I haven't checked the weather, but I know it is a perfect day to chat about adult Jewish literature. I'm Sheryl Stahl. Thanks for joining me here at nice Jewish Books.
Hi, I am so excited today to be speaking with Linda Loigman about her latest book the matchmakers gift. Welcome, Linda.
Hi, thank you so much for having me.
It is my pleasure. This seems like the perfect summer read. We have love and matchmaking, finding your beshert, your soulmate, but it also has a little bit of meat to it. Also, it's not a total fluff book. But it's still so heartwarming. So I'm not sure exactly what genre to put it in. But would you like to set up the story for us?
Sure, yeah, the genre is a little bit tough to explain, because normally I write historical fiction. And this definitely is historical fiction, but it has sort of a touch of magical realism. And it is a dual timeline story. So one timeline takes place in the Lower East Side in the 1910s and 1920s. And then the other timeline takes place in just firmly in Manhattan in 1994. Sadly, for us, 1994 is historical, which is hard to believe. But yeah, one of the timelines definitely is sort of lighter and kind of follows the romantic those sort of beats of a romance a little bit more than I ever have done before, but it does have that historical piece. So the story is about a grandmother and granddaughter and the grandmother comes to the country as a child and discovers that she has a talent for seeing soulmates for finding people's beshert. She begins her first foray into matchmaking takes place on the boat that brings her over to this country from Russia. And she goes about her business. But, you know, I did a lot of research for this book. And at that time in New York, a lot of the matchmakers were men, and they were, you know, it was a fairly religious, fairly strict group. And so the sort of group of male matchmakers in her community at that time is not very happy with the idea of a young, unmarried woman making matches. So that storyline is a lot about her struggle. It's very relevant to working women today, because she's struggling to sort of find her place in this profession that is dominated by men and to sort of get the just the pay that she deserves, and just the accolades that she deserves in that world. And then the other storyline is about her granddaughter, who is a divorce attorney, which causes a lot of problems because she inherits her grandmother's gift, but it kind of messes up her career. Because of course, it's very hard to facilitate someone's divorce if you think that they're actually soulmates, and they shouldn't be getting divorced at all. So the newer, more modern storyline, although it isn't set in the present, it is it is a more modern time, and that's a really fun one. And there's a lot of, of course, irony involved and, and she takes care of some unfinished business that her grandmother promised to someone, you know, a friend that she loves dearly, whose match she wanted to make, and so the granddaughter extend upon herself.
I was surprised to see that all the matchmakers were men, I guess like many people my only experience of besides J date is from Fiddler on the roof where you were Yenta
Yeah, they weren't all men, but the majority were and it's interesting because there there were several New York Times articles you know about matchmakers and usually using the proper Yiddish word using the word shadkan for the for the matchmakers and sort of describing them. And one of the articles that I found said, you know, there were like 5000 matchmakers in the city then. And that was just a rough. Yeah, rough estimate. There was a cartoon that was very popular in the in the Yiddish forward about a matchmaker that, and in that cartoon, he was a man, you know, is the sort of typical picture of like a man with a top hat and a vest and a watch chain. And it was just really interesting to read about that business. Kind of, I also found this article, I found some references to matchmaker unions, not in the US, but in Poland. So that was sort of what gave me the idea for having this group of men than together kind of against her against my main character, Sarah, because although I couldn't find any evidence of any matchmaker unions in the States, they definitely existed in other parts of the world. So I thought that was really interesting.
Yeah, that's fascinating. So Sarah really couldn't help matchmaking when she saw two people that should be connected. They had kind of a glowing string sort of a linking them together?
Yeah, like a filament of light that she sees connecting one to the other. Yeah, I love magical realism. There's really just a little there's, you know, it's an important part of the book, but it's not a huge part of the book. But I do love magical realism I love out of the way Alice Hoffman does it in a lot of her books. And I don't know, I'm not sure if you if you read the Golem and the Jinni that has a lot that has, you know, firmly historical fantasy, I guess. But I do love those books. And I guess maybe this is just my first foray into a little bit of that in my work, which I really enjoyed doing. It really felt. It felt good. It felt like, I don't know, like it was the sweet spot for me that I that I could handle and I could and I could do in a way that really made me happy and I hope kind of makes a lot of people fall in love with the story because it's a very joyous thing in this book.
You definitely handle the magic realism with a light touch. It wasn't like an overwhelming thing with it. So in order to avoid the notice of the other matchmakers, I love the term you use. Sarah had to act unobtrusively as "Cupid's ghost."
