Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider


Thanks to Marilyn Meredith for inviting me to be a guest blogger on her site “Marilyn’s Musings.” It’s called “Why I Write: Advice for Newbies.” (Sorry about the old picture – my finger must have slipped when I sent her the attachment.)


Just received: the link to a great interview with me conducted by reporter Rachel Kurland for the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

I am not a politician. I am not a scientist. I am not a botanist nor a biologist nor an ornithologist. I am not an expert in history, neither natural nor human. I am not an ecologist nor a professional conservationist.  I drive a hybrid, but I also travel by air. I try not to use chemical fertilizers or pesticides or weed killers in my garden, but I also have no intention of pulling out poison ivy by hand. I compost and recycle, but I use my garbage disposal. In other words, I am a regular citizen, with all the contradictions that entails.

When I first moved to South Jersey in 1981, I had never heard of the Pine Barrens. I knew nothing about Elizabeth White and her cultivation of the first commercially viable blueberries. I had never heard tales of the Jersey Devil. I had never visited Atsion Lake or Batsto or driven on a sugar sand road or seen the Caranza Memorial or climbed the fire tower on top Apple Pie Hill. Wharton to me was the name of a graduate school of business in West Philadelphia.

I then read John McPhee’s The  Pine Barrens and so began my fascination with this incredible treasure in our backyards.

I am not naïve enough to think the Pine Barrens we know and enjoy are the same ones that existed when the Leni Lenape were the only human inhabitants of the area. Forests were clear cut to provide timber to fire the forges that produced cannon balls for Washington’s army and decorative fireplace surrounds for the industrialists who owned those forges. Rivers were dammed to create the lakes that provided the water power for mills. Cranberry bogs were dug and houses were built – small cabins for the workers in company towns and huge mansions for their bosses.

But in November, 1978, the US Congress through the National Parks and Recreation Act, created the Pinelands National Reserve.  Only three months later, in February, 1979, the Pinelands Commission was established, followed in June by Governor Brendan Byrne’s signing of the Pinelands Protection Act. By January, 1981, both Governor Byrne and the US Secretary of the Interior approved the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan. In 1988, the United Nations formally recognized the uniqueness of the Pine Barrens by designating the area a Biosphere Reserve.

Because of the vision and the political will of Governor Byrne and others like him, we are able to enjoy the natural beauty of the Pine Barrens. If not for those actions almost forty years ago, we would now be sitting in the midst of a sprawling urban enclave, complete with a supersonic airport, shopping malls, a city, and miles of concrete and asphalt.

We cannot undo the mistakes of the past centuries – the destruction of the original old-growth forests, the damming of the rivers, the creation of factories and farms – whether they were done through ignorance or greed or even the need to survive. But you, as the officially appointed stewards of the Pinelands National Reserve, can prevent the repeat of these errors. You have within your power the ability to prevent the degradation of the land and the dismantling of the intentions of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan by voting NO to the installment of a natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands. Please vote your conscience, not expediency.


In case you’re not sure about buying/reading YOM KILLER, here are the preview blurbs printed in the front of the book (the bold faced excerpts are on the back cover):

Loved it!

If you’ve ever wondered where Rabbi Aviva Cohen got her nose for mystery (and trouble!), you’ll find out in “Yom Killer”! Aviva teams up with estranged sister, Jean Meisner, and not-so-estranged ex-husband, Steve Goldfarb, to discover the truth behind the “accidental” injury that sent her 96-year-old mother to the hospital and the sudden increase in deaths in her retirement facility. A witty, engaging mystery and fun read!”

 – Amy M. Bennett, author of the award-winning Black Horse Campground mysteries 


Anyone who has dealt with the health care needs of the elderly will identify with Rabbi Aviva Cohen as she fights for her mother’s welfare. Only her mother’s problems are tougher than those faced by most elderly – like the murder of her friends, her attempted murder, fraud, and robbery.

This is the best in this series. As usual, Rabbi Aviva Cohen is feisty, honest, and funny. The author’s experience ministering to the elderly is apparent. This cozy rings true.

