by Naomi Ragen

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Covenant by Naomi Ragen

Living in terror-torn Jerusalem, Elise Margulies constantly fears for the safety of her loved ones. Confined to bedrest during a difficult pregnancy, she happily awaits the return of her husband and little girl from a ballet recital, only to find that her worst fears have finally been realized. All seems lost until a phone call to her grandmother in America unexpectedly revives a decades-old oath, creating a force that transends time and place, to rescue her loved ones. Over the course of five terror- and hope-filled days, the ties that bind two generations forge a potent alliance against contemporary evil.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312335069
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/01/2005
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 554,856
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

Naomi Ragen is the author of novels including The Tenth Song, The Sacrifice of Tamar, Sotah, and The Saturday Wife. Her books are international bestsellers, and her weekly email columns on life in the Middle East are read by thousands of subscribers worldwide. Ragen attended Brooklyn College and earned her master's in English from Hebrew University. An American, she has lived in Jerusalem since 1971. She was recently voted one of the three most popular authors in Israel.

Read an Excerpt


Maaleh Sara, Judea Monday, May 6, 2002 5; 30 A.M.

It was the sound of the birds in the morning he loved most, Dr. Jonathan Margulies thought as he lay in the cool early morning darkness. So different from the sounds of his own childhood in Detroit, where hearing a bird sing amidst the traffic, the trucks rolling down the superhighways, could not happen. He closed his eyes, listening to the sweet noises. They were gold-crests, or sylvia warblers, he thought, having once looked them up in a book.

He breathed in the tangy odor of the slightly damp fig leaves that rested on his windowsill. My own fig tree, he thought with wonder. To own such a thing. To have land in which to plant it, a tree that could grow for a hundred years, a tree that bore fruit that belonged to you. Not the stingy little bags purchased at great price in supermarkets, but bushels, more than anyone could ever eat. Fruit to share with friends and neighbors, to store, to bake, to eat carelessly, greedily. Fruit from God's own generous, open hand.

Trees were the thing that connected a person to his space on this earth, he thought. They were like your family. Your rootedness began with theirs. They weren't movable. They held on to the land, soaking up its goodness, turning it into nourishment whose sweetness dribbled down your chin. Once you experienced that, he thought, you were part of that place.

What a joy.

He threw off his light blanket, enjoying the cool breeze that drifted over his thin pajamas. It was only early May, but already the days were growing hot the moment the sun climbed over the horizon, its fierce, abundant light drenching the land, the people, nothing like the thin, tepid rays he remembered back in North America.

He looked over at his very pregnant wife, listened for the breathing of his young daughter, basking in the peace of his small, pretty house. My own house, my own land. My own family. And a fig tree, he thought, feeling suddenly overwhelmed by the abundance and goodness of his life.

On such a morning, he thought, it was almost possible to forget the war hanging over everything he loved, everything he'd built.

He threw his legs to the floor, willing his body to follow: "The throwing off of sleep is the beginning of all salvation," he whispered to himself, using the same proverb his mother had used in his high school days to pry him out of bed for early morning Talmud classes.

He was tired. He'd stayed up late the night before poring over case files and consulting with medical colleagues in Boston, New York and London. He glanced at Elise, watching the gentle rise and fall of her chest, the tendrils of honey-colored hair that fell around her rosy face on the white pillow. She looked so young — like a child — he thought, pulling the light summer blanket tenderly over her bare shoulders. But even that feathery touch was enough to wake her.


"Shh. Go back to sleep."

She heaved her swollen body up on her elbows. "We left all the supper dishes, the pots ... Not to mention the floor, which is a swamp." She started moving her feet toward the edge of the bed. "And this afternoon liana has that ballet recital at the community center. And — oh — it's my Bubbee Leah's birthday next week! I've got to buy her a present ..."

He sat down on the edge of the bed, blocking her. "Here's the rag. Where's the dirt?" He offered himself up.

She poked him in the stomach. "What would your distinguished colleagues and admiring patients say if they knew the learned professor of oncology arrived after a morning of wringing out dirty floor rags?"

"They'd agree that any treatment that successfully keeps the fetus in the womb until its heart and lungs are fully developed was good medicine, Elise. Especially," his voice grew kinder and more gentle, "if the mother had a history."

