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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

‘The Violin Players:’ A Jewish Girl’s High School Introduction to Anti-Semitism

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The following article is a sponsored feature.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to travel the country to speak to audiences of all ages. Without fail, someone always asks what inspires my work. So, here’s the story behind the story of my romance novel, “The Violin Players.”

When I was growing up, there were country clubs and residential communities dubbed “exclusive:” code for no Jews or Blacks allowed. 

I was in college for less than two weeks when another dorm student crudely remarked, “ Look, there go the Jew and the Chocolate,” pointing to myself and my African American theater classmate. I heard giggles in the background. 

Ten years later, my husband and I moved to the Midwest for a career opportunity. I inquired about renting in a charming area, but our recruiter advised against it. “You wouldn’t be welcomed there,” is all she said. 

None of these incidents were brutal experiences, but they did ensure that I kept my guard up. I hoped that by the time my daughter was in high school her experiences would be different. Sadly, among high school kids, anti-Semitic slurs and racial jokes were still commonplace. 

That’s when I decided to write “The Violin Players,” about a savvy 15-year-old New Yorker named Melissa Jensen, who suddenly finds herself living in a small midwestern town. Melissa was supposed to be the lead in her school play, captain of the debate team and first violinist in her New York school orchestra. Instead, she has forfeit her Junior year glory and venture out to an obscure town “in the middle of nowhere.” 

However, her arrival in Henryville is filled with pleasant surprises. First, there’s the handsome captain of the football team. Then, there’s her new drama teacher, a former Broadway actor. And who would have guessed that her new school orchestra would be every bit as good or maybe even better than in New York. And then there’s Daniel Goodman, the remarkable boy (with those dreamy eyes) who shares Melissa’s passion for playing baseball and the violin. To top it all off, the coolest kids treat her like a celebrity simply for having grown up in the Big Apple. 

Everything seems too good to be true, until Melissa is confronted with something that to date, she has managed to avoid: anti-Semitism. No one in Henryville suspects that Melissa is Jewish. Daniel, the only known Jewish student in the school, is harassed by a racist bully, who is also one of the school’s most popular athletes. Melissa must make a choice. She knows what is right. Her decision should be clear-cut. But life is never that simple. 

“The Violin Players” is my third young adult novel, published by the Jewish Publication Society. The first two were historical fiction. This novel is a contemporary teen romance that examines bigotry and bullying in high school and was first published in 1998.  I received invitations to speak at schools, libraries and various organizations around the country. I even penned a stage adaption for a couple of teen theater groups, but honestly, I never considered recording an audiobook. 

With the rise of violent anti-Semitic acts worldwide and hate language proliferating the internet, my daughter (now a mother herself) suggested I “dust off” the pages of  “The Violin Players” and tell Melissa Jensen’s story to a new generation. I have no illusions. My audiobook will not eradicate bigotry but maybe it will serve as a reminder to speak out against it. 

Emmy award winner Eileen Bluestone Sherman is a writer and producer. Her Young Adult novel, “Monday in Odessa,” won the National Jewish Book Award; her novel “Independence Avenue” won the International Reading Association Teachers’ Choice Award. 

Bluestone Sherman also writes musical theater with her sister, Gail C. Bluestone. Songs from their show recordings, “Perfect Picture” and “The Odd Potato: The Broadway Album” have been concert highlights at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and played on radio worldwide. Together with her producing partner, Grant Maloy Smith, she co-founded The Indie Collaborative. Their concerts, starring multi award-winning independent artists foster musical collaborations that cross genres and continents. 

“The Violin Players” is her first audiobook and is now streaming on major platforms, including Audible, Apple Books, Libro.fm, Chirp, Google Play and Booktopia. The paperback version of  “The Violin Players,” published by the Jewish Publication Society (an imprint of University of Nebraska Press), will be released in December and is currently available for preorder at Barnes and Noble.

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