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Double Crossing

Booklist 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
*STARRED REVIEW* Based on the experience of the author’s grandfather at the turn of the twentieth century, this novel starts off as the archetypal Jewish coming-to-America story. Raizel, 12, leaves the Ukraine with her father, a devout peddler who flees pogroms and conscription into the Czar’s army, intending to send for the rest of his family later. 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.

She misses her brother, but she’s jealous because he gets to go to school, and she resents her father’s keeping kosher, which means they stay hungry during the journey in the crowded ship. Her view of adults and kids, family and strangers, back home and on the perilous adventure, brings the people on the journey very close. Best of all is the shocking surprise that changes everything, even Papa—a haunting aspect of the immigrant story left too long untold.
Kirkus Reviews 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

Twelve-year-old Raizel chafes under the strict gender roles that govern her 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.
School Library Journal
Grade 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.

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.
- October 8, 2005 
Skipping Stones 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
*SKIPPING STONES HONOR AWARD* Double Crossing by Eve Tal is a gripping, emotionally moving tale of the trials and challenges faced by a Jewish man who leaves his family to immigrate to America with his daughter, Raizel, to avoid conscription into the Russian army. Unexpected hardships cause shocking developments. Raizel's talent as a storyteller and thirst for learning open unexpected doors. 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.
2006 Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
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

Raizel is in many ways a typical modern female protagonist; she 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. Raizel and her father must assimilate to get into America, but they seem not to consider readopting any of their Judaism once they get past the immigration.
—Marci Lavine Bloch
Eleven-year-old Raizel lives a happy but precarious life with her family in 1905 Eastern Europe. As Jewish family, they are subject to many daily humiliations and frequent dangers from pogroms. When her father is drafted into the Czar’s army, it is decided that the two of them will leave immediately for America. Raizel’s first-person account of their travels is told with humor, drama and authenticity. Upon arrival in New York, her father’s illness and unkempt looks force the medical authorities to turn him away. Although he accepts this sentence unquestioningly, it is Raizel who finally convinces him to change his appearance and his outlook so that they can try again for admission to the United States. Most immigrant stories follow a familiar storyline – a poor family arrives in America, suffers in poverty and confusion, and eventually overcomes the odds to make it in a new life.
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


Raizel, the eldest child in her family, loves her village in Russia, but Papa must leave or he will be inducted into the Czar's army. Raizel must accompany him to America to keep house until Mama and the other children can join them. Papa thinks he has all the details worked out, but the journey to the ship is hard and Raizel almost loses her life when crossing a river. The story of the kindness of strangers and the actual crossing is told through the eyes of Raizel. With a brief chapter on what happens at Ellis Island, Raizel and her father must return to Europe because they are rejected, hence the title of the novel, Double Crossing.
—Susan Berman


Assimilation in the New World is nothing new in literature, but Double Crossing manages to be both entertaining and informative as it relates the troubling story of 11-year-old Raizel on her journey to America with her extremely pious father. The crossing is especially difficult on her father, who grows weaker when their meager supply of kosher food is stolen. Because of his fragile health and his lack of a marketable trade, they are denied admission. On the journey back to Europe, Raizel makes friends with a wealthy mother and adult son pair, who help her learn English, and eventually they convince Raizel’s father to eat the non-kosher food to regain his strength, and to shave his beard. The ruse is successful, and the travelers are admitted to America on the second attempt. Raizel is in many ways a typical modern female protagonist; she 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. Raizel and her father must assimilate to get into America, but they seem not to consider readopting any of their Judaism once they get past the immigration.
—Marci Lavine Bloch
World Jewish Digest
New beginnings are always hard, as the Hebrew proverb says. And Eve Tal conveys this lesson so superbly in her brandnew book, “Double Crossing,” that I had tears in my eyes by the second chapter. Young Raizel narrates as she and her father travel to the New World through rocky emotional, religious, and physical waters, barely surviving at times.

