I AM A JEW. WHAT NOW?

I am posting Chapter 2 of my new book. I hope you will decide to follow me on this journey. Simply put in ellenbrazer@wordpress.com and register and you will be updated whenever I put in a new chapter.

Chapter 2

Temple 101

The sky did not thunder, nor did the earth shake

As far as I know, there is no definitive modern-day book that a layperson can read that says start on this page, and then turn to that page and you will learn how to be a Jew. The religion is obscure and complicated, based on commentary, faith and stories, many of them fantastical. I did not begin at the beginning, wherever that might be.

I am still taking baby steps, doubting, questioning, seeking, and hitting the Holocaust wall daily. What do I mean by the Holocaust wall? So often, when I try to accept the daily prayers, I find myself asking: “Where was G-d during the Holocaust? Why didn’t He stop Hitler? Why did six million Jews die?” I will try my best to approach the subject of the Holocaust and Judaism later in the book.

After my beloved father passed away, I went back to that first draft of my book. It now seemed hollow, like grains of sand sifting through my fingers. How could I write about a Third Temple when I knew nothing about the First or Second Temples? I love research and yet I knew that I could spend ten years and still never touch on the meaning of what the Temples meant to the Jewish people.

I decided to write to some universities looking for a Judaic scholar. I received a letter from a professor telling me that one of the great scholars of our time was right in my own backyard at Florida International University. His name is Erik Larson (not the author). I called and made an appointment.

His office was small, a computer on the desk, his bicycle leaning against the wall. He was so young and handsome, I was certain I had the wrong room. I later learned that he spoke 14 languages, one of them ancient Aramaic. More importantly, he was the youngest man to ever work on deciphering the Dead Sea scrolls, brought to Israel by the rabbis. As unimaginable as it seemed, I was about to learn about Judaism from a non-Jew. And it would not be the first time. Two out of three other members of my writing group are Catholic and they knew more about my Judaism than I did.

In a subsequent meeting, Dr. Larson put a rendering of the First and Second Temples on his computer screen. He told me to try and imagine what it must have been like for a farmer or a shepherd to enter Jerusalem and then approach the largest edifice in the world. He was kind and patient as he walked me through the Temple, showing me where the women would have stood, where the Aron Ha’Kodesh, the Ten Commandments were held, where the priests stood, and where the sacrifices were made.

Sacrifices! The word and the idea mortified me. I think I can make this statement and be fairly accurate: most Jews do not know how, why or in what manner sacrifices were made on the Temple Mount. You may feel like this is the last thing you needed to learn about Judaism, and you might be right. But it is fascinating and just think you will learn something you never imaged learning.

Dr. Larson explained that thousands gathered every day at the Temple, and as long as the Temple stood Jews did not pray directly to G-d. We prayed through the priests, bringing our most prized and perfect animal to be offered as a sacrifice to G-d. The animal was slaughtered in the Courtyard, north of the altar. After the animal’s neck was cut with a perfect blade, causing instant death, a special vessel was used to receive blood form the animal’s neck. The blood was then sprinkled in various areas of the Temple according to the laws regulating the designated offering. Those laws are complicated and I will spare you the details.

Only after the destruction of the Temples did Jews begin to pray directly to G-d. When I left the professor, I felt empowered and ready to approach my story again.

I had befriended the young rabbi, Marc Phillip, at the synagogue I attended every morning. Inspired by his commitment and spirituality, I eventually found the courage to ask him to read my book for accuracy as it pertained to Judaism. And help me he did, keeping me from making mistakes like calling a rabbi’s wife from the second century a Rebbitzen.

In 2013 Rabbi Marc went to Israel with his wife and three sons. My book is set in Ein Gedi, an oasis in the Negev Desert. This town that I saw in my imagination is purely fictional as there has never been excavations in Ein Gedi to prove that people ever lived there, (Although many passages in the biblical writings refer to the inhabitants of Ein Gedi). In fact, today Ein Gedi is a glorious nature reserve.

