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Do you want a challenge? Try opening a restaurant in Mexico – four different times in six years

Megan Kravetsky (right) with Bernie & Meachelle Bellan in Puerto Vallarta this past March


By BERNIE BELLAN In December 2021 Myron Love wrote a story for The Jewish Post & News about former Winnipegger Megan Kravetsky.
How I happened to give Myron that particular assignment was an interesting story in itself. I had begun delivering Meals on Wheels for the Gwen Secter Centre in the summer of 2021 – which, if you can recall, was a period when we were still enduing periodic shutdowns due to Covid. As a result, the Gwen Secter Centre stepped up the number of meals that it began producing – not only for Jewish clients, but for hundreds of non-Jewish clients as well.
I wrote several times about the incredible effort that the staff at Gwen Secter put into producing what ultimately became over 600 meals a week, but that’s not the point of this story. This story is about food though, so there’s a connection.
In any event, beginning in the fall of 2021 I began delivering kosher meals for Gwen Secter on a weekly basis to a number of clients, some of whom some have remained on my list ever since.
One of those clients was a woman by the name of Joanne Field. Like most of my Meals on Wheels clients I developed a nice rapport with Joanne. One day she asked me if I’d be interested in doing a story about her granddaughter, whose name she told me, was Megan Kravetsky. According to Joanne, Megan had been operating a popular restaurant in Puerto Vallarta by the name of Blake’s Bar & Grill, and Joanne thought that readers of the paper who might be heading to Puerto Vallarta that winter would be interested in dropping into Blake’s.
As it turned out, I asked Myron Love to do that story instead of doing it myself because we were coming up to our Chanukah issue at the time and I didn’t have time to talk to Megan and write a story – but I did think that the Chanukah issue presented the perfect opportunity to let readers know about Megan and her restaurant.
That was in December 2021 and, even though my wife and I have been to the Puerto Vallarta area several times – and really love it there, what with Covid putting a crimp in travel plans for several years, it wasn’t until this year that I had the opportunity to head back to Puerto Vallarta. While I was there, I thought, I’d like to touch base with Megan and visit Blake’s myself.
Which is how I came to do a completely different type of story than I expected to write.
You see, Megan Kravetsky’s experiences in Mexico can fill a book – and a good part of that would be a horror story. Try this one on for size: Not only was her business badly affected by Covid in 2020 – just after she had moved into what was then the second location for Blake’s – after having moved from the first location because it was just too small – this past October, after having moved yet again into a different location for Blake’s in what Megan thought was going to be a great location – Hurricane Lidia swept through Puerto Vallarta and Blake’s was forced to close down.
Still, Megan persevered. She had opened another small pop-up restaurant last May called Drop Shot Chill n Grill in an area well known to many Winnipeggers who spend time in Puerto Vallarta, near what is known as the hotel zone. But, in another series of unfortunate circumstances, this time having to do with a very nasty landlady (who repeatedly cut off the electricity to Drop Shot), Megan was forced yet again to close down.
Read on and you’ll find out about the long string of unfortunate events that seem to have accompanied Megan ever since she decided to move to Mexico in 2018, but once you finish reading the story you’re bound to have an immense amount of admiration at how resilient Megan has proven to be.
Here’s some of what Myron wrote in his December 2021 story: “Three years ago, the veteran chef and restaurant consultant came across a deal she couldn’t refuse when she took advantage of an opportunity to buy Blake’s Restaurant and Bar, an established operation in Puerto Vallarta. Megan is now happily living year round in Mexico.
“Now, in truth, the former River Heights kid (Brock Corydon and Grant Park) was no stranger to the Mexican resort community. She notes that her parents, Charles (whose mother is Joanne Field) and Vivian Kravetsky, are long time seasonal residents of the city – spending six months a year there and six months in Winnipeg – and she had visited many times over the years.
“ ‘It was perfect timing,’ she says of her move to Puerto Vallarta.
“ ‘The first year was tough,’ she adds.  ‘My Spanish was limited – which made it sometimes difficult to communicate with my staff.  Now I am fluent.’
“Kravetsky notes that her original career goal was to become a lawyer (like her father). ‘After five years of university (the University of Manitoba), I realized that that was not what I wanted to do, she recalls. 
“Instead, she earned a business degree in management and marketing and went to work in the restaurant industry. She had worked in the restaurant trade part time throughout university.  Over the next 15 years, Kravetsky worked successively for the McDonalds chain, Moxie’s, the Olive Garden and Montana Steak House.”
Before I met with Megan on March 16 – at the location of the most recent incarnation of Blake’s Bar & Grill in the port area of Puerto Vallarta known as Puerto Magico, which is where passengers from cruise ships disembark, I had a chance to see for myself the damage that Hurricane Lidia had done to her restaurant. The interior was all covered with tarp, but I was able to see through a hole in the tarp. I was quite surprised to see that the restaurant itself was largely intact – tables and chairs all in place, dishes, utensils and cooking equipment all in place, but the windows to the outside were all blown out. That piqued my curiosity and became the subject of part of our conversation.
Still, as my wife Meachelle and I sat down with Megan to enjoy a beverage in a nearby coffee shop and listen to her story, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Megan’s very positive attitude. As it turns out, Megan had been in my son Jordy’s class at Brock Corydon School (of which I was not aware. Also, somewhat coincidentally, Jordy, who now goes by the name Jitendradas Loveslife, also lives in Mexico, in a town populated by New Age former hippies known as Ajijic.)
I asked Megan how she came to own a restaurant in Puerto Vallarta?
Megan explained that she had gone about as far as she could as a restaurant manger in Winnipeg. As Myron noted, Megan had worked for McDonald’s, Montana’s (helping to open their Kenaston location where she worked as a line cook), Moxie’s Bar & Grill, Olive Garden, also Famous Dave’s – all before she had even turned 30.

