November 8, 2007
Authors explain Jewish influences on their works
(Page 4 - Previous Page)Teshuvah is something that we have to do out loud. My inspiration to write is to be an example for others on the effects of our choices on others, good and bad.... I have learned so much from authors like Abraham Joshua Heschel, Edward Feinstein, Harold Schulweis and others; I believe it is my obligation to share my knowledge and experience with others as a life-learning lesson.
Rabbi Mark Borovitz is the spiritual leader of Beit T'Shuvah, a recovery center whose program is based in Jewish teachings. It is located in West Los Angeles. In his book, "Holy Thief," he writes about his journey from petty thievery to rabbinic ordination.
Inspired may be too fancy a word for me, but I certainly have been influenced in my writing by what I see as a particularly Jewish kind of humor -- self-deprecating humor -- where the laugh tends to be on the person telling the story (on the narrator, on me), rather than on the other guy.
Jewish self-deprecating humor is confessional (listen to the dopey/embarrassing/klutzy thing I've just done) -- a way of making fun of ourselves before anyone else does, and it probably originated as a preemptive strike against being picked on or attacked. It is quite the opposite of "roast" humor, where the narrator is speaking from a superior position, looking down on the fools and jerks below. Jewish self-deprecating humor also allows me to write about my family without getting into big trouble.
Judith Viorst is the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction for children, as well as adults. Her children's books include "The Tenth Good Thing About Barney" (1971) and "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" (1972) and its sequels. Her writings for adults include books of poems; the novel, "Murdering Mr. Monti" (1994); and works of nonfiction, including "Necessary Losses" (1986) and "Imperfect Control" (1998). "Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days" (Free Press) was released last month. Viorst lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, political writer Milton Viorst.
The Bible is an endless source of inspiration for me. I was always struck by how God, when He wrote His own book, never seemed to hold back when there was something constructively critical to say. We get the story of Cain and Abel, Lot's daughters, Joseph and his brothers, Dina's rape and her brothers vengeance on the entire town.
This is not a white-washed history, a magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest people of them all. The painful truthfulness of the Bible led me to believe that a writer must view his or her own society with honesty and never be afraid or intimidated to write that truth, no matter how uncomfortable the consequences. This gave me the courage to write "Jephte's Daughter," a book about domestic abuse.
Jewish writings are also the source of my humor. For example, in my latest book, "The Saturday Wife," a gentle satire, the rabbi's wife finds inspiration "and a deeply spiritual message" for women in Queen Esther soaking in precious oils for six months.
Naomi Ragen is an American-born novelist and playwright who has lived in Jerusalem since 1971. She has published seven novels, including "The Ghost of Hannah Mendes" (St. Martin's, 2001) and "The Covenant" (2006). Her play, "Minyan Nashim" (Women's Minyan), ran for five years at Israel's national theater (Habima) and is now available in book form. Her latest novel is "The Saturday Wife" (St. Martin's, 2007). For more information, visit www.naomiragen.com.
As someone who makes a lot of her living as a travel writer, I'm not only inspired by -- but reliant on -- the principle Rabbi Akiva famously deemed the most important of the whole Torah: V'Ahavta l'rayacha kamocha. Granted, the precise meaning of loving thy neighbor as thyself has been debated through the ages (what hasn't in Judaism), but in travel writing, as in life, I choose to go with the most liberal, global-villagey interpretation: My neighbor is pretty much anyone I come across along the way.
And while trying to do right by said neighbors has probably led to some good stories, the reverse unquestionably has. In fact, one of my favorite travel experiences, oddly, was getting deathly ill in Cusco, Peru, a few years ago because, as I wrote in the subsequent story: I was nursed back to health by a team of self-appointed mommies, all complete strangers. That they treated me as one of their own is something that has stuck with me ever since.
Journalist, editor and frequent travel writer Abbie Kozolchyk is based in New York. A contributing travel editor for Martha Stewart Living's Body + Soul magazine, her work has also appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Forbes Traveler, "The Best Women's Travel Writing 2007," Redbook and other publications. For more information, visit www.abbiekozolchyk.com.
While researching and writing "The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank," I discovered an aspect of the Jewish experience unique, perhaps, to mid-20th century America, which greatly influenced my outlook and work. The deeper I dug into the source material, the more stories I heard of Jews who had come to this country in the wake of the war and never admitted that they were survivors of the camps -- or even Jews.
Everyone I spoke to knew someone who had done this. A few even passed on privately published memoirs. At talks and signings after the book was published, people stood up to speak of a parent who had never told them they were Jewish until their teen years or later.
This denial was, I believe, indicative of a more subtle mentality prevalent in this country in the immediate aftermath of the Shoah. Never, ever, deny being a Jew, the message went. But do not be in too much of a rush to shout it from the rooftops. After all, look what can happen. This is the perplexing dichotomy I tried to deal with in "The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank."
