It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Oth­er Jew­ish Stories

  • Review
By – October 21, 2019

Like the best post-ser­vice oneg, It’s A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Oth­er Jew­ish Sto­ries offers a lit­tle taste of every­thing in its four­teen sto­ries by Jew­ish authors about mod­ern Jew­ish teens. The promised love and latkes are to be had in abun­dance, as are humor and heart­break and relat­able inse­cu­ri­ties — both the uni­ver­sal teenage fears of fit­ting in and find­ing space to be one­self, and the spe­cif­ic Jew­ish incar­na­tions of those fears. Char­ac­ters wor­ry that their inter­ests are too nerdy, that they don’t know enough about Shab­bat, that they know too much about Shab­bat and not enough about col­lege, that the cute boy or girl isn’t going to notice them, that the cute boy or girl only­no­ticed them because they’re Jew­ish… And yet, every time, things work out all right.

It’s a Whole Spiel opens up the land­scape of Jew­ish fic­tion for young adults by focus­ing on con­tem­po­rary expe­ri­ences, rather than the his­tor­i­cal set­tings which pre­vail in Jew­ish sto­ries for the teen mar­ket. What makes Jew­ish teens dif­fer­ent from all oth­er teens? In this col­lec­tion, it is only the fact that their lives are spiced with Jew­ish­ness — whether that Jew­ishenss takes the form of reli­gious obser­vance, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the cul­ture, or anx­i­ety over a lack of obser­vance. In a humor­ous, yet touch­ing line from Lance Rubin’s Jew­bac­ca”, the pro­tag­o­nist reflects that his neu­roses about not being Jew­ish was, in some ways, the very thing that con­firmed he was Jew­ish.”

The anthol­o­gy shines in show­ing a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of lev­els of obser­vance and rela­tion­ships to Judaism and Jew­ish peo­ple­hood. Char­ac­ters at dif­fer­ent lev­els of obser­vance inter­act and relate to one anoth­er, with­out the nar­ra­tion hold­ing one form of Jew­ish­ness as supe­ri­or to the oth­ers. Inter­ac­tions between Jews of dif­fer­ing tra­di­tions have hith­er­to been rare in young adult lit­er­a­ture, and it is heart­en­ing to see them take cen­ter stage in a num­ber of sto­ries. It is like­wise encour­ag­ing to see a num­ber of sto­ries high­light­ing queer teens. A stand­out is Han­nah Moskowitz’s ten­der Neilah,” in which the female pro­tag­o­nist accom­pa­nies her first girl­friend to Yom Kip­pur ser­vices. Mira, the girl­friend, inad­ver­tent­ly hands her a piece of Jew­ish wis­dom which helps her feel more at home in her own skin; Jew­ish­ness, queer­ness, and self-accep­tance are wrapped togeth­er like the strings at the cor­ners of a tallit.

A sin­gle anthol­o­gy can­not con­tain the entire spec­trum of Jew­ish expe­ri­ence, it must be said. With the excep­tion of Adi Alsaid’s Ajshara,” a sto­ry of Mex­i­can Jew­ish teens’ explo­rations of the world and them­selves on a year abroad, the col­lec­tion is over­whelm­ing­ly US Amer­i­can and Ashke­nazi in its per­spec­tive. With luck, the pres­ence of It’s a Whole Spiel on library and book­store shelves, show­ing that con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish sto­ries have a place in the Young Adult mar­ket, will encour­age new authors to write and pub­lish their own per­spec­tives. The work is not yet com­plete, but the authors and edi­tors of this col­lec­tion have tak­en an impor­tant step forward.

Sacha Lamb is the author of Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award final­ist When the Angels Left the Old Coun­try. Their next nov­el, The For­bid­den Book, is com­ing this fall from Levine Queri­do. Sacha can be found on Insta­gram at

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