Yeah. Yeah, that it was funny because I was struggling whether I should reference cubed, because, of course, it's a Jewish story. And I keep kind of, I mean, there's a lot of Yiddish sort of sprinkled sprinkled into the story, a lot of Yiddish phrases. And Cupid seemed so not obvious. You know, Valentine's Day, keep it it just seems so not quite so. So sort of different, but I still loved it. I loved I don't know, I love that phrase. So I kept it in.
Um, it's also a story about the process of assimilation. And, you know, in terms of one of the major matches she does is with the Pickle King's daughter, if I'm remembering that, right. And a big deal was made of that being that she was a true American bride that this was a wedding was a new template for things. So it makes sense that other American things would be creeping in.
Yeah, I was really lucky. So I, when I announced this book, you know, on social media, I announced it, I posted the Publishers Weekly notice, and someone who I went to law school with Laura Shaw, Frank, Dr. Laura Shaw, Frank wrote to me, I went to law school with her, but she got her PhD. Not that long ago. And she wrote her dissertation on on love and marriage, and divorce in Judaism, earlier time period, but it just might like the 1920s just snuck in there. And it was very interesting, because, you know, a lot of it was about a lot of her dissertation talks about the Americanization of marriage and weddings and everything. And of course, there's this whole sort of thematic contrast in my book between the old world matchmakers Who are these men who are sort of making matches. They're mercenary in their own way, you know, they're making matches for convenience and to match the right person with the right family. But my main character, Sarah makes love matches. And the idea of a love match is a very modern thing. It's not something that people used to care about, you know that that's a luxury love was a luxury so, and the wedding, the pickle King wedding was really inspired by some research that I did, because there was a real Pickle King, he was called, they called him the Pickle Millionaire. And the article, and there was a huge, huge wedding. On the lower east side, like 2000 people, they had to bring in policemen to clear the streets, and there were hundreds of carriages. And it was at a big synagogue. And it was this fascinating thing that a wedding like that was featured in The New York Times because it was this immigrant wedding on the Lower East Side. But the guy was very, very wealthy, and his daughter went to Barnard, like the daughter of the Pickle King in my story. And there was a great line in the article that it was something like the smell of jasmine and orange blossoms mixed with the smell of pickled herring. And I don't know, I read that I read about that. And that was actually what helped me cement my time period. Because when I had this idea of writing a matchmaker story, I knew that I was going to be to timelines, I knew it was going to be a grandmother story and a granddaughter story. But I didn't know what the two timelines were going to be. And so for a while, I thought that the older timeline might be like the 1950s because that's a great time period to you know, to sort of it's so rich and there's just a lot and I figured maybe it would be on the Upper West Side like a Jewish matchmaker on the Upper West Side, almost kind of like what you've been seeing now. In the marvelous Mrs Maisel show. I don't know if you watch that show, but There's been a whole matchmaker storyline there. And so it was before that whole it was before that season came out the new season of Mrs. Maisel. But I was really thinking a lot about that time period. And I'm glad now that I didn't, I'm glad that I use the 1920s. And the 1990s. Because I feel like I would have, I would have felt like I was copying it, even though I was working on it long before it ever came out. But it was reading that article about the Pickle King wedding that made me think I wanted to do the 1910s and 1920s. Because I just love that whole idea. And it just immediately, you know, you could see that the streets and Rivington Street in the Lower East Side and all the potential matches that could be made. So I have a match, she makes a match between like a Romeo and Juliet style match between families of competing knish shops. And that was based on a real thing, too, because there was a condition war, like, there, there were two street two stores across the street from each other. And one, like sold the knish for five cents. And then the other came along and was like, we're only four cents. And then when one hired like a band to play, like, they just had this war across the street, so that that match was based on something real also. So a lot of there really is a lot of history in this book. And it's really a lot of it is based on on things that actually happened. So that made it a kind of fun.
That does sound like so much fun. And the phrase you said earlier about the smell of orange blossoms and herring. It's just so so evokotive
yeah, in fact, I sent the article to my editor, I was like, read this lot, you know, look at this. And she thought the same thing because it's just, especially if you're a writer, you you read that you know, or you're a book lover or lover of words, you read the contrast in that sentence. And it's just, you know, you kind of can't help but fixate on it.
So to go to the later timeline, you talked about Abby, who's the granddaughter who had been very, very close with her grandmother. And she is a divorce lawyer. And so I'm not sure if it's Abby, or you are a little bit of both, who is not too happy about divorce lawyers and is pretty cynical about their role.
