Where are all the Jewish characters in historical romance? Old Testament retellings of Biblical stories are readily found in inspirational romance, but isn’t there more? The history of Jewish people in England, for example, goes back to the time of William the Conqueror, and the first documented Jewish immigrants set foot in the American colonies in 1649. With a rich culture, both religious and secular, and traditions that stretch back thousands of years and across the globe, there’s an endless supply of interesting characters with stories ready to be told. Readers looking for a Jewish hero or heroine in English or American historical romance may have to do some digging, but oh, the gems that can be found. Where to look?
Medieval lovers might consider Barbara Samuel’s classic A Bed of Spices, which pulls no punches regarding the difficulties faced by interfaith lovers Rica and Solomon as the Black Death spreads across Europe, while anti-Semitism points an accusing finger at the Jews. Solomon, a physician in training, wants nothing more than to heal, and though he never expected to find his soulmate in Catholic Rica, he admires her intellect as well as her passion. To say that both families do not react well to this pairing is an understatement. At one point, Solomon’s father gets physical with his son to keep him from bringing danger to both families, and yet it is Solomon’s faith and traditions that form the backbone of his character, and indeed provide a way for the couple to be together at last.
Regency readers who want something different in their favorite era won’t want to miss Nita Abrams’s award-winning five-book series, The Couriers, about a family of Anglo-Jewish spies who serve as couriers for Wellington. Starting with A Question of Honor, Abrams addresses a part of English history not often touched upon in romance fiction.
Inspirational author Ruth Axtell Morren draws upon her on Sephardic roots to deliver Winter Is Past, also set in the Regency era. Jewish MP Simon Aguilar made a nominal conversion to Christianity in order to further his political career, and his attraction to Methodist nurse Althea Breton only further unsettles his spirit. While this is a Christian inspirational, Simon’s Jewish faith is in no way belittled or devalued, and he and Althea must both overcome spiritual questioning to forge their future together.
Moving across the pond and a few decades forward, the American west was open to people from all walks of life, so shouldn’t we be seeing more Jewish characters there as well? In Patricia Gaffney’s Crooked Hearts, her con man hero, Reuben, born in the Ukraine, meets his match in Grace, a con woman who’s dressed as a nun when they first meet, setting the tone for a rollicking adventure with more than a few surprises.
In Lady X’s Cowboy by Zoe Archer, English lady Olivia and American cowboy Will find that their language of love is actually Yiddish, thanks to Olivia’s grandmother and the miner who raised orphaned Will.
While most of the above examples deal with interfaith or intercultural couples, how about a historical romance where both partners share Jewish heritage? Jewish history has had some very dark times, to be sure, but what always endures is the love, the strong sense of family and community, essential parts of any romance.
Anna C. Bowling considers writing historical romance the best way to travel through time and make the voices in her head pay rent. She welcomes visitors to her blog, Typing with Wet Nails and to follow her at Twitter.