Review of ‘Emunah with Love and Chicken Soup: The Story of Rebbetzin Henny Machlis, the Brooklyn-born Girl Who Became a Jerusalem Legend.’ By Sara Yoheved Rigler (2016). Hardcover. 576 pages. ArtScroll Shaar Press. ISBN-10: 1422618358.
Okay, you’ve heard all the clichés, right? This book is so inspiring. This book will change your life. This is a book you can’t put down. Well, I’ve got a book for you that goes way beyond the clichés—because this is honestly one of the best, most transformative and most “un-put-downable” books of the year…and the past few decades. This is the book that you get when you take Sara Yoheved Rigler, one of Jewish publishing’s most dazzling writers, and combine her talent with the life story of one of our Jewish world’s most dynamic, unique, loving and beloved personalities—Rebbetzin Henny Machlis, z’l.
If you’ve ever spent any time in Yerushalayim, you’ll have heard of the Machlises—and you may very well have eaten a Shabbat meal with them. Famed for their hospitality, the Machlises would host anywhere between 100-150 (occasionally more!) people in their small Jerusalem home every Shabbat. The woman whom some called the “Sarah Imeinu of our time” and others “The Shabbat Queen,” would, in her small Israeli kitchen, and on their small Israeli budget, prepare over 40 chickens, three different kugels, countless salads, four desserts and, of course, gefilte fish, chicken soup, and cholent—both traditional and vegetarian.
But Henny’s story so doesn’t stop at her awesome, generous Shabbat meals. There was Henny, mother to 14, including a child with special needs, whose patience and love serve as a shining example of parenting. Henny, whose apartment and heart both expanded to contain and embrace all Jews, whatever their beliefs, whatever their situation. Henny, whose Torah teachings influenced her many students to try a little harder, climb a little higher, become a little (and maybe a lot) greater.
The format of this book makes it particularly readable. Rigler interviewed more than 100 people —family, friends, students, neighbors and, of course, Shabbat guests—and a large portion of the book is composed of their stories, in their own words. She also includes “Henny’s Torah Teachings,” taken from transcriptions of Henny’s classes. There are also sections that give the reader ideas on how to incorporate lessons from Henny’s life into their own. And, of course, there is Rigler’s sparkling and engaging narrative. Put them together, and you have 570 (!) pages that you can’t stop reading!
This is a book that is perfect to give to anyone going through tough challenges. The story of one of the most amazing hostesses of our time makes an amazing hostess gift. And if you just love great writing and a fantastic story—treat yourself.
The title of this book really tells it all: “Emunah With Love and Chicken Soup.” Emunah: Henny, who lived on Planet Emunah, knew, really knew, that Hashem can do anything, and she simply waited for Him to do it. The most amazing thing about the miracles that were commonplace in her kitchen and her life was how unsurprised she was by them. Love: This was a woman who could see clearly past all the layers of mistakes, bad choices and foolish deeds that mar our pure, shining neshamos, who could love us for what we were, what we are, and what we can be.
And chicken soup? Well, just go to the Machlis family home any Friday night, and try it for yourself.
By Sharona Braun