At my synagogue’s most recent sisterhood brunch, I ran into Renee, an old family friend whom I had not seen in more than 15 years. I greeted her with a smile and a hug, and we wandered together to the temple library, where she shared with me her insight into its significance and history. Suddenly donning a serious expression and looking into my eyes, Renee handed me a book she was bringing in for the library book sale, insisting I read it.
I hesitated to pick up The Dovekeepers, reading in the jacket that it was about women at Masada, a place where I had cried as a sixteen-year-old, overwhelmed by the loss of so many. Trying hard lately to surround myself with positivity, I did not want to become involved with what was sure to be a tragic story. Trusting in my old friend, however, I picked it up and began.
A few pages in, I had already become Yael, the girl narrating the first part of the book. I was sucked right into her world, Jerusalem at the destruction of the second Temple, and had to continue on in her shoes. The book is split into four parts, each one narrated by a different woman telling of her journey to the mountain Masada. Author Alice Hoffman uses the voice of each woman to weave together their relationships and experiences, seamlessly telling the story. I found myself excitedly wondering which woman would be telling the next yarn, forcibly keeping myself from turning the pages to look ahead.
Hoffman’s storytelling painted such a realistic picture that I was sure in her research that she went into the desert and lived off the land herself. How else could she know and portray such a believable existence to me? This book opened up the world to me in a whole new light– I gained an amazing new perspective on some of the experiences of the Jewish People, including magic, mysticism, love, cruelty, and faith, and have a renewed thirst to learn more about those whose courage allowed me to become the woman I am.
The author was inspired by real life artifacts found at Masada, weaving many of them into her story, along with the historical accounts of Josephus and those of the Essenes. I highly recommend this book to all women– I’ll be passing Renee’s copy on to a friend, looking into her eyes and insisting she read it.
Available at the Nancy Mae Shaines Memorial Library at Temple Israel Portsmouth.