Jewish Fiction and the High Holidays

Garlands of Stars of David in white and yellow on a blue background

This year, the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar coincides with September, which means the season of the High Holidays is upon us. Rosh Hashanah, the two-day celebration of the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown on Sept. 6 and Yom Kippur, the day of repentance, starts ten days later at sundown on Sept. 16. Within the Jewish religion, these are considered to be the holiest days of the year and are a time of reflection and solemnity. At the end of the month, starting on Sept. 20, Sukkot is celebrated for ten days, bringing joy and cheer after this time of contemplation. – My Jewish Learning

In celebration of the High Holidays, the Alachua County Library District has curated a selection of books by members of the Jewish diaspora to celebrate the rich culture, heritage, and beliefs of the Jewish people. Mazel tov!

The Lost Shtetl CoverThe Lost Shtetl by Max Gross "What if there was a town that Hitler missed? For over fifty years the tiny Jewish shtetl of Kreskol has existed virtually untouched and unchanged. Spared of the Holocaust and Cold War, Kreskol has enjoyed an isolated peace. But when a marriage dispute spirals out of control, Kreskol is suddenly rediscovered and brought into the 21st Century. Pesha is in a loveless, arranged marriage and summons the courage to escape Kreskol on foot. But when her husband goes after her, panicked town leaders (protecting secrets of their own) send a woefully unprepared young man out to bring them home. The orphaned outcast named Yankel--unlearned, functionally illiterate (his Yiddish is useless to the modern-day outside world), and tagged with an inconceivable origin story--soon finds himself in the care of a psych ward. But when the truth comes out about his origins, his name is splashed across the covers of Polish newspapers. Ready or not, Poland commits to returning Yankel to Kreskol, and reintegrating the town that time forgot. In the course of doing so, the devious origins of the town's disappearance come into the light. And what has become of those runaways? Kreskol, torn asunder by disagreement between those embracing change and those clinging to its old world ways, may soon be forced to make a choice or disappear altogether.

The Orchard CoverThe Orchard by David Hopen Ari Eden’s life has always been governed by strict rules. In ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn, his days are dedicated to intense study and religious rituals, and adolescence feels profoundly lonely. So when his family announces that they are moving to a glitzy Miami suburb, Ari seizes his unexpected chance for reinvention. Enrolling in an opulent Jewish academy, Ari is stunned by his peers’ dizzying wealth, ambition, and shameless pursuit of life’s pleasures. When the academy’s golden boy, Noah, takes Ari under his wing, Ari finds himself entangled in the school’s most exclusive and wayward group. These friends are magnetic and defiant—especially Evan, the brooding genius of the bunch, still living in the shadow of his mother’s death. Influenced by their charismatic rabbi, the group begins testing their religion in unconventional ways. Soon Ari and his friends are pushing moral boundaries and careening toward a perilous future—one in which the traditions of their faith are repurposed to mysterious, tragic ends.

The Slaughterman's Daughter CoverThe Slaughterman’s Daughter by Yaniv Ickovitz With her reputation as a vilde chaya (wild animal), Fanny Keismann isn’t like the other women in her shtetl in the Pale of Settlement—certainly not her obedient and anxiety-ridden sister, Mende, whose “philosopher” of a husband, Zvi-Meir, has run off to Minsk, abandoning her and their two children. As a young girl, Fanny felt an inexorable pull toward her father’s profession of ritual slaughterer and, under his reluctant guidance, became a master with a knife. And though she long ago gave up that unsuitable profession—she’s now the wife of a cheesemaker and a mother of five—Fanny still keeps the knife tied to her right leg. Which might come in handy when, heedless of the dangers facing a Jewish woman traveling alone in czarist Russia, she sets off to track down Zvi-Meir and bring him home, with the help of the mute and mysterious ferryman Zizek Breshov, an ex-soldier with his own sensational past.

 

Antiquities CoverAntiquities by Cynthia Ozick Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, one of the seven elderly trustees of the now defunct (for thirty-four years) Temple Academy for Boys, is preparing a memoir of his days at the school, intertwined with the troubling distractions of present events. As he navigates, with faltering recall, between the subtle anti-Semitism that pervaded the school's ethos and his fascination with his own family's heritage--in particular, his illustrious cousin, the renowned archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie--he reconstructs the passions of a childhood encounter with the oddly named Ben-Zion Elefantin, a mystifying older pupil who claims descent from Egypt's Elephantine Island. From this seed emerges one of Cynthia Ozick's most wondrous tales, touched by unsettling irony and the elusive flavor of a Kafka parable, and weaving, in her own distinctive voice, myth and mania, history and illusion.