The first Blake’s Bar – which Megan bought in 2018, but which was badly affected by Covid because it was so small and tables had to have six feet distance between


Megan had been traveling to Mexico with her parents and siblings for years, she told me, and fell in love with the country. So, in 2018, she took all the savings she had accumulated and bought Blake’s Bar & Grill in downtown Puerto Vallarta, which had first opened in 2006. Before she was able move to Mexico though, Megan had to acquire a residency permit – which was no easy task, she explained.
You see, in order to purchase a business in Mexico, one needs something called an “RFC” (which translates from the Spanish to Federal Taxpayers Number).
As Megan told us, “without that (the RFC) you can’t purchase cars, housing, anything. I got my residency before I moved down. You have to do your residency out of country.”
I asked her how she could become a Mexican resident while still in Canada?
She said, “You apply, you have to make a certain amount of money. So I applied three times – within a six month period. I went to Toronto twice. Applied. Denied. Both times. Went to Calgary” – and finally got her residency permit.
But, there’s something else Megan explained that made the challenge of buying Blake’s even more difficult: She wasn’t able to finance the purchase – she had to pay cash entirely – something, we were also told, is par for the course for just about any major purchase in Mexico, including houses.
But, just because Megan was able to buy Blake’s, she wasn’t able to work in her own restaurant, she told me, until she had a work permit. As she explained, “…so you get one year temporary residency, then you apply for a three year extension after that, and then after that, then you apply for your permanent residency. But temporary residency doesn’t include a work permit. That’s the biggest thing, so I had to apply for my work permit to be attached to my temporary residency.”
Megan, however, had forgotten to apply for a work permit – which she would have needed to work in her own restaurant. “But,” she explained, “then when my daughter was born (in 2019) – because she’s Mexican, I automatically became a permanent resident. So I didn’t have to wait for four years – I only waited two (to become a permanent resident)” – thus allowing her to work in her own restaurant.
Now, while Megan’s initial foray into the restaurant business was quite successful, the first Blake’s Bar was too small to accommodate the high number of customers it was attracting. As Megan put it, “the place was too small. It was a very small… very small restaurant.”
And then, in 2020, Covid hit. While Mexico had no sort of rules requiring masking in public places, it did institute rules governing social distancing – with a six feet distance required between tables. “We could only have two or three tables in at one time during high season,” Megan said.

