The ProsenPeople


Wednesday, September 02, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Sasha Abramsky wrote about the mystical experience of writing a memoir, observed as he worked on The House of Twenty Thousand Books. He continues below with some reflections on the family legacy beyond his grandparents’ titular home and will be blogging here all week on The ProsenPeople’s Visiting Scribe series.

My great-grandfather, Yehezkel Abramsky, was identified as a religious wunderkind at the age of eight. He had a prodigious memory, and was able to reel off entire tracts of the Bible and the Talmud at will. When his family, living in a small village in Byelorussia, would walk into the nearby shtetl to attend synagogue, locals would spy the boy and call out recitation requests from the rooftops. By all accounts, Yehezkel would happily oblige.

Over his ninety-year life, Yehezkel carved out a huge legacy: as a prisoner of conscience in the Soviet Union; as chief judge of the London Beth Din; as winner of the first Israel Prize for rabbinic literature, for his dozens of volumes of commentary on the Tosefta; and, in retirement, as one of the most sought-after voices to settle religious disputes in Israel. When he died, in 1976, tens of thousands of mourners accompanied his bier to the gravesite in Jerusalem.

The religion of my great-grandfather is, in many ways, a world away from my life. I am secular, brought up in a profoundly atheist household. The religious impulse was not transmitted from Yehezkel to his third son, Chimen, my grandfather. Chimen and his wife, Mimi, however, kept the rituals going, and were fully informed about—and by—the traditions of Jewish life. They both grew up speaking Yiddish, both read Hebrew, knew the ins-and-outs of the great religious texts, and kept a kosher kitchen. For Chimen, a historian with an unparalleled knowledge of modern Jewish history, one could not understand modernity without understanding the great intellectual and philosophical disputes that had riven Jewry and the world beyond over recent centuries.

The traditional impulse, however, was not transmitted down the generations. And so, by process of elimination and assimilation, by the time my generation arrived on the scene, we were Jewish in name and, to a point, in our cultural references, but we were neither religious nor abiding by the traditions that shaped Jewish daily life down the millennia.

Writing my book—centered around the lives of my grandparents, but also, of necessity, exploring the environments out of which their own parents had emerged, and the values that had shaped their years—was, for me, on many levels a grand voyage of discovery.

Perhaps one of the most exhilarating parts of that journey was coming to know my great-grandfather, to glimpse how he understood the world and man’s role within the cosmos. Yehezkel had prodigious intellectual stamina. He was, like the HaMatmid scholar of Chaim Nachman Bialik’s poem, capable of reading texts from dawn until late into the night, stopping only briefly for simple food, sleeping but a few hours a night. In famed yeshivas and in private lessons with scholars in Telz, Vilna, and other centers of learning in Byelorussia and in Lithuania, Yehezkel stored up vast amounts of knowledge, and learned ever-more complex interpretative methods. By the age of eighteen he had become a rabbi.

Schooled in the austere Musar schools, Yehezkel learned the value of self-abnegation, ways of standing true to principles in the face of indifference and/or hostility. It stood him in good stead during the awful months that he spent as a middle-aged man in a Siberian labor camp before being exiled to the United Kingdom; and, in all likelihood, it helped him stay morally and mentally sustained during the catastrophe of the Second World War, as, daily reports came into London of the unfolding Holocaust against European Jewry.

Yehezkel had an extraordinary respect for the power of the word, the role of language in literally carving out the realities of life. There is a photo of him as a very old man, his long, white beard almost translucent. He is leaning forward, his hands holding down the pages of the book he is reading. In the concentration evidenced on his old face, I see my grandfather, the non-religious historian with as strong a passion for the word, the man who spent a lifetime surrounding himself with books and manuscripts. And in my grandfather, I see my father, a mathematician whose study overflows with texts. I see my own office, its bookshelves piled high with books and newspapers. And I see my children’s bedrooms, their shelves, too, overflowing with words.

That passion for the printed word is something that I urgently hope will continue down the generations. And, too, that quest for knowledge, that endless questioning of humanity’s purpose, of our place and role in the grand carnival that is life.

