Jean Meltzer, with a continuing focus on religion, tapped into her enduring sense of humor, and the result is a Chanukah novel, a romantic comedy with a Passover-seeming title — The Matzah Ball.
Jean Meltzer wanted to be a rabbi, began studies in Israel and then came down with a debilitating illness that compelled stopping in her tracks. Convalescing at home in Virginia, she opened herself to another career track.
Meltzer, with a continuing focus on religion, tapped into her enduring sense of humor, and the result is a Chanukah novel, a romantic comedy with a Passover-seeming title — The Matzah Ball (HarperCollins).
The work of fiction introduces main character Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt, a young adult in an observant Jewish family. While secretly enchanted by Christmas frills, Rachel meets up with a man from her past during a Chanukah party, and the plotline unfolds.
Cathleen Russ, director of the West Bloomfield Township Public Library and president of the Book and Author Society (formerly the Metro Detroit Book and Author Society), is featuring Meltzer in the organization’s presentation series, which, in pre-pandemic times, attracted nearly 1,000 readers to each of its twice-yearly luncheon programs. In person, attendees listened to authors’ speeches, met them one-on-one and bought books.
Those events, now adapted to a virtual platform, have scheduled a Russ-Meltzer Zoom interview on Nov. 22. The hour-long program is being taped for continuing digital access through the organization’s website.
“I’m proud that I’ve been able to write a Jewish story in a joyous and positive way, and I’m proud that I’ve shown the best of the community that I come from —whether that be the warmth of a Shabbat dinner crammed full of people or the beauty and wisdom that can be found in our tradition,” said Meltzer, who is coping with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
“I’m also proud that I’ve taken something that is often invisible to others, mainly chronic illness, and help make the struggles of millions more readily understandable. I’m proud that I’ve written a story where anyone — Jewish, chronically ill or disabled — can find a happy ending.”
Meltzer, whose main character has her condition, infuses secondary characters with Jewish cultural elements she has encountered through relatives and friends.
As Meltzer appears for the locally-initiated presentation, she can describe successes with a career pursued before being inspired to join the rabbinate. Holding a bachelor of fine arts degree from New York University, she served as creative director of Tapestry International, a television and film production company that had her overseeing children’s programming.
This digital interview is part of the Book and Author Society’s fall series, which has made available interviews with Amber Garza (Where I Left Her), Angeline Boulley (Firekeeper’s Daughter) and Nghi Vo (The Chosen and the Beautiful).
“We changed the organization’s name because we are encouraging a global audience,” said Russ, who noted that the digital arrangement has drawn viewers from as far away as Australia and increased the participation interest of notable writers.
“We want to highlight a diverse array of authors, and I think Jean gives a 21st century experience of Chanukah with a happy ending that we all can like. For the first half hour with each author, I do the questioning, and for the second half hour, we use questions asked by our Zoom audience.”
Russ fully enjoys doing the interviews and believes she learns so much from each one. For instance, Brad Taylor, with American Traitor, explained the relationship of China and Taiwan as he discussed his espionage book series.
“I learn about the writing process of each author and what each one wants to bring to the world,” Russ said. “It all adds to our pool of knowledge and helps put the pieces of life together. Talking to authors builds empathy in a divisive world.”
Meltzer feels comfortable referencing the personal dimensions of her subject.
“I will say that ME/CFS, and specifically my experiences of being homebound and disabled for the last decade, have changed my relationship to Judaism,” said Meltzer, who has decked out her home in Chanukah décor while accepting that she no longer can enjoy all the holiday foods.
“In general, I have had to make accommodations in my own theology.
“I’ve had to learn how to hold on to hope on my worst days and years. More than anything, chronic illness has taught me the importance of holding onto joy. It taught me the value in the things that really matter — the people we love and who love us in return.”
To experience the interview with Jean Meltzer— carried live on Zoom at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, and available on tape afterwards — go to bookandauthor.org.