Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays, one and all.

(For those curious as to what Hanukkah is about, I gave an explanation in the comments)

I’m going to try to keep this post short, though there’s a great temptation to write a thousand words or more. And that’s because despite how crazy this past week has been, its also been kind of uplifting. Why? Because my organization really showed me how much it wanted to make sure all its associates felt included during the holidays. And that included the Jews.

Now as many of you know, I am Jewish (this will be important in a bit). And as many of you also know, I work for a supply organization in a role called an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist. It’s kind of like HR, but we’re focused on promoting diversity, accommodating associates with disabilities, and combating discrimination and harassment in the workforce. It’s an important job, because a properly diverse and accepting workforce is one with a wide talent pool and a healthy mental state.

Okay, enough background. Let me get to the important part. On Tuesday, I was sitting having breakfast in my office when our Director of Operations (hereafter referred to as the DoO), a member of our regional executive staff, came to visit me. Which is pretty unusual. I see him on occasion around the building and we’ll chat, but I don’t interact much with the executives in my organization. You can imagine my surprise when the DoO came to talk to me, and understand my first thought upon seeing him: I’ve had this nightmare before, but I was naked in it.

Turns out, the DoO wanted to consult me. You see, I did a stand-up routine at a company talent show last year (yes, that happened), and it was centered around kosher cooking. Since then, I’ve gained a reputation as the resident expert on Judaism. With that in mind, the DoO wanted to know if it would be a good idea to have a menorah to represent Hanukkah at the Executive Open House, one of our organization’s annual holiday events when you can go through the executive suite and schmooze with the top brass. That event usually has a lot of tinsel and Christmas trees, but no menorah. And the DoO wanted to know if including one would be a good idea.

I said yes, that would be a wonderful idea, and I gave some other suggestions of things to include (dreidels, chocolate gelt, etc). I then gave him some ideas where he could find all those. Less than an hour later, I was asked to go shopping with him at the nearest place to see if we could find a menorah. I said sure, hoping to God I wouldn’t embarrass myself, and we went shopping. We found plenty of gelt, but they were fresh out of menorahs. One thing you need to know about my organization, though, we don’t do anything partway. So I got into contact with one of the local synagogues, which I knew had a gift shop with plenty of menorahs. After work that day, I went straight there and bought a menorah, along with a ton of dreidels. Mission accomplished.

The DoO and I with the menorah. So grateful for this kind gesture.

Fast forward to today (Thursday, if you’re reading this later on), I brought the menorah and dreidels in. We set it up first in the DoO’s office after he invited me up to the Executive Suite, and then later it ended up in a more public space when another associate brought in their menorah from home. And I have to say, it looked really good there too.

But through all this, I couldn’t help but thinking how wonderful it was for the DoO and the rest of the top brass to be thinking of my people. As many of you are aware, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and attacks lately, the worst being the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October. These attacks on my people have been tough on all of us. I’ve been feeling an upswing in anxiety since October myself. However, I’ve been trying to fight back by staying strong and filling the world with more good and kindness than they can fill it with evil. And this simple thoughtful gesture, while small, was huge in its impact, and I can’t help but thank the DoO for helping to put a bit of good back in this crazy world.

I hope it’s part of a greater trend to make the world a nicer place.

Happy Hanukkah, Followers of Fear. I hope this brought some light into your life during the Festival of Lights. I’m heading off to bed. Until next time (possibly this weekend), pleasant nightmares one and all.

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I’m going to try to keep this post short, because it’s very late and I should be in bed right now recharging for tomorrow’s labors. But I got caught up in the writing and ended up finishing a short story this evening. And as is my habit, I have to write a blog post about it. Some things you just can’t stop me from doing. And at 13 pages and 3,352 words, this is one of the shortest short stories I’ve written in–damn, I don’t know how long. Maybe high school. Maybe ever.

