A teller of tales

‘If something moves me to tears or laughter,’ she affirms, ‘I’ve learned it’ll probably do the same for other people.’

A happy Fineblum reads to her grandson. (photo credit: Courtesy)
A happy Fineblum reads to her grandson.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Her Woodstock weekend in the summer of ’69 was a seminal event and an enduring thrill for the 17-year-old Deborah Fineblum, a proud second-generation American. Israel wasn’t on her horizon either when she studied for her BA at the University of Maryland, majoring in English, journalism and psychology.
She’s certainly come a long way since then – as she’s now a popular writer, a grandmother of eight and a Torah student of boundless enthusiasm.
Fineblum’s solo aliya last July was a great leap of faith, especially with a lack of Hebrew and of relatives here. Hardest of all was leaving behind her three children and their progeny in the US. However, she reports some solace in Skype, phone calls, the snail mail she writes weekly to each grandchild and, of course, an occasional trip back.
Recently divorced after a long marriage, Fineblum fortunately found a soft landing in Ra’anana. “I am just so impressed with the way the people here have opened their lives and homes to a complete stranger, including me in their Shabbatot and holidays,” she says. “It’s not at all how a single, middle-aged woman could expect to be welcomed into an American community.”
In addition to Ra’anana being warm and welcoming, she appreciates the “wealth of amazing Torah teachers – and in English, yet.”
Drawn to writing from an early age, journalism and communications came easily to her, with human interest and feature stories among her strengths. “If something moves me to tears or laughter,” she affirms, “I’ve learned it’ll probably do the same for other people.”
Her first published articles, volunteer efforts for a hippie newspaper in Rochester, New York, helped her develop vital skills. Though journalism courses had trained her to report the news, by interviewing colorful, unconventional people Fineblum learned to identify aspects that would “convey their essence and touch the reader.” By 1988, she was busily churning out articles on books, food, family, health and consumer issues for the daily Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, a “pressure-cooker newsroom existence” she lived for 12 years.
She also found time to study for an MA in creative writing as her children grew older. Her thesis focused on creative nonfiction or, more specifically, a cross-pollination of the personal essay genre with feature writing. In academia she encountered prejudice against journalism, “a field seen as the bastard child.”
“Hacks aside,” she believes, “Journalists touch readers’ lives and raise their awareness, reaching many more people than literary journals [do].”
When her family moved to Sharon, Massachusetts in 2000, Fineblum became involved with that “very vibrant Jewish community.” As she started writing regularly for Hadassah Magazine, she began to find “more personal meaning writing about Jews and Judaism.”
This spurred a career shift, in which she became public relations manager for Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston. Twice, she took out a week to travel to Israel for pro bono work for the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh – the second time during the Lebanon War – to critique aliya marketing materials and produce articles for American Jewish newspapers.
Among other achievements are a consumer guide to buying toys that Fineblum co-authored, and the recently released LifeJourney Books Do-It-Yourself Memoir Workbook, with co-author Naomi Grossman. In addition to leading workshops on LifeStorytelling in Israel and the US, she freelances for the Jewish News Service in America and just completed ghost-writing a Holocaust memoir of a 91-year-old survivor.
After nine months in Israel, Fineblum feels olim have a contribution to make: “Anglos have a genteel quality that is lacking in the Middle East. All Jews have something to learn from each other. On the other hand, there are more entry points to Judaism, more portals to begin learning in the US, than there are here. Sadly, in Israel folks tend to be trapped in either religious or secular identities, unable to be spiritual works-in-progress.”
Fineblum says of her religious awakening nine years ago: “When you begin to see Hashem’s [God’s] big footprint all over your life and the world, and His infinite largesse, it changes forever your understanding of what’s real.”
In the future, Fineblum hopes to use her talents “to strengthen the Jewish people, Israel and the cause of aliya.” For years, she kept seeing “flashing neon-green arrows in every Torah portion, week after week, saying, ‘This is your land. It’s waiting for you. What are you waiting for?’ Unlike our forebears, we have a magic carpet to be here.
“I am just so grateful for this opportunity to be where Jewish history is being written. I want to be part of that.”
On a personal level, she hopes her family will eventually follow those same flashing arrows.
Fineblum is now preparing herself for a move to Jerusalem.
“It’s such an intense place – they don’t call it the ‘city of fire’ for nothing!” Meanwhile, she trusts God will “put me to work here in whatever way He has up His celestial sleeve!”