Try to imagine my reaction, when the rabbi contacted me from Israel (Skype of course) to say that he and his family were on their way to Masada when they passed a sign pointing to an excavation in Ein Gedi. “How could we not go?” he said to me.

This is how I remember what he said next. “Ellen, they have uncovered a synagogue. Not just a mosaic floor, but walls as well. And it looks exactly like the synagogue your described in your book!”

My heart pounded in my chest and my breath stuttered. I got off the phone and said to my husband, “We have to go to Israel. I have to see that synagogue!”

Five months later my husband and I were driving through the surrealistic wilderness of Judean desert on our way to Ein Gedi. The topography was both tranquil and fierce. Surrounded by mountains, the sky above is royal blue, the land varying hues of yellow, beige and gold. Following the signs, I remember getting out of the car and thinking that it was not very impressive, this excavation I had come to see. There was a metal table set up and on it was placed some brochures explaining what had been unearthed: an ancient synagogue from the second century.

I followed a path marked by stones and stood on trembling legs in that excavated synagogue. As I stood there, I expected to feel the earth shake beneath my feet and the sky to be filled with lightning bolts. Tears sprung to my eyes. I felt nothing.

Yes, it was true that this synagogue looked like the one I had described in my book. But if this was my synagogue then why did it feel so wrong? I wandered around, touching the stone walls and breathing in the ancient musty sweet scent. I walked every inch and that is when I discovered a small plaque stuck into a corner that dated the building a hundred years after my story.

This was not the synagogue I had seen in my mind’s eye. Still, I believe with all my heart that one-day they will dig closer to the waterfall of Ein Gedi and when they do they will find the city and the synagogue I saw in my imagination.

As we drove from Ein Gedi I had so many apposing emotions. I was thrilled that excavations had begun, knowing that once the Israelis began to excavate they would continue to do so. But I was so disappointed that this was not the synagogue I imagined. Part of me just wanted to go back to the hotel, take a long shower and cry in private. But we were only a short drive from Masada. And I would never visit Israel without visiting that majestic symbol of Judaism that sits atop a rock plateau in the Judean desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. Little did I know that the mystical experience I longed for would happen on Masada.

In 31 BCE, Herod the Great built a great palatial palace as a retreat on the mountain fortress of Masada. Ninety-seven years later the First Great Jewish Rebellion against Rome began. At that time, a group of Jewish zealots managed to overtake the Roman garrison holding Masada. When Jerusalem finally fell to the Romans, and the Second Temple was destroyed, hundreds of zealots fled with their families from Jerusalem seeking refuge on Masada.

As inconceivable as it seems, the Jews managed to hold out against the Romans on Masada for three long years. Then in 73 CE, the Tenth Legion marched against the Jewish stronghold. A siege was implemented and a wall built. Using thousands of tons of stone and thousands of Jewish prisoners-of-war, a three hundred and seventy five foot rampart was constructed. In 74 CE, the mountain walls of Masada were breached.

Two women survived the attack and told their story to Josephus Flavius, governor of Galilee. His is the only written account we have of what took place on Masada. What follows is Elazar’s final speech to his followers and Flavius’ account of what happened.

Elazar the leader of the Jews on Masada: Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice …We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom.

Flavius the historian’s account: The defenders – almost one thousand men, women and children – led by Elazar ben Yair, burnt down the fortress and killed each other. The Zealots cast lots to choose ten men to kill the remainder. They then chose among themselves the one man who would kill the survivors. That last Jew then killed himself.

In Jewish tradition suicide is a sin. As the Talmud (Talmud explained later) puts it: “Against your will you were fashioned, and against your will you were born, and against your will you live, and against your will you die, and against your will you will hereafter have account and reckoning before the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:29).

The Jews of Masada chose to die rather than be enslaved. Today many inductees into the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, take their oath to defend Israel on Masada.

