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Celebrating Chanukah with a Jewish Regency Author

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

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

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

*N = Nebuchadnezzar/Babylon

*G= Gog or Greece

*H= Haman/Persia

*S = Seir/ Rome.

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

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

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

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

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

Jane Austen

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

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

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


An Excerpt from The Meyersons of Meryton

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

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

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

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

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

“I beg your pardon?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happier words had never been spoken.


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

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Author’s Interview with Alina Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arriving in New York City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jane Austen & Jewish Themes Part V~ Delving into Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chag Chanukah Sameach!