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The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer


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. 


Jean Meltzer’s debut novel is a breath of fresh air as it celebrates a Hanukkah romance amongst a bucket load of Christmas stories. Well done!

My heart broke for Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt as she deals with a debilitating disease and tries to find herself after living in the shadow of her successful parents, Rabbi Aaron Goldblatt, a macher and bigwig in her community, and Dr. Rubenstein, a top New York fertility specialist. She loves her family dearly, but she has a secret love for everything Christmas (Think of a whole room filled with a small Christmas village). She has made a successful career as a Christmas romance writer and now her publisher wants her to write a Hanukkah romance or she will lose her job and her fancy Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan. How can she make Hanukkah as fun and exciting as Christmas? How about attending The Matzah Ball being organized by her archenemy from summer camp many years ago. If only she could get a ticket from the sold-out event. Lucky for her he’s staying with her parents for Shabbat. And the games begin.

Jacob Greenberg has his own sad story of being abandoned by his father, moving to Paris, and caring for his mother who had multiple sclerosis. Needless to say, Jacob acted out and was eventually sent to Catholic school to set him straight.  Now he is CEO of his own event plannng company in charge of having the first-ever Matzah Ball Max in New York where all of his bad memories are gathered. His father, who he has not spoken to since he up and left his family, lives there. And the young girl that broke his heart at summer camp is the daughter of the two people whom he has invited to be a part of his gala. 

I’m not a big fan of Rachel and Jacob at first with their childish and frankly, annoying behavior. But when they start to act like mature adults again and see the potential they have as the perfect couple, my feelings become more positive.  Rachel is selfless, kind and generous to a fault. Her confidence in herself needed a little kick from her wonderful best friend Mickey and especially by Jacob who truly believes in her and has no qualms about her disease. When she chose to say “screw ’em” to all the naysayers she went hog wild, especially at the hilarious and happy ending. As for Jacob, he is such a jerk at the beginning with the whole matzah ball costume, but when he finds out about Rachel’s illness, he is extremely kind and not judgy at all. After all, his mother had MS and he understood chronic pain. I get it that he was mad about her not being above board with her career choice. She had plenty of opportunities to tell him and when she does reveal her secrets and more, it’s shocking and liberating.

Supporting characters are fantastic in this book from Rachel’s lovely and supportive best friend Mickey, to Jacob’s wise and very sweet bubbe, Toby.

I want to thank Ms. Meltzer for helping to break the stigma of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) or more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Ignorant people, including some medical professionals, dismiss the disease as being in someone’s mind, but it is an exhausting disease that affects hundreds of thousands of people. ME/CFS can negatively impact personal choices in one’s life, but Ms. Meltzer wants people to know that you can live with it and be happy. In addition, I loved the edifying facts about Jewish traditions and yummy Jewish food.

I recommend this beautiful, funny, and informative debut Hanukkah love story about finding yourself and living in the present. The characters are quirky and misguided and the wonderful plot is a refreshing holiday read. 

Thank you to Ms. Meltzer for giving me the opportunity to read this book with no expectation of a positive review.


The Matzah Ball

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Jean Meltzer studied dramatic writing at NYU Tisch and has earned numerous awards for her work in television, including a daytime Emmy. 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. The Matzah Ball is her first novel.

Follow Jean on her website, Amazon, Facebook, and Instagram.