As I walked around the fortress, seeing it with older eyes and a different perspective, I came upon a young rabbi who had set up a table. He was writing a Torah scroll. Written on parchment using quill and ink, every scroll is an exact duplicate of every Torah that came before it. There are 304,805 hand-written letters in the Torah and it takes approximately 2,000 hours to complete a scroll. That translates to a full-time job for a year. If a mistake is made when writing the scroll, than that entire portion must be rewritten.

It is said that the Torah was originally dictated from God to Moses, letter for letter. From there, the Midrash Devarim Rabba 9:4 tells us: Before his death, Moses wrote 13 Torah Scrolls. Twelve of these were distributed to each of the 12 Tribes. The 13th was placed in the Ark of the Covenant along with the Tablets.

Midrash is the commentaries written to explain the Torah. I will explain that fuller in the coming chapters.

I waited in line for my turn to have the scribe write a letter in the Torah for me. When it was my turn he said, “Make a prayer first.” I closed my eyes and I prayed.

“What did you pray for?” he asked, his voice gentle as a breeze.

“Peace,” I replied.

He shook his head. “Everyone in the world should pray for peace. Today I want you to pray for yourself.”

A bit stunned, I closed my eyes again. I remember thinking if I am going to pray for myself then I am going to be really selfish.

“What did you pray for?” the rabbi asked again.

“I prayed that I would find the story for my next book.”

“What do you write?”

“Jewish historical fiction,” I replied.

At that moment something undeniably mystical happened. It was as if the rabbi captured me with his eyes. All sound evaporated, I could not feel my body and I was aware only of his presence.

“What you write is important and thousands will read your words.” He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a handful of shekels. He placed them in my hand. “Please send me your books.”

I was crying. I said, “Rabbi, I don’t want your money.”

“If you do not take my money, then I can not accept the books.”

Months later I received this letter. I have not corrected it. His words are just as they were written.

Dear Ellen, 
I read one of your books, “And So It Was Written” and was moved to tears. I must say that I should of held your book from the moment I started reading it, and not leave it until I’m finished, If only I could afford the time. I had to read sections in distant times like Shabbat Afternoon. 
So it became quite a routine part of my Shabbat. 
Along with my presence at Masada, 
I could almost see the characters of your book, hiding in the crevices of the rocks in the desert of Judea and Ein Gedi. 
I’m eager to read the second book,
 my wife gulped it in one week and enjoyed very much. Thank you. 
The book you wrote is really a gift to the people of Israel, so there is no doubt, 
You are some of the messiah breeze. 
May God bless your hands to continue to write books and bring a smile or emotional longing, on our way to a world of peace and love. 
With Love & Blessing,

Rabbi Ariel Joshua 
Louis

 

That letter is the reason I write.

I am a Jew. Now what?

I have not blogged for a very long time. I have been busy promoting my books: And So It Was Written  and Clouds Across the Sun. Along the way I have been experimenting with what I would write next. It has not been easy. I have begun several books but nothing made me want to spend all day writing: until now. I believe there are Jews out there just like me. We were raised Jewish, and we are proud. But we know so little about our religion. Where do we start? My goal is to keep it simple, to learn, listen, teach and grow. I am not a scholar. I am a seeker who loves the traditions of Judaism. As I finish a chapter I will post it. There will be much editing along the way so don’t be too critical. I will honor your opinions.

I am a Jew. Now What? (working title)

Chapter 1

The DNA of Judaism

I was a twice-a-year Jew: I attended synagogue on Yom Kippur and on Rosh Hashanah. Out of a strong feeling of obligation, we always belonged to a synagogue and my sons had a Bar Mitzvah and my daughter a Bat Mitzvah. That was the extent of my Judaic participation.

Then events happened in my life that led me back to Judaism. I say back, because as Jews none of us are ever really that far away. The fog may have set in, and we may have looked elsewhere for answers but in the end we begin to remember that we all stood together at Sinai and that Judaism is in our DNA.

I am on a quest to simplify the understanding of this complicated religion. In doing so, I am reaching my hand out to you, asking you to join me. If you are wondering what I believe, here goes—I embrace the Reform and the Conservative movements and the teachings of Chabad. In other words, I take what I like from each. Some would say that makes me a hypocrite and a heretic. I would say I am just a searching Jew.

