Adar I 5774/February 2014
Two Tales of Cities
As spring approaches, so do the Purim and Pesach new releases. Torah Temimah, for its part, will be publishing two new titles – an adult historical novel and a boy’s adventure book – both guaranteed to captivate and delight their readers.
Esperanza is the title of our historical novel. Written by the popular author, Rebbetzin Sarah Feldbrand (From Sarah to Sarah [Israel Bookshop], and more), this story takes place during the Renaissance era. Thanks to the author’s expertise in Jewish history, the reader is treated to a vivid description of life during that time, with a focus on the Jewish community of Ferrara, in northern Italy.
Esperanza, a young girl escaping the clutches of the Portuguese Inquisition, is separated from her dear father, Don Raphael, who winds up in Constantinople. As we follow them on their personal odysseys and searches for each other, we learn about the tribulations faced by conversos, Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin forced to convert to Christianity, who fled their homelands seeking freedom to practice Judaism as they wish.
This tale reveals some of the specific challenges they faced – leaving behind a comfortable life, parting with close family, and having to start their lives all over again on foreign soil. Interestingly, perhaps the greatest challenge of all was learning about and practicing their Jewish faith for the first time in their lives.
On a personal note, as the frum publisher of a novel, I find that, aside from verifying that the content is kosher and contains a Jewish message, I don’t usually devote that much of my own attention to the actual edit. However, in the case of a historical novel, I felt it was my responsibility to double-check the facts so that the memories of the heroes of that time and the lessons derived from them will indeed be correct. I can’t say I was excited about this, but publishing quality literature is a responsibility I take very seriously. In the end, I was surprised: I can honestly say that I gained immeasurably from having been involved in the research and edit of this book.
The story itself is, of course, fictional, but interwoven in the plot are several actual and remarkable historical personalities, such as Dona Gracia Mendes, Samuel and Benvenida Abarbanel, and Samuel Usque, to name a few. I also became acquainted with real Italian yeshivos and their leaders – Rav Meir Katzenellenbogen, the Maharam of Padua; Rav Ovadiah Seforno of Bologna; and Rav Avraham Provencal of Mantua. I learned much about the derech of these Italian yeshivos which, for various reasons, was rather different from the Lithuanian, Polish and Hungarian style yeshivos with which I am more familiar.
One thing struck me powerfully as I was being entertained by the plot and learning about this little-known period in Jewish history: I never would have imagined that the challenges revealed in this book would be so very similar to those we face in twenty-first-century America.
The other book is for a different age level altogether, but it is no less engrossing and educational. (I recommend buying one for the kids, grandchildren or neighbors, and then when no one is looking, quickly reading through it yourself!) It’s the brainchild of Levi Goldstein, the pen name of an avreich in Eretz Yisrael, who has a gift for writing, and is using it to share some very important lessons in the most entertaining way imaginable!
Ari’s Extremely Important Mission is a book the reader will find hard to put down, due to its numerous plots, suspense and hilarious scenes. The invaluable messages imparted through this tale come across extremely naturally and will certainly leave an indelible impression on the youngsters (and adults) – a more vivid appreciation for Torah, mitzvos and people.
Why not expand your horizons while thoroughly enjoying high-quality literature…just as I did?
Wishing you a freilichen Purim and kasheren Pesach,
Rabbi Eliyahu Miller
Publisher and General Editor