|Rabbi Aviva Cohen
(creator: Rabbi Ilene Schneider)
|Rabbi Aviva Cohen, who lives and works at Congregation Mishkan Or in the (fictitious) town of Walford, New Jersey, is independent, stubborn and nosy. She is also complacent and doesn't really want to do anything she doesn't have to. But she is friendly and encouraging and finds that people are very ready to confide in her. She is 53 at the start of the first book. Although not orthodox, she does "keep Shabbat after a fashion. I use electricity, watch TV, cook, drive, but I don't use any money."
She had previously been assistant rabbi in a large Philadelphia synagogue, but had had a midlife crisis when she turned 40 and had shed both her job and her (second) spouse. Before her two divorces, she had been a "hippy alternative educator".
The author explains, "She grew out of me, and then took off on her own. There are a lot of things about her that people say remind her of me - her dry wit, her physical appearance, her 'voice' - but most of the other details are different." But, like her creator, she is an enthusiastic "birder". She is usually a tolerant, sympathetic sort of person, but also confesses to having a "warped sense of humour, changed with a streak of cattiness." She Is quite prepared to describe herself as being "old, fat, and lazy."
Rabbi Ilene Schneider was a 1976 graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, and became one of the first six women rabbis in the United States. A native of Boston, she holds a B.A. In Publication from Simmons College, Boston, an M.Ed. in Psychoeducational Processes from Temple University, Philadelphia, and an Ed.D. in Foundations of Education from Temple, as well as being an Honorary Doctor of Divinity.
She has served as the Executive Director of the Board of Jewish Education of Atlantic County, New Jersey, and in other posts. She is currently "Coordinator of Jewish Hospice for Samaritan Hospice" (whatever that means) in Marlton, New Jersey, near Philadelphia.
She has been a columnist for the Burlington County Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen series, reviewed below, and also of the humorous Talk Dirty Yiddish. She lives in Marlton, NJ, with her husband, Rabbi Gary M. Gans, and their two sons. In her spare time, she is a keen birder and gardener. She says she gets time for this by not doing any housework!
Chanukah Guilt (2007)
The story is full of Yiddish terms, most, but not all of which, are explained for the benefit of non-Jewish readers. One exception is the word chanukah from the title which the author was assured by a friend would be understood by all non-Jews. How wrong she was!
It is a gently amusing story, written in a determinedly cheerful style, but even the episodes that ought to be really exciting (such as when a burglar attacks first the rabbi's synagogue then her house, or when her car is forced off the road and over a cliff) lack enough sense of drama. However, there are some interesting glimpses into Jewish social customs, as well as some intriguing references to, for example, "Jewitches" Jews who are also witches, and to "Bu-Jews" Jews who practice Judaism and Buddhism. None of this seems to trouble Rabbi Cohen, who Is quite happy to attend a memorial service at the "Triple-U coven of the New Millennial Wiccans". Although she is good at helping people, she never seems to get around to actually mentioning God.
Altogether, it makes an undemanding cozy read, likely to appeal most to those who share its Jewish background or are curious about it.
Unleavened Dead (2012)
Before long a couple, members of Aviva's congregation, are found dead, victims of what has been ruled accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. A friend of the dead couple asks her to look into the circumstances of these deaths. Aviva had already been wondering about them: the couple had information about a colleague who has been offered a new position, an offer that would be withdrawn if the information is revealed. She doesn't believe her colleague would go so far as killing someone to protect his job, but she ís not so sure about his wife.
|The cover is striking, even if the lettering is difficult to read.|