Just like we have to put one foot in front of the other to walk forward, I want to tell you how this journey began for me. At 92, my father was still driving at night and was a fabulous golfer. When my brother called at two in the afternoon on my sister-in-law’s birthday to say that daddy had not called her, I knew we were in trouble. I had tried to call him several times earlier in the day and he had not answered. I thought he was probably out for a walk or doing errands from the running list he always kept. Please indulge me and if what comes next makes you sad. I am sorry. But I see now that day was the beginning of it all—not the end.

I was working with my writing group when the call came from my brother. The person who lived closest to my father’s townhouse was my beloved x-daughter-in-law, Randi, the mother of my two granddaughters. I called Randi and said, “Please just drive over to Papa’s house to see if his car is in the driveway.” I could hear her fighting back the terror as she said, “Oh no! What will I do if it is there?” Ten minutes later my cell phone rang. Randi was weeping. “The car is here.” She adored my father and I was and still am so sorry that I put her through the ordeal that ensued. Yet, there is not another person in the world who could have shown the dignity and grace that she showed.

She stayed on the phone with me until the police arrived and broke in the door. From the moment they entered his two-story townhouse they knew my father was dead. She stayed outside relating everything that was happening. I was forty-five minutes away! I knew I could not drive and so I called my husband, making up an excuse for him to come and pick me up, not telling him what had happened—my father was my husband’s best friend.

I am not sure how we managed to drive to the house; the traffic was a nightmare, just like the nightmare we were in. My brother and sister-in-law and my daughter were already at the house by the time my husband and I arrived. My daughter was seven months pregnant. When I walked up the stairs, she was alone in the room with my father. Daddy was on the floor in his boxer shorts. He had passed away the way I hope I will—laying on the floor doing exercises. My husband stayed a few minutes and then he too went downstairs.

I sat beside my father on the floor, staring, talking to him, touching him. With death, his sun-lined face was smooth. He had a Band-aid on his toe. The Band-aid looked so incongruous, so ridiculous: he was dead! My daughter, Carrie and I just sat with him. His body had begun to decompose but neither of us was aware of anything but our great loss. In that few hours as we waited for the funeral home to arrive, I could feel his soul hovering over us. I wasn’t afraid—just so sad. The only person left in the world who would ever love me unconditionally was gone. He was my hero and my heart was broken. Some would say I was so lucky to have him had for so long, and that is so true. But he was always there and now he was gone. I would not trade those three hours that I sat with him for anything. My daughter stayed with me. I think it brought us closer than we had ever been. It made me see death in a different way. I understood that he would always be with me just as my mother has always been with me. My father wore a mezuzah around his neck, and I remember taking it off his cold heavy body and putting it around my neck. I later gave it to my eldest son; he has never taken it off.

Dad was a religious man, going to the Conservative synagogue every Saturday. He was blessed to have my brother and me, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. After services every Saturday he would call each of us to wish us a Shabbat Shalom, never pushing his ritual on any of us. When I would call him later in the day on the Sabbath and ask what he was doing, he would always say the same thing: “My Shabbas thing. I am reading and relaxing.”

As I write this, I can still envision my family sitting in a circle in the rabbi’s study the day after my father passed away. As is the custom in Judaism, we took turns talking about my father as the rabbi listened. When it was my turn, I told the Rabbi that my father used to tease me and say, “I want you to say Kaddish for me when I die.” (Kaddish for the dead entails eleven months of going to synagogue every day to say the prayer.) I would retort by saying, “You are not going to die” and then add, “Please don’t lay that on me!” We would laugh. I really expected the rabbi to say, “that’s very nice. I think it would be lovely if you went every Saturday.” What I did not know was that the Conservative movement had changed and that woman were now counted in that minyan of ten Jews needed in order to recite the blessing aloud. The rabbi looked at me and smiled. He loved my father. He said, “I think that it would be wonderful for you to fulfill your father’s wishes.”

