It seems the Jewish tradition of matchmaking is alive and well these days, as two very different Jewish novels on matchmaking come to us just in time for Valentine's Day.
"Seven Blessings" by Ruchama King (St. Martin's Press, 2003) is out in paperback, and focuses on the Orthodox Jewish community, specifically American and Canadian ba'alei teshuvah living in Jerusalem.
No. 2, "Matchbook: The Diary of a Modern-Day Matchmaker" by Samantha Daniels was released in hardcover this month. Daniels' story centers on the trials of a single Jewish matchmaker whose clients are single New Yorkers -- both Jewish and non-Jewish.
Reading "The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel" (W. Norton & Co., 2002) in paperback, edited by Babel's daughter, Nathalie, got me thinking about Jewish gangsters and tough guys.
Babel was born in Odessa in 1894. He wrote of Odessa's Jewish underworld and its gangsters in sparkling prose. Fifty years before Mario Puzo gave us "The Godfather," Babel offered up Benya Krik. Benya, Babel tells us, had "gangster chic" -- a century before Tupac took the stage. Babel's Odessa was home to a universe of Jewish murderers, pimps and crooks. Before there was 50 Cent, Babel wrote of a millionaire named "Yid and a half."
Primarily, I learned, as a writer, that if you live with a crime long enough, it seeps into you. You cry at the trials. You hug the siblings of the victim, and they hug you. You keep your distance. You know that the best thing most of the time is just to keep your trap shut and let people talk when they feel it is safe for them to talk -- or when they feel they can do nothing but talk.