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Hesterville Chapter 3                                          Thoughts from a Foxhole

Avner Gold

The Strasbourg Saga is a series of twelve works of historical fiction I wrote under the pseudonym Avner Gold. The historical backdrops of the books are the products of serious research, but the stories and the characters are fictional. The  books follow the exploits of several interlocking families and span the history of the Jewish people throughout the seventeenth century in Poland, Ukraine, Germany, Austria, Spain, France, Holland, Italy, Hungary, Turkey, Israel, Greece, Egypt, Morocco and Colonial America. Over the years, these books have acquired quite a fanatical following. They have also been translated into French, Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian.

These books fell into my lap quite by accident. Back in the Eighties, I was spending most of my time working on my Torah books, but with a growing family, I needed to increase my income. At that time, I had already published the first installment of a multi-volume translation of the classic Menorath Hamaor, a fourteenth century anthology of Midrashic selections. Also at that time, charitable institutions used to send short books to potential donors as part of their fundraising campaigns. I prepared an additional excerpt and sold it to an institution. The campaign was a success, and over the next two years, I prepared several more excepts for that institution (see here).

Rabbi Yisrael Schenkolewski of Bais Kaila Girls High School in Lakewood also approached me for a short book for a mail campaign. He wanted a collection of short stories, fiction or non-fiction. We made an agreement, and I commissioned some stories, which I intended to mold into a book. The deadline drew near, and still, the stories failed to materialize. The mail campaign for the season was dependent on a book, but there was no book.

In desperation, Rabbi Schenkolewski asked me to write the stories myself. I had an obligation to him, and I had no choice but to agree. I locked myself in a room and wrote the first edition of The Promised Child in five days. It was only about ninety pages long, and I wrote it without doing any research. It was a stream-of-consciousness book without an outline and with only a general idea of where it was headed. It was a story about a Jewish child who is abducted and lost to his parents for many years. I knew that it took place in Poland a long time ago. I had no idea in which century it took place. All I knew was that the people traveled by wagons and horses and that they had no electricity. Was it the thirteenth century or was it the eighteenth century? I had no idea. I was under such time constraints that I didn’t even look at a map. I made up all the names of the smaller towns the characters visited.

After five days, it was complete. We rushed to get the book typeset, and we had an artist prepare a basic cover design show picture. The book now needed an author’s name. I didn’t want to use my own name, because I didn’t think people would consider it appropriate for an author of scholarly works on the Talmud to write fables. So I had to invent a pseudonym. At the time, I thought the book would go into the mail, earn a few dollars for the school and be forgotten. The author’s name really didn’t matter, and I didn’t give the name more than a minute of consideration. I liked the name Avner, and a friend’s aunt was named gold. Avner Gold.

Then a strange thing happened. The mailing was a smashing success. Not only did the school do well financially, but it was also inundated with requests for a sequel, which I agreed to do. Now I was faced with a problem. When did the story take place, and what was the historical background?

An important element in The Promised Child is a fictional debate that takes place in Krakow, to which the fictional rabbi of the fictional city of Pulichev is invited to represent the local Jewish community. The problem was that Krakow always had great rabbis who could represent the community very capably. Why would they invite a rabbi, albeit a brilliant one, from a distant city? After much research, I found an interregnum in the rabbinic succession between 1640 and 1643, during which the point when my fictional debate took place. Now I had a timeline. The timeline led me directly into a half century of crucial development in Jewish and European history. My work was cut out for me.

Over the rest of the Eighties, I wrote seven more installments in what became the Strasbourg Saga. I also revised and upgraded the earlier books a number of times, adding much historical detail and plot development. In the first decade of the new century, I wrote four more installments to the Saga, and during my Covid isolation, I revised and greatly expanded the first eight books. I have no plans to make any more revisions, although I may continue the Saga at some point in the future.

The Saga is complete as it is presented here.