I know you are beginning to get the picture. I left that circle knowing that my life was about to change. I also knew that my father knew it needed changing. I write historical Jewish fiction. My last book, And So It Was Written pretends a Third Temple was built during the three years when the Jews defeated Rome and ruled Israel in the year 131 of the Common Era. My father, thank G-d, had lived to read the first draft of that book. I believe in miracles, not coincidence. So many things have happened over the years, so many messages that I recognized and then rationalized away. So, I believe that my father knew I needed to be a better Jew if my book was going to be successful. He was right.

The only Conservative synagogue near my condominium on South Beach that had morning services was the Cuban Hebrew Congregation. Services were at 7:30 am. I remember that first day as if it were yesterday. The doorway into the building during the week is around the back and I could not find my way in or a place to park my car. By the time I figured it out, I was already late and crying. Shoving the tears from my face with an angry swipe I found my way in. I had my father’s tallit, prayer shawl, and his yarmulke with me in the frayed blue velvet bag he had used for over fifty years. I brought the yarmulke to my mouth to kiss it before putting in on my head. I could not believe it! The little round gold embroidered head covering still smelled like my father. I could sense him through his scent. I wrapped that tallit, the prayer shawl, around my shoulders, feeling as though my father was hugging me as I sat down.

Something magical was taking place. But it didn’t last for long. By the time I figured out what book to use and what page they were on, I was frantic—a stranger in a strange land. The Hebrew looked so foreign, it might as well have been written in Chinese. To make things worse, I did not know that on Monday and Thursday they read the Torah, which added a half hour to what I considered an already too-long service.

So now here I was, my sentence to attend seven days a week for eleven months. When the Torah was carried down the aisle and I knew enough to use my prayer shawl to kiss the scroll. A man about my father’s age, a man I later learned was called Rav Malka, began reading the designated weekly portion from the Torah. After he finished reading the old rabbi turned to me.

“You are here to say Kaddish?”

I nodded.

“Come,” he said, beckoning me forward. “What was your father’s name?”

“Irving Glicken,” I replied.

“What was his Hebrew name?”

I was horrified as I shook my head and my eyes filled with tears. I didn’t know.

“Shh. It’s okay,” he whispered. “You can find out. What is your Hebrew name?”

That one I knew and I told him. Then he said a prayer over me, just words in Hebrew that I didn’t understand. But those words swirled around me as if he were taking me into his arms.

It was now time to say the Kaddish prayer. When my mother passed eight years earlier, I said the prayer everyday by myself in my home, just Mom, me, and G-d. Rav Malka led me in prayer, saying each word slowly, allowing me to grieve. When I went back to my seat, I knew I was in the right place.

Before I go on I want to share the words said by my six-year-old granddaughter when she was told of my father’s passing. Randi told her that Papa had died because his heart was tired and it broke. My little Emma said: but my heart was not ready for his heart to be broken.

UNDERGROUND TUNNELS IN ISRAEL 2,000 YEARS AGO!

Originally posted on Ellen Brazer's Blog:

It has been a while since I wrote on my blog. I guess I have been resisting falling into the deep endless hole that is social media. Yet, I feel it is time for me to share my thoughts and feelings. Watching what was going on in Israel with Hamas was so painful that I felt my heart crying. On so many levels, I was concerned, frightened and sad. I had done extensive research for my book, And So It Was Written. After that research, I weaved a fictional story around a time in Jewish history when the Jews defeated the Roman Empire by building underground tunnels. 2,000 years ago the Jews constructed tunnels that were then supplied with enough food and water to sustain them underground for extended periods of time. The Jews would attack the Romans and then retreat to those tunnels and caves. When I wrote my…

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UNDERGROUND TUNNELS IN ISRAEL 2,000 YEARS AGO!

