Soul-bearing writing–writing personal essays that are a little too personal for comfort

Tablet published a new piece of mine today, about the untidy family life of a person who is an Orthodox Jew with relatives who are devout Christians. The comments are busy, and no trolls have appeared so far (meaning that anyone who disagrees with me does so with politeness and reflection).

I’ve published the piece because the problem I described in the article is a surprisingly common one  (among the “baalei teshuvos” who come to religiosity as adults) that most people ignore.

It’s sorta mortifying. This is a problem that is very private for me, and–like many who share it–it is a source of pain that I usually sweep under the rug. I’ve had to explain the absence of half of my family to many people over the years, and it’s never comfortable. Now the entire world can read about it (and share! and comment!).

In general, I don’t write about my family unless it is 100% positive. I felt that this needed to be an exception, in order to support people who share this type of situation. I intentionally omitted the name of my father’s family, and I tried to protect their identities. I wanted not to expose them, but the problem. Nonetheless, one of the commenters pointed out that I was still airing my family’s laundry in public.

I’d love it if readers weighed in here (in a comment below) or in the comments section on Tablet.

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Grandma: A stellar source for writer’s research & just on the other end of the phone line

grandma and little girl

This grandmother may be cute, but she’s not as awesome as mine! (On the other hand, the little girl is much cuter than I ever was.)

I happen to be blessed with an amazing grandmother. At 92 (she should live to 120!) she’s slowed down a bit, and I wish I could spend more time with her. I used to phone just once a week, but I’m trying to call her more often, as it’s now hard for her to get out and about the way she used to. I fill her in on what’s going on around here, and she tells me what she’s been up to.

Frequently, what my grandma is up to is sorting through old letters, photos, magazines, and other memorabilia. Continue reading

My Two Special Grandmothers

This is a little poem I wrote in honor of my mother and mother-in-law. It’s only loosely based on reality, but my mother is really from Baltimore, and my mother-in-law really is from Israel (born in Alexandria, Egypt). I felt it was important to tell the story of a little kid who is partly Ashkenazi and partly Sephardi, because so many families are now “mixed” like that. Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

Savta moved here from Israel.

Bubbe grew up in Baltimore.

Both of them now live in the United States.

When I visit, Savta says, “Mami, you are chamood!”

Bubbe calls me zees.

I love to visit them both.

On the phone before the Sabbath, Savta says, “Shabbat shalom!’

Bubbe wishes me, “a gut shabbes.”

Both of them pray that I grow up well after they say the brachah on their candles.

On Rosh Hashanah, Savta rushes to the beit kanesset.

Bubbe runs to shul.

Both of them sit quietly with me to hear the shofar.

In the fall, Savta drapes colorful rugs in her sukkah.

Bubbe hangs Indian corn from the schach.

Both of them string up the decorations I made in school.

Savta rolls cotton into wicks and pours olive oil into Saaba’s Chanukah lamps.

Bubbe places tiny wax candles into Zeyde’s menorah.Both of them set the Chanukiahs in front of the window for everyone to see.

On Purim, Savta sends me baklava and halva in my shalach manot.

Bubbe floats kreplach in my soup.

Both of them remind me to use my gragger when I hear “Haman”.

Savta checks her rice before Pesach.

Bubbe tosses hers into a sealed cupboard.

Both of them crunch through their matzah at the seder.

While I sit on her lap, Savta tells me about when she was a girl in Egypt.

Bubbe tells her bubbe‘s story of fleeing Russia in the night.

Both of them are happy to live in a free country.

My two special grandmothers are as different as can be.

They came from different places with different history.

But together they helped to make one special ME!