Cover image for The ladies auxiliary
The ladies auxiliary
Mirvis, Tova.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [1999]

Physical Description:
311 pages ; 22 cm
Geographic Term:
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Central Library

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Batsheva is free-spirited and artistic, and at first the women of the ladies auxiliary discover in her a passion for the traditions and rituals of Judaism which have become stale and routine to them. But when Batsheva becomes close with the restless high-school girls she teaches who are eager to catch glimpses of the non-Kosher world outside, and befriends, maybe a little too intimately, the beloved Rabbi's only son, Yosef, feathers begin to ruffle. When events come to a head, and Batshevea's past is revealed, the women's allegiances begin to split over whether Batsheva should be forced out of the community.Batsheva is an unforgettable character, one who makes her claims on the reader's heart from the first page. The Ladies Auxiliary, beautifully and skillfully told, shows what happens when the outside world leans on a closed community so intent on keeping its children inside its tight walls that it cannot see it is losing them.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

When young widow and Jewish convert Batsheva Jacobs and her five-year-old daughter Ayala move into the Memphis, Tennessee, neighborhood where her husband grew up, their arrival sends shock waves through the small and tightly knit Orthodox community. The women who narrate the novel, in one voice, fear that Batsheva's brand of Orthodox Judaism--spirited and innovative--and the close relationship she soon develops with a group of high-school girls will corrupt their children and leave them dissatisfied with the dictates of their religion. Events come to a head when a teenage girl runs away and the rabbi's son announces that he is having strong doubts about his commitment to an Orthodox life. Mirvis's first novel is filled with affectionately described scenes of Jewish life, including shabbos dinners and holiday celebrations; but the dilemma over how much change a religion can absorb before it loses its heart and soul--and its children--is one that applies to any creed. Readers who enjoyed Pearl Abraham's The Romance Reader (1995) and Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls (1998) will want to read this. --Nancy Pearl

Publisher's Weekly Review

The world of this confident, insightful debut novel is the tightly knit Orthodox Jewish community of Memphis, Tenn., a social structure that unravels when an unconventional New York convert settles there with her five-year-old daughter. Newly widowed Batsheva Jacobs is both shockingly modern and fervently spiritual. She lovingly raises her daughter, Ayala, in the Orthodox tradition, but she sings loudly and enthusiastically at shul (perhaps a sign of unseemly ego), visits the mikvah to cleanse herself (an act that raises eyebrows, since she has no husband), and she wears flowing clothes that show her figureÄall of which is noted suspiciously by the local women whose common goal is to preserve tradition. In Memphis, where Shabbos dinner includes fried chicken and black-eyed peas, that task isn't easy. Taking a job as art teacher at the girls' school, blonde, green-eyed Batsheva is soon a beloved confidante of the community's female teenagers, but when she allows them to wear makeup and miniskirts on a ski trip, and becomes close to the Rabbi's beloved 22-year-old son, she's the subject of cruel gossip. After one of her students runs away with a non-Jewish, older boyfriend, Batsheva is blamed. The narrator, one of the housewives fiercely protective of the insular community, tells the story in third-person plural: "little changed in this city where we have always lived"Äa statement rendered untrue, of course, as the community breaks into discord. Caught in the middle are Ayala and the respected and goodhearted Mimi Rubin, the rabbi's wife, who begins to believe rumors about her son's attachment to Batsheva, and panics. Generous with humor and compassion, Mirvis paints tenderly nuanced portraits of strong female characters while scrutinizing an entrenched religious subculture whose traditions are threatened by modern temptations. Guilt, passion, prejudice, loneliness and independenceÄcommon themes in Jewish literatureÄare explored with sensitivity in a gentle story that captures its milieu with tolerant understanding, and plucks the heartstrings. Agent, Nicole Aragi. 7-city author tour. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Life in Memphis's Orthodox community is as it always has been, until a free-spirited widow arrives with her young daughter. Now alone in the world, Batsheva is looking for a close-knit community and has heard that Memphis, the hometown of her late husband, is pleasant. Uninhibited and artistic, she raises suspicion immediately among the Orthodox women in the community. A convert to Judaism, Batsheva observes the holidays and rituals with more joy and abandon than some believe appropriate. When she becomes the art teacher at the Jewish school, the teenage girls finally have a sympathetic ear. Unfortunately, their rebelliousness and the decision of the rabbi's son to leave yeshiva have to be blamed on someone. As the outsider, Batsheva becomes a scapegoat for all the ills in the community. A well-wrought tale of fear and intolerance that is universal.ÄKimberly G. Allen, MCI Corporate Information Resources Ctr., Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