The second Blake’s Bar – opened in 2021 but which had to close because the landlady didn’t want to pay her taxes

So, in 2021, Megan moved to another location in Puerto Vallarta, in an area known as Plaza Santa Maria. Things were going really well in that new location. It had become a very popular spot for Canadians, especially Winnipeggers, as Megan made sure all Winnipeg Jets games were shown there. (Megan was in that location when Myron contacted her and she was brimming with confidence when she spoke to him about how well things were going.)
There was one major problem, however, as Megan explained: “The landowner there didn’t pay her taxes. So when you went to go take out your licensing, you have to show proof the taxes are. And if they’re not paid, then you can’t take out your licensing. And she owed back taxes of almost five years, which was over 300,000” (pesos – or about $22,000 Canadian dollars).
“And she didn’t want to pay it. So I had no choice,” Megan noted. As a result, after only one year in what had been a very successful location – even if only for a short while, Megan moved yet again, in 2022 – this time to the Puerto Magico location.

The third Blake’s Bar – opened in 2022 but closed in October 2023 when Hurricane Lidia tore out all the windows – and the landlord hasn’t replaced them


The owners of the building where Megan opened what by then had become the third location for Blake’s in only four years had induced her to move there with all sorts of promises, she said: “They had promised us numerous things that they never completed. The passport office was supposed to open upstairs two years ago. Still not open. Another restaurant was supposed to be up there. We were just alone up there. There’s nothing. They made it impossible for guests to get up the stairs. They wouldn’t fix the elevator. It still doesn’t work to this day. It’s been three years…and the whole thing with that is they don’t want to pay the electricity to have the elevator working.
“So they just made it impossible for the cruise ship people to get upstairs or any people in general to get upstairs.” On top of all that, the owners of Puerto Magico didn’t allow Megan to have any signage on the street which would have told tourists that Blake’s Bar was there.
Still, Megan might have been able to turn things around were it not for that hurricane last October. She had developed a great reputation as a restaurateur. (Just take a look at the glowing reviews on Tripadvisor for Blake’s Bar). In addition, Megan is a fantastic baker and she had opened a bakery known called Sweet Temptations Bakery Boutique next door to Blake’s in Puerto Magico. That closed too the same time as Blake’s when the hurricane hit.
You’d think, however, that notwithstanding the damage that a hurricane might have caused, it would just be a matter of time before things could have been repaired and Blake’s would have been back in business – but that wasn’t the case.
While the interior of the restaurant was left largely intact, the windows had all been blown out. So, it’s just a matter of replacing the windows – right? Or, so you’d think. But this is Mexico – and similar to the landlady who didn’t want to pay her taxes in Blake’s previous location, the owners of Puerto Magico haven’t moved to replace the windows that were blown out.
Here’s how Megan described what happened: “So, the whole thing here, after the hurricane hit, when you construct a building here, the windows and doors are property of the plaza. Doesn’t matter if you put them in, they put them in, it’s property of the plaza. You can’t leave with them. Yeah. Same with the floor. So when the hurricane came through and destroyed everything, the first thing they said to me is our insurance will cover it, our insurance is going to cover it, it’s our property.
“So we waited and waited and waited and waited and about two and a half to three months in, they said, nah, our insurance actually isn’t going to cover it. At that point, my own insurance wouldn’t cover it anymore. It has to be done within 24 hours. That’s just how it is.” (Note to readers: Anyone from Winnipeg could identify with Megan. A building burns down and a pile of rubble remains for years. A bridge closes because it’s unsafe and it sits there – unusable, but with no plan to replace it.)
Not one to let anything get her down though, Megan still had her pop-up restaurant, Drop Shot Chill n Grill. As I mentioned at the beginning of this story though, just recently that site too had to close down.
