Double Crossing: A Jewish Immigration Story


"Outstanding in both its structure and its questioning of faith, this offering is not to be missed." -Kirkus Reviews (STARRED Review)

"Best of all is the shocking surprise that changes everything, even Papa-a haunting aspect of the immigrant story left too long untold." -Booklist (STARRED Review)

The future for Jews in rural villages of Russia in 1905 held little promise. Stories of pogroms seeped through the countryside, and the czar was ...

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"Outstanding in both its structure and its questioning of faith, this offering is not to be missed." -Kirkus Reviews (STARRED Review)

"Best of all is the shocking surprise that changes everything, even Papa-a haunting aspect of the immigrant story left too long untold." -Booklist (STARRED Review)

The future for Jews in rural villages of Russia in 1905 held little promise. Stories of pogroms seeped through the countryside, and the czar was conscripting soldiers because of rumors of war and revolution. Benjamin Balaban, a poor but very devout Jew, determines to flee to America. He will take Raizel, his almost-twelve-year-old daughter, and once they are settled he will send for his wife and other children. Raizel doesn’t understand the reasons for leaving. How can her village be dangerous? It’s full of magic and the stories and poems that her grandmother Bubba tells her.

But go she must. Her odyssey with her father across Russia and Europe and on to America is full of adventure, adversity, and hardship. She desperately misses her family, but she retells Bubba’s stories to keep her memories alive. Finally, they board a ship for America, but a terrible storm makes Raizel and her father sick. All their food is stolen, and Benjamin won’t eat non-kosher food. At Ellis Island, his long beard and ear locks, his peasant clothes, his deep cough, and emaciated frame get them turned away from America. Raizel, though, is now determined to get back to America and the hope of a new life for her whole family. She must convince her father that he’ll have to give up his orthodox food and traditions and put on the clothes of his new country. She and her father both will have to leave everything behind to make their final crossing to America.

Double Crossing is the winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People and the Skipping Stones Honor Award, and is a Notable Book for a Global Society and a Notable Children’s Book of Jewish Content.

Eve Tal was born in 1947 in New York City. She lives on Kibbutz Hatzor with her husband and three sons.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The separation, the trauma, the dream of golden America, the journey across Europe, the ocean voyage, the inspections and arrival at Ellis Island—the historical detail is dense. But Raizel’s lively first-person narrative is anything but reverential…Her view of adults and kids, family and strangers, back home and on the perilous adventure, brings the people on the journey very close."—Booklist, starred review

"Raizel is the perfect vehicle for the narrative…Her love of stories—that weave throughout the narrative—serves as both release from the terrors of the double crossing and prism for her spiritual quest." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"With treacherous boat trips and interesting secondary characters, Tal's fictionalized account of her grandfather's journey to America is fast paced, full of suspense, and highly readable."—School Library Journal

"Double Crossing is a gripping, emotionally moving tale of the trials and challenges…Tal tells this story, which is based on her own grandfather's experience, in Raizel's voice, weaving into it the history and her Jewish heritage."—Skipping Stones, starred review

"Eve Tal offers here a new and interesting look at those unfortunates who made the long journey to America, only to be turned away and sent back home. Raizel is a real character, a girl who is quick-witted, flawed, and brave, and readers will be sure to enjoy this book." —Nancy Austein, of the 2006 Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee

"[Raizel] is portrayed as a lively, inquisitive, brave, persistent girl, who loves to tell imaginative stories and desperately wants to go to school. Readers will identify with her and will feel her difficulties keenly." —Marci Lavine Bloch, of the 2006 Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee

"This succulent story will enhance your holiday table with discussions about faith, family history, and changes in ritual observance through the generations. I highly recommend it as reading for both parents and children." —World Jewish Digest

"There is enough danger and adventure in any immigration story, but Raizal’s is different. The title hints but gives nothing away. The novel brings to life, at a very basic level, existence for a young Jewish girl." —VOYA

