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The Matzah Ball: A Jewish Rom-com Novel

November 28, 2021 | by Pearl Adler Saban

Like her protagonist, Jean Meltzer suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and is a proud Jew who happens to love the Christmas season.

What do you get when you take a nice, Jewish girl, who just happens to love everything Christmas, and you throw in chronic illness, Hanukkah, some really tasty rugelach, and lots of romantic and not-so-romantic sparks flying between frenemies?

The Matzah Ball, written by Jean Meltzer, offers all that and more. Meltzer’s debut novel is a rom-com that successfully managed to nudge its way into feature displays of holiday 2021 romance novels, where it sits proudly alongside Christmas-themed books. It has also nestled its way into the hearts of many readers, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

The audio version of Meltzer's book was named one of the Best AudioBooks of 2021 by Apple Books.

Our holiday heroine, Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt, is a young Jewish woman with a secret. She loves Christmas – the music, colorful lights, Santa, tree, and decor. She loves the holiday so much that she has become a Christmas romance novelist, writing under a pen name in order to keep that part of her life hidden from her family and friends. After all, who would understand how the daughter of a traditional, upstanding rabbi could become a bestselling Christmas romance novelist? Rachel certainly can’t reveal the truth to her highly respected father, her well-meaning mother, or to members of their synagogue community.

Who would understand how the daughter of a traditional, upstanding rabbi could become a bestselling Christmas romance novelist?

Although her romance novels offer happy endings for her heroes and heroines, Rachel remains single. She suffers from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, whose symptoms keep her from maintaining an active social life. Rachel even has kept her condition secret from her publisher and editor for the past decade while she continues to write her award-winning Christmas novels from home.

But this year, her publisher has strongly suggested that Rachel write a Hanukkah story. With no excitement for the project or ideas to write about -- but knowing she has to write the book in order to keep her publishing contract -- Rachel decides to attend a big holiday event called the Matzah Ball, hoping that it will inspire her.The only problem is that the event is completely sold out. Luckily she is offered a ticket by the Matzah Ball’s creator, Jacob Greenberg, on the condition that she volunteer to help out with the biggest event of the year.

Jacob is no stranger to Rachel; as young teens, they had attended the same Jewish overnight camp and shared a love-hate relationship. They have carried that confusion, anger, and hurt with them ever since, and now, as adults reuniting, the two must work through these feelings. As Rachel and Jacob interact and rediscover their history, they discover truths about each other as well as themselves, help one another understand and recognize the choices they have made in life, and learn that they can step away from those familiar, negative patterns.

By way of the Matzah Ball, these two young people discover their own Hanukkah miracle.

Author Jean Meltzer studied dramatic writing at NYU Tisch, and became an award-winning TV writer/producer. In 2006, she gave up that career and went to Israel to study in religious seminaries for five years. Just like Rachel, Jean has suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) for over twenty years. She remained homebound for a couple of years, during which time she began to write The Matzah Ball; ten years later, it was completed and published.

Jean’s personal knowledge of, and experience with ME/CFS, as well as her knowledge of Judaism, are what she successfully brings to the pages of The Matzah Ball. Using clear, concise, and humorous writing, she shares her knowledge of Judaism and its ages-old practices, showing how Jewish religion and culture can bring people together and enrich their lives.

Jean lets readers understand that although this “invisible disease” comes with great misconceptions, it does have very real and debilitating symptoms.

As a strong advocate for ME/CFS, Jean lets readers understand that although this “invisible disease” comes with great misconceptions, it does have very real and debilitating symptoms. In spite of them, Jean has managed to deliver a heartwarming Hanukkah book, one that she never expected would get published for being "too Jewish".

Jean plans to keep writing more books with Jewish story lines. Her next novel, Mr. Perfect on Paper, which is also a Jewish-themed rom-com, is scheduled for release August 2022. “I write unapologetically joyous, super-Jewy, and chronically fabulous romantic comedies,” Jean says.

Although Jean’s chronic illness often forces her to slow down, rest, and recuperate, she intends to continue writing and sharing her joy with readers everywhere. "I’m excited to introduce readers to the Jewish community I come from," she told Publishers Weekly. "There’s so much beauty and wisdom in the Jewish tradition and I’m excited to approach romance from that worldview."

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