 – J. L. Greger, author of the award-winning Science Traveler medical mystery thrillers


If I’m ever in trouble, forget the marines.  Send in the rabbi!  In Yom Killer you’ll have a great time watching Rabbi Aviva Cohen shedding light on the shadiest hospital in New England. This is Schneider’s best yet.

– Robert Lopresti, award-winning author of Greenfellas


Yom Killer is a heartwarming tale of murder and Medicare fraud.

– Jeff Markowitz, author of the Casey O’Malley mysteries and of Death and White Diamonds


When I finished the last of the twelve Rabbi David Small mysteries (That Day The Rabbi Left Town ), I experienced the sense of loss anyone who enjoys series feels when there is not a next one. Now, twenty years later, I have discovered the Rabbi Aviva Cohen series. The David Small character was rabbi for an orthodox congregation. Aviva Cohen’s congregation is not orthodox, and no one would describe her as orthodox, religiously or otherwise. She [Rabbi Aviva Cohen] is brash, funny, nosy, and blunt. In a word, meshuganah. But she is every bit as captivating and the mysteries every bit as much fun as Kemelman’s work, the first of which won an Edgar. Maybe Rabbi Ilene Schneider will win one as well. From my lips to G*d’s ear, I can hear her saying.

– Mike Orenduff, author of the award-winning Pot Thief Murder Mysteries


A heroine who loves Mel Brooks, Milky Ways and matzoh balls – what’s not to love? Rabbi Aviva Cohen is back in action trading quips with her quirky relatives and besting bad guys when a series of mysterious deaths at a senior facility strikes perilously close to home. Great fun – and as the saying goes “you don’t have to be Jewish…”

– Rosemary Harris, author of the Anthony and Agatha-nominated Pushing Up Daisies and The Bitches of Brooklyn





Began the day with finding my new book YOM KILLER for sale on Amazon ( it with finding a new 5-star review of my 2nd book in the series, UNLEAVENED DEAD, also on Amazon.  I hope it’s a good omen for 2017, not just for me and mine, but for you and yours.

For those of you who have yet to check out my other website WHY NINE CANDLES FOR CHANUKAH: QUESTIONS YOU NEVER THOUGHT TO ASK (, here is Chapter 10. It is particularly relevant for this year when we light the first candle of Chanukah on Christmas Eve.

74. Is there a connection between Chanukah and Christmas?


     A: The only connection between the two holidays is in the mind of Americans. The holidays could not be more different: Chanukah is minor; Christmas is major. Chanukah commemorates an historical battle, Christmas the birth of the Christian messiah. The only things they have in common are that they both are celebrated on the twenty-fifth day of their respective months, both include the exchange of gifts, and both use lights as a symbol.

75. Why is the twenty-fifth day of the winter month important?

     A. Several traditional Jewish sources, both historical and religious, including the Book of Maccabees I and II, Josephus, the Midrash, the Mishna, and the Talmud, cite the 25th of Kislev as the date of the rededication and repurifiction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The decision to place the birth of Jesus on the 25th of December, however, is not based on contemporaneous sources, nor is it universally accepted by all Christian sects. The Eastern Churches (Greek and Russian) did not adopt the Gregorian calendar and celebrate Christmas on January 6 or 7, which corresponds to December 25 on the earlier Julian calendar.

The first instance known of Christmas being celebrated on December 25 was in 336 CE, when the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine declared the holiday. The date was codified a few years later by Pope Julius I. The reason had to do with the tradition that the Annunciation, when Mary was informed she was carrying the child of God, occurred nine months earlier, on March 25.

The  Romans believed the Winter Solstice, the day with the fewest hours of sunlight, occurred on December 25. The first few weeks in December were an important time for pagans throughout Northern Europe and Scandanavia, where it was called Yule.  In Southern Europe, December 17-23 marked the Roman Festival of Saturnalia, which honored Saturn. In Mthraism, a cultic religion originating in Persia and practiced in the Roman Empire from circa 1st to 4th centuries, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti,  the “birthday of the unconquered sun,” celebrating the birth of the Sun God Mithra, took place on on December 25.

