The Mountain Family: Finding the Jewish People in the Appalachian Backwoods

When I first heard her story, I was astonished. By the time I was finished working with her, I was in awe.

I have never met anyone quite like her– and you have certainly never met a family like this one.

I met Tzirel Rus Berger (a pseudonym) and Penina Neiman about two years ago, at a conference for observant women writers held in Jerusalem. They came with a proposal, wanting to know if ArtScroll would be interested.

When I heard the story Tzirel Rus had to tell, I knew – yes, we would be interested.  Totally. What publisher wouldn’t be interested in such an amazing story?

For starters, Tzirel Rus was a giyoress. More – so was her entire family.  Her ten children, all converts.


Another fascinating layer. The family of geirim found Yiddishkeit in one of the most unlikely places one could envision: the impoverished backwoods of Appalachia.

Wow, again.

To make the story even more unique – this daughter of a Sabbath-observant Christian pastor ultimately married a chassid who’d gone to cheder with the Boyaner Rebbe, blending her ten children and his seven into a warm and wonderful Jewish family.

So how did it happen? How did this family discover Torah in a tin-roofed shack in Georgia? The Mountain Family tells us the wildly unlikely, incredibly inspiring, and absolutely true story.

It begins in Southern California, where Sheryl Youngs grows up, the searching and thoughtful daughter of deeply religious Christian parents who observe the Sabbath and are well-versed in the Bible. She marries John Massey, a man she’d met in Missionary College, and travels back with him to build a home. Instead of the little farm with the white picket fence that she’d imagined, Sheryl finds herself living in her in-laws wooden shack with no indoor plumbing.  She will spend more than two decades in these Appalachian backwoods, raising and homeschooling her ten children.

It is John who first realizes that the religion of their youth does not contain the truth he and Sheryl seek, sending them on a spiritual roller-coaster ride that culminates in the conversion to Torah Judaism of the entire family.

I’m not going to tell you more – the book, rich in detail and beautifully written, does that. What I will tell you is that The Mountain Family, in addition to being a fascinating read, will leave you with an incomparably heightened appreciation for Torah, and for the Jewish People Tzirel Rus and her family so courageously joined.

Click here for book details and exclusive online savings.

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