Why I Write
To some, the eighties might be remembered as a time of big hair, big shoulders, and Molly Ringwald pouting on movie screens across America. For me it was all those things—as well as a time of great upheaval in the community in which I was raised.
Rain pelted my hair as I stood at the funeral for Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on March 23, 1986. Throngs of souls stood for hours, paying respects to one of the last great leaders of a generation. His death marked the loss not only of a Torah scholar but of the traditional Lithuanian leadership of the Orthodox Jewish community. Bereft of leadership and afraid of a secular culture that spoke openly about premarital sex, AIDS and drug abuse—there were few leaders to guide normative Orthodoxy through the challenges of living a religious life in a secular society. Without the tools to navigate a seemingly threatening world, thousands of religious Jews worldwide proclaimed a silent retreat to insulate the community from the perceived ills of modern society– to separate and hide.
On October 6, 1943, my grandfather had joined more than four hundred rabbis on a march in Washington, to plead with President F.D.R. for intervention on behalf of the European Jews, who were being butchered by the millions. Though his calendar was free, F.D.R. refused to meet with the rabbis, tacitly allowing for the continued wholesale slaughter of my people. Could I live and work in a world that made it clear my people were unwanted? Could I express myself in a world that, at best, tolerated the religion of my birth? The pulsating music of Madonna and the fun Cyndi Lauper squealed that all girls just wanted to have, sparred with my own sense of responsibility to my community. Could I be a Material Girl when my religious high school repeatedly encouraged a retreat into ascetics, to eschew all material comforts in support of marrying a Torah scholar? Dare I dream to pursue my passion for the creative arts when only yesterday it was feared that my people were fashioned into lampshades and soap?
The void left from Reb Moshe’s death saw thousands of Jews mired in fear. This fear impacted my community and I was constantly surrounded by it as I journeyed through adolescence into my adult years. The purpose of dating in such a world was very clear: it existed solely to orchestrate marriages, which main function was to propagate future generations of the Jewish people. Romance was not part of the vocabulary and again as a girl living in 1980’s America, I found myself conflicted. Who in the United States doesn’t marry for love? These experiences served as inspiration for my novel BROOKLYN LOVE, in which Orthodox girls who are dating find themselves in the midst of a culture clash and must choose who they want to be and how they want to love.
My community’s fear was well justified: We were survivors, or descendants of survivors. But living in fear is killing us, slowly. Through my writing, I have learned that my community must stop their silent retreat from contemporary society and instead open ourselves to the world around us, to our neighbors and learn to balance our traditions with love. This is the only way to grow, the only way to live. The tension between fear and love; traditions and contemporary values drives all of my work.
This is why I write.