Sasha Abramsky grew up in London and attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied politics, philosophy, and economics. He is a Senior Fellow at Demos think tank and teaches writing at University of California Davis. His memoir The House of Twenty Thousand Books is now available from New York Review Books.

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Book Cover of the Week: Women in Clothes

Tuesday, September 01, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

I just came across the book covers for the U.S. and U.K. editions of Women in Clothes at the same time and I honestly cannot decide which I like better, they're both so lovely:

A compilation of thoughts, photographs, interviews, and illustrations from the likes of "Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton & 639 Others"—including Cindy Sherman, Kim Gordon, Kalpona Akter, Sarah Nicole Prickett, Tavi Gevinson, Miranda July, Roxane Gay, Lena Dunham, and Molly Ringwald—Women in Clothes began as a survey project of 50 questions prompting women of all ages, nationalities, religious affiliations, class, and ethnicities to consider how apparel influences women's lives day-to-day. This one's another exception to the "never judge a book by its cover" rule: subdued yet striking, alluring and unusual inside and out.

Plus, I submit the following soundbite from one of the interviews within, a dialogue between preschool teacher Dina Goldstein and her son, radio host Jonathan Goldstein:

JONATHAN: Okay, what is your cultural background and how has that influenced how you dress?

DINA: Well, I'm Jewish. How has that influenced me? I guess I dress like other Jewish women. But I don't like those well-kept women. They all look sort of alike, and they all have makeup. They wear their hair in a ponytail, their clothes are just so, and their shoes are the latest... I can't be that type.

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Memory Games

Monday, August 31, 2015 | Permalink

Sasha Abramsky is the author of The House of Twenty Thousand Books, a memoir exploring his grandparents’ lives through their vast literary collection in London. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series.

I have been a journalist for nearly a quarter of a century, and have, over the years, interviewed thousands of people. Yet my most recent book, The House of Twenty Thousand Books—a book that is, on one level, simply about the lives lived by my father’s parents; on another level a journey through the modern Jewish experience; and, on yet another level again, a portrait of obsessions—took me on an intellectual odyssey the likes of which I doubt I’ll ever again experience.

Writing The House of Twenty Thousand Books, for several years I immersed myself in the worlds, the dreams, the hopes and the fears lived by others. It’s a strange sensation. In some ways, the realities of those others became more real than were my own. The political passions, the bibliographic obsessions, the conversations of my grandparents and their friends and comrades, became the fabric of my daily life. I trained my mind to effortlessly wander bookshelves, containing thousands of books on both socialist history and on Jewish history, that had been emptied several years earlier, following my grandfather’s death; and I asked my palette to virtually re-taste culinary marvels conjured up by my grandmother Mimi in her kitchen a generation ago, to feed the many, many people who would descend on the House at 5 Hillway in north London for meals and conversation each and every evening for roughly half a century.

There is something extraordinary about the sensory experience that accompanies memoir writing. For no matter how much research you do, no matter how many archives you enter and old men and women you interview, at its core the project is a sensory one. It is about recreating what people whom in my case I only ever knew once they were elderly, once they were simply “grandparents,” looked like and smelled like, sounded like and acted like, the texture of their skin, or even something as intimate as how their dandruff fell onto the shoulders of their shirts, and about how these things changed over time as the people one is writing about journeyed the arc of their own lives. It is about learning to understand the old as they were when they were young, then again as they were in middle age, and to realize the immense inadequacy of reducing complex humans, who lived full lives, simply to the label “grandparents.”

For me, writing about a house filled floor to ceiling with rare books, it became a memory game about what individual tomes looked like, what aromas their old paper gave off when opened up, what different bindings and different materials felt like to the touch; the difference between the thick acid-free papers of the past and the thinner papers of twentieth century mass production; the extraordinary difference between paper and parchment, and, in turn, parchment and vellum.

Ultimately, my writing project became a series of daily conversations in my head about why this particular book was deliberately placed next to that particular book—and in asking that question, trying to draw a whole set of intellectual conclusions, about the ways in which ideas connected, the places and periods that my grandfather Chimen was drawing together in his mind’s-eye through the architecture of his extraordinary library.

