Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Lighting the Menorah with Jean Meltzer...plus a book giveaway

Photo by Lisa Damico
Introduction by Melissa Amster

With all the Christmas themed chick lit novels out there, it was refreshing to see that one about Hanukkah was now available. I added it to my five-book Kindle queue as soon as I got it and was excited to read it, based on all the recommendations. I really enjoyed it and contacted Jean Meltzer afterward to invite her to CLC for a post during Hanukkah. I also started sending her pictures of funny Hanukkah items, like the ones from Bed, Bath, and Beyond that tend to mix up Hanukkah and Passover. Jean is absolutely delightful and I found out that we live a short distance from each other, so I hope to meet her in person one of these days. 

I will be reviewing The Matzah Ball soon, but here is my Bookstagram post. This is Jean's debut novel and she has another one coming in 2022 that also looks delightful. Jean is here today to talk about her Hanukkah decorations that also have a Christmas vibe. Thanks to Mira, we have TWO copies of The Matzah Ball to give away!

Jean Meltzer studied dramatic writing at NYU Tisch and has earned numerous awards for her work in television, including a daytime Emmy. Like her protagonist, Jean is also a chronically-ill and disabled Jewish woman. She is an outspoken advocate for ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), has attended visibility actions in Washington DC, meeting with members of Senate and Congress to raise funds for ME/CFS. She inspires 9,000 followers on WW Connect to live their best life, come out of the chronic illness closet, and embrace the hashtag #chronicallyfabulous. Also, while she was raised in what would be considered a secular home, she grew up kosher and attended Hebrew School. She spent five years in rabbinical school before her chronic illness forced her to withdraw, and her father told her she should write a book―just not a Jewish one because no one reads those. 

Visit Jean online:
Website * Facebook * Instagram


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. (Courtesy of Amazon.)

“A love letter to Judaism and an utterly charming romance. With two irresistible leads, a scene-stealing bubbe, and plenty of holiday magic, The Matzah Ball is a luminous celebration of all types of love, threaded with the message that everyone is worthy of it.”
—Rachel Lynn Solomon, author of The Ex Talk

"A laugh-out-loud treat. Written in bright, witty prose and with a heroine to root for, it's a light holiday concoction that delivers a deeper message about love and acceptance at the same time. The perfect addition to your holiday reading!"
—Anita Hughes, author of Christmas in Vermont

“Grab a jelly doughnut and get ready for a holiday rom com unlike any other! The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer brings the fun while also delivering an important message about being true to yourself. A refreshing and delightful read."
—Brenda Janowitz, author of The Grace Kelly Dress


By Jean Meltzer

I remember the first time I brought home a Christmas tree. 

I was standing in Kohl's, passing that small section of electronics and candles, when I noticed the seasonal holiday display. There, smack-dab in the middle of the aisle, like it was made for me, was a tiny two-foot silver Christmas tree, with pre-lit white lights, and small blue ornaments. All at once, my heart began pounding inside my chest. Beads of sweat pooled around the nape of my neck. I told myself all the reasons why it was wrong, why it was unnecessary, why it went against all the beliefs and values I had been raised with. And then … I picked up that Christmas tree and threw it into my cart. 

Oh, the feeling of excitement that met me when I brought home my first-ever Hanukkah bush. Unwrapping the box, figuring out how to set up a Christmas tree, I plugged my purchase into the wall. The lights turned on. The tiny glow of silver and blue caused my heart to swell. I felt unadulterated joy. Love at first twinkle. And then, just as quickly as I had purchased it, I hid that Hanukkah Bush in my office.  

I was in my early thirties. Married. I lived in my own apartment, far away from the influence of my parents, but it didn’t matter. I had been raised a nice Jewish girl. And in my house growing up, among the many rules we were raised with, was this: there would be absolutely no celebration of Christmas. That also included Hanukkah décor that mimicked Christmas decorations. 

Traditional and observant Jews will tell you that this prohibition stems from a Jewish law which prohibits mimicking your foreign neighbors. In simpler terms, or as Tevye reminds us in the opening act of Fiddler on the Roof, what keeps us Jewish is our traditions. Like separating Shabbat from the rest of the week, Jewish law is designed to keep Jewish people distinct and different. And yet, as the author of The Matzah Ball—a book which explores the juxtaposition of these tensions—I am spending a lot of time answering questions about my Hanukkah decor. 

It’s a fair inquiry. Over the last decade, that one single Hanukkah Bush has morphed into eight. My love of Christmas decor has become an all-out weirdo Hanukkah swag collection, featuring a Santa wearing a prayer-shawl and a llama menorah. But it wasn’t until I began decking out the exterior of my house—with blue and white lights, giant inflatable menorahs, and twinkling dreidels—that I understood something important about my mini Hanukkah revolution. 

It was never about Christmas. 