It has been a while since I wrote on my blog. I guess I have been resisting falling into the deep endless hole that is social media. Yet, I feel it is time for me to share my thoughts and feelings. Watching what was going on in Israel with Hamas was so painful that I felt my heart crying. On so many levels, I was concerned, frightened and sad. I had done extensive research for my book, And So It Was Written. After that research, I weaved a fictional story around a time in Jewish history when the Jews defeated the Roman Empire by building underground tunnels. 2,000 years ago the Jews constructed tunnels that were then supplied with enough food and water to sustain them underground for extended periods of time. The Jews would attack the Romans and then retreat to those tunnels and caves. When I wrote my book, all of this was fascinating: a brilliant war strategy but most certainly irrelevant today. How stupidly wrong I was! I do not want to be a pessimist. I have never given up hope on humanity. How could I when the Survivors of the Holocaust that I befriended still had love in their hearts? But I feel I must say the following: In medieval times the Muslims came into power in Spain and offered the Christians and Jews a choice; convert or die. Never mind that they were defeated and then the Christians came to power and offered the Muslims and the Jews the choice to convert or die. I do not mean to offend my many Christian and Muslim friends. This is all factual, as sad as it is. ARE WE GOING TO LET THIS HAPPEN AGAIN?    

Meeting Authors on Twitter

Ellen Brazer:

I was honored to be interviewed.

Originally posted on A Writer of History:

And So It Was WrittenA few months ago, I connected with Ellen Brazer on Twitter. Can’t recall now who tweeted whom first but the result is this morning’s discussion of her writing. Ellen Brazer has written three novels, the latest, And So It Was Written “travels to a time when a Third Temple is built and the Ark of the Covenant holding the Ten Commandments is found”.

Have you always been a writer or did you begin with a different career?     My first career was in retail. I had a boutique on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, Florida that I opened when I was 24 years old.  I also worked for many years helping to raise money for the State of Israel.

You have written several novels from different time periods under the banner of Jewish Historical Fiction. Why did you choose these stories?     Clouds Across the Sun is Holocaust…

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Interview on Historical Fiction

A bit of background

Have you always been a writer or did you begin with a different career?

My first career was in retail. I had a boutique on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, Florida that I opened when I was 24 years old.  I also worked for many years helping to raise money for the State of Israel.

Your Writing and Brand

You have written several novels from different time periods under the banner of Jewish Historical Fiction. Why did you choose these stories?

Clouds Across the Sun is Holocaust related. Before the end of WWII, Hitler charged a group of his most trusted and brilliant comrades with a mission—educate your progeny and then elevate them to positions of power throughout the world. This is the story of just one of these children. From Naples, Florida, New York City, and Washington D.C., to Israel and then the killing grounds of Vilnius, Poland (Lithuania) this story is one of great romance, discovery, redemption, and enlightenment as Jotto Wells discovers her Jewish soul and unravels the intrigue surrounding a plan to take over the government of the United States.

I did not have any family in the Holocaust and yet I always knew that when I wrote it would somehow be related to those horrific events. I wanted this generation to understand what happened from a different point of view. The history of the Holocaust is too big and overwhelming for most of us to comprehend. And so, my goal was to have the readers care about my characters so deeply they would cry with their horrors and applaud their triumphs.

And So It Was Written travels to a time when a Third Temple is built and the Ark of the Covenant holding the Ten Commandments is found. The year is 132 CE, and the proclaimed Jewish Messiah, Bar Kokhba, has defeated the Roman army and rules Judea. As the Romans prepare to reclaim Israel, the book follows two sets of brothers–one Roman and one Jewish–whose friendships, hatreds, and lives intertwine. You will smell the spices in the markets, see the blood on the battlefields, rage with the injustice of brother against brother. From triumph to defeat, this is a saga of courage, conquest, familial loyalty, honor and love–showing man at his best and his worst. 

This is an obscure time in Jewish history and I wanted to write a story that shifted the perception of Jews, showing how they were warriors long before the creation of the State of Israel.

 What do you think attracts readers to your books?

