In this remarkable collection, Penina Schram and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso showcase the richness of the Jewish storytelling tradition. The stories are well-organized, presented in chronological order beginning with Biblical narratives and continue through to the present day. Readers can follow the journey of the Jewish people across ages and continents, discovering the character of diverse Jewish communities around the world.
The first section, which focuses on Biblical and rabbinic tales, would be a fantastic resource for those who officiate at weddings or those who are looking to add some Jewish flavor to a toast at an engagement or anniversary party. However, there is little “new” material in this part of the book, as much of it retells stories that many readers will already find familiar.
Section Two which is titled “Folktales of Love” was the highlight of the collection. With rabbis, magic, princesses, and pirates, these stories show off the best of the Jewish storytelling tradition, with narratives that have been burnished to a rich patina. This is the part of the book to linger over, and is likely to be the part to which one would return for pleasure. The following section which includes love letters, is mostly remarkable for the variety of writing styles. The reader is transported to times and places to recapture the feelings of anticipation and reassurance, waiting to hear from a beloved from afar. These letters mark the contrast between the relative powers of the spoken and written record of love. Letters obviously require some “reading between the lines”, and the accompanying paragraphs which provide detail and context for the letters are a well-conceived addition.
The contemporary love stories were somewhat less engaging. While they presented a refreshing and necessary variety of relationships, they lacked the coherence of other sections. It appears that the editors made the decision that the authenticity of the original authors’ voices should take precedence over stylistic consistency. I wholeheartedly agree with the editors’ decision, but it is noteworthy that it came at the cost of some of the reader’s ease.
The collection closes with suggestions for how readers can record their own love stories. The instructions themselves are encouragingly and enthusiastically presented, although I suspect that most readers will already have begun to reflect on their own experiences. And it is in this regard that the book is most successful, challenging readers to think about their own relationships, how they express love, how they would want their stories to be remembered, and most of all, that they too may be prepared to take their place in the canon of Jewish stories.