This time it was the landlady who owned the area where Drop Shot was located that forced Megan to close. While Megan leased the space for her location from an individual who didn’t actually own the land where Drop Shot was situated, he had tennis and pickleball courts there. Apparently though, the woman who actually owned the land didn’t like the loud music coming from Drop Shot – even though it wasn’t in a residential area at all.
Again, here’s how Megan described the situation: “In our contract it stated that I was allowed to have live music, barbecue, blah, blah, blah. The landowner who owns the land, who I don’t lease from, owns the hotel behind the parking where the tennis courts are. And she doesn’t like noise. She doesn’t like any noise. Yet, they have music and tennis tournaments and fairs and they have the food park and all that.
“So, during our live music, she would complain constantly, even though our music was only from 3 to 6 – that her guests, one guest in particular, couldn’t sleep – it was too loud. We always abided by the decibel restriction limit; it was never over the decibel limit.”
The story continued: “So she cut our electricity off once when we had the live music – but the second time she did it, I had a generator. She didn’t know that I had a generator going. So she had cut the electricity, but the music was still playing. So at that point she would call the ‘reglamentals’ – the bylaw officers, who would come check and she’d say, ‘There’s really loud music going on at Drop Shot.’ They would come, they would check, they’d check my permits, everything would be okay, they’d leave. That’s when I called the police on her. They’re my friends. They had a very long conversation with her… told her that it’s illegal to cut the electricity, she can’t do it.”
But, as you might expect, the landlady wasn’t about to back down. “It got to the point where she threatened the guy who I was subleasing from that if he didn’t get rid of me, she was going to get rid of everybody.
“She wouldn’t re sign the contract with him. So he’s had his tennis courts and pickleball courts there for over five years. And she said, ‘if I don’t leave, then everybody’s leaving.’ “
So, once again, Megan has had to abandon what had turned into a successful venture – but after dealing with Covid, a landlady who didn’t want to pay taxes, a hurricane, and a landlady who doesn’t like loud music, you’d have to wonder whether Megan is still willing to enter into yet another food venture?
Not surprisingly, she said she is. I asked her “How real is that? How feasible or viable?”
“Oh, it’s very viable,” she answered. “We’re just waiting on the contract to be signed.” Megan added that she has someone who she wouldn’t describe as a partner in her putative venture, but somebody “that’s going to help me.”
Throughout our conversation I had refrained from bringing up the subject that surely must be in the back of many a reader’s mind when it comes to thinking about doing business in Mexico: What about the cartels? Has Megan had any run-ins with the local cartel I wondered? (And when it comes to cartels, Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco. Anyone who knows anything about Mexican cartels would know that the Jalisco cartel has a reputation for extreme violence.)
Megan answered though that “They’re not really that visible here… They keep it very under the table here.”
I said though that “the Jalisco cartel is notorious.”
But, Megan responded, “that’s more towards Sinaloa and Chihuahua.”
Still, given Mexico’s longstanding reputation for corruption at almost every level, I asked Megan, “Did you have to pay off people?”
She answered: No, never, never, never had to pay anybody off. You give back and then, you know, everybody takes care of each other.” She went on to describe the excellent rapport she has had with the local police, for whom she has catered a huge feast known as a “masada” every year, at which over 400 police have attended.
It’s hard to imagine someone coming down to Mexico and, within the space of only six years, opening restaurants (and closing them) in four different locations, yet still remaining optimistic that she’ll be able to open a fifth in short order.
If and when Megan does open another restaurant – I’d sure like to try the food. If the reviews she received on Tripadvisor for each of her locations are any indication, one thing Megan Kravetsky knows is how to prepare great food – and leave her customers with a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Features

