Don­na Minkowitzs most recent mem­oir, Grow­ing Up Golem: How I Sur­vived My Moth­er, Brook­lyn, and Some Real­ly Bad Dates, will be pub­lished by Mag­nus Books on Sep­tem­ber 25th. She won a Lamb­da Lit­er­ary Award for her first mem­oir, Fero­cious Romance: What My Encoun­ters with the Right Taught Me About Sex, God, and Fury. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

The one thing that has real­ly shocked me about my new book is how Jew­ish it is.

I’m a nonob­ser­vant Jew, except for going to a seder every time I’m invit­ed and vague­ly wish­ing I did more to cel­e­brate Purim because I love its spir­it of play and rebel­lion. In my writ­ing life, I’ve iden­ti­fied much more as a les­bian than a Jew. My own reli­gious feel­ings tend toward pagan or athe­ist, and liv­ing in New York my entire life, I’ve encoun­tered much less overt anti-Semi­tism than I have homo­pho­bia. So why did I wind up writ­ing my mem­oir, Grow­ing Up Golem, with the fab­u­list premise that instead of giv­ing birth to me, my moth­er had actu­al­ly used mag­ic from Kab­bal­ah to cre­ate me as her own per­son­al golem?

One rea­son is that my par­ents’ lives were extra­or­di­nar­i­ly affect­ed by anti-Semi­tism. As Amer­i­can Jew­ish chil­dren dur­ing the Holo­caust, they grew up with the ter­ror that they them­selves would almost cer­tain­ly have been killed, had they but lived in Europe. My moth­er quite fre­quent­ly men­tioned her life­long con­scious­ness of this fact to me. And my par­ents’ fears were hard­ly con­fined to the hypo­thet­i­cal. My father, grow­ing up in the Bronx in the 30s and 40s, was beat­en up every Hal­loween by young toughs in his neigh­bor­hood because he was Jew­ish. Lat­er, draft­ed into the Army and sta­tioned in Ger­many dur­ing the Kore­an War, he was so vicious­ly Jew-bait­ed by his own sergeant that he actu­al­ly attacked the man and was put in the stock­ade (and, prob­a­bly more dam­ag­ing, giv­en a less-than-hon­or­able discharge).

My moth­er was raised large­ly by her grand­moth­er and grand­fa­ther, immi­grants from Roma­nia and Aus­tria respec­tive­ly, who edu­cat­ed my mom in the folk Kab­bal­is­tic tra­di­tion as a young child (I know the young are not sup­posed to be taught Kab­bal­ah, but my moth­er very def­i­nite­ly was), and encour­aged her to study Jew­ish phi­los­o­phy, at a time almost no girls were. As adults, my par­ents were both fierce about fight­ing to pre­serve Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, their own, mine, and every­body else’s: You’re a Jew if Hitler would have killed you for being a Jew,” my moth­er would say bluntly.

I was sent to yeshi­va for the first three grades of school, by par­ents who want­ed me to have a strong foun­da­tion in Judaism, despite the fact that they them­selves were almost entire­ly secular.

It worked. I’m a would-be rad­i­cal writer of 49, but the sto­ries that have the most emo­tion­al rel­e­vance for me, in the whole of human his­to­ry, are the Hebrew Bible sto­ries I learned before the age of eight:

Sam­son, a man of super­hu­man strength, betrayed by the woman he loves until the Philistines gouge out his eyes and his only remain­ing rem­e­dy is sui­ci­dal. Jacob pre­tend­ing to be Esau, a hairy, mas­cu­line man, so that his own blind father will give him the bless­ing intend­ed for his broth­er, the favorite. Joseph, who his own father, Jacob, loves the best, sold into slav­ery by his jeal­ous broth­ers. Jacob, again, wrestling with God (with God!), get­ting his thigh pulled out of its sock­et in the process, and demand­ing (and wrest­ing) a bless­ing from the Lord. Grit­ty, often vio­lent sto­ries, filled with per­son­al emo­tion — rival­ry, envy, love, betrayal.

These sto­ries are not super­fi­cial, not mealy­mouthed, not nice” in the sense of bland, inof­fen­sive, pious.”

They are not easy sto­ries, and Jew­ish cul­ture at its depths is not an easy, san­i­tized, goes-down-smooth culture.

Pre­cise­ly why I love it, and why I (a woman edu­cat­ed in the antire­li­gious the­o­ries of decon­struc­tion­ist lit­er­ary crit­i­cism and the Eng­lish (Chris­t­ian!) lit­er­ary tra­di­tion), made it the foun­da­tion for my book.

Read more about Don­na Minkowitz here.

Don­na Minkowitz was a colum­nist for the Vil­lage Voice for eight years, and her writ­ing has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Salon, The Nation, and Ms. Her first book, Fero­cious Romance, won a Lam­mie for its por­tray­al of the traits Minkowitz found she had in com­mon with the Chris­t­ian right, despite fierce­ly oppos­ing them politically.