Highly Anticipated Hakhel Novel Now Available

An interview with the authors celebrating the release of the Last Act novel, a fictional Hakhel journey that spans past, present, and future published by The Moshiach Office at Merkos 302.

An interview with the authors celebrating the release of the Last Act novel, a fictional Hakhel journey that spans past, present, and future published by The Moshiach Office at Merkos 302.

Released by Tut Altz Kids to subscribers as a series of short novellas throughout the school year, “Last Act” has now been published as a full novel this week and is now available for purchase at local bookstores and online. In celebration of this highly anticipated release, we present an interview with the writing team, Faigy Meijers and Miriam Zaltzman, and editor Pessi Stolik, director of Tut Altz Kids at Merkos 302.

What kind of story is Last Act?

In a way, the novel is a kind of Hakhel itself, in that it includes different genres of literature. It has the aspect of a thriller, where the main contemporary characters are trying to stay ahead of a chain of mysterious events, but it’s also a literary narrative, in the sense that the focus is on the way these events affect the characters in a profound way. And of course, with the addition of the lineup of real Hakhel events, the story has strong historical and fantastical elements as well.

Who would enjoy reading Last Act?

The novel is geared toward middle readers, from about nine years and up. The truth is, however, that we have some experiential evidence from the release of the Last Act novellas throughout the year that high-schoolers, young adults, and even parents really enjoyed the story as well.

What is your favorite part of the story?

Between the three of us, each having focused on another part of the novel, with Faigy developing the contemporary story, Miriam involved in the extensive research to provide the Hakhel backstories, and Pessi focusing on the grand Epilogue, there will be no consensus. And don’t ask us to pick pet characters—we don’t play favorites.

How does it feel to see Last Act in print?

That’s a loaded question. The foremost emotion is the thrill of accomplishment, and not just because the project has been completed. The main idea of Hakhel, which is the theme of the novel, is gathering with others—hence the focus on a Book Club (see the discussion questions at the back of the book). But we can also “Hakhel” inwardly by focusing on our character and working to feel whole. After being involved in this immersive Hakhel experience throughout the year, and coming to the novel’s end, which strikes a really high note (not going to give it away!), that feeling of focused self-development is pretty amazing. Read the book, and we think you’ll feel it, too.

Can you tell us something about the story behind the story, so readers can get a peek “backstage”?

We will say that this project has been one long narrative of siyata dishmaya from beginning to end. As mentioned, the different writers worked on distinct aspects of the storyline and, as often happens in the creative process, the writing drafts would sometimes veer off the predetermined plot lines. Although the story was carefully mapped out by the three of us together, it was pretty wild to see how there were times when the writers would develop new congruent threads without any actual communication. One such notable occurrence connects chapters 23 and 26—one is historical and the other modern-day—where Miriam and Faigy, independently, began their scenes with the identical phrase: “Fire! Fire! Fire!” It was completely spontaneous, and frankly, a little spooky!

Another prodigious and completely unexpected situation relates to the development of the events in the epilogue. The actual scene, which is an epic, historical one, had so many possible directions and sources for information that it was overwhelming to narrow its writing down to just a few pages. In the middle of this whole process, we were, unrelatedly, preparing for Yud-Alef Nissan and therefore studying the Rebbe’s new kapitel. Surprisingly yet serendipitously, we noticed how the different segments of the epilogue seemed to mirror the progressive pessukim of Tehillim 122 in a way that we could use the concepts of each one to structure and cull the scenes. (We ended up including two of those connections in the novel itself, but we challenge our readers to find the rest!)

Any final comments for readers? 

Yes! We are so excited that the book is in your hands, and hope you enjoy reading as much as we enjoyed putting it together. Most essentially, Last Act is a story that fosters anticipation and empowerment for the coming of Moshiach, when we will celebrate the ultimate Hakhel in the Beis Hamikdash Hashlishi. May it be today!

Last act is now available for purchase at local bookstores and online at www.tutaltz.com/lastact.

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