Published by Mira on 28th September 2021
Buy on Amazon
Oy! to the world
Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is a nice Jewish girl with a shameful secret: she loves Christmas. For a decade she’s hidden her career as a Christmas romance novelist from her family. Her talent has made her a bestseller even as her chronic illness has always kept the kind of love she writes about out of reach.
But when her diversity-conscious publisher insists she write a Hanukkah romance, her well of inspiration suddenly runs dry. Hanukkah’s not magical. It’s not merry. It’s not Christmas. Desperate not to lose her contract, Rachel’s determined to find her muse at the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration on the last night of Hanukkah, even if it means working with her summer camp archenemy—Jacob Greenberg.
Though Rachel and Jacob haven’t seen each other since they were kids, their grudge still glows brighter than a menorah. But as they spend more time together, Rachel finds herself drawn to Hanukkah—and Jacob—in a way she never expected. Maybe this holiday of lights will be the spark she needed to set her heart ablaze.
The enemies-to-lovers trope written into a story centred around the expectations of being a 21st century Orthodox or traditional Jewish lady is one that’s new to me. And for this reason, this certain slant— there’s a lot of cultural context that Jean Meltzer puts in from the start—appealed loads because it was a dive straight into a world of Jewish lingo, terms and rituals that I’m only partially familiar with.
Needing to fulfil expectations of a certain kind because of her very prominent family, Jean Meltzer catalogues Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt’s struggles as a relatable one. Broadly speaking, it’s about trying (or rather, struggling) to live above reproach, aligning the way you conduct your affairs not because strict traditions dictate it, where going past and beyond them on your own terms is akin to defying societal and familial expectations of you that had been set in stone long ago. In Rachel’s case, it’s her secret love for Christmas, its paraphernalia and what it represents—an obsession that might seem insignificant and bewildering to the general non-jewish population at large, but one that’s as transgressive as it gets in her family.
All’s well and good however, until Jacob Greenberg—her first puppy love at age 12—returns as the host of the grand Matzah Ball. The ball and Rachel’s career dovetail into a giant mess, more so when feelings long forgotten return and some lies stay hidden way past their due date.
Now for the skeptical bit. I wasn’t convinced that the events both Jacob and Rachel went through at 12 were significant enough to have them realise it was still the love they remembered and had for each other. Sure enough, memories can still sting—and certain momentous or rather, traumatic storm-in-the-teacup events of childhood do leave their scars way into adulthood—but holding a grudge and carrying that in technicolour over to the time when they meet as adults over a teenage camp 18 years ago feels excessive.
The lead up to the Matzah Ball did feel farcical at times, the well-told story somehow devolving into a comedy (or tragedy?) of errors the moment Jacob tries to do things in a way that turns out to be a bit heavy-handed up to the crazy climax that slotted just shy of wacky endings.
Still, there’re faint but clever shades of biblical characters who have the same names, lending some aspect of kismet to Jacob’s and Rachel’s own relationship. In all, it’s still very much the rom-com—including its trappings and “chick-lit” appeal—with a cultural twist that helped lend the light-hearted tale a bit more weight.