 

All My Mother's LoversAll My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad Intimacy has always eluded 27-year-old Maggie Krause - despite being brought up by married parents, models of domestic bliss - until, that is, Lucia came into her life. But when Maggie’s mom, Iris, dies in a car crash, Maggie returns home only to discover a withdrawn dad, an angry brother, and, along with Iris' will, five sealed envelopes, each addressed to a mysterious man she’s never heard of. In an effort to run from her own grief and discover the truth about Iris - who made no secret of her discomfort with her daughter's sexuality - Maggie embarks on a road trip, determined to hand-deliver the letters and find out what these men meant to her mother. Maggie quickly discovers Iris’ second, hidden life, which shatters everything Maggie thought she knew about her parents’ perfect relationship. What is she supposed to tell her father and brother? And how can she deal with her own relationship when her whole world is in freefall?

 

Apeirogon CoverApeirogon: A Novel by Colum McCann Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. Rami Elhanan is Israeli. They inhabit a world of conflict that colors every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on, to the schools their children attend, to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate. But their lives, however circumscribed, are upended one after the other: First, Rami’s 13-year-old daughter, Smadar, becomes the victim of suicide bombers; a decade later, Bassam’s 10-year-old daughter, Abir, is killed by a rubber bullet. Rami and Bassam had been raised to hate one another. And yet, when they learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss that connects them. Together they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace - and with their one small act start to permeate what has for generations seemed an impermeable conflict.

 

Not Your All American Girl CoverNot Your All-American Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg Lauren and her best friend, Tara, have always done absolutely everything together. So when they don't have any classes together in sixth grade, it's disastrous. The solution? Trying out for the school play. Lauren, who loves to sing, wonders if maybe, just maybe, she will be the star instead of Tara this time. But when the show is cast, Lauren lands in the ensemble, while Tara scores the lead role. Their teacher explains: Lauren just doesn't look the part of the all-American girl. What audience would believe that she, half-Jewish, half-Chinese Lauren, was the everygirl star from Pleasant Valley, USA? From amidst the ensemble, Lauren tries to support her best friend. But when she can't bring herself to sing anymore, her spot in the play and her friendship are in jeopardy. With the help of a button-making business, the music of Patsy Cline, and her two bickering grandmothers, can Lauren find her voice again?

 

What Makes Us CoverWhat Makes Us by Rafi Mittlefehldt Eran Sharon knows nothing of his father except that he left when Eran was a baby. Now a senior in high school and living with his protective but tight-lipped mother, Eran is a passionate young man deeply interested in social justice and equality. When he learns that the Houston police have launched a program to increase traffic stops, Eran organizes a peaceful protest. But a heated moment at the protest goes viral, and a reporter connects the Sharon family to a tragedy fifteen years earlier — and asks if Eran is anything like his father, a supposed terrorist. Soon enough, Eran is wondering the same thing, especially when the people he’s gone to school and temple with for years start to look at him differently. Timely, powerful, and full of nuance, Rafi Mittlefehldt’s sophomore novel confronts the prejudices, fears, and strengths of family and community, striking right to the heart of what makes us who we are.

 

It's A Whole Spiel CoverIt’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes and Other Jewish Stories A Jewish boy falls in love with a fellow counselor at summer camp. A group of Jewish friends take the trip of a lifetime. A girl meets her new boyfriend's family over Shabbat dinner. Two best friends put their friendship to the test over the course of a Friday night. A Jewish girl feels pressure to date the only Jewish boy in her grade. Hilarious pranks and disaster ensue at a crush's Hanukkah party. From stories of confronting their relationships with Judaism to rom-coms with a side of bagels and lox, It's a Whole Spiel features one story after another that says yes, we are Jewish, but we are also queer, and disabled, and creative, and political, and adventurous, and anything we want to be. You will fall in love with this insightful, funny, and romantic Jewish anthology from a collection of diverse Jewish authors.

 

Descriptions adapted from the publisher. 

Posted by Assh on July 26, 2021