I write to educate and entertain. I try to create stories that drive the reader from page to page. I cannot tell you how many letters I receive and how many comments I get that always say the same thing: I couldn’t put the book down.

Do you have a particular approach to research and writing?

History can be so obscure. My goal as a writer of historical fiction is to take real people from our past and give them a voice.

Have other writers of historical fiction influenced you and, if so, how have they influenced you?

As a very young girl, I read Leon Uris’ book Exodus. He brought the birth of modern Israel alive for me. That was my greatest influence but I adore Ken Follett, Herman Wouk, and so many others.

What ingredients do you think make for a best-selling historical fiction author?

Bringing the period you write about alive! It really does not matter if the time period in sixty years ago or two thousand years ago, there is always that connection with the now. We may have worn different clothing but beneath the surface we are simply the continuation of all that ever was and ever will be.

What techniques do you employ to write productively?

When I am in the zone, I write and do research every day. I think it is known as obsessive-compulsive behavior. (:  The problem is that being creative is a process and I have just come out of a huge “writer’s block.” I was miserable and not easy to live with! But I am BACK to writing now.

If your brand is Jewish historical fiction, what do you do to reinforce it?

I love this question. It is the best part of my journey. I study Judaism and its precepts of Torah and Talmud with a brilliant Rabbi-Scholar.

Connecting with readers

How do you connect with readers?

I have spoken to over 5,000 people all over the country in the last few years. This has happened because I identified groups and organizations that would have an interest in what I write. I then wrote letters contacting them, sent free books and then they “booked” me.  My philosophy is that I will go anywhere, any time!

What do you know about your readers?

I know they are intelligent and curious. They talk to their friends about what they read and they want to know more.

What data do you collect about your readers?

So many times someone in my audience will raise their hand and then proceed to tell me a story from their lives relating to the Holocaust. When I meet a survivor, I always stop whatever I am saying or doing to give them a hug and to say thank you for surviving.

Strategies

What strategies guide your writing career?

I write what I am interested in and what I love, NOT what I know. The fun is in the learning.

What would you do differently if you were starting again?

Start when I was a lot younger. I turned down the opportunity to work with a fabulous agent because I didn’t want to wait a year for And So It Was Written to be published.

Do you have any advice for writers of historical fiction?

Be accurate. Our goal should never be to misinform.

 A final question

Is there a question you would like to answer that I haven’t asked?

I just want to say that I love to speak with book clubs, talking with people that have already read my books. I did a Skype book club with Texas recently and it was really fun! They had me in an auditorium on a big screen. I am only glad I could not see myself!!

 

What does it mean to be religious?

I had a conversation today with a very good friend. We were talking about what it means to be religious. Not by other people’s standards but by our standards. To put this in perspective my friend observes all the Orthodox rules for the Sabbath: no driving, no TV or electronics, no turning lights on and off etc. Yet, if you ask her she will tell you she does not feel religious.

I go to synagogue 7 days a week still! That is how far I have come since I began saying Kaddish for my beloved father 16 months ago.  I study Torah on Saturdays and spend 2 hours a week in lectures at Talmudic University. And if you ask me if I feel religious I have to tell you no. I don’t know what it really means to feel religious. I eat kosher style but I do not keep kosher. I drive on the Sabbath and I shop too. So how can I be religious? Worse yet, as much as I want to follow the precepts of the Torah I still talk about people, say mean things, loose my temper, swear (but I NEVER use G-d’s name in vain) and certainly do not do enough mitzvahs (good deeds). 

Then I ask myself, if I am not Orthodox how can I be a really good Jew? But I can’t be Orthodox because I just don’t believe what they believe. It doesn’t work for me and not because I am lazy. Maybe I have just too many questions, maybe I don’t like to be told what I have to do. Or just maybe I am too independent a woman who believes that I am equal to any man. And by the way, if you ask an Orthodox woman she will tell you she is respected and honored as a woman. So please don’t feel like you have to defend yourself if you are an Orthodox woman. You have my greatest respect.

So now please tell me what does it mean to be religious in any religion?