Anita Diamant was delighted to learn that the Shalom Baby project of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey distributes her book, “How to Raise a Jewish Child,” to new parents.
The award-winning author of “The Red Tent” and other work told The Jewish Standard in a telephone interview that the parenting book, one of her six guidebooks to Jewish life and lifecycle events, is designed “to help parents make Jewish choices.” (She said that “only ‘The Last Days of Dogtown’ set on Cape Ann in the early 1800s has no Jews.”)
“It’s about approaching the endeavor with joy and excitement about this great tradition,” she said, “the opposite of the guilt clichÃ©. It’s about joy and celebration.”
|Anita Diamant MARK OSTOW|
Diamant, who said she was raised in “an ethnic, cultural Jewish home,” noted that living Jewishly is “not an automatic thing.” Her book, she said, provides a “tool kit” for parents in a similar situation. “It’s about articulating choices and encouraging people to make choices.”
The author will be visiting Paramus on Oct. 22 to speak about her new novel, “Day After Night” (Scribner, $27). At a program co-sponsored by UJA-NNJ’s Women’s Division and the Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey, in Oakland, Diamant will talk about “a chapter of 20th-century Israeli and Jewish history not well-known, even by those who know a lot about this period.”
And, she added, as in “The Red Tent,” she tells the story from “the under-told perspective of women.”
The book focuses on several young women refugees at Atlit, a British-run detention center set up in Palestine after World War II. The internment camp, south of Haifa, operated in the 1930s and ’40s. Many detainees were Holocaust survivors who escaped Nazi Europe but were not allowed by the British to enter Palestine. Ultimately, tens of thousand of Jewish immigrants were interned there.
Diamant’s book explores life at the camp, focusing on the friendships forged among several young detainees.
“It’s ‘Red Tent’ meets ‘Exodus’ in a funny way,” said Diamant, stressing that she means Leon Uris’ book, not the biblical story. “It deals with four women immediately following World War II, in a narrow window of time, from August to October 1945. Four young girls arrive in Atlit and are post-traumatic-stress survivors [though] they didn’t think of themselves that way. They have to make sense of where they are.”
The author said the writing of the book was a “happy accident.” Several years ago, her then 15-year-old daughter was participating in a high school semester abroad with the Reform movement’s Eisendrath International Exchange High School in Israel. While visiting her daughter there, Diamant participated in the program’s parent trip.
“We went on a bus and took field trips and one stop was at Atlit,” she said. Learning the history of the camp and of the dramatic rescue by the Hagana in 1945, “I realized it was a great premise for a novel, [so] I kept it in the back of my mind.”
Diamant began her writing career in Boston in 1975 as a freelance journalist. “The Red Tent,” published in 1997, was her first novel. In writing that book, she said, she did not set out to create midrash, or an interpretive commentary on the biblical text.
“I wrote it as historical fiction, not midrash,” she said, although she felt she had “permission,” because of midrash, to look at the Bible in such a creative way.
“I did not feel I had to refer directly to the text,” she said. “I went for the story; it became mine.” When she read the biblical account again later, she said, “I thought, ‘Isn’t that interesting – it’s not what I wrote.'”
Still, she said, what’s important is how a book is interpreted.
“What I thought I was doing is secondary,” she said. “The books belong to readers. Although if someone asks what you intended, you can tell them.”
She acknowledged that some readers, Jews and non-Jews, were upset by “The Red Tent.” “It’s not really a Jewish book,” she said. “It’s the story of the ancestors of the Jewish people, before Sinai – the proto-ancestors of Christians as well as Jews.”
While she is a feminist, she said – adding that she is also Jewish, American, and writes in English – “the book was not a tract. I had no agenda apart from honoring experience and memory.”
For additional information about Diamant’s Oct. 22 presentation, call Jodi Heimler at (201) 820-3952 or email JodiH@ujannj.org.