REVIEW: Home for the Challah Days by Jennifer Wilck
Turning the bitterness of the past…
Into a sweet future!
When big-city advocate Sarah Abrams returns home for the High Holy Days, she’s got a lot on her mind—especially whether to marry her perfect-on-paper boyfriend. The last person she wants to encounter is Aaron Isaacson, her first love and the one who broke her heart. But after Aaron and Sarah join forces to fight an act of hate, it’s clear that their deep connection never abated. If only they could forgive one another for the past…in time for a sweet new start!
CW – Anti-Semitism
Dear Ms. Wilck,
With a title like this, I had to read it. There’s a lot packed into this story – childhood friends, enemies (back) to lovers, self discovery, change, family, and dealing with anti-Semitism. It’s not all gloom and several scenes had me smiling and laughing even as they advanced the plot. Plus this is not a Hanukkah book!
Sarah Abrams is home for the High Holy Days. After college she left for DC, convinced that this was the place where she could do the most good. Her boyfriend of three years has asked her to marry him and Sarah wants to spend time thinking about their relationship before giving Matthew an answer. The first thing she does though once she gets home, while ordering the challah for her family, is run into her old love Aaron who turns and walks away.
Aaron can’t believe that Sarah is back. She’s rarely made it home in ten years and he’s worked hard to pluck her out of his life. He was even engaged for a while before realizing that he still has feelings for Sarah and marrying another woman wasn’t fair to that woman. But he’s not going to wait on her in his family’s deli.
But, as Aaron soon sees, God either doesn’t love him or He has a wicked sense of humor because the two can’t seem to stay out of each other’s company including helping set up the synagogue for the after Rosh Hashanah gathering and one evening in a “too cool” bar where they sing their feelings and pain via one-upping karaoke song choices. As they spend more time together, and fend off parental matchmaking and grandparental advice (being a mensch is fine but don’t be a nebbish), some home truths are revealed including that Aaron didn’t see something he thought he did which caused him to ghost Sarah which led to her to try to move on. Yes, at first I thought Aaron was a schmuck until the truth came out and then I thought him an idiot for casting aside their relationship for ten years. I go ahead and reveal this because I don’t want readers writing him off too soon.
Aaron has learned a bit but Sarah still needs to decide about the marriage proposal on the table. She thinks her life is in DC, enjoys being part of a power couple and likes her sophisticated wardrobe even if her mother is itching to get Sarah back in colors. Then something happens that shakes the local Jewish community and the Rabbi asks for Sarah’s help then casually mentions some local job openings that Sarah’s experience would be perfect for. Aaron and Sarah have talked a lot and cleared the air but are they ever going to be on the same page?
I loved this community. As the plot gently unfolds, it’s clear how tightly knit it is and how much people care for each other. Sarah’s parents would obviously love to see more of her but are delighted she’s home. Sarah’s friends, though hurt by her long absence, are willing to reconnect and forcefully give her advice about Aaron. His grandmother is a doll and steals every scene she’s in.
When the Something Happens, the community at large pitches in to help and atonement is a major issue. Everything is handled with a light touch but with meaning. Nothing is Hammered Home. It all flows and fits together beautifully. The anti-Semitic events are treated carefully and the hurt and anger they caused are allowed to be felt and acknowledged. We get to see Sarah’s expertise at work during the resolution as well as how much the community leaders appreciate her help. I love me some competence.
Both Sarah and Aaron have to examine the decisions they’ve made and the outcomes that came from them. They are allowed moments to be confused and yes, angry, as they rediscover each other and the feelings that are still there. I like that neither rushes and that Sarah makes her final choice independent of any romance and based on what’s right for her. Apologies are made, they talk, the air is cleared, and I’m delighted with the two of them. Their wedding is going to be a joyous event for all. B+