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

Archive for the ‘WRITING’ Category


I’m happy to announce my essay for a symposium on Jewish writing has been published in the summer issue of the RRA Connection, the newsletter of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

Am I a Jewish writer? Are my books Jewish books?

And what determines a Jewish book anyway?

I am a rabbi. My protagonist is a rabbi. My Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries are Chanukah Guilt, Unleavened Dead, and Yom Killer. My work-in-progress is Killah Megillah. One of my nonfiction books is Talking Dirty — in Yiddish?

When I first was trying to find an agent for Chanukah Guilt, an interested agent, Jewish, told me I had to change the title, that no one outside of the two coasts would get the pun. A friend of mine, then an aspiring novelist, was advised by another agent to make her novels “less Jewish,” to take out the Yiddish words and make the characters more, for lack of better word, pareve. I think those two agents underestimated the extent of cultural literacy in the U.S. I have yet to meet anyone who has not understood the pun in the title. I also doubt anyone told Michael Chabon to change the title or tone down the characters in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

But what makes a book a Jewish book? Is any book by a Jewish writer, no matter the level of his or her commitment or observance, automatically a Jewish book? Faye Kellerman’s mysteries have Jewish protagonists, but those written by her husband and son do not. Are her books Jewish, but theirs are not? Is a book with a Jewish theme or protagonist or setting automatically a Jewish book even if the author is not a Member of the Tribe? Is Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers a Jewish book because it is essentially a midrash on the stories in Bereshit?

When we think about Jewish books, we think about “literary fiction” — Bernard Malamud, Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, Eli Wiesel, Primo Levi. We think of ponderous, serious books with philosophic themes that make us reflect. We do not think of a humorous cozy mystery featuring a woman rabbi with a sideline as an amateur sleuth in a small, fictional town on the edge of the South Jersey Pine Barrens.

I sometimes wonder if the plots of my books could still be written in the same way if Rabbi Aviva Cohen were Father Sean Donohue or a college professor or a supermarket cashier, if the setting were a Puritan town in Vermont or in the Midwest. It might be difficult — after all, people don’t confide in a supermarket cashier the way they do in a rabbi — but, yes, with modifications, the basic plots could be the same even if there were no Jews among the characters.

So what makes my books Jewish? It is the ambience, the gestalt: the settings, the activities the characters engage in, the words they use, the cadence of their dialogues. There is a certain ta’am, a kind of Jewish aesthetic that marks the books as Jewish, even if it is just the titles, the names, the synagogue, the Jewish rituals described. While it could be possible to use the same suspicious deaths at the heart of the books, the same motives, the same solutions, the books would not be the same without the details that make them uniquely Jewish.


“Miami Snow,” winner of Public Safety Writers Association best published short story of 2012, originally published in Mysterical-E, Fall, 2013: [republished in Kings River Life: ]

“Peanut Butter and Glitter,” originally published in Suspense Magazine, October, 2015: [republished in Kings River Life:]

“Perfect,” PSWA winner for best published flash fiction, 2013, and among top ten entries in Lee Loftland’s Golden Donut Entries, 2013, posted at:

“We Were Slaves,” originally published in Kings River Life, Dec. 29, 2018:


In time for Yomim Nora’im (the Days of Awe) and Yom Kippur itself, the Kindle edition of the 3rd Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery, YOM

KILLER, is on a limited time special sale for 99¢.

Buy it now so you’ll have one fewer regret to atone for. 😉


I am thrilled to announce my short story “Triangle” been accepted for inclusion in the anthology Jewish Noir 2, edited by Ken Wishnia and Chantelle Aimeé Osman, to be released September, 2020. The signed contract is in the mail (for real). My thanks to David Gerrold for allowing me to steal a line he posted that gave me my ending and to Terri Weiner for suggesting I use the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire as a theme.

I’ll remind all of you when the book is published.


You know you’ll need to take a break from your Pesach preparations. You know you’ll need to unwind after the Seders are over. What better way than with a Pesach-themed humorous cozy mystery? Especially when the Kindle edition of UNLEAVENED DEAD will be on sale for 99 cents.

Start: Tuesday, April 16 at 8AM Pacific time
End: Monday, April 22 at midnight, Pacific time.
Two members of Rabbi Aviva Cohen’s congregation are found dead, victims, they say, of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. But Aviva has info that leads her to doubt it was an accident. Then, police suspect Aviva’s niece’s partner in a hit-and-run death. Aviva is sure the woman is innocent, even though her SUV has a body-sized dent on the hood. As she looks into t
he two disparate cases, Aviva discovers they may be connected, and her amateur sleuthing takes a sinister turn that involves sexual abuse, money laundering, stolen identities, and an FBI investigation. Once again, her curiosity has put her life in jeopardy.





A complete departure from my usual humorous, cozy mystery novels and humorous, noir-ish short stories, “We Were Slaves” looks at a possible alternate reality in which Isabella and Ferdinand’s army was defeated in the Iberian peninsula, leading to the fall of Christian Europe.


… or any time of year:

The three Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and TALKING DIRTY – IN YIDDISH? are available on Kindle.

Buy early and often!






As promised, here we go:





Having trouble finding the new editions of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries on Amazon? So am I. Enter these ISBNs individually into the search box to access them:

CHANUKAH GUILT: 9781938436475

UNLEAVENED DEAD: 9781938436529

YOM KILLER: 9781938436192

I’ll post the short cut links later.


Sorry: can’t access print version of Chanukah Guilt or Kindle version of Unleavened Dead. We’ll get it together soon. I hope.


Rabbi Aviva Cohen is a twice- divorced woman of a certain age with no children and a comfortable, undemanding, and unchallenging job as the rabbi of a small congregation located  in a university town in South Jersey about 15 miles east of Philadelphia and nestled between suburban sprawl and the Pine Barrens. She juggles dealing with her unconventional family – her niece and niece’s wife and their two children, her elderly, feisty mother in Boston, and her stick-in-the-mud sister in Florida – while investigating suspicious deaths to the chagrin of  her academic-turned-police chief first ex-husband.