continues my Children of Empire series. The hero is an English archaeologist working in Egypt and Nubia. The heroine is a French woman who is also a hakima, a medical professional trained to treat women, more of a nurse practitioner than a midwife. It is heavy on history and has a very diverse cast of characters, including Muslim colleagues of the main characters. That will be published by a different publisher, also in July. It is called The Price of Glory.
Host: I’m in awe, Caroline. I can’t imagine undertaking two projects at once. I currently have a Work-in-Progress that started off with a bang, but now is competing with everyday life and a million other distractions and commitments. Which brings me to my closing point. I appreciate your time and thank you once again for your participation today. I’m delighted you’re sharing an excerpt and your social media links with the audience.
Guest: Thank you for inviting me, Mirta. A last note: I will happily send an eBook copy of An Open Heart to one person (randomly selected) who comments.
An excerpt from An Open Heart:
“—I don’t understand how your father could send you to that school. Your parents are entirely too secular in their outlook. The Talmud suggests—”
“I wouldn’t know what your precious books suggest. I’m excluded from that kind of learning.” There. She had given voice to her greatest resentment. Let him make what he would out of that.
“Leave my mother out of this. My mother taught me what I need to know about Shabbat and the holy days. And who are you to criticize?”
Adam colored, red blotches staining his cheeks. “Of course, I have no right. I had hoped before I left—”
Esther felt light-headed for a moment. Had he spoken to Papa? Breath rushed back into her lungs, but she raised her chin. “What is it you hoped, Mr. Halevy?”
Adam’s eyes softened, and Ether found herself leaning slightly toward him. A moment later, he stiffened and took a step back.
“My wife will respect our traditions and keep a traditional home,” he announced.
“I wish you luck finding such a paragon, Mr. Halevy,” Esther responded, pulling herself up as tall as she could. “My home will respect tradition and the people we meet.” When he simply glared at her outburst, she went on, “And my daughters will know as much about our faith as you do!”
“Good luck to you in that endeavor, Miss Bauman,” he said with a jerky nod. He tapped his hat on his head with more force than needed.
When he stepped out the door, Esther couldn’t control the urge to dart out after him. “Adam—Mr. Halevy—wait!”
His frown looked more puzzled than angry when he turned to her.
“Where you’re going—it will be dangerous.” Her lack of breath made the words sound uneven.
“I—” The expression on his face stopped her before she could continue. “I’ll pray for you,” she finished at last, “and the success of your journey, of course.”
A sad smile transformed his face. “I would be grateful for your prayers, Miss Baumann.”
What’s a nice, Jewish girl to do when the vast majority of the world is snuggling by a roaring fire with Hallmark movies and Dickens classics? Well, I’ll tell you. If she has written a Jewish Austen Fan Fiction, she shares a snippet that illustrates the true meaning of the season. Let me set the stage, before you go on to read the final chapter:
Due to a variety of unforeseen circumstances Mrs. Meyerson, the rabbi’s wife, and Mrs. Bennet find themselves much in one another’s company. At this point of my story, Miss Catherine Bennet (Kitty) has endeared herself to the lady and her young daughter, Rachel. In a rather poignant moment, Kitty makes an emotive declaration and Mrs. Meyerson is most profoundly moved.
“My dear, you have stirred my soul! While I have striven for emunah, I have lacked bitachon,” she whispered. “Kitty, you have reminded me of an important lesson. Faith and trust are two different things.”
Mrs. Meyersons goes on to explain these foreign words; and by relaying the story of Chanukah to her Anglican friends, she emphasizes their significance throughout the joyous celebration. Mrs. Bennet was astonished to find that, while Chanukah was commemorated during the wintry months, it had nothing to do with her own holiday. The next phrase, uttered by the rabbi’s wife, is what I’d like us to focus on today.
“Not at all, Mrs. Bennet, for each has its merits and, closely scrutinized, each holiday speaks of bringing Light into a dark world. Kitty has reminded me: We must keep our faith in front of us and we shall reap the rewards.”
When the happy couples at length were seen off and the last of the party had departed Longbourn, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were found in the dining room quite alone, sharing the last bit of port between them.