Malkah, for those of you who aren’t aware, is the Hebrew word for “Queen,” and it plays a bit of a role in this story, about a pair of Jewish parents who lose their daughter to a horrific act of anti-Semitism. One of the parents goes the extra length to ease the pain, with horrific consequences.

If you read my last post, you know I’ve been a little on edge lately from the rise of anti-Semitic incidents I’ve seen in the news lately. Between that post and this one, I saw another one about a man trying to run over Orthodox Jews leaving services on Saturday with his car. Needless to say, with the subject matter in this short story, I channeled some of that uneasiness and fear into my writing. Whether or not that made the story any better is up to the reader. Still, I feel it taps into fears we all feel at times, especially when it comes to our loved ones.

And if the editing process goes well for this one, who knows? I’ve got my eye on a particular publication I’ve tried getting published in a few times in the past. Perhaps they’ll like this one and want to publish it. And if not, there are always other fish in the sea (or publications searching for stories). And I feel the work I’ve been producing lately has been of a higher grade than usual. Perhaps some of it stands a chance.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll take a day or two to relax from all the marathon writing, and then get into my next short story. This one, I’m sure, will leave quite a few people disturbed. Hell, it disturbs me just thinking about it. Given my tolerance for scary, I think that says something.

Well, I’m off to bed. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Some days it’s harder to know where you stand than others.

Last month, a white supremacist went on a shooting rampage in Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All of the victims were senior citizens and a few were Holocaust survivors. That they should live so long and survive so much, just for one hateful man to snuff out their lives, hurts and horrifies me and several other members of the Jewish community on so many levels. In my own response to the shooting, I mentioned I felt connected to the attack in a very personal way. I almost ended up living in Pittsburgh when I was a kid instead of Columbus. Imagine what mght’ve happened if I’d stayed there, and if my synagogue had been Tree of Life?

Since that horrific day, there have been more anti-Semitic incidents. None on the scale as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, but still horrific. In Baltimore, a man interrupted a performance of Fiddler on the Roof, a play revolving around Jewish characters dealing with change and anti-Semitism, by shouting “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!”; in Wisconsin, nearly an entire class of graduating high school boys threw up the Hitler salute for a prom photo; in Cleveland, flyers with links to a neo-Nazi website around Case Western University; and in Argentina, soccer fans rioted and shouted “Kill the Jews to make soap!” after a team composed of mainly Jewish players defeated the team whose stadium they were visiting.*

And that’s just the ones I know about. There are probably other incidents that have yet to reach my ears.

I know that what I and the Jewish people is nothing new or out of nowhere. Many minorities are facing discrimination and harassment right now, and it seems to only be growing. Regardless, all these incidents happening within such a short span of time, and after the Pittsburgh shooting to boot, have me on edge. It makes me wonder if this wont become a much bigger trend, where anti-Semitism becomes an everyday occurrence.

It makes me wonder whether or not it’ll be safe to stay in this country much longer. And if it should become too dangerous, where would I go? Canada? Europe? Israel? Would it only be a matter of time before more violence broke out? Before I had to flee from those who would see me dead just for being born a certain faith and heritage?

Still, I have reason to hope and to stave off the fear.

We’ve all heard the poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, but it bears repeating.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and i did not speak out–
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

While there are still plenty of people who aren’t willing to speak out,** I’ve had the pleasure of knowing plenty of people in and outside the Jewish community and the United States who will speak out against injustice. Many of them I’ve met through blogging and online interaction as well as face-to-face communication. They’ve reached out to me when I needed it and have stood up for me too. I know that well before things get too harsh to live safely in this country, they will come to my side and stand by me.

So if you’re reading this, I urge you to speak out when you see hatred and injustice. Right now it may seem like a struggle not worth going through with insurmountable barriers to face, but it can be done. By showing up to events, by giving to causes, by voting in every election (especially voting in every election!), by sending your voice out through the world to be heard, you can make a difference. And I urge you to do so. If not for us, for you. So you can say you fought to keep the world a little less hateful and a little more kind.

