by Karen Blum, editor of The Tulsa Jewish Review
Bruce Black created the Jewish Writing Project, a repository of stories and poems submitted by a variety of writers as an expression of their Jewishness, and as it turns out, ours.
What prompted you to create this space for people to share?
When my family and I moved to Florida nine years ago, we discovered that most of our neighbors at our synagogue were from somewhere else—Michigan, Ohio, Maine, Wisconsin, NY, NJ, Illinois. No longer did folks have families close by to share stories, and many families like ours found that their family stories were being lost or forgotten. So I founded the project as a way to help people preserve their family’s stories, as well as to explore and share their Jewish experiences.
I thought if we could share stories online about what it means to be Jewish, we might get to know each other a little better.
I love that you acknowledge that we all have a different lens through which we see our Judaism, why do you think it is important to share our differing perspectives?
Sharing our different perspectives on what it means to be Jewish broadens our understanding of what it means to be a Jew. Often, we mistakenly believe that our way of practicing Judaism is the “only” way. But if you speak to enough Jews and read enough Jewish stories, you’ll come to the realization that there are as many ways of being Jewish as there are Jews in the world. Each of us may belong to the same synagogue or temple as our neighbors—being Jewish is a communal experience, after all—but each of us experience our Judaism as unique individuals and feel differently about what it means to be Jewish.
In sharing our individual understanding of what it means to be a Jew, we may help someone else better understand how he or she feels about being Jewish. Each individual story has the power to inspire others to explore their lives in search of insights into what it means to be Jewish.
What is your best advice for writing about our Jewish experiences?
You might try to make a list of people who influenced how you feel about being Jewish. Ask yourself why a certain person had such a large influence on you. What did he or she do to make you feel that you, too, wanted to be Jewish? Or you might list your most powerful memories of being Jewish. Think of an experience when you realized how much being Jewish meant to you. Then try to describe the experience so that a reader might understand how the experience changed you.
Or, try this: Take some time to think about what matters most to you about being Jewish. Maybe you love the way the light of the Shabbat candles plays on your mother’s face. Maybe you love wrapping your fingers in your father’s tallit during Shabbat morning services. Maybe you remember the first time you held a prayer book in your hands and offered a prayer as part of a minyan. Describe what it is that you love about being Jewish and makes you feel strongly about being a Jew. Start writing. See where the words take you.
This interview first appeared in the Tulsa Jewish Review, which granted permission to reprint it here. If you’d like to read more articles in the Tulsa Jewish Review, visit: http://jewishtulsa.org/our-work/Tulsa-Jewish-Review/