Journalist and author Ellen Feldman has written three novels of historical fiction: "Lucy" (2003), about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Lucy Mercer Rutherford; "The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank" (2005), and "Scottsboro," which will be published by W.W. Norton in April 2008. She is a frequent contributor to American Heritage.
What inspires me Jewishly is the profound tradition of the Jewish people to example tolerance and forgiveness, even in the face of unending intolerance. I feel it is my responsibility as a Jew to do whatever I can to make the world a more loving and respectful place. With that intention in mind, I wrote "Where Peace Lives," a parable for ages 6 to 106 about finding the three keys to peace.
The characters in the book are based on some of the great peace teachers, including Moses. The book's message of tolerance is found on every page, and it is my hope that this magical adventure to save the world will inspire us to make peace a part of our global educational curriculum. Peace is a choice at every age and in every circumstance. We can make a difference.
Producer Debbie Robins is co-founder of the consulting firm, scoreBIG, which teaches organizations how to achieve their full potential. She has also written "Where Happiness Lives," which will be published in 2008, and has served as president of Roland Joffe's Warner Bros. company, Lightmotive, and vice president at Hollywood Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Entertainment.
I am Jewish, I live Jewish, my heritage is Jewish and it's my life. We [Shapiro and her husband] wanted to live our dream of flying around the world, and we used our wings to do so.
The trip took two months and included 65 hours of flying time. We visited historically Jewish places in Poland, which is where my mother is from. We worked closely with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and carried goodwill gifts with us, donated from The Jewish Federation.
Renny Shapiro lives in Malibu, and "Eastbound" is the first book that the former pilot has authored. She continues to serve as a co-pilot with her husband, who is a private flyer. Proceeds generated from "Eastbound" will be donated to the American Jewish Joint Distribution committee.
When I first started teaching in a Jewish preschool, I looked for holiday books that were appropriate for 3- and 4-year-olds. When I didn't find that many, I started making up my own stories for use in my classroom. Eventually, I took the risk of sending a story to a publisher.
I think my stories work for little ones because they use age appropriate symbols and concepts. Little children can relate to numbers, colors and a curious spider -- so that was a good place to begin the story of Chanukah, and those became the concepts for my most popular book, "Sammy Spider's First Hanukkah."
Sylvia Rouss is an award-winning author who created the popular children's series, "Sammy Spider and Littlest" series. She is also Los Angeles preschool teacher and conducts seminars for parents and teachers. As a featured author and lecturer, she appears at numerous book fairs throughout the United States and Israel. For more information, please visit www.sylviarouss.com.
Diane Levin Rauchwerger
I have been involved in Jewish education since I was 16 and had the privilege of being a teaching assistant to a wonderful Sunday school kindergarten teacher, Celia Bronstein. Celia was knowledgeable and passionate about her love of Judaism and her desire to share that love with young children and their parents.
My other inspiration was my mother, Ida Levin, of blessed memory, who wrote original poems for every birthday, anniversary and Chanukah. My sister, also of blessed memory, and I followed in her footsteps, writing poems, both serious and funny, for every occasion.
My dinosaur series ("Dinosaur on Hanukkah," "Dinosaur on Shabbat" and "Dinosaur on Passover"), published by Kar-Ben Publishing, combines humor and poetry to tell holiday stories that entertain while teaching about the holidays. Like Celia, it is my greatest joy to share my love of Judaism with young children and their families in a way that is educational and entertaining.
Diane Levin Rauchwerger is a former religious school and day-school teacher. Her dinosaur series amuses young readers with a friendly, curious dinosaur, who explores the many wonders of Judaism. She is currently a librarian.
The goal of Matzah Ball Books, a Yiddish-inspired children's publishing company, is to introduce a bissle (little bit) of Yiddish to the new generation in a fun and easy-to-learn fashion. Titles include "Noshy Boy," who loves to snack; "Shmutzy Girl," who gets into messes; and "Kvetchy Boy," who is always complaining.
Asner's desire to preserve and inspire interest in Yiddish comes from being raised in a Jewish home that values Yiddishkeit. Her bubbe (grandmother) is fluent in Yiddish and acts as Asner's personal Yiddish dictionary. Although Asner's childhood did not include Yiddish as mother tongue, there were enough Yiddishisms peppered throughout to ignite in her a fondness for the warmth and descriptiveness that it provides.
Anne-Marie Asner has a master's degree in psychology from Brandeis University and currently lives in Los Angeles. She has written for the Jewish Observer, the Jewish Family Life teen Web site, www.MzVibe.com, and the Anti-Defamation League. Her work has also been featured on www.JewishAustralia.com. For more information, visit www.matzahballbooks.com.