My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

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Stealing Home book coverWhat the Book is About:

Between best friends, boys, Hebrew school, bat mitzvah preparations, sleepovers, and Jewish-Indian identity issues, life has suddenly gotten very confusing. Almost-thirteen-year-old Tara Feinstein’s just trying to figure things out. Is she rejecting her beloved Indian grandmother’s heritage by choosing to have a bat mitzvah? How does she feel about God? And why is her best friend Ben-o suddenly behaving so awkwardly around her? Kids will find the many depictions of Jewish and Indian culture fascinating (Hebrew, Yiddish and Hindi/Punjabi words are defined in a thorough glossary at the end) and will root for Tara as she navigates the complicated challenges of middle school in this upbeat, charming book. 

Jewish Content and Values

  • Tara’s mother converted to Judaism before Tara was born and expects Tara to celebrate her bat mitzvah by reading her haftarah and making a speech before friends and family. Tara has already attended two years of Hebrew school and there is much description of standard Hebrew school curriculum, including bible stories such as Joseph’s coat and Jacob and Esau, as well as holidays like Chanukah and Passover. There is discussion between the kids about matrilineal Jewish descent, and views about tattoos and cremations in the Jewish tradition.
  • Tara’s paternal grandmother is active at synagogue and sprinkles Yiddish words into her daily conversation. Tara’s family also celebrates some Indian holidays with her mother’s family, and Gran brings her famous matzo ball soup.  

Positive Role Models

  • Rabbi Aron is a charismatic, cool young rabbi who really connects with the teens in his b’nei mitzvah class. He helps Tara to understand right from wrong and teaches her that sometimes the questions are more important than the answers.
  • Tara is a strong character who stands by her principles. Despite her apprehension, she owns up to having ruined her aunt’s heirloom sari and insists on returning the bracelet that her friend has shoplifted from the mall. 

Content Advisory

There’s mild romantic chemistry throughout the entire book between Ben-o and Tara that culminates in a kiss, and several mentions of boys or girls who have crushes on each other and are “cute.” Tara gets into a physical fight in the lunchroom with a girl from Hebrew school who insists that she’s not really Jewish. One of Tara’s friends has trichotillomania and also shoplifts. One of the boys makes borderline racist comments (that are clearly considered inappropriate by all). Tara’s cousin Vijay and his friends are called potheads.  

Topics to Discuss

In this story, Ryan says that his grandpa thinks that all Muslims are terrorists. Aisha, who is Muslim, says that her grandparents have some pretty outrageous things to say about Jews. Have you ever heard someone that you love or respect make a racist or offensive statement? What did you do about it?  

More for You

The Jewish community in India has a long and rich tradition, dating from the destruction of the First temple in 50 CE. There are three distinct groups, separated by geographic location: the Cochin Jews, the Bene Israel, and the Baghdadi Jews. The groups emigrated to India during different eras and have lived in peaceful coexistence with the local community for hundreds of years. The Bene Israel community is the largest of the three, and many believe that they are actually members of the ten lost tribes, exiled by the Assyrians. Today, the largest Bene Israel community in the world lives in Israel.