The Matzah Ball

September 1, 2020

Chron­i­cal­ly-ill Rachel Ruben­stein-Gold­blatt is a nice Jew­ish girl‚” with a secret: she loves Christ­mas. As the best-sell­ing author of over twen­ty Christ­mas romance nov­els, and four made-for-TV movie spin-offs, she’s kept her stel­lar career secret from her obser­vant Jew­ish fam­i­ly for over a decade. But when Rachel’s pub­lish­ing house tells her they won’t renew her con­tract unless she writes them a Hanukkah romance, she’s des­per­ate for inspi­ra­tion. She finds it in the form of the Matzah Ball, a high-end Jew­ish music cel­e­bra­tion sched­uled for the last night of Hanukkah. There is only one prob­lem: tick­ets are sold out and the only way to get one is direct from the bal­l’s cre­ator, who just hap­pens to be Jacob Green­berg, her sum­mer camp arch enemy.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Jean Meltzer

  1. Though they were both raised in the Jew­ish faith, Rachel and Jacob had very dif­fer­ent upbring­ings. How do you think their child­hoods influ­enced their char­ac­ters as adults?

  2. Rachel’s fam­i­ly is Jew­ish, but she loves Christ­mas. Have you ever had an affin­i­ty for a hol­i­day or event that your fam­i­ly didn’t celebrate?

  3. What did you think of Rachel’s deci­sion to hide her career from her fam­i­ly for most of her adult life? Would you hide some­thing of impor­tance from your fam­i­ly if you felt they wouldn’t under­stand it?

  4. Rachel and Mick­ey are best friends since for­ev­er. How did you feel about the way their friend­ship was depict­ed in the sto­ry? Do you have a friend you’re as close with as they are with one anoth­er? What has that friend­ship meant to you in your life?

  5. Liv­ing with chron­ic ill­ness has affect­ed Rachel’s life in almost every way imag­in­able. What, if any­thing, did you learn about myal­gic encephalomyelitis, aka chron­ic fatigue syndrome?

  6. Rachel feels frus­trat­ed that the more com­mon­ly known term for her ill­ness, chron­ic fatigue syn­drome, comes with a cer­tain amount of stig­ma, and peo­ple don’t take it seri­ous­ly. Can you think of any oth­er con­di­tions that are treat­ed sim­i­lar­ly by the gen­er­al public?

  7. Both Rachel’s moth­er and Jacob’s bubbe tend to feed (or over­feed!) their loved ones. This is con­sid­ered a com­mon way to show affec­tion in many cul­tures, includ­ing the Jew­ish cul­ture. What are some tra­di­tions in your cul­ture, and how are they expressed in your family?

  8. Though Rachel and Jacob did not per­son­al­ly expe­ri­ence it, they are both influ­enced by the Holo­caust in sub­tle ways. What are some ways in which that influ­ence man­i­fests itself? Are there any events in your fam­i­ly his­to­ry that con­tin­ue to influ­ence you today, even though you did not direct­ly expe­ri­ence them?

  9. Rachel quotes Midrash, say­ing, God only works through bro­ken ves­sels.” What do you think Rachel means when she says this? How do Rachel and Jacob both come to accept, and cre­ate mean­ing out of, their brokenness?

  10. On Hanukkah, Jews use a shamash, one flame that lights all the can­dles on the chanukiyah. What are some of the ways that the char­ac­ters in The Matzah Ball act like a shamash, spread­ing light to others?

  11. What are some Jew­ish tra­di­tions and rit­u­als you rec­og­nized while read­ing The Matzah Ball? Was there any­thing that sur­prised you? Are there any tra­di­tions you would like to learn more about or incor­po­rate into your own life?

  12. Who was your favorite char­ac­ter and why?

  13. If you could cast the movie ver­sion of The Matzah Ball, who would you cast as the leads? How about the sec­ondary characters?