Jule 12 2006
Washington Jewish Week
'Over 50's Singles Night' is D.C. woman's latest novel
by Aaron Leibel
Ellyn Bache's Jewish background permeates her books.
Her latest work is Over 50's Singles Night (Harlequin, 2006), a comic novel that deals with two Jewish sisters who are widows. One wants to find the other a husband and thus starts an over 50s singles night. But most of the people who attend are women.
"It's a fun book whether you are Jewish or not," says Bache, who was born and grew up in Washington in the 1940s and '50s. "But Jews who read the book recognize so much ‹ temple e-mail, politics in synagogue, the Chanukah dinner that everyone comes to.
"I find it fun to write books set in the Jewish community."
Three of Bache's other 10 books have Jewish themes. The Activist's Daughter (1997) deals with a Jewish girl from D.C. who enrolls in a Southern college in the early days of the civil rights movement (she admits it has some autobiographical elements); Holiday Miracles: A Christmas/Hanukkah Story (2001) focuses on an interfaith family and its religious choices; and Riggs Park (2005) involves two friends who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in D.C.
Her writing notwithstanding, Bache's youth was devoid of Jewish learning. Her mother followed the example of her father, a first-generation American and a socialist who rejected the religious dimension of his Jewish background, explains Bache.
"For Rosh Hashanah, we would have a big family dinner, but not go to synagogue," recalls the author, who has homes in North Carolina and outside Philadelphia.
She does remember going to B'nai Israel Congregation on 16th Street during the High Holiday season, spending a few moments inside and then hanging out on the shul's steps with other youngsters, "flirting with boys and talking to girls."
"Growing up in Riggs Park, which was a Jewish area, I didn't have to go to services to be a member of the tribe, part of the family," she says.
She received her formal Jewish education as an adult, by way of her children, she says.
After graduating from Coolidge High School in 1959 and attending George Washington University for three years, she enrolled in and received a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina.
Living in the South in the early 1960s made her "stand out" as a Jew and helped her to "appreciate my own [Jewish] background."
Returned to the Washington area, she got a master's in English from the University of Maryland.
Bache says she never thought about writing as a career choice. She had intended to get a doctorate in English and become an academic, but her children got in the way.
"I began writing to stay at home with the children," she says. This was at the beginning of the women's revolution when women were choosing the workplace over homemaking, and "mine was not a popular choice."
Initially, she freelanced for The Washington Star and the real estate section of The Washington Post.
Bache continued to write for various newspapers and have short stories published in women's magazines and literary journals during the 1970s and '80s. A collection of her short stories, The Value of Kindness (1993), won the Willa Cather Fiction Prize.
In 1988, her first novel, Safe Passage, was published; six years later, it was made into a movie starring Susan Sarandon.
Bache hopes readers will take away from Over 50's Singles Night the notion "that people continue to live dynamic lives as they get older," she says.
In addition to its Jewish theme, this novel has a special meaning for her.
"I am a widow, and it took me a long time to be able to write a light book about widowhood," she says.