Children's Literature
Before you say, 'oh, not another story about a family of Jews escaping the Pale of Settlement,' or 'haven't we had enough of these escapes from Russia?', please reconsider. True, the Balaban family must leave Russia as quickly as possible, so that is a familiar situation. Fortunately, the characters are more three-dimensional, more appealing, and more real than they are in many older books. The father is a scholar who will be drafted into the Russian army if he does not leave the country. Borrowing money from his wealthy brother, he manages to get two steamboat tickets to New York. But he has a large family—Mama, Raizel, Lemmel, Shloyme, and Hannah—so who will he choose to go with him? Lemml is the obvious choice. He is the oldest boy, and he has already started his studies. Despite this, Lemml does not like to study, and his father realizes that he will fall behind if he takes the time to go to America. Shloyme and Hannah are too young. So that leaves Raizel, who does not want to leave. But she has no choice. Her mother, who has no illusions about her husband's lack of practical skills, has taught Raizel the basics of housekeeping and cooking, so she will have to take care of her father in America. Will she be able to go to school? What will her life be like? How can she stand to be so far away from her home? Add to these problems her father's insistence on kosher food. When their food is stolen, he refuses to eat. He will not even take the oranges offered to him: "Benjamin Balaban does not take charity," he says. Raizel is only twelve, and her abilities and ingenuity seem almost unbelievable. Nevertheless, even she is foiled by the inspectors at Ellis Island. Her fatherobviously has no marketable skills, and it is very possible that he will become a burden to the country. So they get sent back—not all the way to Russia, fortunately, but to Antwerp. In another stroke of fortune, Raizel makes friends with a wealthy elderly woman on the ship, who lives in Antwerp, and who is determined to see things go right for the Balabans. All these coincidences require a little too much suspension of disbelief, but the book is, in general, so readable that mine went flying overboard. Recommended. 2005, Cinco Puntos Press, Ages 9 to 12.
—Judy Silverman
Tal tells the story of her own grandfather's trip to America at the turn of the twentieth century, adding as a narrator a fictional daughter, Raizal, who serves as her father's companion on a hazardous trip half-way around the world. Twelve-year-old Raizal did not expect to leave the small Russian village of Jibatov ever, let alone to take a trip to America, a role that she thinks should rightly be filled by her adventurous younger brother, Lemmel, the oldest son. But Lemmel must stay in school, so Raizal is sent along to take care of her father. There is enough danger and adventure in any immigration story, but Raizal's is different. The title hints but gives nothing away. In this strong historical fiction novel, Raizal is a true storyteller even though she cannot read. She retells traditional folk legends taught to her by her grandmother and trades Chelm stories with her father, as well as makes up new tales in the Jewish storytelling tradition. The novel brings to life, at a very basic level, existence for a young Jewish girl isolated in a small village surrounded by Orthodox neighbors like herself, as she is suddenly thrown into other societies across Europe and at sea. The story focuses on the trip alone and the challenges to their traditions faced by Raizal and her father. Readers will look forward to a sequel focusing on Raizal's life in America. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2005, Cinco Puntos Press, 216p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Beth Karpas
From The Critics
It's 1905 in the rural Russian countryside, and Raizel Balaban loves helping her mother with her younger siblings and telling stories. The last thing she wants to do is go with her father to America. But the threat of pogroms and conscription into the Czar's army force her and her father Benjamin to undertake an arduous, risky journey across Europe and the Atlantic. They survive seasickness, near drowning, and hunger (as orthodox Jews, they will only eat kosher food) only to be turned away at Ellis Island because of Benjamin's poor health. Exceptionally and powerfully told, this story is historical fiction at its finest, treating important (though often neglected) issues of immigration and belonging, pride and faith. 2005, Cinco Punto Press, 261pp., Ages young adult.
—Melissa Moore
