Please Say Kaddish for Me: A Novel for Everyone

PleaseSayKaddishForMe

From the very first page of Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’s novel Please Say Kaddish for Me, I was swept up in Havah Cohen’s story. I was spellbound, so much so, I didn’t want to put this book down. The book is simultaneously driven by character and events at a quick pace, divided into four parts. The year is 1899 in Czarist Russia, a time marked by Jewish pogroms in which entire families are randomly massacred. 

The book begins with a horrible tragedy of Havah Cohen, our main heroine, and the slaughter of her family in the middle of the night. When we meet her, Havah is driven from her home, shocked and grief-stricken, and wanders barefoot, reciting the Hebrew prayer of Kaddish, a prayer for the living for the dead and for the bereft.

Because Havah is a rabbi’s daughter, she is well versed in its study which was uncommon at the time. So, when a father and son, Yussel and Arel Gitterman, find Havah at their doorstep, mumbling Kaddish, they are awestruck and quickly come to her aid. What’s more, Arel who has been promised to another since the age of 13, is completely captivated by Havah’s presence. When Havah is conscious and recovering, she too becomes aware of her forbidden connection to Arel. At the heart of this story is romantic, passionate love between Havah and Arel, and the barriers that they face.

This story is also about the love of family and of community, and how this love transcends the horrible acts inflicted upon them. There are many characters in Ms. Wisoff-Fields’s story, but I was never overwhelmed, but rather carried along, almost as an eavesdropper, but just as easily a participant, for it is hard not to get wrapped up in the anguish of this community and the depth of their suffering. Her descriptions of the horror of these brutal acts are gruesome, vivid and difficult to read, I believe as they should be.

I am struck by the authenticity and honest portrayal of this dire time in history, and by this family’s resilience, their bravery and the way that they lift one another up. Their Jewish faith holds them together, but their traditions and customs are also challenged in the face of all that is at stake and with the complete upheaval of their lives.

Wisoff-Fields’s storytelling is keen and her writing both crisp and fluid, but underneath it all, the author’s passion is undeniably present. There are no words wasted here. As I read, I felt as though I was standing next to them, hearing them breathe and listening to them speak. It’s not often I feel this way when I read a book. Her characters are well-drawn and, in fact, as the author is also a talented artist, she has actually illustrated many of her characters and provided character studies. You can find them posted on her blog Addicted to Purple and on her publisher’s website Loiacono Literary Agency.

As many of you may know, Rochelle is also the host of a wonderful writing community, Friday Fictioneers. There, I have enjoyed many of her well-crafted stories. It is with great pleasure that I recommend Please Say Kaddish for Me. As I read the last page, I thought to myself, “Everyone should read this book.” Now, more than ever, this story needs to be read and shared, because unfortunately the world is not a more kind and gentle place. I hope that this story also finds a place inside the classroom, with its message of compassion and courage of the human spirit.

Please note this story is the first part of a trilogy. Her sequel From Silt and Ashes is also just recently published and available.
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You can find Rochelle’s books here on Amazon and from W&B Publishers. 

Here is video for Please Kaddish for Me, I think you’ll enjoy. (used with permission)

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A Point Per Pea – Friday Fictioneers

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PHOTO PROMPT – Copyright – Jan Wayne Fields

Genre: Humor (101 words)

A Point Per Pea

Mama Harlow conducted the pea-eating contest. A point per pea. Her five children sat at the table, dipping their heads at their plates, delicately piercing each green ball with a tooth of a fork. The peas turned mushy and cold as they deliberated whether they could eat just one more.

The contest culminated in the Grand Pea Fest. Only the winner ate cake; everyone else ate more peas, equal to the number accrued by the top eater. It was a whole heap of peas, rolling around on mama’s finest china.

“Do we really have to eat all ninety-eight of them, mama?”

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Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting the Fictioneers, and to Jan Wayne Fields for the photo. It’s such a great group of dedicated writers. All are welcome to participate. Click here for instructions. For more stories, click on the Frog below.

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A Caroling We Will Go

Tis the season for caroling. Singing together in joy and attempted harmony.  I grew up with this idea, singing alongside my brothers and sisters. Two neighboring Catholic families joined together. Our family of six kids, plus theirs, ten kids strong. A gathering filled up our houses, especially if spouses and friends joined in, which happened in the later years.

Christmas Eve always felt special. We dressed up with festive jewelry, had good food, and plenty to drink. After a couple of hours of visiting, first at our house and then at theirs, we assembled, rehearsed a few verses of a popular Christmas song, and put on our jackets to brave the 50 °F night. That’s winter in Southern California, and it never interfered with our mission to take our singing to the streets and carol around our block.

In one big blustering mass, we puffed up our chests and belted out Christmas tunes, lucky to hit notes singing the same words. La la la and humming came in handy. We traveled from house to house, surging and merry, barely able to contain ourselves. Oh, how everyone enjoyed our goodwill gesture! We sang a maximum of three songs, carefully selected between each house, alternating the slow Silent Night with a peppy Jingle Bells.

After about thirty houses we concluded our masterful hymns at our neighbors, the Painter’s. They had lived in the neighborhood the longest and had a full acre yard, even a few roosters. They received us with smiles and, without fail, presented us with a box of See’s Candy after what was always our last song, We Wish You a Merry Christmas. It felt like a reward.

The black and white box. Music to my ears.
The black and white box. Delicious. This was before the red wrapping you see now during the holiday season.

