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.

Relat­ed Content:

Diana Blet­ter is a Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award nom­i­nee and author of sev­er­al books, includ­ing A Remark­able Kind­ness and The Lov­ing Your­self Book for Women. Her work has appeared in Com­men­tary, The New York Times and The Wall Street Jour­nal.