Thanks for letting me talk about this, my Followers of Fear. I know it’s shocking that some things scare me, but it’s true. I’m trying to channel that fear into the story I’m working on now, make it an even better story. Until then, keep safe and pleasant nightmares.

*This incident feels eerily like deja vu to me, because something similar happened to my school’s soccer team in high school. As some of you know, my high school was a Jewish day school, so all the students and half the staff were Jews. One day in my junior year, the soccer team won against another school, and the latter started shouting anti-Semitic names and rants at my school’s team. I don’t remember much beyond that it nearly came to blows, but it goes to show this isn’t a new thing or coming out of nowhere.

**The superintendent of the school district where those students gave the Nazi salute, for example, said she couldn’t punish them for their acts because of First Amendment rights and she “couldn’t be sure” of the intentions of the students. Seems pretty obvious to me, and people get fired or punished for things they say all the time!

I’ve been trying to think of the words to say for hours. I’ve been wondering if I should say anything. I’ve wanted to throw myself into anime or a book or into any form of entertainment, because sometimes the made-up worlds are better than the real one we inhabit. In the end though, I had to say something. I think I knew I was going to the moment I heard what happened today. And I had to let you know, I’m afraid in a way I don’t like to be.

Earlier today, a man named Robert Bowers opened fire at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three different services for three different congregations were being held that morning, with nearly a hundred people in the synagogue. Eleven people were killed and several more were injured, including four of the police officers who showed up to subdue Bowers, who has made numerous statements on social media about the Jews and “invaders,” aka immigrants and refugees. Tree of Life has been active with organizations that help out immigrants and refugees, including most notably HIAS, which may have played a role in Bowers’s selection of Tree of Life as his target. He has been captured and is awaiting being charged, including federal hate crime charges.

I found out about the shooting this afternoon while out with my cousin, who is here in Columbus for an internship. A friend sent me a link to an article about it. I felt my blood go cold, but I didn’t tell my cousin. I didn’t want to ruin the day for him. I’m sure by now he knows. And he’s probably as scared as me.

This is the second mass shooting in the United States that has been associated with one of the facets of my identity. The last one was when Pulse was shot up in Orlando, Florida, two days after my twenty-third birthday. Pulse was a gay nightclub. Fort-nine people died. I’m bisexual. I wasn’t affected directly, but I was affected.

This was worse. I’ve been Jewish, knew I was Jewish well before I was aware I was bisexual. I feel connected to my religion in so many ways. In college, I studied the Holocaust and have pursued it further since. I’ve noticed the climb in anti-Semitism in the United States over the last two years.

And I knew people from Tree of Life. In high school, my synagogue’s youth group would meet up with other youth groups from throughout the region several times a year to hang out and be Jewish as a group. Tree of Life would sometimes join us.

And before my family moved to Columbus, we considered living in Pittsburgh. We even visited to look at houses and to see what the schools and synagogues were like. I don’t remember what synagogue we were considering joining, but for all I know, it could’ve been Tree of Life. And even if it wasn’t, who knows where I might’ve ended up worshiping later in life. Who knows what might’ve happened if my parents had decided Pittsburgh was a better choice than Columbus?

I’m afraid. I’ve known for a while how anti-Semitism in the US and around the world have been making a comeback. I knew it was real. But it’s no longer that far removed from me. It struck close today.

I’m terrified. But I don’t want to be terrified. And, as happens when I’m scared, I have to fight and conquer what scares me.

We need to do more to stop monsters like this poor excuse for a man. Or more like him will copy him. And many more may die.

The Anti-Defamation League said this was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in this country, and that it’s “unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age.” I say that it was not only thinkable, but more than likely to happen at some point. And that’s the problem we need to fix.

People are going to offer thoughts and prayers and suggest armed guards to stop this from happening again. The thing is, the people at Tree of Life were thinking and praying. Among our liturgy are prayers to be kept safe from the enemies of our people. And many synagogues already have security in the form of retired or off-duty police officers. And as we saw at the Stoneman Douglas shooting earlier this year, the presence of an armed guard doesn’t always deter a violent man with a gun and a goal in mind.

