Back in 2009 I was fortunate enough to see the television movie Loving Leah. In this film, Jake, a successful cardiologist, finds out that his elder brother has died. After the funeral, Jake learns that because his brother’s wife Leah has been left without children, they need to perform a ceremony called halizah in order to nullify a levirate marriage. It’s a fairly simple process and everyone is all set to go when Jake calls it off. He realizes that Leah is all he has left of his brother and he wants to hold on to her for just a few more months before they go their separate ways. Slowly, they realize that Benjamin gave them each one final gift with his parting: each other. Theirs was a slow, sweet romance and I absolutely loved it.

I then did what I always do when I love a movie – I looked for the book. Unfortunately, this movie isn’t based on one. I turned to romance, wondering if there were any novels available that matched the general premise of the film but couldn’t find any.

When the idea of the Melting Pot Challenge came up, I immediately thought back to Loving Leah. I had looked for (and not found) novels specifically about the Hasidic community but what of more mainstream Jewish characters? Because Jane Heller is a favorite author of mine, this was an easy question to answer. There are definitely books with Jewish heroes and heroines out there, many of them terrific reads. Among my favorites just from Heller’s backlist are Lucky Stars, Name Dropping and Sis Boom Bah. Each feature feisty, fun heroines in hilarious situations that have just that right touch of zany and romantic.

Digging deep in my pile of previous reads, I found another stack of favorites: the novels of Pam Jenoff. While her books don’t tend to be traditional romances with HEA’s, they do always contain love stories. In her most recent novel, The Things We Cherished, hero Jack had long been in love with Charlotte. However, as the girlfriend of his beloved brother, he had felt her off limits. Now, Charlotte and his brother have split and he has a second chance with her as the two of them work a legal case involving a possible Nazi war criminal. The story here is absolutely riveting. I found myself glued to my seat as the two characters raced the clock to clear their client’s name and bring light to an important piece of history. As in all of Ms. Jenoff’s books, the love story here is complicated, twisting and turning to keep up with the equally complex plot. The ending does not come complete with guarantees of happiness but it does bring our characters to a point where we feel we can safely trust them to find their way there.

Even though her books have not fared well here at AAR, I still think no column speaking of Jewish characters in romance would be complete without mentioning Belva Plain. In 1980, her novel Evergreen soared to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. In keeping with the times, this is an epic romance saga which tells the tale of Anna Friedman, a young Polish immigrant who finds herself torn between the love of two men – gentle Joseph and the wealthy, artistic Paul. She can’t pick one without hurting the other. And she can’t choose at all without hurting herself. Anna’s long quest for love carries us through the Second World War to the forming of Israel and beyond. It is an extremely memorable tale set against the Jewish immigrant community of the early 20th century.

For this challenge I picked up two very different novels. The first book is The Anglophile by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. The story centers around Shari Diamond, a grad student from New York. Most girls might be looking for tall, dark, and handsome but this girl is looking for slender, pale, and accented – as in a British accent. Reading about Christopher Robin as a child has left her with a strong taste for all things that come from across the pond. When she meets Kit during a linguistics conference in Chicago, she thinks she may just have found everything she is looking for, even if he isn’t Jewish. But then a boy from her past, one who is far more acceptable to her family, comes back into her life. Which man is the right man for her?

Fans of Bridget Jones Diary will find a lot to like in Shari’s tale of love lost, found, misplaced, and misguided. This is a quick, easy pleasant read. While Shari, like most chick lit heroines, sometimes got on my nerves with her sheer self-centeredness she viewed herself with enough censorious humor to make me overlook some of her more glaring flaws. I enjoyed this novel quite a bit.

My second pick is an Inspirational that has been on my TBR for a couple of years. A common trend in the Christian market is to tell tales of either biblical characters or characters living in biblical times. Janette Oke has written a series covering the early Christian church called Acts of Faith. I loved the first two books in this series but when I started book three, I found myself completely uninterested in the tale. This challenge seemed like the perfect time to dust the book off and try again.

The Damascus Way is the story of Julia, a young woman who is an outcast from both the gentile and Jewish communities. Her Jewish mother is the mistress of a rich Greek and as a child of both cultures, she finds herself accepted by neither. When she is introduced to followers of The Way, a new sect of the Jewish faith, she finds herself belonging like never before and wondering if this is a chance for her to find love and a family.

The book’s beginning was no easier the second time than the first. However, once I got further into the story I began to be more interested in Julia, Jacob, and the problems they must overcome to reach an HEA. I was in the end delighted by their love story, though a bit saddened by the troubles I knew they faced in a world where their religion and culture opened them up to imprisonment and persecution.

I would love to say that romances revolving around Jewish characters are easy to find but that would not be quite true. There are several printed in the Inspirational market every year, but these books celebrate the faith(and often involve conversions) more than they do the people and their culture. With the exception of Pam Jenoff, I didn’t find anyone currently writing love stories about Jewish characters.

So now it’s your turn. Have you read any of the books I discussed? Do you have any recommendations for other great reads?

– Maggie Boyd