She studied her fingers gathering and twisting the material of her nightgown. "You're bullying me."

He smiled. "Is it working?"

"Yes! But don't let it go to your head. It's all those diplomas ... It has nothing to do with your macho pushiness, believe me." She folded her arms across her chest, sinking back into the mattress.

"I believe you. So? Do I have your word? It's only six weeks, honey. Then we'll all be home free."

"Listen, Jon, I'll be honest with you. I don't care if you are a doctor. I just can't promise to lay here all day long and do nothing. It's stressing me out."

"You can, darling. And you will," he said firmly.

End of story, she thought glumly. "Yes, Doctor."

"Why don't you work on your jewelry?"

It had started as just a hobby, stringing little colored beads when she was pregnant with liana. But encouraged by her success in selling her pieces to boutiques and by word of mouth, she'd taken a course at Bezalel in gold and silversmithing. And she'd never gone back to being a teacher of English to rambunctious fifth graders — who hated the language — again.

"I can't really use my tools laying here in bed."

"But you were doing such beautiful work with the bead necklaces and earrings ..."

"I'm sick and tired of stringing beads ... I'm sick and tired of everything. I want my body back. I want my life back ..."

"Elise, Elise. Be smart. Here you have a man with floor-scrubbing credentials, child care experience and a long, positive relationship with credit cards for purchasing takeout food. All this, he's laying at your feet — a once in a lifetime opportunity! Take advantage."

"Don't think I won't," she warned him. "Just not Chinese or Hamburger Ranch. I'm sick of all that grease. If I could just make some vegetarian risotto, with some pumpkin soup ..." She sighed. "Okay, I suppose not. And don't forget, Bubbee Leah ..."

"In this I'll need some advice and guidance. Presents for septuagenarians, especially incredibly fussy ones like Bubbee Leah, are out of my realm."

"Why do you say that? My grandmother isn't fussy at all!"

"Every single time we send her a present she complains nonstop that we shouldn't have spent the money ... that she doesn't need anything ..."

"Oh, do you have a lot to learn! That doesn't mean anything! That's just being European. That's what they have to say. It's like some ritual. They have this rule book, but no one else is allowed to read it, you know? In the book, it says if you get a present, you have to make the giver feel like an idiot, like he's wasted his money and you are angry at him for even thinking you might need a gift. But if you don't get anything, then you should be hurt and miserable and offended for life."

"Oh, is that the rule?"

"Absolutely. Trust me." She nodded emphatically. "I was thinking, maybe a cookbook?"

"With her cholesterol and heart problems? Don't you think she'd find that depressing?"

"Not at all. She doesn't do much cooking. But she likes to read and talk about food. That's what she did in Auschwitz. She'd 'prepare' meals, describing the ingredients, the step-by-step preparation. I don't think she gets to bookstores very often in Boro Park."

"You know what? I'll call you on my cell phone as I browse the shelves in Steimatzky's, so you can browse with me. You know I love Bubbee Leah. It's just ... she's just such a mystery."

"I know. All women are." She reached out for him. He took her hand, kneeling down beside her, putting his other hand over the unborn child they had both prayed so hard for after two miscarriages. "There are so many dangers out there we have no control over, Elise. This, at least, we can do something about."

She twined her fingers through his, their hands tent-like and sheltering over the baby. What a crazy time to bring a child into the world, she thought, a world which overnight seemed to have gone insane. The World Trade Center had been attacked for no reason anyone could figure out, collapsing in rubble, killing thousands before the eyes of an incredulous world. Palestinian terrorists killed children at bar mitzvahs and Passover seders; Indonesian terrorists killed Christians attending church services; Basque separatists blew up beach parties on the Costa Del Sol; and Pakistani Muslims opened fire on nurses in a Christian hospital. People didn't seem outraged or even surprised anymore, just kind of weary and dumbfounded. And even journalists pretended to no longer be able to distinguish right from wrong, bending over backward to see the murderer's point of view. Homicide seemed almost a lifestyle choice these days. Like being gay or vegetarian, it had earned a certain respect, even glamour, at least among media types who seemed eager to adopt the terrorists' own incredibly self-serving and immoral self-image as martyrs and heroes.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

She looked around at the whitewashed walls, the geraniums spilling over the window boxes. Like every young couple, they'd dreamed of building their own little house with a red-tiled roof and a big garden full of fruit trees and herbs. And so, when they saw the ad in the paper announcing that the Israel Lands Authority was accepting bids for plots of land zoned for one-family homes in Maaleh Sara, they'd jumped at the chance.