There’s something almost mystical in the memoir-writing experience. I came to think that certain places retain an almost ghostly fragrance, an invisible film, of past occupants and events; and that, with enough concentration, one can briefly make visible, make tactile again, what is ordinarily hidden by time. When I got deep enough into that strange place, where past and present mingle, I found that the writing came naturally, in a flood. I was no longer a middle-aged man in the second decade of the twenty-first century, but was able to imagine myself rather a child again, in the 1970s and 1980s, surrounded by my grandparents, their relatives, their friends, and their books. It was a strange place to be, a place outside of time, a place where—I eventually feared—one could get stuck. But it was also a place that provided me space to write, and then to write some more, until, eventually The House of Twenty Thousand Books was complete.

Sasha Abramsky grew up in London and attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied politics, philosophy, and economics. He is a Senior Fellow at Demos think tank and teaches writing at University of California Davis. His memoir The House of Twenty Thousand Books is now available from New York Review Books.

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  • Muscle Beach

    Sunday, August 30, 2015 | Permalink

    Excerpted from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks.

    When I finally made it to New York in June of 1961, I borrowed money from a cousin and bought a new bike, a BMW R60—the trustiest of all the BMW models. I wanted no more to do with used bikes, like the R69 which some idiot or criminal had fitted with the wrong pistons, the pistons that had seized up in Alabama.

    I spent a few days in New York, and then the open road beckoned me. I covered thousands of miles in my slow, erratic return to California. The roads were wonderfully empty, and going across South Dakota and Wyoming, I would scarcely see another soul for hours. The silence of the bike, the effortlessness of riding, lent a magical, dreamlike quality to my motion.

    There is a direct union of oneself with a motorcycle, for it is so geared to one’s proprioception, one’s movements and postures, that it responds almost like part of one’s own body. Bike and rider become a single, indivisible entity; it is very much like riding a horse. A car cannot become part of one in quite the same way.

    I arrived back in San Francisco at the end of June, just in time to exchange my bike leathers for the white coat of an intern in Mount Zion Hospital.

    During my long road trip, with snatched meals here and there, I had lost weight, but I had also worked out when possible at gyms, so I was in trim shape, under two hundred pounds, when I showed off my new bike and my new body in New York in June. But when I returned to San Francisco, I decided to “bulk up” (as weight lifters say) and have a go at a weight- lifting record, one which I thought might be just within my reach. Putting on weight was particularly easy to do at Mount Zion, because its coffee shop offered double cheeseburgers and huge milk shakes, and these were free to residents and interns. Rationing myself to five double cheeseburgers and half a dozen milkshakes per evening and training hard, I bulked up swiftly, moving from the mid-heavy category (up to 198 pounds) to the heavy (up to 240 pounds) to the superheavy (no limit). I told my parents about this—as I told them almost everything—and they were a bit disturbed, which surprised me, because my father was no lightweight and weighed around 250 himself.

    I had done some weight lifting as a medical student in London in the 1950s. I belonged to a Jewish sports club, the Maccabi, and we would have power-lifting contests with other sports clubs, the three competition lifts being the curl, the bench press, and the squat, or deep knee bend.

    Very different from these were the three Olympic lifts— the press, the snatch, and the clean and jerk—and here we had world-class lifters in our little gym. One of them, Ben Helfgott, had captained the British weight-lifting team in the 1956 Olympic Games. He became a good friend (and even now, in his eighties, he is still extraordinarily strong and agile). I tried the Olympic lifts, but I was too clumsy. My snatches, in particular, were dangerous to those around me, and I was told in no uncertain terms to get off the Olympic lifting platform and go back to power lifting.

    The Central YMCA in San Francisco had particularly good weight-lifting facilities. The first time I went there, my eye was caught by a bench-press bar loaded with nearly 400 pounds. No one at the Maccabi could bench-press anything like this, and when I looked around, I saw no one in the Y who looked up to such a weight. No one, at least, until a short but hugely broad and thick-chested man, a white-haired gorilla, hobbled into the gym—he was slightly bowlegged—lay down on the bench, and, by way of warmup, did a dozen easy reps with the bench-press bar. He added weights for subsequent sets, going to nearly 500 pounds. I had a Polaroid camera with me and took a picture as he rested between sets. I got talking to him later; he was very genial. He told me that his name was Karl Norberg, that he was Swedish, that he had worked all his life as a longshoreman, and that he was now seventy years old. His phenomenal strength had come to him naturally; his only exercise had been hefting boxes and barrels at the docks, often one on each shoulder, boxes and barrels which no “normal” person could even lift off the ground.

