reviewed Monday, March, 10, 2014 on Out of the Ortho Box
Book Review: Let My RV Go! How BTs Handle Fitting in… Or Not
One of the cool parts of being a rich and famous blogger personality mostly unknown Orthodox girl who started a blog is that people contact me to promote their stuff on my blog. Some of it is absolutely not a fit for this blog (can you say Bible Revisionism? are people actually READING the blog before they send me stuff?) but some is just completely fun. Like when I get sent free books to read and review. Especially when they’re relevant, fresh, funny…and totally in synch with the blog.Example: Let My RV Go!, a new novel by Nicole Nathan.
The premise of the novel is two BT families, who, while trying to escape the cold Canadian weather as well as the pressures of organized Orthodox society, take two RVs down south to handle Passover their own way. Along their journey they examine different attitudes toward fitting in, standing out, dealing with what they actually believe, and rejection of their secular pasts. Rereading that, it sounds really heavy, but actually,
But what really stands out in this cute and interesting book is the honesty. Most books written for Orthodox audiences, which this is, judging by the publishing house chosen and language and references used, excise all mentions of pop culture and women in bikinis and being okay with not fitting in and wistful reminiscences of previous secular pasts – for good reason. If religious kids are going to read these things, we want them to encounter good examples and not be given ambivalent messages about religious life. But here it totally works, and it’s brave. And I like it.
At one point in the book, Pauline, the narrator, who just can’t seem to “fit in,” and is always trying to contain her curly red hair under some sort of head covering, sits in the laundry room of an RV park with her counterpart and foil, Julie. She observes:
This is a journey Pauline takes during the book, and at the end, says, “I’m pleased with myself for being so upfront about our incongruence. I’ve always been aware that I don’t fit into the traditional frum box, yet now I’m actually being open about it and I don’t feel embarrassed.”
The Berkowitzes and the Shapiros, the two families on this little RV getaway, represent the two ways BTs handle organized, contemporary frum culture. Way one: fit in at all costs, wear the garb, do as the frummies do, and you’ll be okay. Way two: be yourself, be the best Jew you know how to be, fit in enough that you’re kids aren’t dying, but don’t check your personality at the door. What’s cool about this book is that it doesn’t make the mistake of having these two families be stereotypes. They are real people. They and spouses are not always in the same place. They are miffed by the “religious” folks questioning their kosher status, but the book doesn’t make those religious folks bad guys. Julie, the “fit in” girl, hasn’t changed her name to Chaya Gitty. See?
Here’s why the author wrote the book, from her website:
My only critique is they have four little kids who seem remarkably easy to handle… it almost made me wanna RV myself one day.
reviewed Sunday, March 24, 2013 by Batya Medad
I never got up the guts to publically laugh at myself the way Nicole Nathan, the author of Let My RV does in her wonderfully entertaining book.
Let My RV Go! can be purchased in both eformat and as a “real book.” It was sent to me for review. I had no idea what to expect. It opened up a whole new world for me. I thought that I was the only one who felt “different” even though outsiders don’t see it. As readers of my blog know, I study Bible and even give classes and lead tours of Tel Shiloh. But the real me will always be a bit different. In recent years I’ve requested that those giving our local women’s Shabbat shiur never ever use the phrase:
כמו שכולנו למדנו בגן….
I and others who are either converts or BT’s never learned in such pre-schools and it makes me feel very left out and rejected to hear such a phrase.
Let My RV Go! is about the bonding of two BT families and their adventures and misadventures on the way to spending a rather unconventional Passover. Adding to their Passover challenge and time limitations, they had been given an important package to deliver before the Holiday to a “mystery person.” Neither full name nor address, just a vague description of who he is and where he lives.
You need not know much about Judaism and Pesach to enjoy reading the book. I have no doubt that anyone who has attempted a family vacation in an RV, whether Jewish or not, will identify with some of the problems the families encounter. This is more than just a Jewish book.
By adding humor to all situations, whether between husband and wife, parents and children or navigating new roads, this is a book people will enjoy reading. Yes, I do recommend the book!
The message is that “it all works out in the end.” Yes, it’s an upbeat book with a happy ending, just the sort of book I needed to read.
reviewed Monday, March 18, 2013 by Hadassah Sabo Milner
I was recently sent this book to review, and although it took me a couple of weeks to get to it, once I picked it up I did not want to put it down.
I am a big reader – but I don’t usually go for Jewish-themed books, having found many of them in the past to be twee and self-serving, pushing religion down my throat. When I read, I want to lose myself in a story, I want to be carried along with the narrator, to be a bystander as events unfold. I don’t want lectures on how to be a better person.