Raizel Balaban is almost 12 years old and she is about to journey from the Ukraine to America. With the Czar taking young men into the army, with pogroms, and with her father's failing business, the time has come for her family to make a dramatic change, and it has been decided that Raizel will go along to cook and care for her father until he can make enough money to bring the rest of the family to America. This novel follows their journey through the forest and into the city with many others who are also emigrating illegally. It tells of the people who helped along the way, and the people who took advantage of fleeing Jews in the early 1900s. Tal's details provide haunting images as she takes her grandfather's story and retells it through the eyes of his daughter. A girl who loves to tell the stories she learned from her grandmother, Raizel also shares with readers the heritage of the Russian Jews and the fear and the hardships of immigration. Intermingled is the crisis of faith of an observing Jew as he travels toward a different world from the one he left behind: Binyumin Balaban becomes Benjamin Altman as he steps off the ship and into Boston. But it is the love and wisdom of his daughter, who provides their story to the officials, that opens the door for him. KLIATT Codes: J--Recommended for junior high school students. 2005, Cinco Puntos Press, 261p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Janis Flint-Ferguson
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-As conditions worsen for Jews in Eastern Europe in 1905, 11-year-old Raizel accompanies her father to America. Traveling by wagon, train, and on foot, they arrive in Antwerp to board the ship to New York. When they finally arrive at Ellis Island, Benjamin's shabby appearance, persistent cough, and emaciated body cause the inspector to declare him "liable to become a public charge" and unfit to enter America. Raizel and her father receive passage to return home. With the help of kind strangers, he makes the difficult decision to give up his Orthodox Jewish way of life-shaving his beard and eating unkosher food-for a second chance at entering America. This theme of assimilation as the only means for survival may trouble some readers. With treacherous boat trips and interesting secondary characters, Tal's fictionalized account of her grandfather's journey to America is fast paced, full of suspense, and highly readable. Similar to other immigrant stories such as Karen Hesse's Letters from Rifka (Holt, 1992) and Kathryn Lasky's The Night Journey (Puffin, 1986), Double Crossing offers the unique perspective of immigrants who were denied admission into America.-Rachel Kamin, Temple Israel Libraries & Media Center, West Bloomfield, MI Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Twelve-year-old Raizel chafes under the strict gender roles that govern daily life in her Ukrainian shtetl in 1905, but she is nonetheless reluctant to leave when her father decides that she, of all the family's children, should accompany him to America. Their journey is difficult, but more rigorous than the physical hardships are the challenges to Jewish orthodoxy they encounter along the way: Finding kosher food is so difficult, for instance, that her father refuses all nourishment during the Atlantic crossing. It is when they are refused entry at Ellis Island and sent back to Europe, however, that their faith is tested the most. Raizel is the perfect vehicle for the narrative, her yearning to read never leading to anachronistic feistiness, just an appropriately Jewish desire to interrogate the world around her and to question just how a Jew can fit into the universe beyond the shtetl. Her love of stories-that weave throughout the narrative-serves as both release from the terrors of the double crossing and prism for her spiritual quest. Outstanding in both its structure and its questioning of faith, this offering is not to be missed. (Fiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780938317944
  • Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2005
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 1,521,282
  • Age range: 13 - 15 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Eve Tal holds a masters degree in special education from Long Island University and is completing a master's degree in Children's Literature from Hollins University. She moved to Israel in the 1970s, living Kibbutz Hatzor. Eve has published four picture books in Hebrew. Her first novel Double Crossing was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2005

    This is the kind of book I've loved since I was young

    This beautifully written story brings to life fully human characters, child and adult, as well as the distant time and places in which their struggles occur. It will resonate with any readers who have immigrant ancestors or who have themselves made the journey into a new culture, trying to learn enough of the new to function while maintaining enough of the old to feel in balance, finding themselves changed in ways they never imagined.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2005

    'Double Crossing' was hard to put down...

    I enjoyed the story very much. The dramatic tension kept me reading long past my bedtime. It also felt authentic in terms of place and time.

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