The Calling of the Flute Author: Dr. Fran Orenstein Reviewed by Fran Lewis
Matchmakers are known for deciding whom a young girl or young boy should marry. Parents would hire them; pay them either in goods or money to find a suitable match for their children. Never asking them whether they wanted this match, never asking if they liked the person they went ahead and completed the transaction. But, what happens if the couple in question does not like each other? What happens when traditions get in the way of their happiness and things are not going as planned? What happens when one young girls decides that the match made in heaven is not the one she wants? What happens when someone changes their minds and breaks the marriage contract? The answers to these questions and much more will become clearer after reading my review of The Calling of the Flute by Dr. Fran Orenstein.
Choices we all want to make our own. But, sometimes the decisions we make in life or want to make for ourselves are taken away by others. In 1897 and even today there are many parents who create matches for their children in the hope that they will follow in the tradition of their heritage and religion. A dream or a vision would create a doubt in a young girl's mind as she awakens to the Song of A Flute.
Hannah Levin has been hoping that when her turn came for a match it would be with Gershon Cohen. In shul she would stare at him and hope that his father would choose her for his wife. Dreaming about him one night brings much to light as she begins to question Jewish traditions, wanting to know if becoming a Rabbi's wife was what she wanted and what would happen if she went against her parent's wishes. As she remembers the dream the sound of a flute is the last thing she hears before her mother's voice. As they discuss her future and she learns of her fate she begins to fear her wedding day, hears her father's voice tell her she will marry this man and not bring disgrace to her family and listen to the gossip of her friends. Hannah is not happy and some traditions she will not follow and being told whom she will marry is a decision she wants to make on her own.
When we defend someone in our family why are we punished? Because we are Jewish why do people hate us? Why doesn't anyone ask a young girl if she wants to marry the man they have chooses? When Hannah's brother Mordecai defends his younger brother what happens will remind the world that in some places you conform to the rules set out by others and take the punishments they inflict. The Gentiles started with Mordecai's brother and the end result was a pogrom. Violence is retribution was their answer. Talking and discussing things and seeing the other side's viewpoint never as we learn when the Rabbi and the Mayor meet with Samuel, Hannah's father and the end result is someone gets hurt. But, there is much more as the wedding is drawing near and another young girl's hand is given in marriage and Hannah is unhappy as her friend Leah decides to leave and go to America. Breaking her engagement with a man as old as her father, Leah will find her way to another world with her aunt and uncle. What will Hannah do? Will she follow suit and find her way there too?
Author Fran Orenstein brings the light the issues of hate, prejudice, loyalty, tradition, family values and the right to make your own life's decisions. Life in Lithuania was difficult as some struggled to have food on the table while others like her father were revered as someone who taught the boys in school and was the cantor of the shul. But, not everyone wants to follow in the traditions set in stone in the past.
Solutions come in different ways and answers are not always what you might expect. As Hannah expresses her fears, concerns and true feelings to Gershon he finds what he feels is a compromise. However, leaving for one year to study with the rabbis in Vilna was all planned out in his mind even before she expressed her feelings about certain traditions and wanting to find her own identity before marrying him or anyone else. So, why is it his way and why does it come out that she is the villain when she tells her parents? Why does he tell her in his letters that the Rabbi he is working with has a daughter? Is he trying to make her jealous, get even or has he found someone else? What will Hannah's fate be and why should she conform to the will of others?
Coming from an orthodox Jewish background my grandfather wanted me to marry the Rabbi's son. He was really handsome and we were great friends. He would help me with my Hebrew Translations and we would discuss many things. But, I knew in my heart that I was not religious enough for his family nor would I ever make it as a Rabbi's wife. So, before things got to that point we decided to stay friends. Funny that his parents did make a match for him and he decided to break the agreement until they found someone he wanted to marry. They actually went along with it.
Sometimes decisions are taken out of our hands and other times we have to stand tall. When the engagement is broken and she is forced to attend a wedding a young man greets her and everything from that point on will change. Eli Stahl plays the flute for a living and is immediately enchanted with Hannah. But, Bella, her mother is angered when she sees her speaking with a stranger. Her closest friend married, another leaving for America, will Hannah follow her dreams, and her heart and leave too?
More choices are made that are no longer in the hands of her parents. Conscription was the Russian's answer to enslaving Jewish boys and keeping them away from their families with some never to return. Hannah's parents had to decide whether to change the wrath of the soldiers or protect their sons by sending them with their uncle and aunt to America along with Hannah who would care for them. To understand why and how this happened take the journey along with Hannah and her brothers all the way to the ship and learn about the hardships and treatment they received as they tried to make their way to freedom and a whole new world. In the middle of the ocean do you hear the song of the flute? Hannah did as she reunites with Eli and a new friendship is born. How the story ends you have to read for yourself. One young girl determined to find her own way and make her own choices. One young man named Eli who would change her world forever. A journey that will be unforgettable to both Hannah and the reader she enters America and sees the sights we all too often take fore granted. What is in store for Hannah and her family you will have to learn for yourself as we hope that author Fran Orenstein will continue their story.
The Jewish expressions that bring back memories of going to shul with my grandfather on Friday night and Saturday morning and the traditions Hannah's parents held so dear, author Fran Orenstein brings to light real life situations that many young girls, families and young men faced and still face even now. As I read this book I could hear the sounds of the people cry out when the soldiers came and destroyed their property. Eli and Hannah how rare to find a love so pure and so special. A young girl who did not want to lose her identity and one young man that would help her find and keep it. Everyone has choices and the ones you make often have their own positives and negatives. Join the Levin family on their journey from Lithuania to America and find out what the future holds. This is one book that every young girl should read and definitely should be on the Times Bestseller list. Fran Lewis: reviewer
This book gets five: L' Chaims: TO LIFE! לחיים
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