    I felt inspired by Karl and determined to lift greater poundages myself, to work on the one lift I was already fairly good at—the squat. Training intensively, even obsessively, at a small gym in San Rafael, I worked up to doing five sets of five reps with 555 pounds every fifth day. The symmetry of this pleased me but caused amusement at the gym—“Sacks and his fives.” I didn’t realize how exceptional this was until another lifter encouraged me to have a go at the California squat record. I did so, diffidently, and to my delight was able to set a new record, a squat with a 600-pound bar on my shoulders. This was to serve as my introduction to the power-lifting world; a weight-lifting record is equivalent, in these circles, to publishing a scientific paper or a book in academia.

    Copyright © 2015 by Oliver Sacks. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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    New Jewish Book Council Reviews August 28. 2015

    Friday, August 28, 2015 | Permalink

    This week's book reviews from Jewish Book Council:

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    August 2015 Jewish Book Council Staff Picks

    Thursday, August 27, 2015 | Permalink

    Posted by Arie Monas

    Read what the staff of the Jewish Book Council has been reading for the month of August!


    "This month, I’m reading The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff. I’ve read all her other books and I enjoy her style of writing. I’m in the beginning of the book so I don’t have too much to say. It takes place in WWII, which is interesting to me. It’s a well-written book. I recommend it to people who like the time period of WWII."


    "The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein is about two Jewish New Yorkers, a 21-year-old woman from Manhattan and a Russian born boy who has recently graduated high school. They both find themselves in Norway in the summertime. The nights there are unusual. The sun doesn’t full set, which leaves a beautiful scenery. The author does a great job of incorporating beautiful imagery into a very readable plotline. I definitely recommend it to everyone."


    I’m reading Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk. It’s a book about a young girl coming of age in the 1930’s. I’m re-reading it because it’s interesting to see the differences between young adults now and then.


    "I’m reading two books this month. The first one is Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen. It’s an absorbing, mind-bending novel that has caused me to miss my subway stop more than once! Cohen plays with science fiction, technology, and personal identity in his signature engrossing, thoroughly Jewish-postmodern voice.

    "The second book is Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sara Monguso. As somebody who has also journaled for many years, Monguso’s reflections on her own diaries truly resonate with me."


    "I’m reading Thresholds: How to Thrive Through Life’s Transitions and to Live Fearlessly and Regret-Free by Sherre Hirsch. Hirsch talks about how we all have times of transitions. She says that we have many in our lives and need to find a new way of “thinking, feeling and being.” Being a parent, watching my last child go to a far way college and the reality of becoming an empty nester, is one of those thresholds of my life. Hirsch’s book gives us the tools to help cross those thresholds both major and minor and to be strong as we go from one room in our lives to the next."


    "One of Green's lesser known books, An Abundance of Katherines, is an exciting adventure of a road trip to nowhere—where friendships are tested and limits are broken. A book that gives us the realization that there is freedom in not having all the answers."


    "Having recently enjoyed a lively Persian Shabbat dinner in LA, I've taken a dive into some of the incredible stories that focus on the Persian Jewish community. Of particular note is this recently published novel by JBC Network author Parnaz Foroutan set in in early twentieth-century Iran and contemporary LA. The Girl from the Garden is Foroutan's debut novel and focuses on family legacy."


    "This month, I'm reading As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg. This is an unbelievable book and a must-read for everyone. If you haven't read it yet, I strongly recommend it."


    "This month, I'm reading An Improbable Friendship by Anthony David. Anthony David's biography of Ruth Dayan and Raymonda Tawil is amazing. He manages to tell each woman's story in her own voice against the backdrop of the history they lived as Israel struggled to become a nation. They reveal heartbreaking stories that often conflict with the stories we have come to hold as true. And yet, through it all, these two women fight not only for self determination, but for the rights of all women. That they forged a friendship during those years of war is itself amazing. That they fought to hold on to each other and their shared vision for peace should give us all hope that their dream could become a reality."

