“The Matzah Ball” by Jean Meltzer | Book Review

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“On top of trying to please her parents, Rabbi Goldblatt and Dr. Rubenstein, and manage a chronic illness, Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is secretly a best-selling author. Why is it a secret? Because she writes Christmas romance novels! When her boss requests a Hanukkah romance, Rachel isn’t sure she can find enough inspiration in the Festival of Lights to create the same magic as her Christmas books. Just when life couldn’t get any crazier, Jacob Greenberg comes back into her life, arriving in New York City to throw the ultimate Hanukkah party with his successful entertainment company. The two of them have very different memories of what transpired eighteen years ago, but one thing is clear: both of them walked away from that summer at Camp Ahava with a broken heart. Can Rachel work alongside Jacob long enough to find book inspiration at the Matzah Ball, or will the reappearance of her camp archenemy ruin the double life she’s worked so hard to maintain?”

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Jews come from so many different backgrounds, making our worldwide family equal parts incredible and meshuggeneh. Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt’s upbringing doesn’t mirror my own, but this messianic Jewish girl still found common ground and comfort in her story. Rachel’s dad is a rabbi so she grew up under intense scrutiny, trying to meet the high expectations of her family and community. I was nodding my head at every single sentence because my dad’s a pastor, and life as a pastor’s kid is the same as that of a rabbi’s kid; eyes are on you at all times, people scrutinizing everything you do and gossiping the minute something doesn’t meet their approval. I do not say this lightly: I get it. I totally get it! That’s the biggest reason why I connected to this book beyond surface-level enjoyment.

If you’re a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, Jacob and Rachel’s romance is for you. Thanks to miscommunication spanning eighteen years, they hold a grudge against one another for post-summer camp broken hearts. I am ridiculously persnickety when it comes to character flaws and couldn’t help feeling annoyed at the lies and secrets for no good reason. However, I fully understand that’s a major detail supporting the plot and don’t officially consider it a negative. Afterall, the conflict is what makes the ending that much sweeter. Sweeter than Sufganiyot!

For the most part, this book is a home run. Minor details were repeated when unnecessary, such as adult Jacob’s memory of young Rachel’s high ponytail and hot pink shorts (pages 56 & 78). Some Jewish phrases were explained while others were not. There are enough context clues to keep you out of the dark, but I can understand why it might frustrate non-Jewish readers, though I would encourage a quick Google search for the sake of education. In the final pages the onstage moment between Rabbi Goldblatt and his wife Dr. Rubenstein led to a sweet parent-daughter moment, but the set-up was too cheesy for my taste, the overheard dialogue unnatural.

There were very few negatives within 385 pages, but I’m leaving room for improvement because this is Jean Meltzer’s author debut, a mighty impressive one I might add. Four out of five stars. There is familiarity for members of the tribe and common ground for gentile readers. No matter who you are, it will take mere pages to feel like you’re wrapped in the cozy warmth of a Hanukkah blanket. Read this book with my blessing. Chag Hanukkah Sameach!

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💬 Favorite Quote 💬

“My journey of Hanukkah,” Toby said simply, “has spanned ninety-one years. I have celebrated this holiday in Germany, France, New York and Paris, all over the world with my grandson, during good times and bad times alike.” She quieted, a small sadness sitting there at the tip of her throat. “But what I always explained to Jacob is that these candles are a metaphor. They remind us that we always have a choice. We can be someone who snuffs out another person’s candle and, in the process, makes the world a darker place. Or we can be the type of person who spreads light. Better to be the shamash–one candle that lights all the others and brightens an otherwise dark world.” – Bubbe Toby Greenberg, Page 182

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⚠️ Content Warnings:

Grammar & Spelling
Page 107 – “Symbols” instead of “Cymbals”
Page 166 – “Kendell Jenner” instead of “Kendall Jenner”
Page 242 – “It that strange?” instead of “Is that strange?” or “Is it that strange?”
Page 307 – “Leaning into whisper” instead of “leaning in to whisper”
Page 354 – “Once Esther Shapiro is finished her set” instead of “Once Esther Shapiro has finished her set”

Language A$$ or Hard-a$$ – Pages 24 & 243 Bastard – Page 251 D*mn – Pages 18, 26, 27, 32, 106, 147, 191, 250, 260, 281, & 371 Gawd – Pages include 61, 206, 239, 294, 300, & 377 G*d (as a swear) – Pages 230 & 377 G*dd*mn – Pages 102, 147, 233, & 259 H*ll – Pages 78, 325, & 368 J*sus or J*sus Chr*st (as a swear) – Pages 22, 141, 162, & 205 Screw ‘Em – Pages 250, 260, 281, & 378

Sensual/Sexual Moments
Page 89 – Sensual inner monologue about a man’s body
Page 239 – Sensual inner monologue about a man’s body
Page 307 – One kiss
Pages 307 through 313 – Jacob visits Rachel’s apartment at night. It’s implied that they might sleep together, but nothing happens.
Page 371 – One kiss
Page 378 – One kiss, Jacob carries Rachel into her bedroom

Other Mentions of alcohol & drinking throughout the book plus an instance or two of drunkeness

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🌟 Find author Jean Meltzer here:

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– Lauren Michele ❤

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• Previous Post: “The Latke in the Library & Other Mystery Stories for Chanukah” by Libi Astaire | Book Review

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