Nicole Nathan’s book has made me re-evaluate the Jewish-theme book embargo. While Judaism and Pesach were central to the theme of her book, it wasn’t shove-down-your-throat religion.
Yes, there were a couple of scenes where I thought the “gam zu letovah” (everything happens for the good) angle was a tad overdone, but other than that, I really enjoyed this book.
The Berkovitz family, baalei teshuva, live in Middleton, Canada and one year decide that instead of making Pesach at home, they would rent an RV (Recreational Vehicle) and shlepp their family down south to a Florida trailer park for the holiday. They convince their close friends to join them, and their adventure begins. It’s more than just a road trip – it’s a spiritual journey, a quest to find meaning.
Pauline, Mrs Berkovitz, is the chronicler of this trip, and interspersed between relating events she discusses her faith and her journey to religious Judaism. She questions many things, and envies her husband his deep faith. I found I could relate to her – we both believe in celebrating our religion, but we question the role that “they” – those ubiquitous other people – play in the way we observe our Judaism.
Nathan weaves the story so well – you feel as if you’ve hitched a ride in their RV, have participated in events on the long drive down, and are sitting at their Seder with them and the assortment of people they have picked up along the way. You feel the angst and the joy, the stress and the relief.
Honestly, I felt a little envious. I would love to just pack everyone up and drive somewhere else for Pesach, and not spend weeks cleaning, and cooking, and making ridiculous lists. Pesach seems to be so chill for the Berkovitzes and their friends the Shapiros. I want that. I want to be able to be at the beach 4 hours before seder – and for that not to stress me out. I’d love to give our kids that kind of memory.
If you want a good book to read over the holiday Let My RV Go should be a definite pick. (My boys even expressed an interest in reading it after I gave them a brief synopsis. That’s a huge plus as far as I am concerned.)
reviewed Sunday, March 17, 2013 by Trip’n Mommy
I have to admit it, I have always wanted to take an RV vacation. Keeping kosher on vacations in the US is a challenge. The idea that you could bring the “hotel” with you and with a kitchen to boot, always sounded like a great adventure. Unfortunately, I never got the chance. It seems RVs are not as popular in Israel and anyway, you have access to kosher food throughout the country.
Time for another true confession – I hate Pesach cleaning. I know, I know, I am not the only one. There are women out there who relish the Spring cleaning aspect of it though. I’ve met them. I don’t understand them. I will do anything to avoid cleaning, especially Pesach cleaning.
Let My RV Go is a story about journeys. The Berkovitz and Shapiro family travel from frigid Canada to sunny Florida in their RVs. As Baalei Teshuva, they all have been on a spiritual journey and we learn about their pursuits to balance their lives and reconcile their present with their past. Pauline especially struggles to fit in to her new life. Their interactions with each other, and those they meet on their trip, remind us that life is a journey and we all have things to teach one another.
A Pesach without scrubbing the house from top to bottom and an RV adventure. This book had great potential from the start. Add to it a light, readable text, humorous anecdotes, and a moving journey, and you have the perfect novel for pre-Pesach craziness.
reviewed on thewritersdrawer.net
Nicole Nathan’s Let My RV Go!, as the title suggests, is a humorous Passover journey about one woman’s freedom from modern society’s expectations of fulfillment as she takes on not only her own Jewish heritage but the codes and mores of an Orthodox community in fictitious ‘Middleton,’ a city somewhere in Canada. The debut novel is written from the point of view of a young married woman, Pauline Berkowitz, a twenty-something patent lawyer negotiating early motherhood. Pauline stumbles upon a Judaism lecture she overhears in the park, remarkably on the same day as her dentist laissez faire husband Sam has a run-in with an Orthodox rabbi that leads him to his first Gemara class.
An inspirational path opens before the couple seemingly overnight, right before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), leaving them scrambling to join an Orthodox synagogue and find deeper meaning in the holiday beyond what the heroine describes as brisket cuts and kugel recipes. This first step in their journey results in their complete transformation and new identities as Baal Teshuvas (BTs, or secular Jews who take on an Orthodox lifestyle). The heart of the plot finds the couple, now with four children, just before Passover with Pauline in a panic about the traditional Passover clean-up. With every sweep of a neighbor’s broom she becomes increasingly agitated until her husband comes home with a distinctly un-Orthodox solution: Passover with another BT couple on an RV road trip to Florida.