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    Ruffled Collars

    Thursday, August 27, 2015 | Permalink

    Excerpted from Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World by Linda Hirshman.

    By the time the nation celebrates the birth of its democracy each Fourth of July, the nine justices of the Supreme Court have mostly left town. But before departing the capital for their summer recess, they must first decide all the cases they have heard since their current term began the previous October. The hardest, most controversial cases, where the unelected Court orders the society to change in a big way, are often left to the end. As the days for decision tick away in late June, the tension in the courtroom is as hot and heavy as the Washington summer air.

    On the morning of June 26, 1996, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman appointed to the high court since its founding, slipped through the red velvet curtain behind the bench and took her seat at the end. Five places along the majestic curve sat Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, since 1981 the first woman on the Supreme Court, or the FWOTSC as she slyly called herself. Each woman justice sported an ornamental white collar on her somber black robe, but otherwise there was no obvious link between the First and Second, any more than between any of the other justices. On that day, however, the public got a rare glimpse at the ties that bound the two most powerful women in the land.

    Speaking from the depths of the high-backed chair that towered over her tiny frame, Justice Ginsburg delivered the decision of the Court in United States v. Virginia. From that morning in June 1996, Virginia’s state-run Virginia Military Institute, which had trained young men since before the Civil War, would have to take females into its ranks. The Constitution of the United States, which required the equal protection of the laws for all persons, including women, demanded it.

    Women in the barracks at VMI. Women rolling in the mud during the traditional hazing, women with cropped heads and stiff gray uniforms looking uncannily like the Confederate soldiers VMI had sent to the Civil War a century before. Six of Ginsburg’s “brethren” on the Court agreed with her that VMI had to admit women, but the case was much more contentious—and momentous—than that robust majority of seven reflects. Until that day, VMI had been the shining symbol of a world divided between men’s and women’s proper roles. Before the case got to the Supremes, the lower federal courts had supported VMI’s sex-segregated ways. For years, opponents of feminism used the prospect of women in military settings as the prime example of how ridiculous the world would become if women were truly treated as equal to men. VMI was one of the last redoubts. And now Justice Ginsburg, who, years ago as Lawyer Ginsburg, had been the premier advocate for women’s equality—the “Thurgood Marshall of the women’s movement”—was going to order the nation to live in that brave new sex-equal world.

    Few people listening knew that Ginsburg got to speak for the Court that morning, because her sister in law, O’Connor, had decided she should. After the justices voted to admit women to VMI at their regular conference, the most senior member of the majority had the right to assign the opinion to any justice who agreed. He assigned it to the senior woman, Sandra Day O’Connor, but she would not take it. She knew who had labored as a Supreme Court lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union from 1970 to 1980 to get the Court to call women equal. And now the job was done. “This should be Ruth’s,” she said.

    Continue Reading »

    Copyright © 2015 by Linda Hirshman. Reprinted with permission from Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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    Diana Bletter's Top 11 Jewish Quotes for Writers

    Wednesday, August 26, 2015 | Permalink

    Earlier this week, Diana Bletter wrote about being not just a writer or a Jewish writer, but a Jewish woman writer. Her novel A Remarkable Kindness is about a quartet of women brought together by the rituals of Jewish burials in Israel. Diana is blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series.

    I treat my office like a high school hallway. All over my walls are inspirational quotes to keep me going. Writing is a lonely task: it’s being the Sisyphus of sentences. Every now and then, I pretend to invite imaginary cheerleaders (including my best friend’s daughter) to my office before I sit down to write, with them cheering, “You can do it! Go… WRITE!”

    What follows are the top thirteen inspirational Jewish quotes I turn to when I feel like I’ve fallen down that deep, dark chute of writing nothingness.

