Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: Hanukkah Gifts
AUTHOR: Jacob Cheyenne
PUBLISHER: JMS Books
LENGTH: 87 pages
RELEASE DATE: December 24, 2016
Twenty-five-year-old TV producer Jared Greenfield loves his big city life — job, friends, and shopping — but even with all the fun of big city life, he feels a longing for something, or someone, more. Then, on the very first night of Hanukkah, he spots a handsome, sweaty basketball player at the Jewish Community Center.
Tall, dark, and Orthodox, the young and athletic Shai Goodhart strikes up an easy friendship with Jared, only to discover Jared has very little appreciation for his own Jewish heritage and religion. Determined to enlighten this “Bad Jew,” Shai invites him over for a family Hanukkah celebration.
Then Jared discovers Shai’s deepest secret and the biggest threat to his future. Over the eight days of Hanukkah, deep emotions pull them closer and closer together. Can they ever reach across the divide of their shared culture and fall in love?
Jared Greenfield has never been what he would consider a “Good Jew.” He doesn’t go to Temple. He doesn’t keep the Laws. And to be honest most of the traditional Jewish holidays (and a few he makes up) are nothing more than excuses to get out of work. Which makes his infatuation with Shai Goodhart, a Modern Orthodox Jew, all the more frustrating. He likes Shai, but he can’t really understand the man’s life. Or understand how a gay man could or would willingly live a life that, for Jared, seems to doom him to closets and unhappiness. But there might be something Jared is missing, and maybe Shai is worth taking the chance to find out what it is. Even if it looks like Shai might never be able to return the favor.
I always make it a point to pick up some Hanukkah-centered stories every holiday season. I’m not Jewish, but I find the traditions, passed down thru the centuries to be fascinating, and I like reading about them. And that was certainly one of my favorite parts of this story. It didn’t go into a lot of detail, but I loved the parts with both Jared and Shai’s families as they celebrated Hanukkah–and how it showed the differences between the two.
I did have trouble with other aspects of the book, though. Mostly it felt too rushed. A week is way too short to buy a lot of the emotions that were thrown around at the end, and that made the ending feel a bit weak. There was also the fact that I found Jared’s personality to be a bit too abrasive for me. The constant harping on about looks and how much things are worth made him come off a bit shallow, in my opinion, and didn’t help when it came time to sell his “love” declaration at the end of the story.
I also had a hard time buying that Jared had any right or place to criticize Shai. Especially near the end where he ends up lecturing him about how to live his life. The dude has only known Shai for a week. You don’t get to barge into someone’s life, be the catalyst for a major implosion, and then say “why can’t you appreciate what I did for you?!” It kinda made Jared come off as a massive asshole. I get that Jared didn’t like how Shai was living his life, and he might have even been right in some respects, but acting like Shai needs to rearrange his entire life right that second just because Jared has a boner for the dude doesn’t seem at all reasonable to me. Maybe if there had been more time between the initial meeting and the ending it would have worked for me, but as it is…I can’t say I had any sympathy for Jared. And I really felt sorry that Shai had his whole life rearranged by some random dude who can’t seem to keep his priorities straight.
The rushed time-frame of this story just didn’t work for me. Having everything compacted into about a week made a lot of the actions (and reactions) a bit far-fetched and hard for me to believe. While the parts about Hanukkah I found to be really interesting, the characters–especially Jared–where not given enough time to grow past initial impressions.