June 21, 2024
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Let This Book Transport You

Reviewing: “Front Row Seat” by C.B. Weinfeld. ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications. 2021. English. Hardcover. ISBN 9781422628416.

J.K. Rowling, creator of Harry Potter and his witchy friends, famously said, “There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”

C.B. Weinfeld, another author who prefers to use her initials, doesn’t take us to Hogwarts, but in “Front Row Seat,” her seventh collection of true stories published by ArtScroll/Mesorah, she does transport us to many places. To a hijacked plane sitting on the tarmac in Amman. To an upscale jewelry store in Brooklyn. To a wrecked car hidden in the Adirondacks, a COVID-19 ward and a ship drifting aimlessly through the Caribbean Sea.

And here’s the surprising thing about these stories: Though the locales are often exotic, and though the narrative arcs are unusual and sometimes edge-of-the-seat exciting, what really captures our attention and our hearts are the people involved. As the author points out in her introduction:

“Behind each anecdote is a living, breathing human being with ups and downs, struggles and setbacks, visions and dreams and the determination to achieve them. Many of these heroes and heroines of the spirit were thrust into situations that called upon every shred of courage they possessed, and then some.”

Do you like happy endings? There are plenty of them in these pages. There’s the young man drafted during the Vietnam War whose life is saved by … I won’t spoil it by telling you, but trust me, it was an unexpected way to survive. I just adored the support group that morphs into a full-blown pity party—and the crisp words of a genuine Jewish “Bubby” that bring true and honest comfort to the participants.

But life is complex, and endings aren’t always pat. There are wounds—physical or emotional—that do not heal. There are relationships that, once broken, cannot be glued together. Yet even in stories without miracles or happily-ever-after endings, the author—and the reader—always find something to celebrate or marvel at. Sometimes it’s the protagonist’s unflinching courage in the face of despair, other times it’s the amazing chesed that comes just at the right moment and brings light to a very dark place.

We’re living in tough times. Even in places where COVID-19 is beginning to fade, the memories of the isolation and the losses of the past months are still with us, dark and heavy. There have been tragedies, violence and political instability in Eretz Yisrael, and, now, frightening outbreaks of antisemitism all over the globe.

Reading the beautifully written stories in “Front Row Seat” won’t make all the disturbing headlines go away. But as we read about the extraordinary courage of ordinary people, the determination and compassion and just plain grit of men and women not very different from us, we feel their strength—and we are strengthened.

Not to mention that it’s a very, very good read.

By Moriah Klein

 

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