November 8, 2007
Authors explain Jewish influences on their works
(Page 3 - Previous Page)While she is nervous to speak in public and is by nature a quiet person, she decided that she needed to become a spokesperson for the thousands like her who could not stand up ... she is courageous, well spoken, direct and graceful.
I hope that my work holds the [Jewish] tradition to its own best lights. I hope that it forces those who easily quote familiar verses to get as acquainted with the real people who live and struggle with them daily. I hope that it offers motivation to gay and lesbian people to stay trusting of the Torah and faithful in God, and that it begins to open the doors of Orthodox communities to welcome in their own children.
And perhaps one day, we will sing of this inclusion, "The rock that the builders have rejected has become the cornerstone."
Rabbi Steven Greenberg is an advocate for Jewish gay tolerance in the United States and abroad and has been a senior teaching fellow at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York City since 1985. The author of "Wrestling With God and Men," Greenberg was the first rabbi with Orthodox ordination to announce his homosexuality. In 1996, he was awarded a Jerusalem Fellowship. He founded Moah Gavra, a gay men's study group in Jerusalem and created a documentary with filmmaker-director Sandi Simcha DuBowski about Orthodox gay Jews.
Jewishly, I am inspired by the incredible wisdom of Torah to enrich my life and make it more meaningful and by the amazing people from whom I have learned so much and from whom I continue to learn.
I am also inspired by my children, who have been raised religiously from birth (I was not), and whose knowledge and dedication make me very, very proud. When you are Jewish, you can never say, "OK, I've mastered that. Time to go fishing." You can certainly go fishing, or sailing, or anything else, but you'll always have another level of personal and spiritual achievement to aspire to.
My first goal in writing humor is to look for things that strike me as funny or worthy of parody, but my Jewish values are there. Whether I'm writing about everyday dilemmas of dealing with chain e-mails, the lure of exotic and overpriced moisturizers or trying to impart wisdom to teens who already know everything, the flavor is Jewish.
I've written about what it's like to be the only kosher diner at a large business function, and they bring your meal wrapped in so much plastic you need a hacksaw to get through it ... and trying to serve God with joy even when you can't find parking. That's why even bad news can be good news for writers: Everything is material.
Judy Gruen, author of "The Women's Daily Irony Supplement," has written for Woman's Day, Ladies' Home Journal, Family Circle, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and The Jewish Journal. She writes a monthly column for The Journal's Jewish Life magazine and for http://www.Mommasaid.net.
Ruth Andrew Ellenson
There has been no greater influence in my life as a writer then the late, great Grace Paley. A Jewish feminist, activist and brilliant wordsmith, her short stories, essays and poetry were infused with compassion, humor and scalpel-sharp wit. But what made them most stand out for me was her overwhelming sense of love for the people she wrote about.
And then there were the images she conjured up, the sheer joy of her language. As a character watches her father dying in bed, she describes his heart as a "bloody motor." In another story, a child refusing to leave his mother places his hand across her chest, and she watches her heart light up in stripes through his fingers, like a jailed light.
If to be Jewish is to be part of a community, I felt I'd finally found my Jewish home when I read her book, "The Little Disturbances of Man," when I was a teenager in Jerusalem. With Paley's writing, I felt I'd found myself in her words -- the greatest gift any writer can give a reader.
Ruth Andrew Ellenson was born in Jerusalem and raised in New York and Los Angeles. A graduate of Columbia University's master of fine arts program, her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, People, The Forward and Heeb. Ellenson received the National Jewish Book Award in 2005 for her best-selling anthology, "The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt" (Dutton, 2005). She lives with her husband in Los Angeles and is at work on a novel.
For me, the process of creating narrative begins with what I know, where I come from, the way I perceive the world. Having grown up immersed in institutional Jewish practice (day school, synagogue, Camp Ramah, Hebrew High and on and on), I felt I knew a lot about how that world works, and I was inspired to place characters in such familiar contexts. For a writer just beginning to shape stories, the raw material was just too good to pass up.
But if I've done my job, Jewish ritual and observance should simply serve as backdrop for the universal experience at the heart of any good story: love, loss, family, pain, happiness, sorrow, whatever. Not incidentally, I've always been inspired by the fact that Yisrael means struggle: My Jewish identity, like my literary identity, relies heavily on the conviction that scratching the surface and disturbing the peace in pursuit of truth is a moral duty. Even when (or especially when) it pisses off one's elders.
Elisa Albert is an assistant professor of creative writing at Columbia University and an editor-at-large of http://www.Jewcy.com. Her writing has appeared in Washington Square, Pindeldyboz and the anthologies "Body Outlaws" (Seal Press, 2004), "The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt" (Dutton, 2005) and the forthcoming "How to Spell Chanukah" (Algonquin, 2007). For more information, visit www.elisaalbert.com.
Rabbi Mark Borovitz
My inspiration to write comes from my understanding of and practice of teshuvah. Teshuvah is, in my opinion, repentance, return and response. In order to do repentance, I have to take an honest look at my life and see what I have done well and what I have done poorly. Then I tell my story to the people I have harmed, with a plan to make restitution and repair and a plan to not repeat this action. In doing this, I am able to clean the shmutz that I put on my soul and return to my roots. I then am able to have a new response in the future to old situations.