Last Thursday night, I attended “Jewish Literature Live” at George Washington University. The class, taught by noted author and chair of the university’s English Department, Faye Moskowitz and sponsored by the generosity of David Bruce Smith, focuses on contemporary Jewish American authors. After each of six books is read and studied, the authors visit with the students. These author visits are open to the public, so on Thursday, I heard Dara Horn speak to the class about her most recent novel, Guide to the Perplexed.
Horn is funny and smart and engaging and thoughtful, and if you ever have the chance to hear her speak, you should do so. She shared how whenever she is part of a panel of Jewish writers, she is invariably asked, “Do you consider yourself a Jewish writer?” She considered the question and finally decided that one is a Jewish writer if one is invited to participate on a panel to which one will be asked, “Do you consider yourself a Jewish writer?”
She pondered how Shalom Aleichem would have answered this question. Horn, who has her Ph.D. in Yiddish and Hebrew literature from Harvard University, explained that the question would not even make sense to Aleichem. The word for “Jewish” in Yiddish is “Yiddish.” In addition to referring to the Jewish religion, “Yiddish” is the word for the Jewish language and culture. For Aleichem, to be a “Jewish” writer would mean that he writes in a Jewish language, be it Yiddish or Hebrew. Horn, therefore, tries to write stories in English as if they were written in a Jewish language.
She talked about her writing process, how she writes to learn what will happen next. She wondered what happens to the days that disappear. All days disappear as is the nature of days. But, she says, if we are lucky, those days turn into stories.
Her thoughts turned to the “data dump” of our time — the postings of pictures on various social networking sites of food and babies and views from windows. She explained that we are capturing the fleeting – meals that took hours to prepare and minutes to eat; crawling babies who will too soon leave for college; sights that overwhelm us as they fill our eyes and are quickly replaced by noise in the distance.
Her words struck me especially as this is my last week at Washington Jewish Week. I think about the days I’ve captured. The fleeting moments I’ve tried to preserve. I remember everyone I’ve met because of this job – the writers and artists; historians and survivors; rabbis and politicians; physicians and athletes; parents and students. I truly hope that I chose wisely when deciding what to put on each page. I look at the archives of the Washington Jewish Week that line the walls of our office and I wonder, when someone pages through the issues published during that past 2 ½ years, what portrait have I painted of our community? I hope it appears as I have seen it – a complicated but truly beautiful landscape.
If you were to ask me who I am, I would answer “Jewish writer.” Not because I am Jewish or because I write about Jewish topics, but because, as Horn explained, I use words to celebrate all that is Jewish – our language, our religion, our culture, our community. I am humbled by the faith the owners and the publisher of Washington Jewish Week placed in me to lead this great paper. I am grateful to our readers for your time – every minute you spent reading something I, or one of my reporters, has written is a gift for which I am deeply appreciative. Thank you for your letters and emails and phone calls. I am grateful for those who recognized me around town and talked to me about something that ran in the paper. I took this job, wanting to make it a conversation with the community. I thank you for making it just that.
Last month, Loribeth Weinstein of Jewish Women International (JWI) asked me to join her staff as vice president of communications. It was an offer I could not refuse. I first learned of JWI 10 years ago and, since then, have been a contributor to Jewish Woman magazine, an active volunteer and a member of its board of trustees.
For those of you who know me personally, and those of you who have read my columns, this move quite simply, just fits. The heart of JWI’s mission is to empower Jewish women and girls and create safe homes for our families. I am excited to be part of the team that helps to make a difference in countless lives.
When I started at WJW, my children were beginning high school. It was the perfect time for me to step away from being an author who wrote from home and accept a full-time position. Now my oldest is preparing to leave for college. I am comfortable venturing a little farther from home – joining the ranks of those who “metro” to work. Now I want to be someone who does the work the Washington Jewish Week wants to report.
The time is right for me to begin writing my next chapter.
With warmest wishes for a peaceful and happy Shabbat,