Yeah, well, writing, it was a lot of fun. I was a lawyer before before I was a writer. So I was not a divorce lawyer, but I was a trust in the state's lawyer. And in a lot of law firm, I worked in a big I worked in two different big Manhattan law firms. And in a lot of firms like that, where there isn't really a matrimonial department at all. But there's always there's usually a trust in the state's Department. Sometimes matrimonial things get thrown in to the trust and estates lawyers, not the divorce part, but a lot of times the prenuptial agreements, because those can go hand in hand with estate planning a lot of the time. So I did actually work on a couple of Prenuptial agreements. And I did work on one for a celebrity who married a much younger woman. And I really kind of drew on that experience to write some of Abby's stuff. There's a scene in the book where this older man who's a sweetheart comes and to the meeting with a box of chocolate croissants. And when I was working on this celebrity prenup, it was, you know, prenups are always under the gun. They're always like, right before the wedding, and there's always a time crunch. And of course, this one was no different from that. So there was a time crunch. And I was working really late for a couple of weeks on this prenup and kind of like working until two in the morning and taking a taxi over to the guy's apartment and dropping off the latest draft of it. It was kind of crazy. And the wedding was on a Sunday, and they came in to sign it on a Saturday. And so of course, we were all in the office making the final changes. And this guy came in and he brought a box of lemon Poppy muffins to our office on a Saturday. And I remember thinking He's really sweet, even though he's like, I did not approve of the fact that he was 60 years old and like marrying a 25 year old but he was a very sweet, nice. I'm not making judgments. But you know, he was a very sweet man. And it was kind of the same as my as the character in my story who is the older man marrying a much younger, younger woman and Abby works on that prenup. And of course the chocolate croissants and the bakery you know I love putting food in my stories and it's a it's a lot of fun. So if we have the pickles, but there's also a nice French bakery. Yeah, you need the sweet and the salty. You can't just focus on one.
It's good to have that mix. Yeah, definitely having the food items just brings you more into the story and into the place when you start thinking about the tastes and the smells and and all that. So what about you do you believe in a bashert, a soulmate?
Do I believe in this soulmate? I kind of do. I mean, I don't but I don't think people have just one. I don't I you know, I feel like I mean, my husband. I'm very lucky. I've been married for 27 years to my best friend, I think. I think I always tell my children, it's really important to marry your best friend. That to me is the most important thing because you have to be completely comfortable with the person. And I do think my husband is my soulmate, but I wouldn't, but I don't think people only really have one. I feel like you could have more than more than one soulmate. I think that's okay. Don't know I hate to say there's only one because what if they're like across the world and you never meet them? I don't know. That makes me scared.
But that's exactly what I was thinking. Yeah. How would you meet them? One thing I love about Sarah is that while she was young, she was doing arranging these traditional marriages, she was matching up men to women. But in her later years, when she was matchmaking, it seemed like the world kind of expanded for her. And she started looking for a match for her gay doorman. And for other people that she saw that she kind of expanded her world there.
Yeah, her whole world it does. I love that word, expanded her horizons expanding. And she, you know, in when she's young, she's in firmly in this very Jewish neighborhood. And so she's matching Jewish men and women, to Jewish men and women. And as she gets older, she is matching people of all different faiths and all different colors, and all different, you know, cultures, and sexualities. And I mean, there isn't that much of it, because I just sort of touched on it. But I do. I do love that about her. And I love that. I think I say in the book that she you know, she sees no barriers to love, you know, the older she gets the she she sees no barriers to love. And that was important to me to include. It's all there's also kind of a little bit of a storyline where she not only makes matches, but at some point. She kind of has this spidey sense, I guess, about women who are potentially being abused by their spouses. And so she helps someone who is in that situation. And that was something that actually my editor and I talked about a little bit where, you know, if you could the idea was, you know, if you can see someone's soulmate, if you can see somebody's perfect love match, could you also see the opposite? Could you see, would there be any hint of darkness that you might be able to sense. So she does have a few episodes of that, where she is able to help women who are in that situation. And I just liked the idea also, of in a post war world, when she you know, it focuses mostly on her. You know, the bulk of the story is when she's a young woman, and she's on the Lower East Side, but she gets older she marries she moves to the Upper West Side, as so many people did back then. And she when World War Two is over the rabbis come to her, which I wanted to do, because you know, so many of the men had rejected her. And then in these later years, they come to her, asking her to help make matches for the refugees and the people who are coming over from Europe after the Holocaust, because in that time period, it would have been so important to them to want to rebuild. So they asked for her help in the way that she can give it to rebuild the population that's been lost.
