Okay–here’s the opening to my work-in-progress. I’d love to hear your initial impressions.
Back cover copy:
One hundred sixty-eight years before the common era, a girl grows up in the household of a hard, cruel father. Seeking peace and safety, she marries Judah, a big man, strong and gentle, and for the first time in her life Lea can rest easily in her own home.
But the land is ruled by Antiochus IV, descended from one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Though these Seleucid kings rule from Syria, they introduce Greek thought and practice into every culture within their dominion. When Antiochus issues a decree requiring all Jews to conform to Greek laws, customs, and religion, devout Jews surrender their lives under torture rather than disobey the Law of Moses or worship Greek gods.
Instead of meekly obeying the king’s order or surrendering himself to be killed, Judah’s father resists the king’s laws, igniting a war that will cost him his life. On his deathbed, he commands Judah to continue the fight, or bear responsibility for Israel’s obliteration.
Lea, who yearns to feel safe and protected, struggles with her husband’s decision to command the army—what kind of God would destroy the peace she has finally found? What kind of husband would obey God’s call and ignore his wife’s desperate plea?
The miraculous story of the courageous Maccabees is told through the eyes of Judah’s wife, who learns that love requires faith, courage, and sacrifice.
168 years before the birth of Christ
Of the many lessons I learned in childhood, one made a permanent impression on my soul: God should be feared, and so should my father.
Experience reinforced the lesson every seventh day, when with trembling fingers my mother lit the Shabbat candles and recited the blessing. Then she sat very still while Father broke the bread and ate the meat, a luxury we enjoyed only on Shabbat. When Father had eaten his fill of the meat, vegetables, fruit, and bread, he stood and walked away, allowing me and Mother to share whatever remained.
Then we would go to the synagogue, or Father and I would go, since Mother never left the house when a bruise marked her face. I would walk behind Father through the winding alleys of Jerusalem, careful to avoid the potholes and mounds of manure in the street. I made a game of remaining in Father’s shadow, for I’d be in trouble if he turned and found me missing.
When we arrived at the synagogue, I would sit with the women while Father took his place with the men. He usually sat down front, and when the men prayed I could hear his voice above the others. I would lower my head and put my fingers in my ears because I frequently heard that same voice cursing my mother, or declaring her fat, lazy, and stupid. Sometimes that voice demanded to know why he had agreed to marry such a sow, and at other times it declared her the ugliest woman in all Judea.
My mother was not fat, ugly, or lazy, so she did not cry when she heard such insults. But she seemed to draw inward, shriveling like a worm in the salt jar, until little remained of her but a pair of hands and feet destined to do Father’s bidding.
While sitting in the synagogue, I would lift my gaze to the ceiling and wonder how HaShem and my father became connected. They must have been close, for Father prayed every morning with great gusto and never missed an opportunity to speak to the rabbi.
I would listen intently as the rabbi spoke of how HaShem parted the Red Sea and massacred the pursuing Egyptians to set our ancestors free. I learned about how the Master of the universe worked through Joshua to destroy everyone in the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorra, and how He strengthened Joshua to rid the land of Canaanites so we, the children of Isra’el, could live in the promised land.
HaShem sounded as if He were as strong as my father, and every bit as angry.
I resolved never to do anything to anger my father or HaShem. I obeyed every command and answered every call. In Father’s presence my thoughts spun like a dancer as I tried to guess what he would want next, find ways to keep him calm, and think about how to prevent him from beating my mother.
I did not always succeed. When I brought him figs instead of bread, or when I put his slippers by the window instead of the door, Father would notice my mistake. “How could you have borne such a worthless child?” he would say, turning to Mother. He would strike her, and Mother would gasp and slide down the wall as I took a deep breath and stepped into the trembling space between them. If all went well, Father would leave the house, leaving us alone to ponder our offenses.
Later, when Mother found her voice and the marks faded from red to purple, I would curl up next to her on the pallet and whisper, “I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry.”
She would murmur that I had nothing to be sorry for, but her voice carried no weight and her words no meaning. If I had been quicker, smarter, or more pleasant, I could have made him happy.
And a happy man had no reason to fight.
~~What are your impressions?