I’m a big believer in the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” I also believe that if you take a step towards a goal, the universe takes a step with you. And I think it’s high-time we treat this chronic disease we’ve been dealing with in the United States for far too long. Very soon, Americans everywhere will have the chance to set the course of our country for the next couple years. I’m asking every American reading this, and all the ones who aren’t, to take advantage of this opportunity to set this course. And to please set a course that involves making the requirements to own a gun as stringent as the ones to drive a car, as well as increased care and research for mental illness, and for higher tolerance for all peoples, not just the Jewish people.

Because in the end, we are all one humanity. Forty-six genes in every cell, five fingers and toes on each limb, same organs and blood that is red and carries oxygen to our cells. And if we can’t make members of our species realize that, what good are we as a whole?

I also encourage you to donate to HIAS and other organizations that try to foster understanding and help those less fortunate than others. Because in the face of hate, the most powerful weapon we have is love. So show love.

Make your voice heard.

Take action.

Because all evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing. And we can’t allow that to happen.

Be brave. Fight back against evil. And above all, be safe.

Thanks for listening.

The other day, I was talking with someone about what sort of tattoo I’d get if I were the type to get one.* This is a topic I’ve thought of a lot in my twenty-five years, and I think I’ve figured out what I would get. As I explained to my friend, it would be a representation of the horror genre, how the various causes of horror in fiction–like demonic entities, the prospect of death, and of course human beings, among others–have a detrimental effect on us. “It’s corruption of the innocent,” I explained. “The very essence of horror.”

And then I realized something: corruption of the innocence is an essential part, if not the essence, of horror. And it can be found in every horror story, if you think about it. I knew it was part of Gothic horror, as I mentioned it in my post about what makes Gothic horror. But beyond that subgenre? Hadn’t even considered it.

I could have hit myself for not realizing that sooner. It was staring me right in the face, goddammit!

As I said above, I mentioned how corruption of the innocent is an element of Gothic fiction, and we see this in Gothic stories like The Shining. Danny sees the world go from a mostly-nice place where bad luck sometimes causes disaster for good people to a dark place where entities like The Overlook exist and kill people or drive them mad. Said entity also tries to corrupt Danny’s shine, to make that beautiful psychic power part of its own dark self.

Innocence corrupted.

However, this concept is found in other horror stories. HP Lovecraft incorporated it into his work quite often. In The Call of Cthulhu, his most famous work, the narrator starts out as being very sure that the world is a concrete place of science and rationality. However, after going through his late uncle’s effects, he realizes that there’s something awful in this world, a worldwide cult devoted to the bloody worship of an awful god that will one day rise to retake the Earth. And not only did this cult kill the narrator’s uncle, its agents will likely kill the narrator, driven close to madness with fear, before long.

Innocence corrupted.

This story is a great example of corruption of the innocent at work without being part of the Gothic genre.

And sometimes the innocence being ruined here isn’t your traditional childlike innocence. Sometimes it’s as simple as just having your worldview changed. Two early Stephen King stories, “The Mangler” and “Battleground,” revolve around hardened men discovering the world can involve the supernatural or just plain weird (in this case, a possessed dry-cleaning machine and toy soldiers that come to life to kill you). As I said, nothing dramatic. Just a shift in viewpoint.

Innocence corrupted.

Even when it’s so ubiquitous though, I don’t think corruption of the innocent is the essence of horror, as I characterized above. Or at least, the only essence of horror. After all, we can’t forget about fear, which is what horror plays on and seeks to create. Without that fear, you just don’t have a good horror story. Perhaps then, like fear or a powerful antagonist, corruption of the innocent is something necessary to writing horror. Without it, the genre would be missing something that cannot be done without.

So while not exactly the full essence of horror, corruption of the innocent is important to the genre. You could even say it’s wrapped up in the essence of horror. And I’m glad I finally realized after such a long time that it was.