They already had friends living there and had heard good things about the neighborhood. It was only a short ride from Hadassah Hospital. They had wonderful schools, a great number of professional, English-speaking immigrants, great climate and a warm, religious atmosphere. It was also fairly inexpensive. "We can build a great three-bedroom home with a garden for the same price as some cramped two-bedroom walk-up in some crowded Jerusalem apartment building. Besides, smell the air. It's country air, healthy for kids," Jon had argued, convincingly.

She'd needed a little convincing. While Jon had waxed dreamily about how Abraham and Isaac had passed this way on their journey from Hebron to Mount Moriah, how Ruth had kneeled to gather sheaves from Boaz's fields and how King David had shepherded his father's flocks through the hillsides, she'd peered nervously at the nearby Arab villages, counting how many they'd have to drive through in their daily commute.

"Look, I know some of the people in these villages. They come into Hadassah all the time. Some are even my own patients," Jon said when she expressed her fears. "People are people. It'll be like moving into any other neighborhood. Some people won't like us, and some will. We'll do everything we can to be good neighbors."

It was so simple to think of it that way. And in many ways, it had been. Their workmen — plumbers, electricians, gardeners — all lived in nearby villages. Often they'd drive them home to get supplies, meeting their wives and kids. They'd buy cement and plumbing supplies at huge discounts from Arab stores their workmen knew about. In those early days, everyone was so young and hopeful. There were young families everywhere — Arab and Jew — and everyone seemed to be planting trees and adding on rooms to hold new babies. In the deepest sense, they really were neighbors, and sometimes even friends. Looking around at the sparsely populated area of rolling hills and trees, they'd think: there is so much land, enough for everyone to share.

A few short years later, in the eye of the storm, when people started calling their neighborhood an "illegal settlement" or "occupied territories," they couldn't believe how naive they'd been. It was like that Kafka story about the cockroach, Elise told Jon. You went to sleep a person, and woke up a bug. And before you could even understand what was happening, peaceful roads had turned overnight into shooting galleries, terrorists lying in wait around every bend, under cover of ancient olive trees. And innocent people — kindergarten teachers, handymen, students — people she knew — had been gunned down in cold blood. Palestinians too: gunmen from the new Palestinian regime could pick anyone they chose off the streets, accuse them of "collaborating," and put them in front of a firing squad. There was no trial, no jury, no appeal. It was sickening.

How can we live this way? she often wondered. Why put ourselves through this? After each attack, they'd sit around the kitchen table fingering warm mugs of soup, talking and arguing deep into the night, bringing up every option.

"Maybe we should just move," she'd suggested once.

Jon had looked at her, surprised, his face pale, the dark shock of hair hanging boyishly over his eyes as he wordlessly took her hand in his. He didn't have to say it. She understood. When all was said and done, it wasn't ideology that kept them here: this was their home. They'd pored over the architect's plans, picked out the floor tiles, agonized over the style of faucets, fixed the leaks and planted the young trees. It was theirs and they loved it.

Besides, they had a mortgage. And no one was going to buy their house, not now. That was the reality. Where, exactly, were they supposed to live? Almost every place in Israel had suffered some kind of terrorist attack. And then there was the element of simple shame: how could they cut and run when neighbors and friends who had suffered tragedies — lost husbands, wives, children — bravely stayed put?

If they could only hold on, they told each other, things had to get better. This craziness couldn't last much longer. The politicians would have to gather the arms, arrest the terrorists, get rid of the inciters ... They'd have no choice. Right wing or left wing, that's simply what governments and armies did: protected the lives of their citizens, no?

She told herself these things bravely each day, several times a day. But each time Jon took the car out, each time he or her daughter entered that open road, her heart ached in fear, and her body grew taut and weary waiting for their return.

She remembered the words of a Hamas terrorist at the beginning of the Intifada explaining why Hamas would win and the Jews would lose. It was because the Jews "loved life more than any other people," he'd said with utter contempt.