I don’t quite remember what then happened with that box of candy, if we shared it or not. I must have got at least one piece. It didn’t really matter. The appearance of the black and white See’s Candy box left me a blubbering mess of joyful tears. Oh, they cared, they cared…or maybe it was out of sympathy. It always made feel a little high on life. We did some good in the world. We used our voices, however out of tune. Whatever their reason, it made the season all the more merry and bright.

Following the presentation of the candy box, our two families parted ways to attend midnight mass. My family to the Sears catalog, minimalist church a few blocks from our house. We usually walked if we weren’t running too late. Our friends drove to their more formal, taller, stain-glassed church a few miles away.

This tradition of ours continued for a least a decade or more. My memory is fuzzy about this. Sure, things changed over the years. The group lost shape and focus, although growing in numbers with more friends, with some family members straggling behind. Tis the season to be jolly, filled with spirits, too inebriated to participate fully.

Our neighbors began to sing the third verses in harmony, complete harmony I tell you, and assumed the front stage position at the door, while those less dedicated mouthed the words in the back. It became slightly more serious and falling apart all at once, squeezed from the middle until it just burst into nothing. One year we simply stopped. At least that’s how I remember it.

I wondered if the Painters waited up for us with the box of chocolates ready.

As I was saying, delicious....
As I was saying, delicious….

I almost wanted to walk over to explain, “I guess we don’t do this anymore.” Did they miss us? Did they wonder for a couple of years, as I did, if we would return? It was a good time while it lasted and, for me, it never lost its kick or exuberance.

So, grab a friend and sing together a little holiday song. It will make you smile. Do you have any caroling favorites?

Photo credit:
flickr.com/photos/tonyjcase/3184853335
flickr.com/photos/56367847@N05/8490705495

A Festivus* Time: Santa Came to Town

*Festivus (i.e., this post may have Festivus hints)

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas, when all through the house I was a reading a book because books relax me.

Our tree still not up, nor stockings hung, but we still had hope that Santa Claus soon will be here.

Our kittens were nestled all snug in their beds, while we were still eating dinner.

Santa Brigade 023

When outside the house, came sirens, blue and red, and wailing

So loud, the kitties wake, and we run outside.

When, what to our wondering eyes did appear,

Five cop cars, two fire trucks, all dressed in bling lights.

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Santa Brigade 035

Santa Brigade 038

Behind them, a sleigh, a little old driver, and eight tiny reindeer.

“It’s Santa Claus,” exclaimed my children.

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Santa Brigade 041

Collecting canned goods and unwrapped toys.

Santa Brigade 045

All for the little ones, Christmas joys.

Ho ho ho who wouldn’t go…we all did. It was fun!

This is a tradition in our town when the police and fire department get together to give Santa Claus a full escort through all the neighborhoods in the city. Santa takes pictures with kids and tosses candy canes. I was excited in spite of the fact that I didn’t get a candy cane this year. The city provides a calendar announcing when they will be arriving in your neighborhood, but I do not look because I like to be surprised. This is the seventh year in this neighborhood and, once again, I was surprised. I think, Wow, what are all those sirens!

Do you have traditions in your city or neighborhood? Please share. These things make life rich and memorable, don’t you think?

Santa, The Jig Is Up

Santa, I’m on to you. Who’s been naughty or nice? I have an answer to that question.

It appears that the orange that people put in their stockings has its own story…and it’s huge! I think this is the closest I’ll ever get to solving the mysteries of the Universe and Everything.

First, the supposed story of the orange goes something like this. Bishop Nicholas wanted to help a poor man by providing a dowry for his three, lovely daughters. Because the poor man did not accept charity, Bishop Nicholas secretly threw bags of gold coins down their chimney, which magically landed in their stockings hung by the fireplace. These bags of gold transformed into balls of gold, which are now symbolized by oranges.

They they are again. Suspicious oranges.
There they are again. Suspicious oranges.

Not so fast, Nicholas. Why all the secrets, huh? You say it’s because the father didn’t want to accept charity, but how did you come across three bags of gold? Maybe it was you who wanted to keep it a secret. Never mind that the dowry was for a woman who would marry someone else. That’s beside the point. I think our friend Nicolas was trying to impress a lady. I’m going to go out on a limb here, because I feel it in my bones, and say that Nicholas did this for a woman with intentions that weren’t altogether pure. He did this for a love that he could not have.

But, alas, this was the next best thing…to see her have happiness. He watched her from a distance and threw himself into gift giving.

And, now, we’re all running around like rabbits, trying to fulfill his hidden agenda, anxious and stressed out. All for the sake of a woman. Yes, it all makes sense now. It’s crystal clear. St. Nick, consider yourself found out. I bet you never thought I would reveal this on a blog with readers that could number in the millions. It could happen.

I imagine now that I have revealed this story, there will be a mad rush to make a documentary or, perhaps, an Academy award-winning film. Of course, this won’t happen. No one would ever produce it because Christmas would be ruined for the kids.

But for the record, the first gift of Christmas was cold, hard cash in the form of gold coins. My oldest son has requested cash for Christmas. First, he requested books, which I was happy about until I learned he wants them in hardcover only. I explained hardcover cost quite a bit more than the soft cover. He, however, wants the hardcover for his collection that he will hand down to his kids. Such a manipulator. Just the books, oh, and some cash, in addition to some gifts he assumes he’s getting.

Oh, he can have some cash. Here darling, how about all that I have left? Here’s a dollar. That will get you half a candy bar, which will taste as good as a whole one. If that isn’t enough to satisfy you, look deeper into your stocking…you can have that orange.

Nicholas, Saint, jolly man…I hope it was worth it.