Yeah, one thing I thought was almost a little scary that when you want to meet someone, I'm not saying that everyone has to be married, everyone has to be paired up. But when you want to, and you find someone who's very nice, who technically checks all the boxes, but there may be not that spark, and how scary it is to say you're a great person, but you don't seem to be the perfect one for me.
Yeah. Yeah, that's, you know, that's in the story. And that is something it's always problematic.
Abby and Sarah both dealt with it.
Yeah, they both deal with it, they deal with it for themselves. You know, one of the things that I was sort of struggling with in the story is, could either one of them see the match for themselves. And I, I kind of explained it that they can't, they can't they can't find their own match. And they can't find for instance, Sarah can't find matches for her children. She describes it. She tries to describe it and she says when she looks at them, it's just like static on a television set. Because she can't see she they're too close to her. And she so she can make matches for other people but she can't make matches for the people closest to her or for herself. And I thought that was important because I thought one of the things that would be really frightening for Sarah would be, you know, if she to let herself fall in love, because what if she sees later that the person that she thinks maybe she loves really should be with someone else? Right, and that terrifying kind of prospect and would prevent her really from maybe looking for love herself. And I just thought it was important to kind of include that in the book, just sort of some of the problem like this is such a gift, right? The story's called the matchmakers gift, and it is a gift. But it's also can be a little bit of a curse, you know, it's the whole blessing, but it also a curse thing, because it doesn't always work so well for her personally, for her own personal romantic life.
Right. And if she had told her children, this person is not the one for you, it likely would have ended up in a lot of resentment. And, you know, possibly pushing them apart so that when it didn't work out, she wouldn't be there to help support them.
Yeah, yeah, I just, I mean, I have two kids, and I know enough to not get involved in their love lives. I wanted to make sure that Sarah had no choice that she couldn't, because if she could see who their matches were, I think that would be awful. That would just be awful as a mother to have that sixth sense about it, and know that something was doomed because like you said, it would just create so much resentment, and it would be terrible for her relationship with her kids. So I just wanted to like kind of take it off the table, so I made it impossible.
So it sounds like you did quite a bit of research on life in the Lower East Side, and matchmakers what in your research surprised you?
I was really surprised that that a publication like the New York Times was reporting on things happening to Jewish, the Jewish immigrant community on the Lower East Side. It just was something that that really shocked me. In fact, I have a good friend who read an early draft of my book, and she is fairly religious. And she said, there is no way like I said something about something about the Pickle King wedding. And she said, well, except that the New York Times wouldn't ever report on that article. And I was like, I will send the article. So that that was surprising that there would be any interest, any mainstream inter interest in that community back then. I found really surprising. I also I mean, the idea that there were there were so 5000 matchmakers, you know, that they did there were just so many matchmakers was a surprising thing to me, because you wouldn't think that the 1920s there would still be that many, you know that they would still be so. So so many of them trying to make a living doing this. And that so many people would still turn to them and use them. But I thought that was a really surprising thing, too.
It is kind of a mind blowing number. So are there any interesting tidbits that you found that did not make it into the book?
There were some things that you know, there were, I love a gangster character. I love. I really love gangster characters. I just I don't know, with Jewish gangsters. I'm so fascinated by it. So there was a hole. I ended up going down a rabbit hole of research about the egg cream racket. Because racketeering, you know, was a big thing, just sort of organizing businesses taking collection fees, and, you know, to protect businesses and stuff. So there was a whole egg cream syrup racket that I didn't end up putting into the story, which was basically you know, egg creams were really big in the 20s. They were inexpensive ice cream soda.
That's what I was just trying to remember I was thinking easter eggs, which didn't make sense.
No, no, no, no. Yeah. So the egg cream was like, you know, at a at a drugstore soda fountain, or an ice cream shop soda fountain and egg cream is chocolate syrup and has no eggs just chocolate syrup, and a little bit of milk or cream and then selzer. And so like an ice cream soda without the ice cream, and it was a very popular drink on the Lower East Side. And there were tons of chocolate syrup and other fruit syrup manufacturers. And there was a whole there was a guy named Harry Bella which and he decided he was going to make a lot of money from it and he made everyone pay protection money to join the conglomerate, you know this, like association of syrup manufacturers. And he was put in jail. And it was this whole thing and I just love this idea of like ice cream soda syrup gangster like that I just thought was so funny. Again, it's like another food thing. And I just loved it and I wanted to put it in there but I just couldn't figure out how to do it but i i might have to do it in another story.
Well, that It was actually going to be my next question, do you have any projects in the works that you would like to talk about?
