By – November 2, 2020

Miri­am is not pleased to leave her beloved New York City home after her par­ents’ take on the job of run­ning the Jew­el Motor Inn, a shab­by motel in a small upstate town. Miri­am and her whole fam­i­ly, which includes her par­ents and her lit­tle broth­er, make the jour­ney to their new home. Once there, Miri­am meets her new neigh­bors and learns about the com­mu­ni­ty. She strikes up a spe­cial friend­ship with Maria who works as a maid at the Jew­el. Miri­am befriends oth­er local res­i­dents, as well, includ­ing a girl named Kate, and Kate’s grand­moth­er, Mrs. Whit­ley, who often enlists Miri­am to help make her famous grape pies at the local din­er. Miri­am enjoys spend­ing time with her Uncle Mordy who comes to vis­it, and encour­ages his niece to face her fear of swim­ming. Although Miri­am begins to accli­mate to her new home, ten­sions grow as the Jewel’s busi­ness remains slow.

After she and Kate come up with a tricky, disin­gen­u­ous plan in hopes of attract­ing new guests to the Jew­el, Miri­am must face the con­se­quences of her deci­sions and real­izes the impact of her choic­es on her com­mu­ni­ty, her peers, and her fam­i­ly. Reli­gion plays a key role in Miriam’s per­son­al growth. The fam­i­ly is obser­vant, her uncle more so, and a vari­ety of details about Jew­ish life are pep­pered through­out the sto­ry. Maria and Kate are Catholic. Through their friend­ships, Miri­am learns about reli­gious beliefs out­side of her own, ulti­mate­ly dis­cov­er­ing the joy that exists in cel­e­brat­ing their differences.

The author intro­duces some dif­fi­cult top­ics, such as anti­semitism, in an engag­ing way for mid­dle grade audiences.

Jil­lian Bietz stud­ied library tech­nol­o­gy and research skills and cur­rent­ly works in the library sys­tem. She is a book review­er for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and Kirkus Review Indie. Jil­lian lives in South­ern California.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Tzi­po­rah Cohen

  1. Miri­am has a fear of water. Have you been afraid of some­thing? Write about this expe­ri­ence and if or how you over­came your fear.

  2. Kate’s grand­moth­er owns the din­er beside the Jew­el Motor Inn and is famous for her grape pies and Kate’s grand­fa­ther is famous for his grilled cheese sand­wich­es. Bake a pie of your choice or exper­i­ment with alter­na­tive ingre­di­ents for the best grilled cheese sand­wich ever.

  3. Miri­am and her fam­i­ly have many rituals/​traditions/​customs. Think about rituals/​traditions/​customs that you and your fam­i­ly fol­low or cel­e­brate then inter­view some­one about their fam­i­ly rituals/​traditions/​customs. How are their prac­tices dif­fer­ent or the same as yours? Cre­ate a Venn dia­gram using your findings.

  4. Miri­am learns some Span­ish from Maria. Do you know any­one in your life who speaks more than one lan­guage? What new words can you learn from them? What ten words would you want to teach some­one who didn’t speak your language?

  5. Mov­ing to the Jew­el Motel is a huge change in Miriam’s life. Write about a big change that hap­pened in your life.

  6. Miriam’s con­science both­ers her as she strug­gles with the idea that while she knows trick­ing peo­ple is wrong, she won­ders if it is tru­ly wrong if the trick helps and makes peo­ple hap­py. Discuss/​debate whether trick­ing peo­ple for a greater good is ever right.

  7. Use a fam­i­ly recipe or one you find online to make chal­lah and, with an adult’s help, make two loaves — the cus­tom­ary num­ber used at the Shab­bat meal. Or you could learn how to make a grape pie. Share your chal­lah or pie with oth­ers, just like Miri­am and Mrs. Whit­ley did.

  8. Read an inter­view with author Tzi­po­rah Cohen.

Whisked away from her native Man­hat­tan to upstate New York, Miri­am must help out at her family’s new motel. Her only friend there, Kate, has nev­er met a Jew before. Despon­dent because of the lack of tourism, and des­per­ate to help their fam­i­lies earn mon­ey, Kate and Miri­am decide to stage a pub­lic­i­ty stunt for the town — they forge an appear­ance of the Vir­gin Mary in an aban­doned movie theater.

No Vacan­cy is a wry, fun­ny, fast-mov­ing book, but it’s also a very brave one. It tack­les an eleven-year-old’s reli­gious cri­sis while pulling no punch­es. Through Miriam’s explo­rations, the book pos­es ques­tions about the­ol­o­gy, soci­ol­o­gy, anti­semitism, and Jew­ish Christo­pho­bia. Each of its char­ac­ters has a dif­fer­ent rela­tion­ship to their Judaism, and each one is com­pli­cat­ed, messy, and real.