Ilie Ruby is the author of The Salt God’s Daugh­ter and the crit­i­cal­ly-acclaimed nov­el, The Lan­guage of Trees. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing. 

One of the things that I find most com­pelling about Judaism is the idea of b’shert. It fills me with joy when some­one says our meet­ing was b’sh­ert, our friend­ship is meant to be, when a new con­nec­tion seems pre­des­tined. From the time I was a child, raised slight­ly less tra­di­tion­al­ly than my Con­ser­v­a­tive grand­par­ents, this para­dox­i­cal sense of des­tiny, elu­sive yet cer­tain, made of equal parts fate and faith, res­onat­ed with me.

Per­haps it’s the ethe­re­al aspect of b’shert, the asser­tion that some things are meant to be while oth­ers are not meant to be, which skep­tics undoubt­ed­ly dis­miss as mere­ly a lens through which to impose order on chaos. And yet, the promis­es of b’sh­ert are vast. Those who were lucky enough to find their b’sh­ert, well, it seemed some­how the divine favored them. They’d passed the test, were deemed wor­thy, and had been chosen. 

No mat­ter what else hap­pened, they could claim this: they found theirs in this lifetime. 

How many b’sherts did you deserve? And when would you run out of chances? What hap­pened if you nev­er found your b’sh­ert?

My sib­lings and I were raised on the idea of b’shert, on its promise, told we would find ours — that it had been writ­ten. We honed our inde­pen­dence, but hoped to find our b’sh­ert, too, just like the women in my nov­el, The Salt God’s Daugh­ter do. My main char­ac­ter, Ruthie, yearns for true love, the sort that tran­scends time, space, and the bar­ri­ers of her wild ocean­ic wilder­ness. But per­haps no one longs for it more than her moth­er, Diana, whose search for her own b’shert is all-con­sum­ing, and comes at great cost to her family.

The truth is that in books, as in life, some find their b’sh­ert; oth­ers don’t. It seems there is lit­tle rhyme or rea­son as to why some search a life­time to no avail. And oth­ers not only find it once, but twice, like my own grand­moth­er, who was as deserv­ing as any­one, and found it first as a young woman, and again, as a young wid­ow. Two b’sherts in one life­time, both men­sches. Some­how her daugh­ters nev­er found theirs. 

My grand­par­ents were the only two peo­ple I knew who were a liv­ing tes­ti­mo­ny of b’sh­ert, so when I’d vis­it as a teenag­er, I was an inves­ti­ga­tor of b’sh­ert. I stud­ied their rela­tion­ship so as to rec­og­nize b’sh­ert if it found me. I not­ed how their hands touched as they passed each oth­er in the hall­way. Watched how they dis­cussed din­ner dur­ing break­fast. Watched how he mas­saged her arthrit­ic hands after Hadas­sah meet­ings, how she cham­pi­oned his work at B’nai B’rith, how they adored and argued and how they curled up at night while she knit afghans for the grand­chil­dren while watch­ing Wheel of For­tune. Watched how my grand­fa­ther car­ried his b’shert to the sil­very-blue reclin­er after she became ill. Watched him shake his head with amuse­ment and relief dur­ing our vis­its when my grand­moth­er and I would sit close on the couch, arms wrapped around each oth­er, and we’d con­verse in a made up lan­guage only the two of us under­stood — a blend of Yid­dish and gib­ber­ish, which made her laugh until tears streamed down her wrin­kled cheeks and her joy seemed pow­er­ful enough to heal her. And that last time, before she died, how my grand­fa­ther put on her favorite record and danced in the liv­ing room to enter­tain her, and she, too weak to move, beamed with pure love.

Sec­ond chances are always a theme in my writ­ing. I’m fas­ci­nat­ed by restora­tion, by lives redeemed after loss­es or mis­takes, and by rebirth. In The Salt God’s Daugh­ter I wrote about Mr. and Mrs. Green, whose mar­riage was b’shert. I wrote of Mrs. Green los­ing him after decades. About shi­va, and the strangers who showed up to tell their untold sto­ries of him. Of how a new cir­cle of soul­mates appeared after b’shert had dis­ap­peared, but hope did not.

All things have a begin­ning, a mid­dle and an end­ing, even those things that seem pre­des­tined. And yet, what blos­soms in the absence of what’s meant to be offers rich ter­ri­to­ry for explo­ration, and remains as beau­ti­ful and wondrous.

Vis­it Ilie’s offi­cial web­site here.

Raised in Rochester, NY, Ilie Ruby is the author of The Salt God’s Daugh­ter (Sep­tem­ber 2012) and the crit­i­cal­ly-acclaimed nov­el, The Lan­guage of Trees. She attend­ed the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Pro­fes­sion­al Writ­ing Pro­gram, where she was fic­tion edi­tor of The South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Anthol­o­gy. Fol­low­ing her life­long inter­ests in edu­ca­tion and writ­ing, she has worked as a 5th grade teacher, an edi­tor of fic­tion and non­fic­tion for pub­lish­ing hous­es, and in film pro­duc­tion on a PBS series. Ruby is the win­ner of the Edwin L. Moses Award for Fic­tion, cho­sen by T.C. Boyle; a Kerr Foun­da­tion Schol­ar­ship; and the Phi Kap­pa Phi Award for Cre­ative Fic­tion. She is a recip­i­ent of the Wes­leyan Writer’s Con­fer­ence David­off Schol­ar­ship and the Bar­bara Kemp Award for Out­stand­ing Teach­ing. Ruby, also a painter, lives near Boston with her hus­band and three children.