“What shall we do now, Mrs. Bennet, with three daughters married?”
Surprised at being asked her opinion, Mrs. Bennet gave the question some thought before replying. “I suppose we have earned a respite, husband. Let us see what Life has in store for us.”
“No rest for the weary, my dear, for soon Mary will leave us and then Kitty. We shall have to make arrangements for the inevitable. Perhaps you can live with one of the girls when I am gone and Mr. Collins inherits the place.”
“Mr. Bennet,” she giggled, “you should have more bitachon.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Perhaps it was the port, or perhaps it was pure exhaustion, but Mrs. Bennet found she had no scruple in sharing the entire tale of Chanukah with her most astonished husband.
“Pray Mr. Bennet,” she concluded, “what was the true miracle of this holiday?”
“The logical answer,” he replied dryly, “would point to the miracle of such a small group of men overcoming a fierce and mighty army.”
“No, that is not it.” She giggled, as a hiccup escaped her lips.
“Well then,” he sighed, “the esoteric answer would point to the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights.”
“No, Mr. Bennet. Again, you are incorrect.”
“Pray, tell me, wife, what then was the miracle, for I can see that you may burst with anticipation for the sharing of it!”
“The miracle, sir, was that they had bitachon. Oh, I do hope I am pronouncing correctly. At any rate, it means trust. They knew they only had one vial of sacred oil and had no means to create more. They lit the candle and left the rest up to the Almighty. And that is exactly what we should do.”
“My dear, it is a lovely tale and I am certain that it has inspired many generations before us and will inspire many generations after we are long gone, but it does not change the fact that Mr. Collins is to inherit Longbourn…”
“Longbourn is entailed to Mr. Collins if we do not produce a son.”
“Yes, and well you know that we have produced five daughters, although you are as handsome as any of them, Mrs. Bennet. A stranger might believe I am the father of six!” he said with sincere admiration.
“You flatter me, Mr. Bennet. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I wish to say…”
“You were but a child when we wed,” he waved her silent, “not much more than Lydia’s age, if I recall. But, my dear, that is neither here or there, for in all this time a son has not been produced and there’s nary a thing to do for it!”
“Mr. Bennet, there is something I have been meaning to tell you,” she said, suddenly quite subdued. “If you could only spare a moment of your time, or does your library call you away?”
His wife’s anxious smile made him feel quite the blackguard. Had he not made a promise in Brighton? Did he not vow he would change his ways? Mr. Bennet decided it was high time he put the good rabbi’s advice into practice. Bowing low, he replied, “Madam, I am your humble servant.”
Happier words had never been spoken.
Chag Chanukah Sameach~ Happy Chanukah~ Feliz Januka~ חג חנוכה שמח
The hosting, and attending, of morning calls, house parties, routs, balls and assemblies was imperative for those entering the upper echelons of society—think of Mr. Bingley and his sisters, who had so recently borne the “stench of trade.” How much more so for foreigners…
During the nineteenth century, Jews were experiencing unprecedented mobility in English society; and while this certainly was a blessing, the process of acceptance in the Anglican world threatened to erode their level of religious observance. The simple act of sharing a meal among friends presented certain complications. Cookbooks of the era did not take into consideration the ingredients or combinations that were prohibited in a kosher kitchen, such as the mixing of meat and dairy, or the partaking of shellfish or pork. Lady Montefiore (née Judith Barent Cohen 1784-1862) was the first to affirm, in so public a fashion, the existence of a distinctive Jewish cuisine and to draw from both Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions (in general terms, Sephardic Jews hail from the Iberian Peninsula, but also such places as Italy, Greece, and Northern Africa. Ashkenazi Jews encompass Eastern Europe).
Much like Jane Austen, Lady Judith was a keen observer of human nature. Her book, The Jewish Manual; or, Practical Information in Jewish & Modern Cookery, with a Collection of Valuable Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette, therefore, was much more than a guide to cooking within the Jewish dietary laws known as kashrut. She meant “to guide the young Jewish housekeeper in the luxury and economy of the table, on which so much of the pleasure of social intercourse depends.” She encouraged homemakers to present elegant dinners, and to not draw any undesirable attention to the kosherness of the preparations. The end result would produce “haute cuisine that was invisibly Jewish and gastronomically exceptional.”