Yeah, I do my next. So this whole idea of a little dash of magical realism is something that I want to continue with. So my next book has a little bit of that. It's sort of inspired by my husband's great grandmother, my husband's great grandmother was a pharmacist, a female pharmacist, which I just think is so fascinating. And she graduated from pharmacy school in 1921. And so the story is about a young woman who becomes a pharmacist. And so you have that whole, that amazing setting of the pharmacy and the people who come in and out and telling their ailments and their secrets and their problems to this person who is mixing away medicines and things for them. And it is, it sort of goes back and forth between this person as a young person. And then when she is about to turn 80 years old, and she runs into the love of her life again. So in the in the main storyline, she meets a young man who's the pharmacy delivery boy, when she's a girl before she becomes a pharmacist when she learned the trade from her father. And then when she it doesn't work out between them. And when she's 80 years old, and she retires to Florida, she meets him again. So it's a lot of yet so it's a lot of fun. It's it's a it's a love, you know, there's that whole love connection, but there's the whole pharmacy setting too. So it was a really fun story. I mean, I'm not done with it. I'm working on it still. And of course I'm gonna slip the gangster in there, but I'm not sure exactly which kind of gangs
Was there an antacid racketeer movement going?
No, that's interesting, because so in the 20s, you know, during Prohibition, drugstores were one of the few places where liquor where you could legally have legal liquor. And doctors used to write prescriptions, you know, for a pint of whiskey, you could have like, a pint. And so but so gangsters, like, you know, they were really involved in drugstores, like they were in, they're kind of in the business, trying to get liquor from the drugstores with like, there were fake prescription pads, you know, where people would write tons of prescriptions for whiskey. So there was a lot like a drugstore was sort of ripe for gangsters back then in that time period.
Sounds fascinating. Sounds like it'd be a lot of fun. So is there anything you'd like to answer that? I haven't thought to ask?
I don't think so. No, you know, I think we got to chat a lot about a lot about this story. But I would say, you know, just so for people who do love historical fiction, I think they'll be very happy with it, because there really is a lot of it in there. The cover of the book is really beautiful and flowery and looks a little bit more like a romance cover, but it's really not, you know, it's not a romance story, per se. There's, there's a lot in there for historical fiction lovers. Okay,
no, I have to look at the cover again. Oh, yeah. Yes,
the cover is a whole other story because they, they really asked for my input this time around, and I wanted it to look like a tuba. So if you look at it, all the flowers on the side sort of looks very cool, too, but like, and I wanted them to put in different elements. So there's a pickle jar kind of tucked away, and a pair of glasses because the spectacles are important in the story, and some wedding rings and different things. So there's different elements from the story that are tucked into the sort of ketubbah-ish flowery design, which I really love.
Now that you say "ketubbah", I can definitely see it. Except for the the darker background makes it not not quite as clear. But yes, it's very flowery and ornamental. Yeah. So wonderful. So if someone was going to use your book as a call to action for tikkun olam, for repairing the world, what would it be?
Oh, I think it's just I mean, for if to use that book, specifically, I think all kinds of women's causes would just because the book, the book really digs into what it means to be a woman in the workplace, what it means to be a woman out in the world to be discriminated against based on gender roles to not receive fair pay. And so I think paying attention to those issues, is very important from the perspective of the story. It's also just general kindness, I think, you know, toward others. I think Sarah is treated so badly by so many people. And I think it's just important. It's just important to be kind of always to people in the workplace and outside of it. So I think those those two issues probably would be the most important.
Wonderful. Well, Linda, thank you so much. for speaking with me today,
thank you for having me.
It's been my pleasure
if you are interested in any of the books we discussed today, you can find them at your favorite board and brick or online bookstore, or at your local library. Thanks to de Yong ki for use of their fraleigh which definitely makes me happy. This podcast is a project of the Association of Jewish libraries. And you can find more about it at WWW.JewishLibraries.org/niceJewishbooks. I would like to thank AJL and my podcast mentor Heidi Rabinowitz. Keep listening for the promo for her latest episode.
Hi my name is Ellery I live in Massachusetts. I'm 13 years old. I'm very excited about being a teenager. I am a former member of the PJ Our way design team. I'd like to dedicate this episode to Eliza, who was my former school librarian. She was an amazing source of just love of books and book recommendations. And she always made me feel just really happy and comfortable discussing anything, even if it wasn't necessarily about reading. Thanks, Eliza.
Hi, I'm Hudson. I'm a former member of the design team. I'm 10 years old and I live in Los Angeles. I will be joining you soon on the Book of Life podcast, and I'm gonna dedicate this episode to my parents because without them I wouldn't be getting a supply of books.
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