As Pauline pulls out of her frozen wintry driveway, eager to trade the visions she has of herself cleaning her furniture with toothpicks for a warm Passover seder under palm trees and stars, a mysterious matzo box is dumped on her lap by an unknown rabbi. The secret package comes with a mission: she is instructed to deliver this box to a person she doesn’t know in an unknown location by seder night. The stranger disappears before Pauline can protest and the delivery of this box becomes an obligation she cannot escape anymore than she can rid herself of her conflicted feelings about her new lifestyle.
I sometimes found the sub-theme of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq puzzling and distracting in this novel. The heroine details the couple’s trips to remote places, stressing they traveled as natives – not as tourists – before they discovered Orthodox Judaism. Given that she experienced first-hand a broad view of different cultures, I found myself scratching my head when she expresses so much paranoia once they cross the U.S. border as Canadians during the Iraqi invasion of Iraq. Canada did not support the U.S. outwardly during this war, but the belief that their Canadian identities put them in true physical danger from Americans seemed far-fetched for a heroine who had “gone ‘local’ sharing seats with chickens when most passengers rode atop the bus and getting to know beggars… and sharing smelly yak butter tea with monks in the Himalayas.”
The story is honest and humorous and Nathan makes it clear that changing lanes in her mid-twenties is a deep struggle for her heroine. Still, she experiences spiritual epiphanies that convince the high-strung mother she is definitely on the right track if she can only keep her mind on her spiritual goals and off her neighbors.
reviewed on March 11, 2013 by David de Wolf, author of Solace of Stone
reviewed Monday, February 25, 2013 by Estee Lavitt.
A Great Pesach Read: “Let my RV Go!”
Recently, I finished reading Let my RV Go by Nicole Nathan, an inspirational tale of Pauline Berkovitz, a Jewish woman who has chosen to live her life as an Orthodox Jew, leaving many of her experiences behind. She struggles to fit in to the community, a society that expects parents and children to act, dress, and speak a certain way. Pauline and her husband Sam have travelled the world, but this Pesach (Passover), they take the trip of a lifetime. Their trip (yes, in an RV) leads Pauline and company on a mysterious journey of self acceptance and discovery. Along the way, she meets and influences others, transforming from student to teacher.
I appreciated many aspects of the book and was pleasantly surprised by how I connected to the protagonist. Here are some points that stood out for me:
reviewed February 19, 2013 by Jewish Joy Reading
Let My RV Go!, a Special Passover Journey
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book when I first saw it, because I read it as a pdf and only saw the cover after. The cover shows the RV sitting on a map with fields in the background and a man dressed to swim, but wrapped in a tallis, prayer shawl and that is pretty much what the book is about. The RV travels the map, while the people that go along with it experience their own spiritual journey. It is marked as a novel, but can easily be mistaken for a memoir of sorts. The book starts with a bit of a ramble, but then moves on to give a proper background and flows into a great, fun tale.
Some Details I Liked:
Find freedom. Take your journey. Travel and laugh with Pauline.“In Let My RV Go!, Nicole Nathan takes her heroine on a physical and spiritual mystery tour and invites all of us along for the ride. As readers, we willingly follow Nathan’s imagination that is, in the final analysis, on its way to the wondrous places inside of each and every one of us. Best of all, she lets us laugh out loud about it.”
“How exciting to note the arrival of gifted and sensitive new writer Nicole Nathan on the shores of Orthodox Jewish literature. Well-written fiction such as this is just what the doctor ordered for the vitality and growth of our society’s literature.”
“An engaging story of a family growing together as they grow Jewishly. Anyone on a journey, especially if you have a sense of humor, will recognize a piece of themselves–I certainly did.”
“Jewish readers thirst for and immerse themselves in books about Indian, Middle Eastern, African and so many other cultures, but we are reticent to dive into our own. If there is a book of humor, candor and Jewish culture, it’s usually written by a secularist, far left liberal like Nora Ephron or Jon Stewart, but rarely do we get a glimpse into the witty, whacky and wonderful mind of a modern orthodox woman.
I learned so much from the journey this family took. It broadened my view of modern orthodoxy and I had an absolute joy ride along with them. I learned that modern orthodoxy, secularism, tolerance and respect are not mutually exclusive. I understood and respected the “calling” to Torah far better than I ever had before.
Nicole has a wonderful gift for description and narrative. I love the story, I love the writing and I love the fact that I learned so much in such a humorous way. This novel is a wonderful, sparkling fictional joy-ride and I anxiously wait to see Let My RV Go! on bookshelves and kindles everywhere.”