As a Jewish blogger and editor, I always say that the period leading up to Jewish Book Month is one of my favorite times of the year. So many books come across my desk for review—I only wish I had the time to read them all. Each author, each new book, is not just a potential article for my magazine or blog post. To me, every author—whether they write fiction or non-fiction— is a storyteller, adding their own piece to our collective Jewish story.
This year the tables have turned, and I’m the one hoping and wishing that Jewish editors and writers will choose my book from among the great pile for review—the thought makes me feel proud, humble and frightened all at once.
In putting together my new anthology, Living Jewishly: A Snapshot of a Generation, I hoped to be a storyteller as well. In the Jewish world, engaging 20- and 30-somethings is a hot button issue—questions like ‘How do we get young Jews to feel connected to Israel? To affiliate with traditional Jewish institutions? To care about Jewish continuity, ritual and tradition?’ float around waiting to be answered.
As a member of this elusive generation myself, I live and breathe these questions in my personal life and as a Jewish professional. As I recently completed my master’s degree in Jewish professional studies, I became determined to tell the story of my generation.
To get started, I sent out a call for stories to my peers:
Are you a Jewish 20- or 30-something with a story to tell? Do you want to be part of a collection of voices that together tell the unique story of our generation?
Within hours, my email box was flooded. I received close to 50 submissions—all remarkable, rich and more diverse than I could have ever imagined.
In Living Jewishly, I put these essays together to create a window into our Jewish lives and identities. Each essay is beautiful, unique, brutally honest and revealing. In truth, it is my contributors who are the real storytellers—without them, the story, the picture, would not be complete.
I often think about what it means to really be a storyteller. To me, this is not a title to be taken lightly. With it comes certain responsibility, not just to inform, but to do so artfully, shedding light on topics that may otherwise have been left untold.
While I don’t think I’ve solved the mystery of my generation, I do have some insights into the types of stories we want to tell. However it is that we express ourselves Jewishly, I’m certain that every Jewish 20- or 30-something has an interesting story to tell—and maybe all we need is the opportunity to tell it.
The first title of a book that I remember with clarity is QB VII. It seemed so odd, with letters instead of words. My mother is an avid reader, and because there were no public libraries in our town, she saved every book. I grew up with bookcases lining the hallways, the shelves weighted down with novels. From the time I was very young, Mom would, on occasion, give me books she thought I needed to read. I was about 12 when she handed me QB VII, and then all the other novels by Leon Uris. Mom said that family members she had never met in Germany had died during the Holocaust, and because I did not know their names, every victim I read about in the novels became my family.
I never imagined, when I was reading Uris, that one day I would actually write – and publish – novels.
I like to joke that my first novel, A Good Indian Wife, is pure fiction…it is also purely Indian. The second novel, The Invitation, is more personal because my character Jonathan is Jewish, like my mother; is a doctor like my grandfather; and lives in Marin, which is across the bay from Berkeley, where my mother grew up. Jonathan also gave me an entrée into the Jewish Book Council. I almost did not send in my application for the JBC Network, because I feared that though I am Jewish, I had not been brought up celebrating Jewish holidays, which mirrors Jonathan’s experience, but left me feeling I wasn’t Jewish enough. I calmed down when I realized that many of my friends in the US had been raised the same way. They, too, had not been to a synagogue until their twenties.
Mom was very excited when I told her I was going to New York to make a 2 minute presentation. She didn’t ask me what I was going to say. She only said: “Be proud. I want you to stand there and be proud.”