BATSHEVA APPEARED IN OUR lives on a Friday afternoon as we were getting ready for Shabbos. It was inappropriate that she moved in when she did. Not that there was any religious prohibition against it, but it wasn't something we would have done. Fridays were set aside to prepare for Shabbos, and on the day Batsheva arrived, we were picking up our children from day camp, frying up chickens and doing laundry, the list of last-minute tasks growing as sundown approached. Even in the summer, when Shabbos started close to eight o'clock, there was never enough time to get ready. Each week, when the last glimpses of sun were fading behind the trees, we looked around our spotless houses, smelled the freshly cooked food, and felt a sense of wonder that once again we had finished in time. We had heard that someone new was moving in, that the Lebmans had finally rented their house to a nice Jewish family as they had hoped to. This is who we were expecting any day now, a husband, a wife, a few children. We had begun speculating: Would the wife want to join the Sisterhood, the Ladies Auxiliary, the Donor Luncheon Committee? And whose carpool would they be in? It was the end of June and car pools for the upcoming school year were already being finalized. When Batsheva drove down the street in a dusty white car piled high with luggage, her windows rolled down and loud music from a radio station we never listened to pouring out, it didn't occur to us that she might be the new neighbor we had been waiting for. We assumed that this woman had taken a wrong turn, that she was cruising through our neighborhood in search of some other one. On our streets we were used to seeing station wagons or minivans able to transport our many children, our bags of groceries, our mounds of dry cleaning. But she slowed as she approached the Liebmans' house and leaned her head out the window to check the address. She pulled into the driveway, her brakes squealing as she stopped. She honked several times, as if expecting someone to run out and welcome her. But no one came out, and instead, veiled behind our curtains, we watched her get out of the car, raise her hands over her head and stretch out her thin body. She turned to stare at the street, her eyes moving from house to house, drinking us in slowly like hot tea. Who knows what she saw when she first looked around. We had lived here so long that it's difficult to imagine seeing it fresh. The shul and school stand in the middle of our neighborhood, and our houses circle around them in homage to what is most important. Our winding streets are quiet, peaceful. The branches of dogwoods, white-budded magnolias and thick oaks curve over the roads in a green canopy, painting a leaf-patterned shield in the sky. The houses, mostly ranch style, large and sprawling, are situated at comfortable distances from each other. The lawns are well kept, the bushes are trimmed, and bright-colored flowers line the brick pathways that lead to our front doors. Right away we knew Batsheva wasn't one of us. What stood out most was her white-blond hair. She left it loose and it was long, all the way down her back. her green eyes leapt out at us and her face glistened with sweat. Her features were small and even, her cheeks were carefully sculpted, pale skin stretched tightly across bone. But her lips were full, curving upward like an archer's bow. It was also her clothes that caught our attention. She didn't dress the way we did, in loose skirts and modest necklines that hid our curved female bodies, shaping them into soft masses. Her white, short-sleeved shirt clung too tightly to her chest. The gauzy fabric of her purple skirt. The hem of it trimmed with fringes, swished when she walked, and we could almost see the trace of her legs beneath. And she wore a silver anklet with shiny blue beads and brown leather sandals with thin straps that crisscrossed in tight angles across her skin. She went around to the other side of the car, opened the door, and out came a barefoot little girl in a yellow sundress. Ayala's face was smudged with chocolate and her hands looked sticky. Something about this little girl's face made us need to look again: on first glance we had seen the face of an adult even though our eyes were telling us it was a child no more than five years old. Her hair was a few shades lighter than Batsheva's and hung in wisps across her forehead and reached her chin. Her eyes had a ghostly quality, giving the impression that no one was behind them. And her skin was so pale we could almost see past it to the blue veins below. Excerpted from The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.