Hopefully it makes writing decent horror stories easier.

What do you think of corruption of the innocent as part of horror? Do you think I’m onto something?

Do you think I should get a tattoo? Would you like to see this design of mine realized? Do you know how any artists who could help me create it?

*For the record, I’m tempted, but my religious beliefs aren’t fond of me getting one. And I’m not sure I want something so permanent on my body, anyway. Especially if I have to pay a ton of money for what I’m looking for. Still fun to think about, though.

Also, I want it on my back. Best place to get it, in my personal opinion.

My friend, journalist and all around cool person Caitlin Kelly published a post earlier today on her own blog, Broadside (definitely check it out, it’s some of the most intelligent and thought provoking blogging on WordPress). In it, she took 20 questions and answered them. Kind of like the game, only not like the game. Anyway, I enjoyed reading her post and thought it’d be fun to try myself, so I decided to write my own post using the same questions and my own answers. Hopefully some of you will feel the same and answer some questions of your own, either in the comments or on your own blogs (either way, I’d love to read your answers).

So without further ado, let’s begin!

What are some of your passions, hobbies and interests?

Well, most of that is out there already. Obviously, I love horror fiction, both reading and writing it. I also love horror art and culture, stuff my blog often touches on. I love Japanese culture, particularly manga and anime. I love learning new things, especially from books or audio books. I love TV and movies, 80’s music and ASMR (Google it, I’m not going into it here). And I love going to the theater when I can, particularly for ballet. And I like collecting dolls and figurines.

What were you known for in school?

Scaring the heck out of people, writing, and being a total and utter goofball. I used to make terrible jokes and puns, sing Lady Gaga in the hallways, sneak up on people to scare them, and write incessantly during my free time. It was a nutty time.

Scariest moment?

It’s not easy to scare me, but I do have one experience. I thought that I’d lost the flash drive containing all my stories on it, and nearly had a panic attack. Thankfully I found it, but that taught me a lesson. I back up my stories once a month now. Really calms my nerves.

Best job?

Well, I’ve only had a few in my young life (I turn 25 very soon, that’s how young), but if I’m going to pick just one, I guess I’ll have to go with the one I have now, working an HR job for a supply organization. Sure,, my high school and college jobs let me do my homework while I worked, being a resident manager put a roof over my head, and interning in Germany was just lovely. But unlike those jobs, I’m now a full employee with good pay and benefits. Sure, sometimes it’s exhausting or frustrating, but I get to help people with disability in the organization, and I’m able to live a comfortable life without having to worry too much about bills or anything like that. You have to love that.

Stuffed animals or dolls or something else?

Dolls and figurines. I’ve got a huge collection of them, in a variety of types, and it just keeps growing (see here and here for the blog posts about them). I also have a small collection of scary masks (a post for another day), and more books than I know what to do with. They’re fun to have.

Do you have any siblings? Are you close to them emotionally?

That was two questions.

But I have four younger sisters, three biological and one step-sister. I love them, but I think we get along better when we’re able to have our own space and not constantly rubbing up against each other.

Do you like the outdoors, or do you only go out when you have to?

Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of the outdoors. I only really have to go out when I have to go somewhere. Beyond that, I definitely prefer the indoors. In fact, if I were a cat, I’d be an indoor cat. Meow!

Are you married or partnered? If not, do you enjoy being single?

That was also two questions.

I am single, and I’m happy being that way. I’m not really that big into romance personally, so I’m happy to be on my own and have my own space. Maybe someday that will change, but right now, I wouldn’t change that for the world.

What’s your nickname?

Rami is my nickname. Didn’t you know?

What would we typically find in your fridge?

Food. What were you expecting? The remains of my victims?

Do you enjoy entertaining friends and family?

At my place? Sure! When it’s prearranged, of course. I don’t like people dropping by unannounced too much.

Are you outgoing and highly social, or do you prefer to be on your own?

Both, actually. I love to go out and be friends, but at the same time, I need my alone time to unwind, or I just go crazy.

