Once more with chutzpah
An intensely readable and moving YA debut about a teen who grapples with questions of her Jewish identity, mental health, and sexuality on an unforgettable trip to Israel.
When high school senior Tally and her twin brother Max head off on an exchange trip to Israel over their winter break, Tally thinks it will be a good distraction for Max; he might be trying to hide it, but she knows he’s still struggling in the wake of a car crash that injured him and killed the driver. Maybe this will help him get back on track and apply to college the way he and Tally always planned.
But as the group travels across the country, Tally realizes her plan might not be working, and that her brother might not be the only one with a lot on his mind. When a new relationship gets complicated in the face of her own anxiety—about her future, her sexual and romantic identity, and her place within the Jewish diaspora—Tally must grapple not only with the past, but also with what life will be like when they get back home.
Debut author Haley Neil offers a relatable and deeply felt story about identity on the cusp of adulthood.
I began writing Once More with Chutzpah shortly after my first trip to Israel. I will forever be grateful that I had the chance to meet family members, attend Jerusalem Pride, visit the gender-neutral section of the Western Wall, and see my safta’s homeland.
There were many details from my own trip that I echoed in this book and others I wasn’t able to fit into Tally’s story. There was a truly amazing food tour through Tel Aviv that words couldn’t do justice. I remember sitting in an academic lecture on the Middle Eastern Conflict run by a professor and stopping outside a checkpoint. I got the chance to meet my safta’s cousins, who she grew up with like siblings, for the first time. These moments were immensely meaningful to me as someone with Israeli family facing the deeply complicated history of the country and the even more complex present.
This book is a work of fiction. There are liberties I took, from the specifics of the high school exchange program the characters are on to moving Jerusalem Pride to January (which was in August when I went).
On the whole, my experience with my own trip, and the time I’ve had to reflect upon it since, both on my own and in conversation with others, was extremely educational and meaningful. That said, this is, ultimately, one story. There is so much nuanced history around the Israeli land. This book reflects only a fraction of the whole. The complete story of the Middle East includes many other voices, including those of young people who live in Palestine or are of Palestinian descent.
I also hope to read more stories from across the diaspora about Jewish identity and anxiety and asexuality. I feel so unbelievably lucky to have made this contribution. I can't wait to share it with you.
Artist: Leni Kauffman Designer: Jeanette Levy