If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week, Ilana Davis, deputy head of Birmingham Progressive Synagogue’s cheder, picks Maisie Moscoe’s Almonds and Raisins.
So many classic and beautiful texts from throughout Jewish scripture and history have featured in this column. So, rather than repeat one of these, I’ve picked something modern but equally powerful.
Maisie Mosco’s Almonds and Raisins trilogy (1979-86) tells the difficult, nostalgic but homely story of the Sandbergs as they flee Russian pogroms for Manchester. The story starts with the family arriving in Manchester with no one to meet them. As in any Jewish family, the event is a tumult of emotion and the reader automatically feels at home with this diverse, argumentative clan.
The matriarch of the family, Sarah Sandberg, is immediately introduced as the strong-willed leader with her opening dialogue being more of a demand rather than question.
From here, the reader lives with the family as they experience two world wars, the creation of the State of Israel and the swinging sixties. Readers will learn of the struggles that families, in particular Jewish families, faced during these times, and will share in their moments of happiness.
Jewish readers will be familiar with some of the Yiddish words Mosco uses – and helpfully keeps in a glossary at the back – and the choice of phrases that are associated with Jewish families.
Each family member tells their story and captures their own part of Jewish history: moving to a Progressive synagogue, changing their surname, marrying a non-Jew, coming out as homosexual and emigrating to Israel.
Mosco’s story is a heart-warming one. The core message is one of family, and Mosco keeps the reader’s attention by making sure they feel part of that family.
It is a truly magical and educational must-read.