Q: Why did you decide to write a sequel to The Yiddish Gangster's Daughter, and why did you focus on the Hasidic community in this novel?
A: Part of the reason I wrote a sequel is that I really love my characters and don’t want to abandon them yet. Becks is a sharp and compassionate, if edgy woman, and has a lot of talents and qualities that lend themselves to a murder mystery series. And Tootsie is way too quirky and funny to abandon.
Focusing on the Hasidic community was a gift rather than a decision. I was at a dinner party a few years ago when I met a young man who’d left a strict Hasidic community in London. His was a remarkable story about entering an entirely new world without a secular education or knowledge of the English language (he spoke Yiddish).
I read a number of books and memoirs on the subject, spoke with other ultra-Orthodox Jews, and watched innumerable documentaries and television shows about the heart-breaking choices people who leave Hasidism face.
It struck me that a murder mystery was an ideal forum for exploring the secrets, traditions and community dynamics of this insular group.
Q: How do you think your character Becks has changed from one book to the next?
A: In the first book in this series, Becks discovered that the skills she honed and contacts she made as an investigative journalist stood her in good stead when investigating her father’s criminal past.
She knew how to find and contact the syndicate members with whom he worked and search literature and databases to put together the missing pieces of his history.
In The Hasidic Rebbe’s Son, Becks is more confident about her skill as an investigator. Through her previous interactions with law enforcement, she is surer of her rights in approaching and pursuing police officers for information and has become more assertive and savvy about obtaining the background she wants from strangers.
Finally, she no longer feels lost when hitting a brick wall. With her private investigator friend Maya, Becks has someone to bounce ideas off and who will help her dig up information.
On a more personal level, while Becks has united with her husband, Daniel, she’s still bothered by his insistence on interfering with her work and discouraging her from pursuing killers.
She realizes he’s concerned about her safety and that of her family, but she’s beginning to sense that Daniel’s overprotectiveness may be interfering with her life and her relationship with him.
Q: Did you need to do any research for this novel, and if so, what was especially compelling for you?
A: I spent months interviewing Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jews, searching websites and social media, watching dozens of documentaries and television shows and reading a seemingly endless number of articles, books and memoirs on Hasidism. (Research is one of my favorite forms of procrastination.)
The one book that came closest to helping me experience the anguish of leaving a Hasidic community was Shulem Deen’s excellent account of losing his community and children in All Who Leave Do Not Return.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I hope their first takeaway will be “What a great read!” because my first objective is keeping my readers engaged and entertained.
I hope they’ll also walk away with a greater understanding of the joy many Hasidic people take in living a life infused with tradition and spirituality and the heartbreak and mistreatment those who leave this limiting and isolating world suffer.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: The next book in the Becks Ruchinsky Mystery series will take place in the Jewish Cuban community (Jewbans) that came to the U.S., particularly Miami, after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.
I don’t want to give too much away, but Becks will learn more about her family history in this novel, particularly secrets kept by her father, Tootsie, and his Cuban relatives.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: My website www.joanlipinskycochran.com includes a bibliography of books, documentaries, movies, television shows, articles, etc. on Hasidic Judaism for those interested in looking a little deeper.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Joan Lipinsky Cochran.