People were already celebrating during this time of the year, so it is reasonable to think that the religious authorities would reinterpret the pagan rituals to become Christian ones.

76. Why are lights important to both holidays?

     A. In Judaism, the candles are lit to commemorate the relighting of the eternal light on the menorah in the Temple, and to celebrate the miracle of the one-day supply of oil that lasted eight days.

Lights as a symbol for Christmas did not begin until the 17th century in Germany when trees were decorated with candles. Because of the fire hazard, it wasn’t until electric lights became generally available that the custom of decorating with colored lights became more widespread.

But the symbolism of lights in the midst of the shortest days of the year goes back to pagan times. The hours of daylight dwindled. How to bring back the sun? With the use of sympathetic magic. Light fires and the sun will be rekindled. And it worked. Every year, the sun’s power was restored after fires were lit.

77. Why are gifts given on Chanukah?

     A. Gift giving on Chanukah was never part of the tradition of the holiday, except for small presents of candies or nuts or coins to children. It was, however, traditional in many Jewish societies to give money to the poor. As discussed above (question #16), the emphasis on the exchange of presents on Chanukah has been in response to the influence of Christmas and its prevalence and importance among many Christians. The tradition of giving presents on Christmas originated with the Christian belief that the Three Wise Men brought gifts to the infant Jesus.

78.  Are there ways to avoid the gift-giving frenzy?

     A. With peer pressure, constant bombardment of toy ads in public spaces and on TV and the internet, and the desire by many American Jews to assimilate and not be seen as “other” by the majority of Americans, it is very difficult to avoid the competition to give bigger and better gifts. But gift giving can be minimized. Children can become involved with tzadakah, charity, giving away one old toy for every new one received, volunteering on Christmas day at food banks or hospitals or other places so Christian workers can be home with their families. Gifts do not have to be big, nor numerous. There is no reason for a child to receive, for example, one gift every night from all the relatives. Even if children receive one present from each set of grandparents and from the parents on every day of the holiday, they will have gotten a total of 24 gifts. And that does not include gifts from aunts, uncles, cousins, friends …. Limit the number and extravagance of the gifts, and teach selflessness. Unfortunately, such value are easier to eludidate than to implement.

79. Are there any other gift giving holidays in Judaism?

     A. Yes. On Purim, it is traditional to engage in shalach manot, the sending of gifts, usually small gift boxes or bags of hamentaschen (triangular nut or jelly filled pastries said to resemble Haman’s three-cornered hat, nuts, raisins, candies.

80. What kinds of Chanukah decorations are there?


     A. The only decoration needed is the chanukiah. But that has not stopped American Jews from adorning their homes with blue-and-white lights (the colors of the Israeli flag and symbolic colors of the Jewish people) or hanging cutouts of Jewish stars, chanukiot, dreidels, and other Jewish symbols in their windows.

A more recent personal decoration, in a nod to our Christian neighbors’ ability to make fun of themselves, is the ugly Chanukah sweater.




There are also hybrid symbols, combining Chanukah and Christmas symbols into one, as in chanukiot depicting Santa and the reindeer.



81. What is a Chanukah bush?


     A. Some people, whether they are imitating their Christian neighbors, giving in to their children’s importuning, or wishing to bring some nature indoors, have adapted the tradition of the Christmas tree to fit Chanukah.

The tradition of decorating with boughs of evergreen trees has existed since pagan times, when they would adorn their homes with branches as reminders of the coming spring. In some pre-Christian cultures, these plants that did not lose their leaves even in the depths of a cold winter were good luck symbols.

There is no such tradition in Judaism, although there is a late winter-early spring minor holiday, Tu B’shvat (question #14), called the “New Year of the Trees.”

A disturbing trend is the idea that the chanukiah should be displayed in places that have a Christmas tree. The chanukiah is a ritual object; the Christmas tree is a secular symbol. It would be far more appropriate to use the dreidel. Or even more appropriate would be not to try to make an equivalency between Christmas and Chanukah. They are not parallel holidays.


To be released soon – hoping within the next week.