Category Archives: Uncategorized

The truth about antisemitism

The truth about antisemitism is that it’s true.

And that is the most shocking truth of all.

Because what does a refined westernized Jewish woman do with such information? Where does she put her wishes and hopes for safe times, times without hatred targeted towards her and her people?

It would seem she might do best to look into long-term storage options for this hope of hers, a place where her hope can be put for safekeeping, because as long as antisemitism has existed, so too it just might continue to exist.

Born on the correct side

It has always amused me how almost everyone believes that they just so happened to be born into the most accurate belief system, whether religiously, politically or otherwise.

Quite the coincidence, right?

But what truly baffles me is when I realize that I honestly am on the right side. How I was chosen, I do not know, but, indeed, my parents educated me correctly and here we are with the task of figuring out how to be the just ones, the good ones, the light unto the nation, against so much darkness and evil.

The emphasis on size

At the local authors event this Sunday, David Ehrlich, a writer and owner of Tmol Shilshom restaurant in Jerusalem, spoke of the woes of being a short story writer. Publishers simply don’t like books of short stories.

(Reminds me of a sad and amusing Hebrew book on the subject: “The Short Story Artist.”)

Also that evening, Debbie Herman, a children’s author, said it would be difficult to get Carla’s Sandwich published now because it is too long by today’s standards.

Years ago while in Vancouver I took a creative writing class with Paul Belserene. One day I confessed that I often didn’t publish blog posts because I felt they were too short by blog post standards.

For kids it can’t be too long. For adults it can’t be too short. In blogs it has to be just the right length too.

But what about the ideas, the stories, themselves? What about the wacky humour of David’s stories? What about the immersing experience of Debbie’s charming book?

Paul at the time suggested I simply write how I feel like writing.

So here you go. I hope you enjoy.

No warning

When you’re little, no one tells you just how excruciatingly painful life is. No one tells you that throughout your years you will have to bear witness to your most loved ones being virtually stabbed by life’s trials. Why is this kept a secret? Does not every human deserve the warning?

The World Was Created For Me

I wrote this piece for my reading evening at Tmol Shilshom, Sweet Beginnings, in honor of the Jewish new year. Sign up for my mailing list to hear about future events.

deena levenstein reading at tmol shilshomIt was just me and my parents home for Shabbat. On the brink of adulthood, I was absolutely unsure about the next steps in my life. But that Shabbat I was home. And since my mother had decided to tell each of us in person, it seemed like the perfect opportunity – to my mother, that is – to tell me that she was pregnant.

Oh my effing God. I was imminently turning 20 and my mother was pregnant of all things.

I was alone. None of my other four siblings – the people who were ultimately about to go through this with me – were around.

I shuddered. I shook.

I hid my reactions and nonchalantly said that I was going out for a walk. I paced the Katamon streets, struck and angry.

A few weeks later, in Toronto, my brother stepped out of a moving car upon receiving the same news.

Comrade.

A few months later Shabbat began, this time with my mother in the hospital hopefully in the process of giving birth, and a few of us at the Shabbat table thinking of nothing but.

We had a quick meal – I couldn’t eat – and I ran down the hill to the hospital to get the news.

My father told me I had a new sister. A little, yet very real, person in my life. A person who I loved before I even met her.

I went into the labor room and quickly met the tiny little thing.

I then went out to the hallway, sat on a cold metal bench, bent over and wept.

And wept and wept. Until one man walking by reminded me that this was indeed a joyous occasion.

Silly man, I thought. Does he not know that one can weep. And weep and weep, from joy?

Eight years later…

I had broken up with my boyfriend. I was now very alone in Vancouver. I worked in a job that spit me out after four days. I’d miscalculated and overspent during my move to an apartment with a higher rent.

My God. Good God. What was I going to do?

I knew I needed income immediately in order to keep afloat and so, in this state of urgency, I searched. Although I wanted a job in the Jewish community, I even looked in Craigslist.

Very quickly I found a position in the community posted there. But… with old people? I simply couldn’t work with old people, I thought. It will bring me down. Even more down than I already am.

But I went for the damn interview. I begrudgingly went and begrudgingly put on my best face. During it, on the other side of the room, I could see the elderly people sitting around a table for their morning activities. One man – who I later learned was named Sam – sat slumped over in a wheelchair. The entire site broke my heart. Just seeing the elderly people from afar made me sad.

I got the job. I got the job and I accepted it too. Because I needed to. But it seemed like such a bad fit that I felt like I was misleading my new employers; I really did not see myself lasting there for more than a short while.

But what could I do? I was being dragged along for the ride we call life and I didn’t have much choice.

I hesitantly arrived to my first days. I smiled at the clients, who almost always smiled back. I made conversation and they were happy to talk. I ran programs for them about the Jewish holidays and Jewish history and they loved it all, the ones that stayed awake, that is.

And we had a musical kabbalat shabbat together every Friday. I played the few chords I know on guitar, and we all sang together, the men with synthetic teepee kippas, the women with doilies, all of us smiling at each other.

