More than a year ago, the blogs editor of The Jerusalem Post asked me if I would mind shifting from Lifestyle to Judaism (I had been writing on and off for the former since 2006). I told her I’d get back to her. On the one hand, I considered myself a Jew and a writer. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure that I rated to be referred to as a “Jewish Writer;” I was and still am learning about Judaism.
My editor disagreed, pointing out that I was already frequently discussing our Torah, our homeland, our people, our holidays, and our life cycle. My husband, my first and last source for resolving most issues, agreed. My rabbi, as well, encouraged me to take on that appellation.
Nonetheless, I objected, claiming I lacked knowledge, and, even more excruciatingly, that I will never live the FFB life; I’m a Baalat Teshuva, who became fully shomer Torah u''mitzvot at the “young” age of forty. The foundation that is dayschool or Bait Yaakov, plus seminary, and maybe sherut leumi, will never be mine. As best, I can wax enthusiastic about my current life.
My rabbi answered that one doesn’t have to be a rabbi, an FFB, or anything else that I will never be to be considered a “Jewish Writer.” Also, my husband suggested, I’d already become a “Jewish Writer” and that “Jewish Writing” has several commonly employed connotations; text created by a Jew, text created about Judaism, and text created for Jewish audiences.
In retrospect, in high school and in college, I was, respectively, the teen and the collegiate columnist for Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle. For more than six years, I wrote weekly bits for that paper’s “Teen Scene” and “Campus Capers.” Whereas I learned more about koshrut, about Hagim, and about Israel than I taught, when I attended BBYO or ZOA events, I was conspicuous (during the decades before the advent of social networking, folks who repeatedly had their pictures and thoughts published were culturally evident) as a “Jewish Writer.”
Thereafter, while pursuing graduate studies in rhetoric, I became bothered that certain non-Jewish religious institutions generated the heuristics by which “everyone’s” discourse is measured. Like many undereducated Jews, I looked toward eastern religions for answers, writing and broadcasting research such as “A Zen Approach to Epistemology: A Different Light on a Tired Topic of Communication Theory.” I tried to simultaneously poke at my heritage, but wound up with Hellenistic results like “The Hebraic Rhetoric of the Classical Era: A Primary Rhetoric with a Philosophical Slant.” During that span, too, I facilitated academic conference programs such as “After Aesthetics and Techne’: The Ethics of Educational Communication” and “Nonwestern Histories of Rhetoric.” More than ten years elapsed before I produced studies, such as “Coordinated Meaning: An Orthodox Jewess Teaches Feminist Theory,” that would establish me among colleagues as a “Jewish Writer.”
Meanwhile, I remained drawn to what I understood of my Yiddishkeit. In tandem with writing my dissertation, I penned a column of reflections, for Springfield, Massachusetts’s now defunct Jewish Weekly News.
All along, I yearned to establish a personal, Jewish ontology (a contradiction of terms if there ever was one). Moreover, I felt compelled to fashion a public morality of communication. More than fifteen years would pass from the time I became one of my academic discipline’s communication ethics darlings (scholarly book, National Endowment for the Humanities funding, the works) until the time when a kind and wise rabbi gently suggested I look up the writings of the fellow known as “Chofetz Chiam.”
In the interim, my family lit Shabbot candles, ate matzah on Pesach, and, annually, built a sukkah. Subsequently, Hashem allowed us to: find an amiable, small congregation of frum Jews, discover a larger community, and then come home to Israel. Time passed.
These days, although I never really thought about this matter until now, it’s not just my JPost editor, my rabbi, and my husband who regard me as a “Jewish Writer.” I guess there’s something to the fact that I: write bimonthly for Natural Jewish Parenting, am teaching for Jewish Story Writing, and, in August, will see my chapbook about life in Israeli, Supernal Factors, posted by The Camel Saloon Books on Blog. What’s more, I’ve been a regular at Scribblers on the Roof, and I gratefully contribute to venues like Poetry Super Highway’s annual Yom HaShoah issues, and to The New Vilna Review. I’ve had work published by Horizons, by Mishpacha, and by Hamodia, as well.
In balance, for every Jewish-identified publication, like Poetica, that has included my handiwork, there are multiple nonreligious venues that have featured my “Jewish Writing.” Weirdyear, for instance published my very Zionist story "Kalev Liked to Suck the Marrow Best," Litsnack published my shalom bayit tale, “Yitzok’s Teachers,” (scroll down), and my account of a child’s heightened middah, “Benji’s Mask,” was printed by Raphael’s Village.
Even after having the zehut (scroll to p. 27) to publish a few hundred freestanding poems, stories, and essays, and a handful of books, b’ayin tova, I’m not convinced that I have become the messenger, i.e. the “Jewish Writer,” that I wish I could be. Yet, as a cherished friend pointed out, the gelatinous monsters, assistant bank managers, and voracious hedgehogs, which populate my narratives, all abide by a code that could only have sprung from a pintela Yid.
I don’t know. Bli ayin hara, in March I’ll teach my sixth writing course at the Jerusalem branch of the AACI and, afterward, I hope to conduct a women’s writing retreat, in a town known for its spiritual qualities. Additionally, when I most recently sat for book jacket pictures, I posed in my snood rather than in my wig. When the photographer asked where my “worldly disguise” was, I told him that what folks saw is what folks would get. It’s possible that I have always been a “Jewish Writer.”