A Backwards Family Tree

author Janice Weizman/cover of "Our Little Histories"

By ILANA KURSHAN
The following review first appeared in the February 15, 2024 issue of Lilith Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
What does Jennifer Greenberg-Wu, an American-Jewish museum curator working on a reality show in rural Belarus, have to do with Raizel Shulman, a Russian mother desperate to save her triplet sons from being drafted into the czar’s army? The answer spans three continents and nearly two centuries, and it is the spellbinding tale that Janice Weizman weaves in Our Little Histories (Toby Press, $17.95), a novel that unfolds back-wards to tell the story of a family’s history one generation at a time.
Each of the book’s seven chapters focuses on another branch of the family tree that connects Jennifer back to Raizel. We witness the encounter between Jennifer’s mother Nancy Wexler, a young feminist hippie from Chicago, and her distant cousin Yardena, 25 years old and happily pregnant in Tel Aviv in 1968. In the next chapter we meet Yardena’s mother, Tamar, who, while smuggling guns for the Haga- nah, engages in a fateful act of betrayal with a visitor to her home on Kibbutz Hadar, where she has made her home ever since her parents sent her off on a train from Minsk in 1927. In the next chapter we meet Tamar’s distant cousin, Gabriel Schulman, a literature teacher in Vilna, who is attacked in a dark alley in Tamar’s impassioned letters pleading with him to come to Palestine before the situation in Europe gets worse for the Jews. “To be a Jew in Vilna, or Poland, or perhaps anywhere, is to find courage where you thought you had none, to feel it flowing through your veins like blood,” Gabriel thinks in the seconds before he is attacked.
Set one year earlier but thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, the following chapter focuses on a third branch of the family—not those who stayed in Europe or settled in Palestine, but those like Nat Wexler, a first-generation American journalist in Chicago who is also Tamar and Gabriel’s cousin. Nat understands Yiddish but cannot speak it, and prides himself in his assimilation into American culture; he dreads bringing his fashionable, light-hearted Jewish-American girlfriend to the Yiddish theater with his mother, who is eager to meet her. The penultimate chapter takes us back forty years earlier to turn-of-the-century Belarus, where Gabriel’s father Yoyna is sent on a mission by his own father to reunite with his father’s two brothers; all three brothers were separated at a young age. In the book’s compelling, heart-wrenching final chapter, we meet three triplet boys, one of whom is Yoyna’s father, and we learn the reasons for their tragic separation by their mother Raizel in the shtetl in 1850, where “every year, right around the short dark days leading up to Hanukkah, the boys of Propoisk become scarce…gone for weeks or even months at a time.”
Like A .B. Yehoshua’s Mr. Mani, which follows a Sephardi family back in time, Our Little Histories is a book that demands re-rereading, backwards, from the last chapter back to the first. Connecting threads link one generation to another, and serve as leitmotifs through out the book, like the poem in three stanzas that Raizel Schulman pens just before she parts from two of her triplets so as to spare them from the czar’s army; each son receives one stanza, and the poem is published in a 1914 Yiddish anthology which Yoyna gives to Gabriel, who mails it to Tamar, who donates the slim booklet to the Yiddish library in Tel Aviv, where Yardena and Nancy find it; Nancy will give that booklet to Jennifer to take with her to Belarus for her reality show. When Jennifer’s mother hands her that booklet, she is convinced she has seen it before, and her deja-vu mirrors that of the reader, who will encounter and re-encounter the anthology, and Raizel’s poem, in each of the book’s seven chapters.
Our Little Histories is masterfully constructed, such that the book’s final chapter is both inevitable—it couldn’t possibly have been any other way—and yet impossible to predict. The three branches of Raizel’s family, who make their homes in Europe, Israel, and America, offer us an intimate window into aspects of Ashke- nazi Jewish history—pogroms and Zionism, yeshiva culture and the assimilation, the kibbutz and the shtetl. We have all tragically witnessed how the legacy of persecution has reverberated even in the Jew- ish homeland, a reminder of the unbear- able sacrifices and the acts of raw courage that continue to forge us as a people.

Our Little Histories is available in paperback and kindle on Amazon.

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Features

Chuck & Carol Faiman – a “Fien” team

Carol & Chuck Faiman

By GERRY POSNER Take two Jewish kids – a boy and a girl from the north end of Winnipeg, have them grow up in the 1950s, and you would probably be well familiar with their following the well-worn path of marriage, raising a family, professional success, and a continued connection with Manitoba. That pattern would well describe Charles or, as he is better known – Chuck, and Carol Faiman.

Carol was a Fien, daughter of Sophie and Harry Fien. Chuck was the son of Bessie and Max Faiman. Carol was a graduate of places well known to Winnipeggers, as in Champlain and Luxton Schools, St. John’s High School and the University of Manitoba, where she received a B.A. Later, she did post-graduate work in vocational rehabilitation counselling. As well, Carol has a well-known passion for art, stemming in no small part from classes she took in art history at the University of Winnipeg and later at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Chuck’s parents, Max and Bessie Faiman, were part of a core group who founded the Talmud Torah Hebrew Day School, which Chuck attended. He was also a student at Machray School and, like so many other north enders, St. John’s High School. Hard though it may be to believe, he graduated high school at 15. By 22, he already had an M.D. degree.

He trained in endocrinology at the University of Manitoba Medical School, the University of Illinois, and later at the Mayo Clinic. Returning to Winnipeg in 1968, Chuck Faiman’s career took off as he became a Professor of Medicine and Physiology and later the head of the Endocrinology Laboratory. During his tenure at the hospital, one year Chuck took a sabbatical leave with his family at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.

