Daily Archives: May 8, 2014

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

by Paula J. Freedman

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

As you might imagine, this is the story of a girl whose mom is Indian (and converted to Judaism) and dad is Jewish. Tara is in seventh grade and she and her classmates are preparing for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs (or “B’nai Mitzvot” if you want to be technical about it). Though Tara has to contend with a snooty girl who claims Tara’s not really Jewish (Jewish heritage is matrilineal but conversion before the child’s birth is equivalent to the mother being born Jewish, a fact which should take snooty Sheila down a peg), the book is really about Tara’s “crisis of faith” (as her Rabbi puts it), her feelings about her upcoming ceremony, and her feelings about her best friend, Ben-o, wanting to date her.

This book caught my eye because my oldest friend from growing-up time is Indian and I’m Jewish. Freedman writes in such a way that by the time I finished, it made the most sense in the world to come from a combination of those two cultures. In fact, I started having trouble telling apart her main character, seventh-grade Tara, from the main character in the middle-grade novel I’m writing, a fifth-grader named Lily. But I digress.

I loved this book once I got into it. I especially loved being able to learn about Indian and Hindu culture and religion by comparing it to Judaism. The climax of the story didn’t come exactly where I thought it would, and that threw me a little off-balance, but ultimately I liked the ending. I LOVE that Tara’s in Robotics club and not afraid to be geeky – I like knowing about those characters for making book recommendations for kids. I also liked Tara’s relationship with her paternal grandmother, who essentially calls her a “rotten kid” with a smile and a twinkle in her eye, like my Jewish grandmother did. I also liked reading about a half-Jewish girl that my own 13-year-old self could relate to.