By BERNIE BELLAN The following information is taken from Naomi Ragen’s website: “Naomi Ragen is an American-born novelist, playwright and journalist who has lived in Jerusalem since 1971. She has published eleven internationally best-selling novels, and is the author of a hit play, ‘Women’s Minyan’, that has been performed more than 500 times in Israel’s National Theatre as well as in the United States and Argentine.
“Naomi has written for the Jerusalem Post and other publications in Israel and abroad, as well as to her blog list, about Israel and Jewish issues.”
The Wikipedia article about Naomi Ragen notes that “A recurring theme in her fictional works is injustice against women in the Haredi Jewish community.”
(The Wikipedia article also mentions that Naomi has been sued a number of times for plagiarism.)
Recently I contacted Naomi via email, which is how she had indicated to me she preferred to communicate.
Following is a series of questions I posed to Naomi, with the answer she gave tomy questions:
JP&N: Hi Naomi,
I see you’re going to be talking about your latest novel (“An Observant Wife”) in your Limmud presentation. I’ve only read one of your books previously: “The Devil in Jerusalem”, which was the subject of a book club discussion several years ago in a club which I had started at our Jewish Community Centre.
I was floored by that book. I realize it was extremely controversial, so I’d like to ask you one question about that book:
What has been the long-term reaction to your writing such a scathing exposé about a Haredi rabbi?
Naomi Ragen: Thanks for writing. I hope you get a chance to read the book (“The Observant Wife”), which I think is special for a number of reasons. It’s my first and only sequel. And it’s probably my last book on haredim, in which I sum up thirty years of knowledge, interaction, and understanding.
I wrote The Devil in Jerusalem as a public service – believe it or not. A very, very difficult book to write, the subject matter was horrendous. Many people have reviewed the book, saying it was difficult to read, but important. I can’t tell in the short term if it’s made people more wary of wonder rabbis, but more and more we are getting people who are speaking out about rabbinical abuse, so perhaps there’s a trend here which I’m happy to be a part of.
JP&N: Now, turning to your most recent book, “An Observant Wife”, I just read the lengthy review on bookreporter.com, so here are my questions:
What led you to wanting to write a sequel to “An Unorthodox Match”?
NR: This is the first time in my career that I really didn’t want to part with my characters from a previous book, An Unorthodox Match. First of all, when you end a book, you leave your characters to live on in your reader’s imaginations. I felt highly protective towards the characters in this book, the newly engaged mixed couple Leah and Yaakov, the young girl Shaindele undergoing such hardships, the children orphaned of their mother Chasya and Mordechai Shalom. I wanted to take their futures home with me and raise them myself.
Also, I think of all my characters Lola/Leah is very close to my own life, and I’d never really explored Chozrim beteshuva in my books, so I was eager to keep exploring her character.
JP&N: From what Pamela Kramer writes about “An Observant Wife” in her review, it seems that a recurrent theme in this book and your others is that the ultra Orthodox are no different in most respects than any other human beings in terms of their needs. What I often wonder though is whether the kind of repression that I associate with ultra Orthodox life masks greater psychological problems among ultra Orthodox Jews than non ultra Orthodox?
NR: From my personal experience, it all depends on the sect. I view modern Orthodox as pretty much the same as secular society when it comes to repression. After all, no one does exactly what they feel like doing because of the consequences. Chassidic sects are something else. In my opinion they are pretty much all cults and yes the repression can be psychologically damaging as it is in any cult.
JP&N: The notion of someone from a non-observant background, such as Leah in this novel, adopting fully the role of an ultra Orthodox wife is something that I’ve seen over and over again in real life, including in my own family.
Invariably these women become “holier than thou”. Do you think there’s a common thread that runs through women who come from non-observant backgrounds and become ultra Orthodox?
NR: As you’ll see when you get into An Observant Wife, the newly Orthodox are usually looked down upon by those born into the tradition who consider themselves holier than though. The newly religious are always apologizing for the things they don’t know. But if you are referring to the need of people who become religious to clash with people living their former lifestyle, I would say that holds true of anyone who becomes a true believer, whether religious or vegetarians, or people who give up gluten. I think whenever you take restrictions upon yourself, you feel the need to justify it and reject everyone else, just to reassure yourself you are doing the right thing, especially when it gets hard.
JP&N: Are you going to be talking only about your new book in your presentation?
NR: Actually, I’ll be discussing a whole range of subjects including how difficult it has been to have started the whole genre of books about the ultra Orthodox. I was considered a whistle blower, and still am.
Winnipeg Jewish Theatre to open season with world premiere of “Pals”
By BERNIE BELLAN The opening show of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s 2023-24 season promises to be a clever and poignant take on relationships between men and women, when “Pals” makes its world premiere on November 9 in the Berney Theatre, running until November 19.
“Pals” is the third two-person show created by the team of Diane Flacks and Richard Greenblatt. Interestingly, when I spoke with Flacks and Greenblatt while they took a break from rehearsing the play in Toronto, they told me that their previous two two-person plays also had one word titles – with four letters in both: “Sibs” and “Care.”
