Double Crossing

By: Eve Tal
The future for Jews in rural villages of Russia in 1905 held little promise. Stories of pogroms seeped through the countryside, and the czar was conscripting soldiers because of rumors of war and revolution. Benjamin Balaban, a poor but very devout Jew, determines to flee to America.


Double Crossing Teaching Guide

The future for Jews in rural villages of Russia in 1905 held little promise.

Stories of pogroms seeped through the countryside, and the czar was conscripting soldiers because of rumors of war and revolution. Benjamin Balaban, a poor but very devout Jew, determines to flee to America.

He will take Raizel, his almost-twelve-year-old daughter, and once they are settled he will send for his wife and other children. Raizel doesn't understand the reasons for leaving. How can her village be dangerous? It’s full of magic and the stories and poems that her grandmother Bubba tells her.

But go she must. Her odyssey with her father across Russia and Europe and on to America is full of adventure, adversity, and hardship. She desperately misses her family, but she retells Bubba's stories to keep her memories alive. Finally, they board a ship for America, but a terrible storm makes Raizel and her father sick. All their food is stolen, and Benjamin won't eat non-kosher food. At Ellis Island, his long beard and ear locks, his peasant clothes, his deep cough, and emaciated frame get them turned away from America.

Raizel, though, is now determined to get back to America and the hope of a new life for her whole family. She must convince her father that he’ll have to give up his orthodox food and traditions and put on the clothes of his new country. She and her father both will have to leave everything behind to make their final crossing to America.

Double Crossing is the winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People and the Skipping Stones Honor Award, and is a Notable Book for a Global Society and a Notable Children's Book of Jewish Content.

Eve Tal was born in 1947 in New York City. She lives on Kibbutz Hatzor with her husband and three sons.

Author Eve Tal sees Double Crossing as three stories: historical fiction, the story of Raizel who is the shy protagonist and a book of Jewish folktales.

Awards and Accomodations

Top Ten Best Novels for Youth, Booklist
Skipping Stones Honor Book
Paterson Prize, 2006
Notable Book for a Global Society
National Jewish Book Award finalist

7 reviews for Double Crossing

  1. Booklist
    Based on the experience of the author’s grandfather at the turn of the twentieth century, this novel starts off as the archetypal Jewish coming-to-America story. Raizel, 12, leaves the Ukraine with her father, a devout peddler who flees pogroms and conscription into the Czar’s army, intending to send for the rest of his family later. The separation, the trauma, the dream of golden America, the journey across Europe, the ocean voyage, the inspections and arrival at Ellis Island—the historical detail is dense. But Raizel’s lively first-person narrative is anything but reverential.

    She misses her brother, but she’s jealous because he gets to go to school, and she resents her father’s keeping kosher, which means they stay hungry during the journey in the crowded ship. Her view of adults and kids, family and strangers, back home and on the perilous adventure, brings the people on the journey very close. Best of all is the shocking surprise that changes everything, even Papa—a haunting aspect of the immigrant story left too long untold.

  2. Kirkus Reviews
    Twelve-year-old Raizel chafes under the strict gender roles that govern her daily life in her Ukrainian shtetl in 1905, but she is nonetheless reluctant to leave when her father decides that she, of all the family’s children, should accompany him to America. Their journey is difficult, but more rigorous than the physical hardships are the challenges to Jewish orthodoxy they encounter along the way: Finding kosher food is so difficult, for instance, that her father refuses all nourishment during the Atlantic crossing.

    It is when they are refused entry at Ellis Island and sent back to Europe, however, that their faith is tested the most. Raizel is the perfect vehicle for the narrative, her yearning to read never leading to anachronistic feistiness, just an appropriately Jewish desire to interrogate the world around her and to question just how a Jew can fit into the universe beyond the shtetl. Her love of stories—that weave throughout the narrative—serves as both release from the terrors of the double crossing and prism for her spiritual quest.

    Outstanding in both its structure and its questioning of faith, this offering is not to be missed.

  3. School Library Journal
    As conditions worsen for Jews in Eastern Europe in 1905, 11-year-old Raizel accompanies her father to America. Traveling by wagon, train, and on foot, they arrive in Antwerp to board the ship to New York. When they finally arrive at Ellis Island, Benjamin’s shabby appearance, persistent cough, and emaciated body cause the inspector to declare him liable to become a public charge and unfit to enter America. Raizel and her father receive passage to return home. With the help of kind strangers, he makes the difficult decision to give up his Orthodox Jewish way of life–shaving his beard and eating unkosher food–for a second chance at entering America.

    With treacherous boat trips and interesting secondary characters, Tal’s fictionalized account of her grandfather’s journey to America is fast paced, full of suspense, and highly readable. Similar to other immigrant stories such as Karen Hesse’s Letters from Rifka (Holt, 1992) and Kathryn Lasky’s The Night Journey (Puffin, 1986), Double Crossing offers the unique perspective of immigrants who were denied admission into America.

  4. Skipping Stones Honor
    Double Crossing is a gripping, emotionally moving tale of the trials and challenges faced by a Jewish man who leaves his family to immigrate to America with his daughter, Raizel, to avoid conscription into the Russian army. Unexpected hardships cause shocking developments. Raizel’s talent as a storyteller and thirst for learning open unexpected doors. Tal tells this story, which is based on her own grandfather’s experience, in Raizel’s voice, weaving into it the history and her Jewish heritage.

  5. 2006 Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
    Eve Tal offers here a new and interesting look at those unfortunates who made the long journey to America, only to be turned away and sent back home. Raizel is a real character, a girl who is quick-witted, flawed, and brave, and readers will be sure to enjoy this book. —Nancy Austein

    Raizel is in many ways a typical modern female protagonist; she is portrayed as a lively, inquisitive, brave, persistent girl, who loves to tell imaginative stories and desperately wants to go to school. Readers will identify with her and will feel her difficulties keenly. Raizel and her father must assimilate to get into America, but they seem not to consider readopting any of their Judaism once they get past the immigration. —Marci Lavine Bloch

  6. VOYA
    Tal tells the story of her own grandfather’s trip to America at the turn of the twentieth century, adding as a narrator a fictional daughter, Raizal, who serves as her father’s companion on a hazardous trip half-way around the world. Twelve-year-old Raizal did not expect to leave the small Russian village of Jibatov ever, let alone to take a trip to America, a role that she thinks should rightly be filled by her adventurous younger brother, Lemmel, the oldest son. But Lemmel must stay in school, so Raizal is sent along to take care of her father. There is enough danger and adventure in any immigration story, but Raizal’s is different. The title hints but gives nothing away.

    In this strong historical fiction novel, Raizal is a true storyteller even though she cannot read. She retells traditional folk legends taught to her by her grandmother and trades Chelm stories with her father, as well as makes up new tales in Jewish storytelling tradition. The novel brings to life, at a very basic level, existence for a young Jewish girl isolated in small village surrounded by Orthodox neighbors like herself, as she is suddenly thrown into to other societies across Europe and at sea. The story focuses on the trip alone and the challenges to their traditions faced by Raizal and her father.

  7. World Jewish Digest
    New beginnings are always hard, as the Hebrew proverb says. And Eve Tal conveys this lesson so superbly in her brandnew book, “Double Crossing,” that I had tears in my eyes by the second chapter. Young Raizel narrates as she and her father travel to the New World through rocky emotional, religious, and physical waters, barely surviving at times.

    This succulent story will enhance your holiday table with discussions about faith, family history, and changes in ritual observance through the generations. I highly recommend it as reading for both parents and children.

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