Most beautiful place you’ve visited?

Oh, that’s a tough one. Honestly, there are a lot of beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure to go. Paris is lovely, even if it’s a little too opulent. Germany has some very beautiful hills and towns and cities. I really enjoyed visiting Boston, and the Massachusetts coastline in Salem and Fall River are lovely. But if I have to pick, I’m going to go with the Golan Heights in Israel. Beautiful mountains and hills and cities. One day, I’d like to go back and see them again.

Secret hope?

It wouldn’t be secret if I told you. You’ll just have to guess.

Have you achieved the goals you set for yourself when you were younger/went to college?

I’ve achieved some of them, certainly.

What was it/what were they?

I’ve got a stable income, I write nearly every day, and I’ve got a book on the way, with the opportunity to write several more in the future. Hopefully they’ll be well-received and a lot of people will read them. That would make me extremely happy if that happened.

If not, are you OK with that?

N/A

Do you struggle with/manage a chronic medical condition?

Autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, acid reflux, and a few others. I’m a mess! Still, I take care of myself and don’t use any of them as an excuse or a reason not to live my life. I’ve learned to turn my disadvantages into advantages. In the end, that’s all that really counts.

Don’t let your health ruin your life. Take control, and let yourself be the judge of what you can or can’t do. Don’t let your medical conditions do that for you.

Are you religious or do you follow a spiritual path/faith?

I’m Jewish. I’m more spiritual than religious, but I keep kosher and follow major observances (Shabbat Shalom, by the way). It gives me a guiding path, though I don’t base all my beliefs and morals around the Torah.

What makes you laugh loudest and the most often?

Probably something stupid on YouTube or on TV. Either that, or just something that happens in the moment that I find extremely hilarious.

 

What are your answers to these questions?

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I look forward to reading your answers soon (especially if your names happen to be Kat Impossible, Joleene Naylor, or Ruth Ann Nordin). Until next time, pleasant nightmares and have a great Memorial Day weekend.

Well, looks like I’m not the only one who’s having a dream come true. And I’m very excited about this interview. She’s a rather unique voice I’ve come to know recently.

I first met Rabbi Leiah Moser back in December, when I ran across one of her posts on her blog, Dag Gadol (Hebrew for “big fish”). Her post was about why, as a rabbi, she was writing a fantasy novel. I read through it, and I found that not only did she have some good points, but there was something about this blog and its writer’s voice I found compelling. As I read further, I found out that not only was she a Member of the Tribe, a rabbi, and a writer, but a member of the LGBT community. And here’s me, not just a writer, a Member of the Tribe and of the LGBT community, but the son of two rabbis, one of whom is also LGBT. I think the first line of my first comment on her blog was something like, “An LGBT female rabbi who writes fiction. Where has this blog been my whole blogging life?” Thus started our acquaintanceship.

Recently, Rabbi Moser announced that her YA fantasy novel, Magical Princess Harriet, had been published and was live on Amazon. Me being me, I offered to give her an interview here on my blog. Thus are we here today to here about Rabbi Moser and Magical Princess Harriet. Enjoy!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to my blog, Rabbi Moser. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.

Rabbi Moser: I think I’ve wanted to write a fantasy novel since I was in the sixth grade, but the road to actually achieving that ambition has been a long and convoluted one. Throughout my teenage years and into adulthood I tried my hand at writing fiction from time to time, but never managed to actually finish anything to my satisfaction, partially I think because I still hadn’t managed to get the whole identity thing nailed down. Trying to write without really knowing who you are is like trying to run on loose sand — the ground keeps shifting beneath you and you never seem to make any progress. After a while I kind of gave up on the dream of being a writer. I tried to find other dreams to pursue, but in a lot of ways I was just drifting.