“Pals” is the story of two friends, told over a 25-year time period. Their friendship survives many tribulations, including both characters entering and exiting many other relationships. The play uncovers the underlying tensions that permeate all friendships.
“Pals” opens with the two characters meeting for the first time. I asked Diane and Richard whether the notion of their having sex ever enters into the plot, but Richard was quick to exclaim, “We don’t have sex.”
Diane also noted that, in the case of her character, she is married to another woman. (Diane is a lesbian in real life.)
The fact that the characters maintain a friendship though becomes a source of friction within their respective relationships. It raises the question: Can you have an intimate, albeit platonic, relationship, with a member of the opposite sex all the while you’re in a physical relationship with someone else?
I asked whether the characters in “Pals” are Jewish (which both Diane and Richard are), and the answer was “yes.”
Both Diane and Richard have had past associations with the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. Richard’s goes back a very long time – when he directed the critically acclaimed “League of Nathans” in 1995.
Diane Flacks appeared in a one-night performance of a show in 2021 called “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother,” which was a part of that year’s Tarbut festival. There were no in-person events that year, due to Covid, but “Jewish Mother” was available on Zoom and had a huge audience.
In addition to writing for the stage, Diane Flacks has written for TV, including Working the Engels, Baroness Von Sketch Show, Young Drunk Punk, PR, and The Broad Side.
Richard Greenblatt has performed in theatres across Canada and abroad, as well as in feature films, television and radio. He co-wrote 2 Pianos 4 Hands, which played on five continents and in over 150 cities since it opened in 1996.
Pals is directed by the internationally acclaimed director Jillian Keiley. More information, tickets and 5-show subscriptions can be found at: www.wjt.ca. You can also reach WJT by phone at (204) 477-7478.
To watch a preview video from Pals, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2W0VmHHFbA
Simkin Centre introduces Friday afternoon Shabbat services – open to all
By BERNIE BELLAN (Posted Oct. 31) The Simkin Centre held its first ever Friday afternoon Erev Shabbat service this past Friday (Oct. 27), led by Rabbi Matthew Leibl.
There were more than 30 residents in attendance, along with various other outside guests. The service was approximately 45 minutes long and was filled with stories and songs associated with Friday evening Shabbats – some from Rabbi Leibl’s own childhood and some from more recent years.
The Friday afternoon Erev Shabbat services are now to become a regular features at the Simkin Centre and are open to anyone to attend.
To watch a short clip of Rabbi Leibl introducing his first Friday afternoon service click https://youtu.be/hLSrV18K58o
The complete text of MP Marty Morantz’s speech at the community vigil for Israel on October 10
Tonight we are all Israelis!
Conservatives stand with Israel.
Pierre Poilievre stands with Israel.
On Saturday we woke up to unspeakable images.
We must stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel as it defends itself from these criminal and barbarous acts.
On Shabbat, Hamas brutally invaded Israel, invaded homes, killing hundreds, taking hostage hundreds.
More Jews were killed in Saturday’s attack than in any single day since the Holocaust.
Some 1500 human beings killed in a single day would be like 6000 Canadians being murdered in a single attack.
They were children, babies, men, women.
They were young people just out listening to music at a dance party.
This was an unprecedented brutal attack.
As we speak Hamas is threatening to execute innocent hostages.
This outrage cannot, must not stand.
Don’t let anyone tell you Hamas is the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people. It is not a government.
They are a genocidal murderous and evil death cult and they must be defeated.
But friends, we have seen evil before.
Jews have been persecuted for millennia, but we have survived.
Conservatives unequivocally condemn the invasion of Israel by Hamas terrorists and the sadistic violence that Hamas has carried out against innocent civilians.
Now is the time for moral clarity. There is no moral equivalency between democratic Israel and the butchers of Hamas.
There is no response, no matter how strong, that would be disproportionate to the crimes Hamas has committed.
Israel has the right to defend itself against these attacks and respond against the attackers – as any other country would.
Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, said, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
In 1948 that dream became a reality – a homeland in Israel, the promised land.
Working together Israelis turned a desert into an oasis.
An island of democracy surrounded by a sea of autocracy.
A Jewish state where Jews could live in peace free from fear and persecution.
Let there be no doubt. Israel is the ancient and indigenous homeland of the Jewish people.
We will not let the butchers of Hamas take that dream, long realized, away from us.
Many politicians will stand with Israel when it is easy.
But listen to what they say when it is hard.
They will talk about “both sides.”
I’m here to tell you that there is only one side.
The side of morality.
The side of democracy.
The side of Israel.
We see too often politicians at the United Nations unfairly singling out Israel for criticism.
I will always stand against the unfair singling out of the Middle East’s only democracy.
Already there are calls for Israel to deescalate.
I ask you.
Would any country deescalate after having its people slaughtered in cold blood?
I wish the people of Israel and its brave soldiers Godspeed on their mission to defend the promised land from pure evil.
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said:
Through fire and water Canada will stand with you.
Am Yisrael Chai!