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.
VOYA
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 be 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 Jewish storytelling tradition. The novel brings to life, at a very basic level, existence for a young Jewish girl isolated in small village surrounded by Orthodox neighbors like herself, as she is suddenly thrown into to 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.
AJL Newsletter
This coming-of-age saga, set in 1905, is written in a compelling and easy-to-read style. It is told from the point of view of 12-year old Raizel, who is chosen to travel to America with her father from a rural village in the Czar's Russia. She has no desire to leave her village, which , for her, is filled with the stories and the history that she has been told by her beloved grandmother. The rest of the family remains in Jibatov for the moment. Razel and her father are smuggled by horse and buggy to Austro-Hungary, travel by train to Antwerp, and finally find themselves in steerage on a ship to New York. With each trip, challenges must be dealt with, and the little girl from small-town Russia begins to change into a capable young woman who is able to deal with adversity, with her father's issues, and with being rejected at Ellis Island. Her father has to grapple with the painful issue of how he will continue to carry on his Jewish traditions. A relationship Raizel develops with an older Jewish woman and her family on the ship back to Europe strengthens her. This family's assistance and her newfound insights help make it possible for Raizel and her father to eventually make a successful crossing to America. Recommended for readers in Junior high school
Jewish Book World
Almost 12-year-old Raizel accompanies her father on an arduous journey of immigration from Russia to America – twice. Rejected at Ellis Island, the pair return to their embarkation point of Antwerp, where kindly Jewish fellow passengers help them plan a more successful second attempt. The story is based on the misadventures of the author’s own grandfather. The story is well-written, smooth, and absorbing, with characters who are alive, sympathetic, and believable. Raizel’s frequent storytelling adds interest and helps to move the tale along. The feminist overtones, which have become common in recent historical novels, are present but are not overdone. Philosophical questions are raised for characters and readers to ponder, such as whether it is the inside self or outward practices that make a person Jewish. The story is by turns thoughtful and adventurous and this skillful pacing distinguishes it from many immigration stories. The themes of hardship, adaptation, and courage are universal to any immigrant experience, and the book will be enjoyed by Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike. Highly recommended for ages 10 – 13.
Kliatt
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.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Although she loves to entertain her baby brother and sister with tales of the wonders of America, twelve-year-old Raizel doesn’t want to go there; despite the pogroms and the uncertainty of being a young Jewish girl in 1905 Russia, she would much prefer the comfort and familiarity of her tiny village of Jibatov. She is left without a choice, however, when her father Benjamin comes home with two tickets—one adult and on child—and chooses her as his companion.

This unusual immigrant tale focuses on the journey far more than the arrival; the trains, the covert border crossing through a raging river, the subsequent fever, the waiting for steamboat tickets in Antwerp, the passage over the Atlantic, and, upon arriving at Ellis Island, the declaration that an unfit Benjamin must return with his daughter to Russia. Back aboard, Benjamin retreats to his cabin, completely void of any hope and certain that he will be arrested for avoiding the czar’s draft. Meanwhile, Raizel befriends an elderly Jewish woman who proves their salvation as she helps Benjamin and Raizel both financially and practically as they prepare for their third and final crossing.

Raizel’s voice carries this introspective novel; full of reflections, memories, and carefully constructed metaphors, her narration effectively details the events of the journey. Infected with her grandmother’s “storytelling sickness,” she tells tales throughout the pages—folktales, religious tales, invented tales—that add an additional layer to this already multilayered novel. The role of religion is especially well described: a devout Jew who looks down upon modernized expressions of the faith and struggles with change, Benjamin is now caught up in an enormous change, one for which he was not fully prepared. While there are many stories of Jewish immigration in the early twentieth century, this uniquely told tale of double crossing deserves wide readership. An afterword is included.
MCR
This book draws a beautiful picture of family life in Eastern Europe and the journey of a father and his oldest daughter to America. It tells of the friends they make along the way and of the difficulties they encounter. The father is a very Orthodox Jew who keeps the laws in all their details. Even though hungry and sick, he will not eat when the food is not kosher.

They arrive in the promise land and are rejected because the father has no real trade and will not compromise the old traditions of his faith. The father loses hope, because going back home is full of danger. On the boat back to Europe they meet some assimilated Jews who help and shelter them. They raise the question about “what is a Jew”—inside and out. The father is convinced to shave his beard and dress in modern clothes. He finds that even then he has not lost himself. “Better a Jew without a beard than a beard without a Jew.” They start off for a second try at going to America. There they can work and bring the rest of the family to safety.

Raizel, the narrator and main character of the story, has a talent for telling stories. With this she befriends strangers and makes everyone’s life more bearable. Although this is not a true story, it is based on an experience of the author’s family coming to America several generations ago. Tal certainly has inherited the story-telling gift.
Bill’s Best Books, ALAN Online
Raizel Balaban and her devoutly orthodox father, Benjamin, are Jews who leave the Ukraine for America. Along the long ocean passage, Raizel and her father become ill, and when they arrive in the US, Benjamin's poor health and odd appearance get them sent away. Raizel persuades her father to shed his beard and to eat kosher food, and they return to the US, this time Boston, to it another try. (M/H). Tal's recreates the fear of programs and the tension of the crossing to the US while telling the story of a remarkable young woman whose gift for language helps her father survive.
Taos Daily Horse Fly Review

Many Jews fled depredations in Czarist Russia for America’s vaunted freedoms. Eve Tal’s novel for young adults, “Double Crossing” describes how Raizel Balaban, 11, and her father, Binyumin, gained a foothold in America in the early 20th century. Daughter and father struggle to adapt to a different culture in order to bring over the rest of the family. They learn English, change their names, and painfully relinquish religious practices. It’s an absorbing tale for young adults, inspired by the author’s family history.

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