In 1992, Chuck Faiman accepted an offer to become Chairman of the Department of Endocrinology at the Cleveland Clinic. At that time, all the family knew about Cleveland was that it was in Ohio and that they had a baseball team there. Five years later, the Faimans became US citizens and, to this day, hold dual citizenship. During the time when Chuck was growing the department, he had the opportunity to look after heads of state, crown princes and the Sheikh of the United Arab Emirates, where he also provided medical consultations and teaching. (It occurs to me that given Chuck’s connection, maybe he can persuade the Sheikh or his colleagues to consider taking into The United Arab Emirates some of the people floundering in Gaza.)

Chuck was an active player in his field, and is still involved in teaching and as a consultant in the department. He was honoured to receive an award as a Master of the American College of Endocrinology.
Carol also had careers, both in Winnipeg and in Cleveland. In Winnipeg, she worked as a vocational rehabilitation counsellor and ergonomist for the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities. She did not miss a beat when she moved to Cleveland, where she worked in physical therapy at the Cleveland Clinic with patients suffering from occupational injuries. She is now retired.

Now, not be overlooked is that the Faimans are a team. They just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in June 2023. They have three sons, all of whom were raised in Winnipeg: Barton, an MBA graduate of the Asper School of Business and his wife Michelle are still residents of Winnipeg. Gregg, a graduate of the University of Manitoba Medical School, trained with his father in endocrinology at the Cleveland Clinic – sort of a medical version of Gordie and Mark Howe and Bobby and Brett Hull in the hockey world. He and his wife Karrie have three children. Matthew, another U of M Medical School graduate, trained at the Cleveland Clinic in Internal Medicine. He and his wife Beth have one son. All the Faimans remain staunch Blue Bomber and Jets fans.

The Faimans were, and are still, very active in their community, both in their synagogue and other areas. For those readers who can go back that far, Chuck Faiman was largely involved in the amalgamation of the Talmud Torah and the Peretz Schools, not to overlook his term as president of Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate. That active participation continued in Cleveland with the Cleveland Federation.
Carol served on the Board of Rosh Pina Synagogue, as it was then known, and then in Cleveland as a board member at Park Synagogue. Moreover, Carol initiated a programme, which she ran for 14 years, for the National Council of Jewish Women at the Cleveland Museum of Art. For over 15 years the Faimans have also been regular attendees at courses offered by the Siegal College of Jewish Studies, a division of Case Western University.

What also keeps the Faimans very happy is the renewal of their Winnipeg roots each year when they return to the family cottage at West Hawk Lake. There is also a Winnipeg reunion of a different sort each winter in Florida. Likely what sets the Faimans apart from many other people who have moved away is that, although they do maintain strong connections to their history and friends back in Winnipeg, they have integrated well into the Cleveland community, even at an older age when they moved there.

So, for anyone who knows them, the recognition and success the Faimans have earned is well deserved.

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Debut novel from Montreal’s Ben Gonshar follows in the mould of Phillip Roth

Ben Gonshor/cover of The Book of Izzy

Ben Gonshor is an award-winning writer, actor, musician and entrepreneur. His play, “When Blood Ran Red,” won the David and Clare Rosen Memorial International Play Contest at the National Yiddish Theatre in New York. 
Now, with his debut novel, The Book of Izzy, Gonshor follows the likes of Phillip Roth in how The Book of Izzy is a captivating modern take on Jewish cultural touchstones and heritage.
“The Book of Izzy is a story about a man trying to find his own place between two worlds as he reckons with letting go of his painful past to focus on creating a fulfilling present. In the process, Izzy embarks on a fanciful, romantic voyage that not only forces him to come to terms with his Jewish identity, but to also confront the mystifying bird that holds the key to preserving the past and ensuring the survival of his heritage.
“Izzy is a writer who’s found himself in a series of downward spirals; between his recently failed love life, his faltering career as both a wedding planner and a novelist, and an ever-looming mental breakdown, he’s at his wit’s end. 
“Filled to the brim with wit, candid discussions about navigating life with a mental illness, and an engaging cast of characters, The Book of Izzy is a captivating modern take on Jewish cultural touchstones and heritage.”


