Years ago, Jean Meltzer’s father suggested that she write a book — “just not a Jewish one because nobody reads those.”
Thankfully, Meltzer did not listen to him, and recently released her third Jewish-themed rom-com. “Kissing Kosher” follows on the heels of “Mr. Perfect on Paper” and “The Matzah Ball,” her debut novel.
All three books delve into Jewish subjects, from holidays and tikkun olam to Jewish matchmaking, while also addressing physical, mental, and emotional health.
With a background in television production and a Daytime Emmy to her name, Meltzer later journeyed to Israel, where she spent five years attending rabbinical school. Her education and deep-rooted connection to her Jewish heritage shine through her novels.
“I’m excited to introduce readers to the Jewish community I come from,” Meltzer, who was raised in a traditional Jewish home, said about her first book, “The Matzah Ball.” “There’s so much beauty and wisdom in the Jewish tradition and I’m excited to approach romance from that worldview.”
“Kissing Kosher”: A modern Jewish love story
“Kissing Kosher” tells the story of Avital Cohen, co-owner and manager of her family’s popular bakery, Best Babka. The bakery draws loyal customers who line up outside the door to purchase their baked goods, especially their world-famous pumpkin-spiced babka, the recipe for which is a closely guarded secret.
It’s this recipe that Ethan Lippmann has come to find. As the grandson of the owner of Lippmann’s, a competing kosher commercial baked goods company, he aspires to secure Best Babka’s treasured recipe for his grandfather. To carry out this covert mission, Ethan replies to a Help Wanted ad and finds himself working alongside the bakery’s team, gradually carving out a space for himself among them.
As Avital and Ethan work side by side, sparks fly between them. Yet, concealed truths cast a shadow over their budding romance. Ethan tries to hide his identity and his sad past, while Avital harbors her own secret: a debilitating medical condition causing chronic pelvic pain, impacting every facet of her life.
As their secrets are revealed, the duo navigates the intricacies of boundaries and limitations. Together, they explore ways to heal old wounds, aiming for a future that’s as sweet as the pastries they create.
Immersing readers in Jewish tradition
Beyond the twists and turns of this modern love story, “Kissing Kosher” deeply immerses readers in the vibrant world of Jewish traditions. Meltzer’s pages radiate with the warmth of practices like the laws of kashrut, the art of challah baking, and spirited Purim celebrations. She incorporates her extensive knowledge of Judaism, delving into Shabbat, daily Jewish prayer, wearing tefillin, and more.
A unique feature in Meltzer’s work is her creative use of the Jewish calendar. In each of her books, the names of the Jewish months and their secular calendar equivalents serve as section dividers, further grounding the narrative in Jewish tradition.
The characters Ethan and Avital are the spokespeople for these age-old traditions. Their observance of Shabbat and prayer fluctuates, echoing the honest struggles many face in figuring out their relationship with Judaism. As Ethan puts it in the book: “Judaism has rules. It has structures. It provides some sort of guideline for living our life…and that appeals to me.”
Rediscovery and healing
“Kissing Kosher” does not shy away from tackling sensitive issues. Avital, originally a photographer, had to set her creative ambitions aside due to her chronic pelvic pain.
Meanwhile, Ethan finds himself suppressing his true desires in order to live up to the expectations set by his iron-fisted grandfather, who raised him after the tragic loss of his parents. He adheres to the Biblical commandment to “honor your father and mother” at the cost of his own happiness.
Yet, as the story unfolds, Ethan’s kindness and patience not only help reignite Avital’s passion for photography but also create a path for mutual healing. Through their interwoven journeys, Meltzer sends a powerful message: Before we can repair the world around us, we must first look inward and cultivate our own well-being.
Jewish traditions: A healing bridge
With guidance from the open-minded Rabbi Jason, Avital and Ethan navigate the Jewish laws of family purity. Through this exploration, they discover that intimacy can take on a more profound and significant meaning. Embracing these traditions and bolstered by mutual support, they find strength and joy once again.
Meltzer’s characters further remind us that joy can be discovered in the simplest of moments. Whether it’s the tactile pleasure of kneading challah dough, capturing the perfect photo composition, or indulging in a self-pampering session, joy is ever-present.
“Kissing Kosher” transcends the typical “boy meets girl” romance narrative. It stands out by addressing serious issues within a Jewish context. Despite challenges ranging from chronic health conditions to business rivalries and mental health struggles, the characters find their places in the world and in each other’s lives.
The bottom line
Jean Meltzer has consistently delivered relatable characters and engaging storylines, and “Kissing Kosher” is no exception. The novel skillfully educates readers on seldom-discussed topics while maintaining an entertaining narrative. The reader is invited to cheer on Avital and Ethan as they navigate love, acceptance, and personal growth.
When asked what she’d like readers to take away from her latest novel, Meltzer told Unpacked: “Books don’t just change readers. They change the person writing them, too. ‘Kissing Kosher’ really solidified for me the importance of establishing healthy boundaries. Boundaries aren’t bad. Instead, they are a tool, both in our Jewish tradition and our personal lives, for creating safe and sacred spaces.”
“Kissing Kosher” is truly a satisfying read. The only thing that might make “Kissing Kosher” even better? Including that tempting kosher pumpkin-spiced babka recipe!
Originally Published Aug 27, 2023 01:57PM EDT