The opposite of my fears had come true. I noticed that no matter my mood in the morning – which was often down – it was raised by the people I’d so dreaded from afar. They’d stopped being “old people” and instead became just people. Some became acquaintances, some became friends and some became very good friends.

The fact that the two people I became closest with – Cecil and Yvette – have since passed away, does not exactly matter.

What matters is that Cecil, a Jamaican Jew, would have swept me off my feet and never let me go if he had been around half a decade younger (so he said). What matters is that whenever I was talking about Jewish history, I knew I could look over at him and find him listening intently, and laughing in all the right places.

What matters is that I had a kinship with Yvette, a French Holocaust survivor with a similar demeanor to mine (I like to believe). What matters is that after moving back to Jerusalem, we would send each other voice recordings which I adored receiving (Allo Deena, I hope you are well. Have you found a husband yet? Don’t worry, things are not how they used to be…”). What matters is that I was able to offer her my love during the terribly painful end of her life. What matters is that I know she loved me, and I still love her.

My desperate situation forced me to make a desperate choice, leading me to a year of meaningful memories that I cherish.

For me or dust and ashes?

It is said that Reb Simcha Bunem carried two slips of paper. One pocket had a note that said: Bishvili nivra haolam—“For my sake the world was created.” The other pocket had a note that read: Veanokhi afar vafer”—“I am but dust and ashes.”

In these stories and many others in my life, I have felt like things are happening despite me and all I can do is react -

I have often felt like afar vaefer.

But now I wonder, am I dust or, in fact, is the world not being constantly created for me? Especially for me…

And in that case, what is a sweet beginning? What really are beginnings? And what might make them sweet?

I’ll tell you what a beginning is. It’s what is happening all the time. It is doors or windows unlatching, allowing movement. It is the potential all around us. It is the availability of that potential.

But this is not necessarily a pleasant experience. It can be terrifying, it can be painful.

And so a sweet beginning, a sweet moment, is one that we somehow open up to, possibly even embrace, fears and all.

I, for one, think I’ve more than internalized that I am dust and ashes. Now it’s time for me to focus on “The world was created for me.” Because, it is!

And that is a sweet beginning.

שנה טובה ומתוקה.

Why you should stop reading your readers’ comments

A very famous blogger (if only I could remember who) doesn’t allow comments on his blog. If someone wants to share their thoughts (or passionate attacks) about a piece, they can do it on Facebook, he said, in order to keep it more controlled and to keep his website clean.

Continue on, my friend. (image source)
Continue on, my friend. (image source)

Assumptions assumptions. It is assumed that having a conversation going on your blog is some great ideal. And that it’s important to interact with your readers, replying to most/all of their comments. Why? And talk about freakin’ exhausting!

I keep speaking to popular bloggers who are emotionally worn from comments left them by their faithful followers. Sometimes it’s the same reader every time who pushes the writer’s buttons. Sometimes it’s trolls (whatever that is). But does it matter? Every time, these writers spend countless joules figuring out:

  1. How to internalize the comment – what to think and feel about it.
  2. Whether or not they should reply to the comment of question.
  3. What to reply.
  4. Whether or not they should continue a conversation with the reader.

Ugh! Aren’t we writers? How did we become socializers instead?

Now, this is not only a problem because it takes up so much time and energy. It’s also a problem because of how it can affect a person’s writing.

Having to deal so much with readers’ comments has three potential negative repercussions.

  1. A feel good picture (image source)
    A feel good picture (image source)

    It could have the writer calculating what/how/how much to write too much based on the readers. This could be misguided based on one or two verbal people who have nothing better to do than try to get your attention. It could also be based on not getting comments, the thinking being that if I didn’t get comments, it must not be a good piece or maybe I’m just not a good writer.

  2. It could make the writer obsessive about what comments she’s getting and how many. It could have her returning to a post many times on the day it’s posted in order to see how it’s doing. This activity is supposedly based on the above-mentioned assumption that it’s of utmost importance to read your readers’ comments and interact with them. But this what writing is supposed to be about? I don’t remember reading about the importance of obsessing over readership/commenting in On Writing by Stephen King.
  3. It almost definitely creates a situation where the writer becomes dependent on external feedback – writing passionately after getting good feedback and hiding miserably in a corner after negative feedback. And when you’re bombarded with feedback (silence is feedback too), it’s a creativity-sucker (or a muse-muter).

I think one of the great challenges for writers is figuring out how to tap into our own feedback system and decide selectively who is worthy of our listening ears. From whom am I truly interested to hear what they think and continue developing my writing accordingly? This is a question not to be taken lightly!

For now, this piece is dedicated to the talented bloggers I know who periodically curl up in a corner because of the interactions they need to deal with online. When I hear about it, I feel like giving them a virtual slap and saying, “Don’t you see that you’re writing is good? Continue on, my friend. Continue on.”