Then while I was living in Japan I had this really intense religious experience. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the practical upshot was that afterwards I had this absolutely unshakeable conviction that God was real and that I needed to be Jewish. When I got back to the United States I found a synagogue and began attending, and after a while converted to Judaism. Later on, I decided I wanted to deepen my Jewish learning so I could do more work in the Jewish community, and that’s how I ended up moving out to Philadelphia to go to rabbinical school.

Rabbinical school was amazing, but before too long I was running into the same problem there that I’d had with my writing, namely that to do this kind of work you really have to bring your authentic self, whereas I’d been doing my best to hide from my authentic self ever since I was in middle school. After a great deal of soul searching I decided to come out as transgender and start my process of transitioning, and that, of all times, was when I finally realized that I had an idea for a book that I wanted to write. It was really that closely connected — converted to Judaism, came out as trans, and then the idea for Magical Princess Harriet popped up out of nowhere begging to be written.

If anything what I’ve learned from all this is that in this life things sometimes have to happen in a certain order and I am in no way the one who gets to decide what that order is. As they say in Yiddish, a mensch tracht un got lacht (a person plans and God laughs).

The cover of Magical Princess Harriet.

RU: Reminds me of the old country. So tell us about your new book, Magical Princess Harriet. I’ve heard some good things.

RM: Magical Princess Harriet is a young adult fantasy novel that draws its inspiration in roughly equal amounts from the “magical girl” genre of anime, Jewish mysticism, and my own strong feelings about LGBT inclusion and neurodiversity in Judaism. It’s about a young trans girl named Harriet Baumgartner who is doing her best to avoid having to think about the persistent feeling she has that she’s not supposed to be a boy, when a pushy angel named Nuriel shows up and tells her that she’s a magical princess now and that it’s her job to protect her town from the forces of darkness. (A quick side note: You have no idea how difficult it is to figure out how to talk about a book in which the main character changes their name and pronouns a third of the way in without misgendering them. Of all the challenges I’ve faced in figuring out how to explain this book to people, that has been the most difficult!)

RU: Tell us about some of the characters, and why we might like (or if applicable, hate) them.

RM: Harriet I’ve talked about a little already, so let me talk about her friend Frances.

Frances and Harriet have been best friends for years, ever since they met in Hebrew school. When Frances was six years old she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and ever since she’s been pushing back against peoples’ tendency to regard her as stupid or crazy because she sometimes has trouble speaking. Obsessed with architecture, she has an inherent talent for understanding spatial relationships, which serves the kids well in the labyrinthine corridors of Arbory Middle School where the ordinary laws of space and geometry tend to break down.

The girl on the cover with the lavender hair and the dark holes where her eyes ought to be is Kasadya. She looks like that because she’s one of the nephilim, a group of creatures who got their start as angels unwilling to devote their existences to service. As a nephil-girl, she has the power to influence human minds, and she has used this ability to turn the middle school into her own private domain… well, private except for her brother Azrael, that is, but as far as she’s concerned she is the one in charge. Kasadya likes to think of herself as an epic villain from a TV show or comic book, and she’s been waiting for a hero to come along to challenge her. When Harriet shows up, glowing like a disco ball, it occurs to Kasadya that she might fit the bill — much to Harriet’s chagrin.

RU: What was the inspiration for MPH? Did any of your own life experiences make their way into or influence your writing of the story?

RM: I think all of my life experiences made it into the book in one way or another. This was an intensely personal project for me.

RU: MPH had an illustrator, Magdalena Zwierzchowska. How did you two meet and what was it like working with her on the book?

RM: When I got to the point where I was thinking seriously about publishing this book for real I knew I wanted to find an illustrator. I’ve always been a very visual person myself, and know how helpful illustrations can be in solidifying one’s sense of the world an author is presenting. How we met was fairly prosaic — I posted an ad on DeviantArt indicating that I was looking for someone to illustrate this book, and she was one of nine or ten people who responded. I was totally charmed by her work, by the gorgeous, surreal creepiness of it, and so she got the job.