    “In knowing who you are and writing from it, you will help the world by giving it understanding.” — Natalie Goldberg

    “Surprising things can happen when you start to pray…” — Jacqueline Osherow

    “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, Grow, grow.” — The Talmud

    “Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand.” — Baruch Spinoza

    “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” — Albert Einstein

    “Two strides across, the rest is dark...Life is a fleeting question mark…” — Hannah Senesh

    “You become a writer because you need to become a writer. Nothing else.” — Grace Paley

    “Take your life into your own hands…” — Erica Jong

    “Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself.” — Golda Meir

    “Had I not fallen, I would not have arisen. Had I not been subject to darkness, I could not have seen the light.” — Midrash

    “If we survived Pharoah, we’ll survive this.” — Meir Arieli

    Diana Bletter's writing appears in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. Her novel A Remarkable Kindness is now available from William Morrow.

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    Book Cover of the Week: The Secret of Chabad

    Wednesday, August 26, 2015 | Permalink

    Posted by Nat Bernstein

    Veteran Chabad emissary to Yorba Linda and sitting president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County and Long Beach, California Rabbi David Eliezrie offers an intriguing insight into one of the most successful and influential movements of contemporary Judaism:

    The Secret of Chabad: Inside the World's Most Successful Jewish Movement illuminates the key elements of Chabad Lubavitch's modern phenomenon. Drawing on interviews with shluchim and lead figures the world over, historical trajectories and events, and the author's personal experience, this book has caught the attention and admiration of prominent (non-Lubavitch) Jewish voices like Dennis Prager and Alan Dershowitz. The Secret of Chabad comes out September 2015 from The Toby Press; we're already fascinated by the book cover alone!

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    A Scribe Among Scribes

    Monday, August 24, 2015 | Permalink

    Diana Bletter is the author of A Remarkable Kindness and lives in Israel. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

    I was standing in front of the Treasury Building in Petra, Jordan, a colossal structure carved right out of—or into—a rose-colored cliff, built about 500 C.E. The setting was mind-bogglingly magnificent, but it seemed sort of ghostly. Empty. For me, there was no echo, no resonance. Why? Because the Nabateans kept no written records. I could not connect to what was going on there. I had no way to understand or imagine how this building was used or what it meant to the Nabateans.

    How lucky I am to belong to a nation of studiers and scribes! I have a rich written history to fall back on, to prop me up. I’m one more link in a chain of Jews that stretches back to ancient times and I can study texts to feel the connection.

    But I also belong to a sub-category within that group: I am a Jewish woman. Which leaves me the task of reading between the lines when it comes to understanding Jewish women’s history, in the clues and meanings implied, inferred, or hidden within the Bible and Talmud

    A writer’s job is to define the world. This very act of naming things, as Adam did in the Garden of Eden, is crucial for writers. We write what we see and feel. Writers have the privilege—and the responsibility—to translate our perspective into words. Those words give us power. And observing, followed by transcribing, is the power that gives us the art of writing.

    I grew up in an age when Jewish women were not doing the writing as much as being written about. I feel fortunate to have witnessed a golden age for Jewish women writers. We can use our freedom to shape our own texts—and our own lives. We witness the world from our unique perspective, and we can share that outlook with others. It is our self-appointed task as writers to be independent, insightful, irreverent, faithful, thoughtful, spiritual, and creative all at once.

    A while ago, I was visiting the United States (I moved from New York to northern Israel in 1991) and met with a Jewish Community Center program director who was considering inviting me to speak about my new novel, A Remarkable Kindness. The book tells the intertwined stories of four American women who are members of a hevra kadisha—what I call a burial circle—in Israel. The director looked at me skeptically and asked, “Why do you think your book would appeal to a general audience?”

    I glanced above him; on the wall was a painting of a religious Jewish man studying an ancient text.

    “That’s why,” I said, pointing up at the painting.

    A man can symbolize all of Judaism. A woman’s connection to her beliefs, heritage and traditions all too often lies on the sidelines—not for a general audience. My first book, The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women, was an attempt to give women center stage and provide the opportunity to speak about their Jewish experiences; my new novel allows four fictional characters to participate in and witness a mostly hidden Jewish ritual which ultimately transforms their lives.

    I’m proud to take my place as a scribe in a nation of scribes. I feel fortunate, blessed to be writing when I can write exactly what I want—not necessarily because I want to preserve my words for the future or because I want to understand the past, but because I want to tell a good story, conveying what life is like right now, in the present.

    Diana Bletter's writing appears in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. He novel A Remarkable Kindness is now available from William Morrow.

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