Following is an excerpt from The Book of Izzy:
“Hi, I’m Sue-Ann,” the twenty-something waitress said to me, extending a hand forthrightly and with the other lifted a shot glass, clinked it with Luba’s and downed it with a “L’khaim” that made you pay attention.
“Doubtful,” I thought to myself and immediately began calculating that the combination of brown bottle curls and olive skin combined with breasts and hips that curved in a way my bubbe would have approved of, didn’t add up to Sue-Ann. Then again, the piercing blue eyes and nose that would have survived a Gestapo roundup, suggested I could have been dead wrong.
I wasn’t.
“Sue-Ann, shmuann!” Luba admonished her, then looked to me while pouring herself another shot. “Her name’s Soreh,” she said while pointing insistently to her new friend then drank, ripped a piece of bread from the loaf and tossed it in her mouth and proceeded to introduce me.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that?” Sue-Ann said re Luba’s unintelligible attempt to say my name in mid-chew.
“I’m Isaiah,” I introduced myself. “Friends call me Izzy.”
“Itzikl,” Luba offered with a giggle.
“ALubable!” Sue Ann said in that patronizing way common among dog-lovers when inquiring about a breed they’ve never seen around the run. “And so Jewish…I like that,” she purred then knowingly struck a pose that emphasized her personalities, while simultaneously resting her right palm on the flesh of its adjoining hip that now introduced itself into the conversation, teasing a hint of color that I imagined made for something interesting further below. She then capped it off with a smile that revealed two perfectly formed dimples on either side, the kind so charming as to inspire a Rumshinksy tune.
“You didn’t drink your shot,” she reproached me playfully, pointing at the offending glass on the table that I knew better than to touch. “How about a beer?” she suggested with pride, “we brew in house.”
“Sure,” I answered, still somewhat sensory overloaded. “But nothing too hoppy, I’m not into drinking flowers.”
“Double IPA coming right up!” she said, clocking my narishkeit then brushed her hand expertly on my shoulder as she turned to leave. “You’re right, he’s cute,” she said to Luba, then winked in my direction before heading off toward the bar.
“Let me guess,” I began to ask Luba, who looked at me with a Cheshire grin on her face that told me everything I needed to know: “She’s Leah,” I said, referencing the lead female character in The Dybbuk.
Her giggle this time was more of an outburst of joy, as she clapped her hands near to her face and rocked back and forth happily, like another bet she made was about to pay off.
“Where’d you find her?” I asked, gazing in the direction of the bar where Sue-Ann and her pals were huddled and looking right back at us.
“I didn’t, she found me,” Luba answered and waved in their direction. “I like her. We’ve been spending a lot of time together.”
“Clearly,” I said and returned my attention back to the table. “She’s an actress?”
“Nope.”
“So why is she playing Leah?” I asked somewhat incredulously. Mind you, not that that it was any of my business but, knowing full well the chops required for the part, it seemed a fair question.
“She read for me, she feels the character deeply.”
“She speaks Yiddish?”
“Nope,” Luba answered again, with not an iota of concern in her voice.
“I don’t get it,” I said and continued, dumfounded: “You want me to play opposite someone who doesn’t speak Yiddish and on top of that you don’t even know if she can act?”
“I don’t know if she can act?!” she guffawed, repeating my question back to me aloud as if to make me hear how dumb it sounded. “What she just did naturally in that moment,” she continued, now more earnestly while gesturing with her finger in a circular motion as if to summarize a scene that had just played out at the table, “is more than some actors learn to do with a lifetime of training.”
“What do you mean?”
She didn’t answer, but cocked her head to the side instead and threw me a look like, again, I should have thought before I spoke.
“What?!” I said incredulously and could feel my cheeks starting to flush.
“She had you mesmerized,” she answered with a smile then drank another shot and tossed a piece of bread in her mouth.
“No she didn’t,” I lied.
Luba said nothing as Sue-Ann had now returned with my beer, a basket of gluten free tortilla chips and an assortment of cheeses, each of which she proceeded to describe as an award winning artisanal creation sourced from her friends at farms nearby, without specifying whether the pals she was referring to were the farmers or their animals cuz these days, you know, it could go either way. Regardless, as she side-straddled a chair that she’d pulled in from a nearby table and invited us to dig in, I thought better than to comment on the fact that without a quality goat on the cutting board, which admittedly was artfully presented along with an assortment of dried fruit and a delightfully sweet onion tartinade, what she put on the table was a whole lot of lactose intolerance.

The Book of Izzy

By Ben Gonshor

AOS Publishing

Publication date: May 2024

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