It’s Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year. The day of man’s first sin and a call to repentance.
I am not Jewish but a number of the main characters in my stories are, and themes from Judaism run rampant in my writing. I’ve never really thought about this much. It never felt purposeful, and yet, there it is.
I was raised Catholic, but one could only describe me now as lapsed. Big time lapsed. In CCD classes we learned that no one Jewish would make it to heaven because they didn’t accept Jesus as their savior. Everyone in India and China were pretty much screwed too. I found this, even at the age of seven, ridiculous and unacceptable. But I was perfectly willing to believe that an imprint of the face of Jesus was left on the cloth that Veronica used to wipe his sweat as he carried the cross to his crucifixion. Magic, yes. Stupidity, no.
The first Jew I knew was Carol Cohen. She was my best friend in fourth grade. For Hanukkah that year Carol got a yellow checked mini skirt and white plastic go-go boots. She was the luckiest girl I knew. Her father was an Optometrist. A year later they were both dead, killed on the way back from a ski trip by a drunk driver. I cried for days, as though my tears could bring her back.
In ninth grade I learned about the Holocaust, read The Diary of Anne Frank, and saw a film about Auschwitz. There were pictures of lamp shades made from the skin of Jewish prisoners. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. Later I saw the play, Bent and read Leaslea Newman’s short story A Letter to Harvey Milk. And much later I came out of the closet.
There are so many experiences, stories, individuals who influence a person’s writing. It is hard to point to the most pivotal, the absolute, the core. But certainly I am drawn to the persecution story, to understanding why people inflict so much pain on one another, to the scapegoat, to bullying, cruelty, abuse. To man’s inhumanity to man. And ultimately, to redemption. So Happy Rosh Hashanah to my Jewish friends, to my fellow writers, to all of us looking to understand the evil that’s out there. The darkness inside. Today take a minute to celebrate the human spirit. Dip an apple in honey, cast away your sins in the bathtub or a rain puddle, send blessings to your loved ones. Keep the fires burning.
What themes influence your writing?