Getting booed at Tablet and my first appearance in The Jewish Press

I had a bad feeling when my editor at Tablet — who I really love — sent me an email telling me that my latest essay there (about how I unintentionally set my hand on fire but believe it was no accident) would run on Tisha B’Av.

Being an Orthodox Jew, I pretty much regard that as the worst day of the year, so I was immediately filled with a sense of foreboding. And it now seems I was right to be Continue reading

My rant against depictions of Queen Esther in popular art and literature.

Tablet has an article up about the popularization of Queen Esther among Christians. It gave me the willies. Not because of the article’s writer, but because of what she was describing.

While some of the pastors describing Esther’s commitment to fulfilling G-d’s will get it right, clearly, the majority of these authors and pastors have not read a single commentary on Esther. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me (because why should a Christian have to do so) but they completely and totally distort the story for their own purposes. Why would you write something without doing research? Traditional commentaries (easily obtainable in English) describe an Esther completely different than how she’s being depicted in pop culture. Continue reading

The 3 Comments I Hate to Find on my Articles

Last week, a personal essay of mine appeared on Tablet Magazine online. As it hit the front page, I braced myself. A couple of my previous contributions to Tablet received a lot of comments…including a bunch of nasty ones. I figured this latest essay–about being Jewish during the holiday season–might ruffle the feathers of readers.

A couple days after the story was published, much to my surprise Continue reading

How to optimize your Goodreads “To-Read” list

A few weeks back, I posted about how we select the books we want to read now, next and never.

On a related theme, I just spent an hour culling unwanted books from my Goodreads “To-Read” list. 

Because what good is a “To-Read” list if you don’t really want to read the books on it?

After my very well-intentioned husband took the aforementioned list to the library and returned with many of the books it contained, I discovered few were readable in the land of Mrs. Rebecca Klempner. Three offended my (admittedly rather sensitive) sensibilities so much that I immediately took them out to our van and left them there to be returned to the library. Ugh.

How do such books get on my “To-Read” list in the first place? Continue reading

Finding Inspirational Words from Sarah Shapiro–Defining Jewish Writing, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, some of the comments on a post I wrote about defining Jewish writing revolved around the introduction to Sarah Shapiro’s All of Our Lives. I took a workshop with Sarah–who writes, edits, and teaches amazing writing workshops that have inspired many fledgling Jewish writers–and have a lot of respect for her opinions, so I borrowed the book from a friend (thanks Miriam!) in order to more accurately represent Sarah’s opinions here.

Sarah’s essay “The Writer’s I” reflects several of the issues I discussed in my original post. Jewish Writing can be defined by the author’s identity, by its subject matter, or can be considered a completely arbitrary label. She personally feels that “all three are right,” but admits the difficulty in establishing a single definition.

Sarah goes on to say that attempts to identify or define specifically Orthodox Jewish writing are even more complicated. Continue reading

10 Ways to Use Your Words to Spread Love and Peace

This time of year is known on the Jewish calendar as the Nine Days, which culminate in the saddest day of the year, Tisha B’Av. This fast day is the anniversary of many tragic events in Jewish history, the most important three being the evil report given by 10 out of 12 scouts sent into the land of Israel by Moshe; the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians; and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans.

Two out of three of these events are blamed by the rabbis on the use of words to harm others. By improving our speech, avoiding gossip and hurtful language, we can help bring the Moshiach and his reign of peace. If we build people with our words instead of destroying them with our words, we are adding bricks to the Third Temple.
In this digital age, we use words all the time. As a writer, I’m practically obsessed with them. But the more you use words, the more you must be careful with them. It is truly shocking how often we find people online misusing their words. People insult, use profanity, spread xenophobia and hatred with aplomb. People spread hurtful and offensive comments based on hearsay, rumor, or untruths and act like they’re doing a public service.
The amazing thing is that a level-headed comment that respectfully disagrees is more influential, and a kind word or compliment makes people want to hear more of what you have to say. The more you use your words for good, the more blessing G-d gives them. If more people used their words to spread love and peace in the world, the world would be that much of a happier place to be.
Here are some positive ways you can use your words:
1) Apologize in a more meaningful and detailed way than a simple “I’m sorry,” to someone you harmed.
2) Write an affectionate letter to a spouse, parent, child, teacher or friend.
3) Thank someone you haven’t seen in years for something they did to help you a long time ago.
4) Write a positive review of a book or product.
5) Write a recommendation for a person to get work.
6) Write a letter complementing a company on the fine qualities of their product, or…
7) on the excellent service you received from an employee.
8) If you feel you must disagree with someone, make the comment respectful. For example:
“With all due respect, I must disagree with the idea that…”
“I’m not sure that the evidence supports your comment…”
“You make an interesting point. Can you defend it with some evidence?”
“I’m impressed by your…, but think your statement that…requires more thought.”
“While I think that…is a wonderful…, I have to respectfully disagree with their notion that…”
NEVER insult a person, even if you must attack their ideas. (And, frankly, you usually don’t really need to do that, you’re just itching to.)
9) Leave a note in your spouse’s or kid’s lunchbox with a funny joke or mentioning something you look forward doing with them when they return home.
10) Write a (true or not) story or poem that reflects gratitude to G-d or to a person for the blessings they have brought into your life.