I am writing this post late in the evening before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. This is a day when, among other responsibilities, we are meant to ask forgiveness from people whom we may have hurt, even inadvertently. I know that even my biggest fans manage to live full lives even without my columns, but I still do ask your forgiveness for having dropped out of sight for so many months, with nary a mirthful or meaningful post or any explanation.
A few of you even contacted me, wondering whether they accidentally got dropped from the email list, or asking why I’d gone all quiet on the Western front. Why wasn’t I writing?
Well, I had been writing. . . and writing. . . and writing. For a few years, in fits and starts, I had been working on a memoir about my unexpected, bumpy journey to Jewish Orthodox practice. (“Practicing” is the right word here, because there are still may things I have yet to get right.)
There are loads of myths about Orthodox Jews, how we live, why we do some of the things we do. Many people (including many Jews) just think that we are nuts, or simply hopelessly out of date. I used to think these things, too. One of my goals in writing my story was to try to share some of the beauty and meaning that I found, while also admitting some of the awkwardness, conflicts and funny stories I have encountered along the way. I wanted to tell a story about a serious topic in an entertaining, funny way, without compromising my message.
I hadn’t a clue when I started just how daunting a task this would be. Even after a tenth or fifteenth draft of the first chapters, which I was sure I had finally gotten right, one of my few trusted readers would hand the chapters back to me and essentially said, “Curb your enthusiasm. This isn’t your best work.” I ripped out the stitches I had laboriously woven and began again.
Over the period of about a year, I realized what was wrong: I had unconsciously used a different voice in my memoir than the voice my readers are used to seeing, the voice I have cultivated over a period of so many years. I was taking myself too seriously, and the writing paid the price.
When I began to trust my real voice, my writing improved. When I hired a series of book editors to help guide me, my pace quickened. But the book was still taking too long, especially since I am still a busy mom and now hands-on Nana to my two granddaughters, so several months ago I decided to stop nearly all other writing and editing projects and finish my book before my book finished me.
A few weeks ago, I really finished it, and I have sent it out into the world, seeking a publisher. Say a little prayer for me that The Skeptic and the Rabbi will have a smooth ride to a publishing date. You bet I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
It’s funny, but I now realize that my experience working on this book has a lot in common with how I experience Yom Kippur. Both demanded a great deal of introspection, sometimes, more than was comfortable. Both brought me to tears on a regular basis. I got so involved in writing that sometimes I even forgot to eat. Both have made prayer more natural, because there were times when I felt so stuck on how to write certain chapters that I was sure that only an act of God would help me get to the finish line. After a good Yom Kippur, when I felt connected to the prayers and the divine presence around me, I end up feeling transformed. And having wrestled with this project for these last few years, I also feel somehow transformed. It was hard work, but it has also been exhilarating to learn so much more about my craft, and work in a new genre.
So while you didn’t hear from me for a long time, I had a good excuse, don’t you think? But I missed writing to you and hearing from you. Thanks for being patient — and forgiving!
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life this year, and inscribed as well for health, prosperity and peace.