Montefiore was a great proponent of female education; and in keeping with Austen, she had a profound understanding of a woman’s lot in Regency England. The author pointedly wrote about the importance of cultivating the mind, and stated that womanhood should encompass “individuality, self-control, reason, intellect and fine feeling.” Miss Elizabeth Bennet is the personification of that description, don’t you think? In her final chapter entitled “Influence of the Mind as regards Beauty,” Lady Judith professes that “all the milk of roses and essence of lavender in the world could not make a woman beautiful whose inner life was not up to standard.” It seems that Lady Judith and Miss Austen were of the same mind. Recall Mr. Darcy’s rejoinder when he said: “And to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
“Let those females, therefore, who are the most solicitous about their beauty, and the most eager to produce a favorable impression, cultivate the moral, religious and intellectual attributes, and in this advice consists the recipe of the finest cosmetic in the world.”
Judith Barent Cohen was a child of an immigrant linen merchant; and while her father was successful, Judith identified with the “middling” class. Although they practiced strict religious observance at home, her father was a devotee of Moses Mendelssohn, a leader in the Jewish Enlightenment movement. Because of this alignment to a philosophy that encouraged secular studies and modernization, Judith was highly educated and spoke several languages. After her marriage in 1812, she held a place of some importance within England’s upper class. Her book offered suggestions “so that a lady’s physical appearance, accomplishments, inner qualities, and even her table could be an extension of herself—not as a Jew, but as a civilized person.”
Here is a snippet from The Meyersons of Meryton, where Mrs. Bennet—of all people—teaches us a lesson in civility:
“Do tell us about your good works, Mrs. Meyerson. Your husband mentioned such provocative activities. I would hear it from your own lips.”
“Mr. Meyerson tends to flatter when, in truth, I am the fortunate one. Charitable works are a blessing for the giver as well as the receiver.”
Mary nodded her agreement and quoted a favorite verse, “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good works.”
“Truly, the repayment, if it may be considered as such, is the great privilege to work alongside generous, intelligent women such as Judith Montefiore. Currently we are working on establishing a school for underprivileged Jewish girls. They will learn a trade and be able to find work in Jewish houses which, you must understand, are always looking for employees who are familiar with our ways.”
“Pray, enlighten us,” Lady Lucas said. “While it is true that good help is hard to come by, why should standards be any different in a Hebrew household?”
“The girls are taught to work in kosher kitchens for the elite in our society who keep our dietary regulations,” Mrs. Meyerson replied.
“If your people wish to socialize with The Upper Ten, they must needs learn to adapt to British fare and give up their dietary regulations altogether!” Lady Lucas retorted rather emphatically.
“Many families, sadly, have done just that, and others, such as in my household, attempt to find a solution that is appropriate for their circumstance. My husband and I, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Montefiore, do not concern ourselves overly much with kashrut when we are away from home. In truth, I tend to make do with what is put before me, but Judith is quite formidable! She is ever experimenting and creating new recipes, refusing to lower her standards, for she is adamant we need not suffer by keeping faith with our laws.”
“I dare say, if these Montefiores are truly in society, they would not venture to impose their peculiar ways upon the ton.”
“You would be mistaken, Lady Lucas, for my cousins entertain many prominent families of the highest social circles and, even more astonishing, their Christian acquaintances are demanding their own chefs learn to prepare a kosher cuisine. It appears The Upper Ten find it not only satisfying, but a delight to their fastidious digestion.”
Mrs. Bennet smiled at one lady and then the other. While Lady Lucas was a person of some import in Meryton, it was clear the Meyersons had notable connections in Town. Who was to say that their acquaintance would not prove to be advantageous for her girls? It was necessary to speak a little; it would be odd to be entirely silent on the subject. Therefore, Mrs. Bennet, in her effort to appease both parties, believed she had found some common ground. “Perhaps,” she suggested, “these recipes would not only benefit ladies of the Hebrew persuasion. Pray recall, Lady Lucas, we ourselves are charged to make dishes without meat or dairy many times throughout the year such as during the Lenten or fasting holy days. Perhaps it is not so peculiar as it appears to be at first glance.”