Nothing could be truer. Jews loved life. Their own and other peoples'. And Jewish doctors loved it best of all. Jon's war against cancer was relentless, and he never gave up.

He still looked like the twenty-three-year-old army medic that had come knocking on her door one Saturday night, a blind date arranged by her roommate Rachel. "My brother knows this great guy," Rachel had told her. "He's American like you. And smart and funny and kind ... and very religious. And he's studying to be a doctor!"

"So why don't you go out with him yourself?" she'd shot back, wary.

"He's a new immigrant, from Baltimore, who's in the same unit with my brother. You are so lucky you grew up in America! And I'm such an idiot for not studying harder for my matriculation exam in English ..."

"I bet he's conceited. Medical students always think they are the catch of the century and any girl lucky enough to go out with them ought to kiss their feet. They walk around like God's gift to women. And most of them are short and pushy. Little Napoleons."

At five feet two and with a young girl's wispy frame, Elise was constantly on guard against being pushed around and treated like a child. In self-defense, she'd honed a sharp tongue that had been known to pierce many an inflated ego. Men seldom appreciated this. Even the chauvinistic group leaders of her high school youth group, B'nai Akiva, strapping young fellows charged with turning them into land tillers and pioneers, had retreated one by one, intimidated. And thus, despite her long honey-colored hair and striking blue eyes, Elise had spent many a Saturday night decorating the walls of the local Zionist clubhouse with blue and white ribbons, instead of out on dates.

Rachel hadn't given up. "You don't fool me, Elise. All that hostility is just masking shyness. You are going to go out with this guy. You know the saying: if you make two matches, your place in heaven is reserved for you. I've already fixed up my cousin. So, you are my ticket to the Afterlife. Are you going to cooperate or not?"

How could you deny someone her ticket to the Afterlife?

She'd picked out a pretty dress the color of lilacs. At the last minute, she'd pulled off the velvet tie-back, letting her hair fall loose and soft around her face. When Rachel ushered him in, Elise thought it must be some kind of mistake. This bashful, tall boy with the kind brown eyes, the dark unruly hair — studying medicine? He hardly seemed out of high school.

He'd suggested they go to the theatre. She'd suggested a stroll along the Promenade. He'd agreed immediately. They'd proceeded to battle the sharp, cold Jerusalem winds that whip up such a storm at night along that long stone walkway which is Jerusalem's boardwalk, except that instead of the sea, there is a heart stopping view of the city. She'd waited for him to complain, to point out, rightly, that the sheltered walls of the Jerusalem Theatre would have been a much wiser choice. He never did. Their cheeks stinging, their hands frigid, they talked and walked deep into the night. And as they spoke, the wind magically disappeared, and their hands grew warm.


Excerpted from "The Covenant"
by .
Copyright © 2004 Naomi Ragen.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

Living in Jerusalem, Elise Margulies fears for the lives of her husband and daughter every day. Then comes the day when her worst fears come true. Cancer specialist Dr. Jonathan Margulies drives his young daughter home from her ballet recital. His bullet-ridden car is found empty on the side of the road hours later. Elise, in the last stages of a difficult pregnancy, desperately calls her grandmother Leah in America for help and unknowingly revives a decades-old oath. Over five terror and hope-filled days during which ordinary people join the front lines against terrorism, the ties that bind two generations form a powerful alliance against contemporary evil.

1. To what do you think the title of this book refers?

2. Leah, Maria, Ariana and Esther all survived Auschwitz. Did their experiences affect them all in the same way, or differently? Explain.

3. Compare the different behavior and coping mechanisms of the four friends in the camps and later in their lives. What characteristics helped each to survive? Did these traits help or hinder them when they returned to normal life?

4. Compare Elise Margulies and her grandmother Leah. In what ways are they similar, different?

5. Leah Rabinowitz experienced the horrors of Nazi Germany. Her granddaughter Elise experiences the horrors of modern day terrorism. How would you compare their experiences? In what ways were their enemies similar, different?

6. Compare how the following Muslim men are portrayed: Ismael Abadi, Musa el Khalil, and Whalid Ibn Saud. How does each view his religious obligations, family loyalties, and aspirations for the future?

