With different views on how to live a Jewish life in Regency London, Esther Baumann is convinced she can never marry a man like Adam Halevy. He views everyone outside his faith with distrust and he criticizes her for not understanding tenets of the faith - even while she's never been allowed to learn Hebrew. However, all of that changes when Adam must go on a mission for crown and country which challenges his preconceived notions of people and what it means to be a good partner. In honor of Hanukah we are reading "An Open Heart" by Caroline Warfield. **Although there is not much Hanukkah and other SPOILERS**
Pick up a copy of this week's book, An Open Heart by Caroline Warfield, here!
Want to listen to a certain segment? Here is our outline this week:
0:00 - 10:12: Intro/History Facts/ Author Facts/Tropes
10:12 - 17:13: Synopsis
17:13 - 19:31: Parlour
19:31 - 42:30: General Discussion
We are now including our synopses as a semi-transcription of the episode in our blog posts. You can learn more about how we compose these by reading this article. As a reminder though, our synopses are FULL of spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk :)
An Open Heart Synopsis:
Esther Baumann is delighted and excited because she, Jewish daughter of a banker, has received an invitation from a duchess to a house party. So excited, in fact, that when she returns home, she ignores the butler’s subtle warnings that her father isn’t alone and bursts into his office to tell him.
Once inside, she bashfully realizes that he has business associates, but at his prompting shares her news. The men she isn’t familiar with, both aristocrats, seem chuffed at her excitement and congratulate her on such an excellent invitation, but the man she does know, Adam Halevy, her father’s protege, seems displeased at the news, which irks Esther to no end. Why was this man so judgemental of everything she did! Couldn’t he just be happy for her? And why, oh why, did her heart have to do flips over such a frustrating, backwards-thinking man?
The men are preparing for a secret mission - to get funds into France and across the Alps to Wellington. Although Esther isn’t privy to the details of their mission, she knows that Adam will be doing something dangerous and will be gone for at least six weeks, so when he leaves, she wants to say goodbye.
Their goodbye is fraught with something. There’s obviously an attraction between the two, but Adam wants a Jewish wife who will respect and uphold the traditions of their faith and the subservient role of wife. Esther wants a husband who will not be so tied to the ways of the past - someone who is open to new ideas and happy to make friends outside their narrow circle. So they part as friends, with words left unspoken, because for now, there’s nothing to say to make things work in their favor.
Adam travels with an aristocrat - Viscount Rochlin - who defies everything Adam knows (or thinks he knows) about the aristocracy. The viscount had been a solider for a while and had no trouble sleeping in terrible conditions, doesn’t grumble about food, and is insistent that Adam not use his title even in private, lest he forget in public and blow their cover. His attitude is challenging for Adam - who had strong conceptions about anyone outside his faith, particularly concerning prejudice against Jews. But the viscount is simply a good natured man, and Adam finds himself thoughtful through the journey.
They have a stopover in a French village at the foot of the Alps where Adam had spent some time. His friend and the local Rabbi houses them for the night and helps them with the preparations for scaling the pass. It turns out that it is Hanukkah - they had lost track of time - so the two men get to spend the evening observing the holiday. At the viscounts respectful observance and natural curiosity surrounding the traditions, Adam is almost charmed.
The journey is hard, but eventually they succeed in their quest and are able to return to England in a much more expedient fashion aboard another aristocrat’s yacht. Adam has had weeks to think and grow. Conversations he’s had along the way have made him realize that perhaps Esther has had the right of it all along - perhaps they can respect and treasure their traditions while opening their hearts to others. And Adam’s heart is telling him that he needs to convince Esther that he’s changed so that she will agree to become his wife.
Meanwhile, Esther has been working to convince her parents to allow her to go to this holiday party she’s been invited to by a duchess. Her mother is too frail and her father too busy, but finally they convince her Aunt to chaperone her. And so….something like six weeks after the invitation was issued, Esther goes to the party.
She is there when Adam returns - it is almost Christmas, but he knows that he cannot delay. What if she meets a handsome young man and becomes engaged at the party? So he sets off to the manor with a letter from Esther’s father, who has given him permission.
But, Esther’s father has also decided to come behind with a traditional matchmaker. Once the matchmaker “makes the match” between Esther and Adam - it’s not something that Esther could easily get out of. So Adam knows he needs to ask Esther before the matchmaker arrives so that he can call it off if Esther refuses him. He knows that this will be important to her.
Esther is having a grand time at the party. Despite some light anti-semitism from the guests, which might be described as insensitivity rather than anti-semitism, she is mingling well and enjoying everyone’s company. She’s somewhat of a novelty to some of the guests, but her host is accepting and progressive and generally delightful, so that saves her from anything more odious than some giggling and light comments about her being Jewish.
There’s one man at the party who is a great catch and vaguely interesting, but then Adam arrives. Esther doesn’t know how to feel about him, but she knows that she doesn’t want to be caught alone with him. So she evades him privately for a few days while he stresses that the matchmaker will arrive.
Luckily, a masquerade ball is scheduled! And Adam has the excellent idea to dress as Ahasuerus (A-has-you-heiress) to catch Esther’s attention. The plan works - and she agrees to discuss things with him. Knowing he has to convince her of not only his feelings, but also that he’s changed, he tells her this:
“I need to tell you I was wrong. It isn’t easy for me.” She stopped and rocked back on her heels, eyes wide. He let it all out in a rush: Rochlin’s friendship, Sarah’s Hebrew, and Rebbe NMahmany’s advice. “‘Keep an open heart,’ he said. I didn’t understand what he meant at first, but he was right. You were right. I need to trust, to give people and ideas a chance.” “Ideas?” she murmured. She looked baffled by his jumbled words. “We can value our traditions without becoming so hide-bound we can’t allow change. We can hold onto our own customs and still value our friends.”
And Esther says yes - just in the knick of time as her father and the matchmaker arrive!
The party though, continues, and while they’re there, Esther and Adam are invited to demonstrate one of their traditions for the guests. They perform a Shabbat ceremony and all the guests find the prayers to be extremely heartwarming.
They also work on their Ketubah, or marriage certificate while they’re at the party. Adam helps Esther translate the Aramaic it is written in, and together they make a few unconventional changes, including that their daughters will also be educated, and that Esther doesn’t have to be his slave...basically. But Esther is overjoyed that this man, who has made her heart thump so, has gone through this massive transformation of spirit and is willing to take their traditions forward.
And since Jews were exempt from the Hardwicke Act, they don’t have to wait for banns to be called, and they couldn’t use a special license, because Jewish custom required a thirty-day period between agreement and their marriage. So they leave the party and a month later are wed joyously. Esther is delighted with all clauses they’ve added to their Ketubah and with the fact that Adam made a separate copy that she could sign as well. They finish our story by with
Her mouth tilted in a wide smile. “Anything you say, Adam. I plan to be a very submissive wife.” He chuckled. “I doubt it, love, but luckily, I have a very open heart.”