Elizabeth overheard this exchange and was astonished. Why, her mother’s words were practically revolutionary!
Originally posted on Austen Authors.net on October 30, 2020
Greetings and welcome to my debut post. I am delighted to make your acquaintance, if only through this medium. Shall I begin by properly introducing myself? Unlike Miss Jane Austen, I was not born in a scenic village in rural England. My family were neither descendant of landed gentry, nor were they Anglican. Far from it! Just prior to the revolution, my grandparents escaped the pogroms and persecution of Imperial Russia, and immigrated to Argentina. This was largely due to the auspices of a philanthropic organization created by Baron Maurice Hirsch, which rescued Jews trapped in the Pale of Settlement. I was born in Buenos Aires; but, by the end of 1962—the year of my birth—my parents immigrated to the United States of America.
From an early age, I was mesmerized by stories of young ladies from days of yore. My exigency for Historical Fiction continued as I grew older, but when I discovered Jane Austen, I was besotted. The truth of the matter was that the history, combined with the foreign settings, fashion, and mannerisms captured my heart and my attention. I began writing late in life, mainly when I transitioned into being an empty-nester. I wrote a coming-of-age memoir and two historical fiction novels, loosely based on my family’s immigration stories. But when I began delving into the history of British Jews, the trappings for a new project began formulating; one where I could pay homage to Miss Austen, while acknowledging my culture and flavoring it with a bit of Yiddishkeit (Jewish qualities or essence). Having never written a fan fiction, I readily admit the venture was a bit daunting. Jane’s own words were sufficient impetus to forge ahead. In a letter to librarian, James Stanier Clarke, she wrote the following:
“I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my life, & if it were indispensable for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No – I must keep my own style & go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.”
Needless to say, I took Miss Austen’s advice and wrote a J.A.F.F. —that’s Jewish Austen Fan Fiction—in a style all my own. In doing research for “The Meyersons of Meryton,” I found that there were many eminent Jewish families in my focus Regency-period, such as the Montefiores and the Rothschilds, whose role in society cannot be denied and should not be forgotten. I will share a few tidbits to (hopefully) whet your appetite. Moses Montefiore and Judith Barent Cohen were married in 1812. They honeymooned in Ramsgate; and were so enchanted with the sea side resort, they purchased an estate there and commissioned a synagogue to be built for the local Jewish community. Through their philanthropic work, they went on to become one of the most influential Jewish couples throughout the Georgian and Victorian era.
Lady Judith assisted her husband in his communal affairs and public activities. She was an authoress, writing of their experiences visiting Damascus, Rome, St. Petersburg and the Holy Land. More than travel logs, these works were hailed as spiritually inspiring and educational. She wrote a “how-to” manual for ladies who mixed and mingled with a diverse society. She adapted recipes to conform to Jewish dietary laws, replacing ingredients such as lard, so much used in English kitchens, and eliminating shellfish and forbidden meats. It was said that, many of her non-Jewish guests, began insisting on a kosher-style cuisine in their own homes, as their gout and dyspeptic maladies lessened. Lady Judith recommended simplicity in dress, considered delicate hands a mark of elegance and refinement, and carefully assessed the effect of diet on the complexion. The imagery of this famous couple, socializing and hobnobbing with the upper echelons of London society, was enough to seduce my imagination! It certainly was more alluring than the stereotypical characterizations of greedy money lenders and lowly rag merchants heralded in classics written by Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dickens.
Creative license allowed me to use Miss Bingley, Mrs. Phillips, and Mrs. Bennet as vehicles for ignorance and ill-manners in my novel. Here is a snippet from a scene where the Bennets and the Meyersons are becoming acquainted:
Mrs. Bennet fidgeted in her chair, uncomfortable with the topic and uncertain if was proper to speak of such a delicate matter in one’s dining room. Attempting to direct the conversation to something to which she could contribute, she grasped at the flittering thoughts that crossed her mind.
“Pray tell me, sir, how are you acquainted with my brother?”
“It is rather a complicated story, ma’am, and it all began thanks to the machinations of two enterprising ladies.”
