The Acad­e­my of Smoke & Mir­rors: A Board­ing School On The Brink

September 1, 2021

Let’s be hon­est: it was crazy spend­ing $150 mil­lion to cre­ate the world’s only Jew­ish board­ing school and put it in rur­al Geor­gia. Cra­zier still was Jeff Taylor’s belief he could save Hamp­ton Acres Hebrew Acad­e­my, or HAHA, before it went bel­ly up.

Jeff, a for­mer hedge fund man­ag­er and lawyer, thinks he’s seen all the curve­balls life can throw…until he takes the HAHA helm. There he runs smack into Tow­er of Babel-like dys­func­tion. Between the school’s evap­o­rat­ing bank account, the founder’s daugh­ter, who uses smoke and mir­rors to hide HAHA’s finan­cial frailty, the rab­bi who always has one more fast day to add, the dynasty-build­ing lacrosse coach, the school coun­selor who needs coun­sel­ing, the needy stu­dents and need­i­er par­ents, Jeff needs a mir­a­cle to keep HAHA afloat.

Not one to count on mir­a­cles, Jeff wants out before HAHA implodes. But then the dan­ger becomes lit­er­al when HAHA receives a rapper’s bomb threat. Jeff must decide whether sav­ing HAHA is possible…or whether he’ll be lucky to save himself.

The Acad­e­my of Smoke & Mir­rors is hilar­i­ous and heart­warm­ing, meshuga and mov­ing. It will delight any­one who has ever been, or root­ed for, the underdog.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Alex Troy

  1. Jeff Tay­lor, head of school, wants to resign. If that is what he wants, why does he find it so dif­fi­cult to do so?

  2. Is Jeff being self­ish or real­is­tic in want­i­ng out?

  3. Jeff half hears, half sum­mons” the voice of his late wife Michelle. What did you think of their run­ning repartee?

  4. Smoke And Mir­rors has a most unusu­al set­ting: a Jew­ish board­ing school in the deep south. What did you think of Hamp­ton Acres Hebrew Academy?

  5. What do you make of the idea of a Jew­ish board­ing school?

  6. Is a Jew­ish board­ing school with a pig farm for a neigh­bor tempt­ing pun­ish­ment, as Rab­bi Baum warns? Or do good fences make good neighbors?

  7. Hamp­ton Acres Hebrew Acad­e­my stu­dents come from all over the world, and for­eign stu­dents com­prise almost half the stu­dent body. Does this inter­na­tion­al char­ac­ter make the school more or less Jew­ish? More or less appealing?

  8. Which of Smoke and Mir­rors’ char­ac­ters was your favorite and why?

  9. Hamp­ton Acres Hebrew Acad­e­my receives sev­er­al bomb threats. Did this part of the plot dis­turb you?

  10. Did Smoke and Mir­rors remind you of any oth­er nov­els? Which ones?

  11. Where you sur­prised by Bar­bara Travis’ conversion?

  12. What fea­tures of school life did you find authen­ti­cal­ly depict­ed in Smoke and Mir­rors? What fea­tures did the nov­el not cover?

  13. Did you antic­i­pate the end of the sto­ry? Did it make you smile?

  14. Did Smoke and Mir­rors make you think about the ben­e­fits and draw­backs of attend­ing a Jew­ish school? What are those ben­e­fits and drawbacks?

  15. Would a high qual­i­ty, well-financed Jew­ish board­ing school in Amer­i­ca pro­duce future lead­ers? Would it, in that famous ques­tion of our child­hood, be good for the Jews?”

  16. And last, an oppor­tu­ni­ty for per­son­al reflec­tion, aid­ed by Smoke and Mir­rors, have you ever been in a job/​relationship/​situation where you had seri­ous doubts about stay­ing with that job/​relationship/​situation and yet did so. If so, why did you stay?