Ear­li­er this week, Tehi­la Lieber­man wrote about two of the short sto­ries from her col­lec­tion Venus in the After­noon. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Per­haps after I was born, some­one sneaked into the hos­pi­tal nurs­ery and instead of snatch­ing me, stood above me and whis­pered, May You Have an Inter­est­ing Life.” The motives of this per­son would not have been clear, nor their inten­tion — bless­ing or curse. But inter­est­ing” is pret­ty much a guar­an­tee for any­one who under­stands ear­ly in their life that they have been born into a world that is not their world; that they will need to exit and go forth from what they have known into the babel of many oth­er tongues, satchel on their back, at any giv­en moment look­ing both for­ward and back. We who have done so will for­ev­er have the under­stand­ing, the lan­guage of the insid­er while will­ing­ly — no des­per­ate­ly — at all costs — want­i­ng to be outside.

I have not yet read Jeanette Win­ter­son­’s recent mem­oir but when I first read her nov­el, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, cer­tain­ly inspired by her strange and inter­est­ing life of hav­ing been adopt­ed into a fam­i­ly of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians, I felt that I had found my sis­ter. The extra­or­di­nary writer, Kate Wheel­er, whose past includes a stint as a Bud­dhist nun in Bur­ma, has a mag­nif­i­cent short sto­ry col­lec­tion enti­tled Not Where I Start­ed From. That would be an apt title for a mem­oir, should I ever decide to write one.

Like Shalom Aus­lan­der and Nathan Eng­lan­der, I emerged from an Ortho­dox upbring­ing and am, in fact, the daugh­ter of an Ortho­dox rab­bi. Emerg­ing and carv­ing my own path was cer­tain­ly fraught and dif­fi­cult and cost a vil­la in the south of France worth of ther­a­py, but it has also pro­vid­ed me a cer­tain lit­er­a­cy in mul­ti­ple points of view and in worlds that don’t typ­i­cal­ly meet and if they do, they are not always friendly.

For starters, we were Ashke­naz­ic and my father was rab­bi of a Sephardic shul. And so I grew up with a foot in each world and the very dif­fer­ent val­ues and pri­or­i­ties of those two worlds played out in my life in var­i­ous ways. As a child, I knew Meir Kahana per­son­al­ly (he was mar­ried to my moth­er’s first cousin) but only a few years into adult­hood, in Israel, end­ed up work­ing for a left wing mem­ber of Knes­set. I found myself com­ing to feel strong­ly about ter­ri­to­r­i­al com­pro­mise and a two-state solu­tion while being inti­mate with the world of set­tlers. Three years ago, when my son was six­teen, I took him to Israel for his first time. I did­n’t rel­ish a trip to the West Bank, where my rel­a­tives lived, and so my sis­ter-in-law, whom I love and respect very much despite our diver­gent views, con­coct­ed a five-day trip through the north of Israel. I should stop here and let you know that my broth­er was killed in the first week of the sec­ond Intifa­da and that my sis­ter-in-law has spent the years since sin­gle-hand­ed­ly rais­ing sev­en kids. She told me that all of the kids, includ­ing my two mar­ried nieces’ hus­bands, would be com­ing. I assured her that I had brought my most mod­est bathing suit.

Bathing suit?” she said and laughed.

The first day of our trip, my rel­a­tives made a point of find­ing banks of the Kin­neret that were desert­ed, and hid­den pools and parts of the Jor­dan riv­er where we could pret­ty much be on our own. In blaz­ing heat by the Kin­neret I watched as she and all the girls mean­dered into the water in their clothes. (There was appar­ent­ly no such restric­tion on the men!!!) There was no choice. I could remain out­side and bake or cool off in my skirt and top. After three days of swim­ming in my clothes (I will state what some of you are think­ing — yes there is an absur­di­ty as cling­ing wet clothes are not exact­ly mod­est), I got used to it. One day a sec­u­lar cou­ple wan­dered into the area where we were swim­ming. The woman was pale and in a biki­ni and it stopped me. All that skin sud­den­ly seemed super­flu­ous. Distracting.

While I glibly tossed around sto­ry titles in my head like My Vaca­tion with Extrem­ists,” on anoth­er lev­el, what I was com­ing to under­stand was the embar­rass­ment of rich­es I’ve been giv­en in terms of a pass­port to cross the bor­ders of such rad­i­cal­ly diver­gent worlds. 

Vis­it Tehi­la’s offi­cial web­site here.

Tehi­la Lieber­man has received the Kather­ine Anne Porter Short Fic­tion Prize, the Stan­ley Elkin Memo­r­i­al Prize, and the Rick DiMari­nis Short Fic­tion Prize and her fic­tion has appeared in many lit­er­ary jour­nals. Her non-fic­tion has appeared on Salon​.com, and in Israel’s Eretz Acheret. The daugh­ter of an Ashke­naz­ic Rab­bi in a Sephardic con­gre­ga­tion, Lieber­man often explores a wide range of worlds and themes.