Why don’t Jews decorate their houses for Hanukkah? It would make sense that we do. Jews are commanded to publicize the miracle of Hanukkah, to place our menorahs in our windows, and boldly announce to the world the celebration of our faith. And yet, growing up, there was something about that act which felt dangerous. Indeed, I still remember my grandmother warning me in the car one evening, when I questioned her directly about why we couldn’t have lights, that putting them up would attract too much attention. 

What she really meant, of course, was unwanted attention. The world can be a dangerous place for Jews. And so, like many Jewish children, I learned to keep my Jewishness on the down low, to announce only when the act was safe, to code-switch between communities. There was a way I could behave with Jewish people, and a way I could behave with non-Jewish people, and never the two should mix. 

I understand why these lessons were ingrained in me. As a Jew in America, I am no stranger to anti-Semitism. I have lived in more than one city which has been vandalized by swastikas and cruel words. I have been harassed, both in person and online, for being Jewish. I grew up with Holocaust survivors at my kitchen table, and I knew someone, personally, in the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh. I am well aware of the dangers of living authentically in our world. And yet, every year… my Hanukkah collection grows  

I suppose if you could boil my life down to one theme, it would be this: I don’t like feeling silenced. It’s why I began to write. Putting words on the page gave me a safe space to talk about all the things I could not say aloud. I became an advocate for ME/CFS (myaglic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) for the same reason. As a patient, I realized that no one was going to speak out for me. And when I look at what propelled my love of Hanukkah decor—really analyze that question of where it stems from and what it means—I think it comes from that same instinct. 

I don’t want to be afraid of being Jewish. I don’t want to feel ashamed for something that is part of my authentic and essential self. We all have the right to live freely, and safely, in our truth. And though I appreciate my parents, and the traditions I was raised with, I now see my Hanukkah décor for what it truly is. Not an act of rebellion. Not some effort to center my identity around Christmas or other—but a defiant act of courage.

I love being Jewish.  

And every holiday season, my front lawn and home reflects that.  

Thanks to Jean for visiting with us and to Mira for sharing her book with our readers.

How to win: Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. If you have trouble using Rafflecopter on our blog, enter the giveaway here.

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Giveaway ends December 5th at midnight EST.

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The Glorious & The Brave said...

Enjoyed reading about the author and would really love to read her book. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Padmini Rao said...

I know that Hanukkah involves lighting of the menorah

traveler said...

Chanukah is very important and meaningful to us. Every year we celebrate with a large family gathering with food, songs, gifts and the menorah lighting. The food is delectable. Home made latkes, salads, home made applesauce, cold cuts, and apple cake. The grandchildren now recite the blessings and love the eight days of celebration. My 2 sons were born on Chanukah which makes it very special. I enjoyed your wonderful post. Your book would be a real treasure to c herish.

Jess said...

I love Hanukkah! I love lighting the candles every night with our little family and sometimes visitors (during non-covid times). I love eating latkes and sufganiyot. And I love my 6 year old's enjoyment of it, even if he is a bit too focused on the gifts part. I really enjoy it when it's "early" like this year so it doesn't get caught up in the Christmas hoopla and we can just enjoy it on its own.

Nancy P said...

It's the one holiday that always caught me off guard when my kids were in elementary school.

Cherisse said...

I’ve been invited to celebrate by my friends. I enjoy the food and prayers.

diannekc said...

I know Hanukkah is the festival of lights and the menorah 🕎 is lit for eight nights.

Mary Preston said...

I know that the menorah is lit.

dstoutholcomb said...

Celebrating the miracle of the oil lasting eight days.

Nancy said...

I don't celebrate Hanukkah, but I do like eating potato pancakes!

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Toni Laliberte said...

Great interview! Thank you! I follow Jean on Instagram and I love her enthusiasm about Hanukkah. I know a little about it, like the lighting of the candles on the menorah, making latkes and playing a game with a dreidel. It's a significant holiday to Jewish people and I'm sure it has a deeper meaning to each family, then the little bit I know.

Mary C said...

I was invited to celebrate Hanukkah by a friend. I enjoyed listening to her children recite the blessings and the lighting of the menorah.

holdenj said...

When I was a kid, our neighbor friends grandma taught us the dreidel game! We played with them every year til we moved.

bn100 said...

there's a dreidel

Amber said...

I am not Jewish, but a good friend of mine is and I really enjoy learning about Judaism through her!!!

Mary J said...

When I was younger I had read the Bible so many times and wanted to know more. I was fascinated about the stories of all the people. The Twelve Tribes, Ishmael's people, the Egyptians. So I started reading about the histories and religions.

Through reading I learned Hanukkah is the celebration/reminder of how one can of oil lasted for 8 days. That light is a blessing so blessings are said on each night. The latkes and sufganiyot are fired in oil to remember that can of oil, or rather the miracle of that one can of oil.

Later I had friends who invited me into their homes and learned it was so much more. In learning all of this I realized how interconnected our faiths are. I often wondered if God planned it that way so sometime we would realize we are relatives.