Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Joy of Challenging Questions

Today, I submitted an excerpt from The Color of Safety for a new fellowship given by a foundation  dedicated to secular Judaism. I am not sure, but I think secular Judaism may be following the principals laid out in Jewish teachings without worrying too much if you believe in God.

Whatever it is, this international fellowship has two sections, one for scholars, and the other for fiction writers working on projects with Jewish themes. I figure this includes The Color of Safety, which rides straight into the chasm that was cut between Jewish and African-Americans in the last decades of the 20th century, reminding us (as well as some Japanese-Americans) of how much we share historically and internally. The main character derives wisdom from both traditions and far from riding to the rescue on her lily-white own has to learn to throw herself a community that is already very capably fighting against societies current villains.

I would love to be one of the inaugural fiction fellows for this foundation, but the truth is, whether I wind up winning one or not, the process of applying has benefitted me tremendously. These grant and fellowship people ask fascinating questions: like, what are your career ambitions? Whereas before, I would have no notion of career ambitions, I now know that I would like to use any opportunities for publicity for The Color of Safety to create a new conversation of the many connections that African-Americans and Jews share.

I am also far more clear than before that I am a ridiculously Jewish novelist. However much I wrestle with my faith, with which parts I believe, which I observe and how to act out my ethics in their most powerful form, they are Jewish ethics, it is a Jewish faith, and the fact that I can even consider which parts of my faith to ignore is an inherently Jewish concept born of our traditions long history of not only asking questions, but of recording both sides of an argument and ultimately turning them into holy writ (see The Talmud) vs. other traditions who have historically decided what is holy and what is not, and acted accordingly.

I am sure that we Jews also did that long ago, or else there would not be casual mention of ritual prostitution in the Torah, or hints of goddess worship in both Torah and archeological record, though any goddess worship that remains in Judaism is via the concept of the Sabbath Bride, the Shekhinah. (Side note: I recently met a Christian woman of just-discovered Sephardic Jewish ancestry who told me that in the Charismatic Christian community they refer to the Bride of the Sabbath, but pronounce her ShekInah, (rhymes with vaGIna.) Reminds me of the pre-k teacher who had prepped for the Chanukah story by "reading all about those MacAfees and their hammer.")

In recent years, though, (like most of the last 2000) Jews have had to develop a non-centralized religion that allows for a wide range of beliefs and customs, while still, to my eye, anyway, remaining Jewish. I hope that in my career, should I be blessed with a career, I will be able to explore some of those beliefs and customs interacting with this complex world. Hurrah for fellowships, whether I win them or not. Hurrah for challenging questions without any one right answer, and the discoveries that these questions will leads us to if we are brave enough to struggle with them. 
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