Working with her was easy in some ways, difficult in others. She was extremely professional and always willing to listen to my input and feedback regarding how the characters and setting elements should look. The tough part was figuring out how to translate the images I had in my head into concrete instructions she could use. In the end I was very pleased with how it all turned out. I think it has a very unique look.

An illustration of a seraph by Magdalena Zweirczkowska.

RU: You address several issues in the pages of MPH: autism spectrum disorder, Jewish identity, gender identity, intersectionality, etc. Was it hard to talk about those subjects in the book?

RM: Yes. Not because I normally find it difficult to talk about these topics (on the contrary, most of the time I can’t shut up about them!) but because I didn’t want to address them in a way that would come across as preachy. That may sound a bit weird, coming from someone whose job literally involves preaching, but I was writing with the assumption that these were things my target audience, middle schoolers and teens, are dealing with every day, and the awareness of that fact demanded that I approach what I was doing with a self-critical eye.

RU: MPH is a crowdfunded, self-published book. What made you decide not only to self-publish, but to crowdfund your story?

RM: While it is theoretically possible that I could have found a publisher for a book like this, my hopes were not high. That has nothing to do with the quality of the book, mind you, but rather its subject matter. MPH in many ways defies categorization. I mean, Jewish fantasy is not exactly a well-represented subgenre, is it? Add on top of that the transgender element and… well, I felt like I might be able to find a publisher for a Jewish fantasy book, and I might be able to find a publisher for a queer fantasy book, but a queer, Jewish fantasy book with a transgender protagonist? That’s where I wasn’t so sure.

Also, I’ll admit, there was a part of the decision that was about actively wanting to do it myself. I’ve always been fascinated with every aspect of the publishing process, and with print-on-demand and online sales venues making it so easy to self-publish these days, it seemed like a waste to write the book and then turn it over to someone else to produce. I probably bit off more than I could chew, and I had to spend a lot of time learning about things like layout and formatting for print, but in the end I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

RU: What has the reception for MPH been like so far (from congregants, friends and family, random Internet people, etc.)?

RM: It’s still early days, but so far all the feedback I’ve been getting has been very positive. The first question of everyone who’s actually finished the book has been, “When is the next one coming out?”, so that’s pretty great to hear. My one thing is that because my Kickstarter backers are obviously all adults, I haven’t yet received any feedback from the young people who are the primary audience of the book. I’m really looking forward to that.

RU: Are you working on anything new? And what are your plans for the future?

RM: Right now I’m mainly focusing on getting the word out about Magical Princess Harriet, but I have plans for at least two more books in the series. After that… well, who knows? It all depends on what kind of response I get, I guess. I really loved writing this book, and now that I know I can, I feel like there’s very little stopping me from writing another, and another, and…

RU: What advice would you give another writer, regardless of background or experience?

RM: Write! But that’s ridiculously obvious and patronizing, so I take it back. Here’s the best piece of advice I can give: Take the time to figure out who you are and to learn how to be okay with that. Writing can be this incredibly daunting thing because those ideas and feelings on the page you just handed to someone else to read are basically you. It’s hard not to get intimidated by that and start pulling back, to restrain the words, force them into a mold that’s more about what you think others are expecting than it is about what you have to write. Edit your writing, not yourself.

And also: It is ridiculously easy to publish a book these days. Give it a try, you’ll see what I mean.

RU: Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a little while and could only take three books with you, which ones would you picks?

RM: Ack! That’s so hard! Assuming that “three books” refers to three actual bound volumes and that bringing an entire set would be cheating, I have to go with:

  • Volume 2 of my portable Talmud set (the one with massechet Chagigah)
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  • A copy of The Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig, because then I might be able to actually finish the darn thing.

RU: Thanks for being on the show, Rabbi Moser. We all hope the book does well.

If you’re interested in checking out Magical Princess Harriet, you can check it out on Amazon. And I highly recommend checking out her website Dag Gadol. Trust me, it’s a great site and I always enjoy seeing new posts in my inbox.

And if you would like to have an interview for your new book, hit me up on my Interviews page or email me at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see if we can make some magic happen.