The reading will take place at
in the Chase Room
of the Madison Public Library
39 Keep Street
Madison, NJ 07940
Click here for directions
1. At the young age of seventeen, you bought a one-way ticket to Israel to seek your spiritual fortune. What did you parents think of this?
They all followed me. All these years later, my mother and sisters live there and my father is buried on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.
I met a young man who lived in a forest for two years. Later on his face turned mottled, green – no connection to the forest. He told me how Israeli passersby would either recoil in horror or sometimes bow and treat him with great honor. He sort of enjoyed how his skin condition was a litmus test, a way through people’s reactions to reveal who they were. Then there was the mystic rabbi 20 years my senior who proposed to me using kabbalistic formulas, and the zahftig beggar who barreled her way into a men’s Torah learning academy (Yeshiva) and threatened to convert to the Armenian church if the rabbi/dean didn’t pay her exorbitant electric bill (I saw it happen from my secretary perch). I also remember two old beggars I passed every day on my way to work, the Jewish beggar from Kurdistan (a woman) on one stoop, and the bald Arab beggar on the stoop facing her who wore a big black yamulka – she was furious at him for pretending to be a Jew to get more alms. They had a whole turf battle going on every day. I think they were secretly in love with each other.
I went to Hebrew Day schools, Yeshiva and attended synagogue in Norfolk and Silver Spring, which was a great way to connect to my heritage, mostly the Ashkenazic side. The Sephardic side, though, was neglected, probably because Sephardic culture itself was neglected. You could say there was an Ashkenazic hegemony. In Israel I was able to discover how rich and vibrant Sephardic culture really is – that it wasn’t only about making and eating amazing food.
4. Your first novel Seven Blessings is about match-making. What interested you in this topic?
The ten years I lived in Israel, I couldn’t walk more than ten feet without bumping into a matchmaker. It seemed even the trees were plotting to marry you off. A national obsession. I loved and hated it, and so of course the motif was irresistible to me. One year I even lived in the home of a famous matchmaker. She told me her secrets of the trade. I saw her marriage up close, her life up close. The thing is, when we think of matchmaker, our minds naturally go to Fiddler on the Roof, yenta-type characters making chicken matzo ball soup. I wanted to go beyond farce, let these matchmakers be real people, with all their angst, intellect, and hidden yearnings. But I was drawn to matchmaking as metaphor, too. One of my matchmakers, Judy, embarks on a journey of rigorous Torah study, of intellectual inquiry, for the first time. She observes that all of life is a shidduch, a match, “a shidduch to get the right fit between neighbors, to reconcile between friends and parents and children, between husbands and wives, to reconcile one country to another. The whole world was a shidduch. And she was on a shidduch, too, if she dared, with her self.” Maybe that is the ultimate match, achieving that intimacy with your own mind and soul.
To learn more about Ruchama, visit our website
You can also find additional information on our website about the Literary Artist Fellowship program.