A Rabbi or A Novelist

I just finished Drawing in the Dust, the debut novel by Zoe Klein from 2009.  It’s a rich and detailed story about an archaeologist who has spent years working around Israel.  The main character, Page, spends her days unearthing artifacts from centuries prior, while the story takes readers through Page’s on personal and interior excavations.  She’s searching for answers, for connections, for her own heaven meets earth.  The story captures the sights, smells, and textures of places from biblical Israel to New York to a tiny cottage in Massachusetts and back to Israel.

In addition to the novel, the copy I have includes a Q & A with Zoe Klein who is the senior rabbi of Temple Isaiah, a large congregation in Los Angeles.  I wanted to post one question and Rabbi Klein’s answer.  She’s done a fascinating thing in writing this novel.  If you’re adding to your summer reading list or looking for something you can delve into, get Drawing in the Dust.

Though the two are not mutually exclusive, what do you consider yourself most to be?  A religious figure–a rabbi–who has written a novel, or a novelist who is also a rabbi?  While the answer to this question is clear in my heart, it is hard to answer it in words, but I will try.  I consider myself a novelist first, but this takes a bit of explaining.  While God is often referred to as the Author of All Life, I like to relate to God as the Reader of All Life as well.  Life is a love letter, written in logos deeper than language.  I am a novelist first, but I don’t always compose with pen and ink, or keyboard and monitor.  Rather, as a rabbi I help people compose with heartbeats and breath, identifying the myths and truths in their lives.  A community is a library of timeless tales and adventures, of grief that poeticizes, often darkly, and of redemption that fill the air with song.  When I officiate the life cycle ceremonies, I always feel as if I am trying to weave in something strong out of delicate fibers.  At weddings, I try to help build a solid foundation out of very feathery dreams.  At births, I try to infuse joy and light into an entirely mysterious future.  At death, I take the tiny strands of an infinitely complex life and try to thread them into something sacred.  Writing and serving as a rabbi are not too different to me.  In the end, it is about crafting stories, and helping people discover their grand themes and subtler metaphors.  It is about offering these stories skyward to the Reader of All Life.

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