When 20-year-old student J.S. Margot responded to a job advertisement in 1987, little did she know it would open up an entire world. Taking on a challenge six of her fellow students had failed, she agreed to tutor the four children of an intriguing Orthodox Jewish family living in Antwerp’s tight-knit community.
Here she would encounter endless rules – ‘never come on a Friday, never shake hands with a man’ – and quirks she had not seen before: tiny tubes on the doorposts, separate fridges for meat and dairy products, their own customised phone book. As she taught the children and fiercely debated with the family, she also learnt from them: why do Jews often isolate themselves despite their history of persecution? Why did Jewish rituals and traditions make her feel indignant one moment and envious the next? How could she and her boyfriend, an Iranian political refugee, reconcile their sympathies with Palestinians in the face of intense Zionism, while the Intifada and Gulf War loomed?
Full of funny misunderstandings and unexpected connections, Mazel Tov is a heartwarming, provocative and disarmingly honest memoir of navigating clashing cultures and unusual friendships – and of how, where adults build walls, sometimes only children can dissolve them.