Mr. Bennet snorted and muttered something mercifully imperceptible. However, its meaning did not escape his wife, whose disapproving mien conveyed her thoughts.
“Let me see if I can unravel this web of familial connections and Divine Providence,” he said, rubbing his hands together as if preparing for a great feast. “As I believe we mentioned, my wife is related to Moses Montefiore, a Sephardic Jew. They are cousins through mutual relations with the Mocatta family—who, if you are interested, Miss Mary, settled in this country in the 1670s! In any event, Montefiore took to wife a lovely young lady from a prominent Ashkenazi family by the name of Judith Barent Cohen.”
“Jacob, perhaps you should get to the point,” Mrs. Meyerson encouraged.
“Quite right, dearest. You see, Miss Judith, nay, Mrs. Montefiore, is a patron of the Jewish Ladies’ Loan and Visiting Society and an officer of the Jews’ Orphan Asylum, as is my Sofia! Both ladies participate in a veritable host of philanthropic organizations. While they are from different communities, they soon became friends without knowing they were related—distant cousins, of course but, nonetheless, related.”
“I believe Mr. Montefiore is connected to Nathan Mayer Rothschild, a man of some importance in London’s financial world,” Mr. Bingley added.
“Indeed! The men are connected by marriage. Mrs. Montefiore’s sister, Hannah, is married to Mr. Rothschild, but it does not end there. Moses Montefiore’s brother is married to Rothschild’s sister.”
“I say!” Sir William exclaimed.
“It is exceedingly diverting, striving to follow the branches of this family tree, and most particularly because marriages between Sephardim and Ashkenazim have been frowned upon…until recently, that is. My own union was much criticized,” he said with a wink towards his disapproving wife. “Yes…well—I digress. Because the two ladies were much thrown together organizing charitable balls and philanthropic events, Mr. Montefiore and his wife have been frequent visitors in our rather unfashionable neighborhood of Cheapside.”
“Ah,” Mrs. Bennet said, waving a delicate fan about her heated face imagining the illustrious society of said ‘charitable balls’ and ‘philanthropic events.’ “And now I see. You met my brother there.”
“Precisely, but not for the reason you might think. Mrs. Meyerson’s brother, Aaron, owns a factory near Gracechurch Street. He was recently blessed with a generous military contract and will have need of employing many people who would otherwise be destitute.”
“Unfortunately,” Mr. Darcy said dryly, “war is good for business.”
“The military requires a host of goods and in massive quantities, to be sure. Everything from tents, knapsacks, and uniforms, to muskets, gunpowder…”
“Jacob—” A gentle prodding was whispered.
“I believe you take my meaning,” said Mr. Meyerson with a sheepish grin. “In any event, it was Montefiore and a few of his colleagues who came to Cheapside and introduced my brother-in-law and many other merchants of the East End to Mr. Gardiner and his business partners. Your brother, Mrs. Bennet, and my brother-in-law have put their heads together for a grand business venture! Aaron will produce the merchandise and Mr. Gardiner will use his warehouses to store and distribute accordingly.”
“I would not have expected such maneuverings and assignations,” exclaimed Mrs. Bennet, “but of course, I wish them much success—anything to bring Little Boney to his knees!”
I cannot confirm or deny that Miss Austen would have interacted with anyone from the Jewish community; nonetheless, this daughter of a clergyman did take a stand against anti-Semitism. When Mr. Thorpe, of “Northanger Abbey” fame, spews out that Mr. Allen is “as rich as a Jew,” our dear Miss Moreland is speechless. Thorpe truly is an ill-mannered, insufferable—ignorant—young man! Jane Austen understood human nature and took pleasure in bringing unseemly realities to light. I feel her portrayal of Mr. Thorpe’s nasty character speaks volumes. In writing a “Pride and Prejudice” vagary, I aspired to take a page from Austen’s repertoire and emulate her social commentary. The Montefiores and the Rothschilds are prime examples of non-Anglicans thriving in England’s Regency society. It was my hope that “The Meyersons of Meryton” would exemplify how people of different faiths can focus on their commonalties and help one another in difficult times. In today’s world, as in Austen’s day, that quintessential Universal Truth still rings true.
Originally posted on Austen Authors.net on October 2, 2020