I found out that fiction can transport, uplift and connect you to something bigger then yourself
I wasn’t born in a small frum community. I was born in Binghamton, New York, which has a tiny frum community. Tiny like I had to bring a sandwich in a brown paper bag to my classmates’ birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese while they devoured treif pizza. Tiny like I had one frum friend. Until my family moved to a large frum community when I was seven, I always felt acutely different than my peers.
One day when I was around six years old, my mother and I visited Rivky Slonim, the renowned local Chabad rebbetzin. While the adults schmoozed, I looked at the books on the shelf, my hand resting on one in particular. It had a lively pink border and a picture of two girls on the cover. Frum girls with Jewish names, just like me.
“Do you want to take that book home with you?” the rebbetzin asked me, with smiling eyes.
I nodded, elated.
The story of Mimmy and Simmy was just a book about two girls with relatable issues, a kind teacher and super-chilled out moms who were cool with a life swap. But it was momentous in the sense that I found out that fiction can transport, uplift and connect you to something bigger then yourself. It can make you feel like part of a whole.
The power of the written word snapped into place for me at that moment. Books, stories, characters hold unparalleled potency and when you create them through the context of Torah and Yiras Shamayim their reach is infinite.
Frum fiction takes more than its share of flak. The naysayers complain that when we create within our box, we sacrifice something in the process. And maybe that’s true. Maybe our finished product isn’t quite as glossy or polished or professional as those out there in the great wide world. But maybe we aren’t writing just to be as good as them. Maybe part of why we create is for the little girl with her kosher sandwich in Chuck E. Cheese. Or anyone else, sitting alone and looking connect to something outside of themselves without sacrificing their standards.
Rebbetzin Slonim: You never realized what you gave me because I’m certain you don’t even remember that tiny moment in time. There are few women out there that give on the scale you do, breathing life into an entire college campus, guiding the massive but mostly unaffiliated Jewish student body at Binghamton University. I can’t imagine an incident with a six year old even registered for you. But I know I’ll never forget it.
Rachael Lavon lives in Yerushalayim with her husband and children and writes for Family First between loads of laundry.
(Originally featured in A Gift Passed Along, Special Supplement: Pesach 5780)
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