7. Julia Greenberg views herself as "a journalist. An objective journalist." Do you agree or disagree? Why?

8. In what ways are Julia's choices and problems particular to her, and in what ways are they true of all journalists, especially those covering the war between Israel and the Palestinians? How, in your opinion, does this affect the news we see and read?

9. The Covenant takes place in Israel. Could you see this story taking place in another geographic locale? How would it be the same? How would it be different?

10. If you were writing a sequel to this book, what would happen to Elise Margulies and her children? What would happen to Fatima and her children?

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Covenant 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What makes The Covenant all the more engrossing and heart-wrenching is the fact that we are seeing it go on today, the news these days is full of terroristic activities and the horrors of what they do. Her fictitional characters are extraordinary and quite believable, the setting disturbing in its reality (the author clearly knows this subject), but throughout her novel is this string of hope that pulls you along so that three quarters of the way through the book, you will not be able to put it down.
MidoriMusic More than 1 year ago
Six months ago, I was able to take a trip to Israel with a group of other Americans. The question most of everyone’s mind was the Palestinian question. Our guide an Israeli born Jew tried to be tactful and change the subject. At the time, I did not understand his hesitancy in giving us a quick and easy answer most desired by Americans in our party. . There are no quick answers to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict Naomi Ragen’s book, The Covenant, is a must read in order to understand this complex issue that is so full of Naomi Ragen handles the issues of terrorism, conflict and how Jew and Arab must exist side by side. This book gives the Jewish perspective, what it is like to be Jewish, live in a land that is their ancestral homeland and try to survive when they are surrounded by those who want to wipe them off the face of the earth. This book is sensitive and tries to take the reader, through the art of story telling, into the hearts and minds of the Israeli and the Palestinian. The book also allows us to see the role of those Palestinians who live in close contact with their Jewish neighbors; showing us the pressure they are under to follow the dictates of Hamas and other organizations that want to see the annihilation of the entire nation of Israel. Naomi Ragen is a consummate story teller, sharing her perspective as both American and an Israeli. This is a book of sadness and hope. A must read for those wishing to really understand the issues facing each Israeli.
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SaraO More than 1 year ago
There are 2 main story lines in this novel...the grandmother's experience of the Holocaust and the granddaughter's experience of a terrorist attack on her family. While I logically understand the connection Ragen was making between the experiences of the two women, she developed neither story well enough to make an emotional impact on me as a reader. I found myself wondering about what fully happened to the group of women in the Holocaust as Ragen often threw in references to experiences...but never tells the reader what actually happened. Further this impacts the granddaughter's story because the granddaughter reacts oddly to the tragic events happening to her...thinking more about the welfare of her grandmother than herself/unborn child/husband/or daughter. This reaction may have made sense to me as a reader if I had known more about the grandmother's memories...or had I known more about the character of the granddaughter. As I had neither, it often proved a frustrating read. This book could have been great...but very much misses it's emotional mark.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
While I appreciated the beautiful descriptions of the Israeli countryside and community, the plot of this book was extremely disappointing. In the story, a terrorist act is committed, and the Israeli government are an incompetent bunch of buffoons unable to help. Only Americans can save the day. In order to buy the story, the reader must accept that completely implausible acts and coincidences occur on every other page. It's like a bad B-movie. Thumbs down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have read, the story was so engaging and extremely informative. It gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of others around the world and their problem they are still going through today. You should definately read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The world should read this book. We do all cry the same tears.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Naomi Ragen has done it again, written a must read novel, The Covenant is something all people should have between them, you cry, your heart beats faster, you want to read ahead, but do not, this book is what I feel, although, I cannot put it into writing, Shalom Naomi.
Guest More than 1 year ago
All of Naomi Ragen's novels are page-turners, but this one is her best yet. It combines a suspenseful story with details drawn from the reality of the Middle East that will startle many who get their information only from network news reports and the daily papers. Those who enjoy intrigue and suspense will like this book. However, I believe that the lasting value of this novel lies in Ms. Ragen's skill in combining fiction with the real facts of daily life in Israel and the ongoing struggle against terrorism. Those who have not lived in or visited Israel but who try to make sense of the daily news about the Mideast conflict will certainly gain a deeper understanding of what it is really all about.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A good story that gives a glimpse of life in Israel from both the Jewish and terrorist perspective. This book will stay with me for a long time.