This time within our book club we decided to enrich our knowledge of orthodox Jews. We did it thanks to the book titled “Mazel tow” written by J.S. Margot which action takes place in Antwerp.
“Mazel tow” presents a story of the author herself who as a university student was giving private lessons to Jewish teenagers – Elzira and Jacov Schneider.
The novel is written with easy language and it is a pleasure to read it. In the text there are many dialogues between Margot and Schneiders – both kids and their parents. In such conversations Jews explain rules of their religion and tradition.
Schneiders are modern orthodox family, what means that they live in the Jewish society due to the commandments but they use technological achievements, they wear due to the fashion but rather modest (in the meaning of not provocatively), they are able to educate freely on all fields of study and take up any job they like.
Schneiders care of their children’s education. They believe that intelligence and education are the only things that cannot be taken away from them. The ambition of Jews are also well presented in Mr Schneider’s remark. He predicts that China will be the world greatest economy and due to this fact Jews will have to move to live there soon.
Basing on the Schneiders’ history and the stories they tell it’s noticeable that emigrating is quite easy for them. Although the family is attached to Antwerp for a few generations it doesn’t seem they feel Flemish. Their oldest son – Simon serves in the Jewish army, Elzira and Jacov move to Israel to study there and eventually emigrate to United States of America.
Margot presents some of the Jewish rules and the way they are complied. For instance the fact that during Sabbath they cannot turn on, turn off the light or household appliances, press any buttons, tear any materials. Due to this rules before Sabbath they tear toilet paper in pieces, since they cannot turn on or turn off anything – they set different appliances to switch automatically, they cannot use the lift – in high buildings work special Sabbath lifts which stop on each floor.
Kosher rules are also not that easy to obey. The basic one is not to connect dairy products and meat in one meal but it’s not everything. To prepare and to eat dairy you need to use separate plates, tools and cutlery. In Schneiders’ kitchen there are separate worktops, cookers, kitchen robots, pots and other tools and facilities for dairy – blue and for meat – red. After eating meat for dinner you need to wait two hours before having white coffee or cheese. What’s surprising, after dairy you may eat meat just after it.
The world of orthodox Jews sometimes seem to be like a familial idyll. Family members respect each other, children never rebel, they seem to be mature and responsible. The time of Sabbath family spends together talking, praying, eating together. Looking at the Jewish society, you may notice also the advantage of how they support each other (also when it comes to supporting one’s business). It works also when they move to live in another part of the world. Then, they can still count on each other and this new orthodox neighbourhood will help them to find a new job or to take care of their children if needed.
Some may be shocked or terrified by the rules, many bans they have to obey, some may be charmed by the family and social values they represent. Isolating and not letting to get to know them may cause hostility but how Jacov says: “Assimilation is our death”. We are curious if this closed society may survive in the same form it was presented in “Mazel tow”.