Monday, June 6, 2011

My personal feminism--and JERUSALEM MAIDEN

I was recently asked about the roots of my feminism--and my newly released novel's relevance to today's women. Here are my responses:

1) Over the span of your professional life, you have held several influential positions related to women's issues, rights and activism. At what point in your career did you begin to formulate thoughts that would be later used to craft the story of JERUSALEM MAIDEN?

While stories find me in “Eureka!” moments, their seeds have often been planted in me long before, creating the fertile soil for the blooming of a novel. This is certainly the case with JERUSALEM MAIDEN. I come from a family with a strong maternal line of talented, capable, ground-breaking females. I heard stories about my great-great-grandmother who traveled from Jerusalem to Russia at age fourteen to get Halitza (a form of Jewish release from marriage), and about my great-grandmother who was so intelligent that her father, a rabbi, allowed her to sit outside the door to his yeshiva (Jewish religious school) and listen. As an adolescent, I already had a sense that my grandmother Esther was a superb artist who did not belong in her world and who was bitter about being kneaded into a mold that she hated. Her oldest daughter actually ran away from home in the early 1940s to study law in Beirut (under the British Mandate). My grandmother’s youngest daughter manipulated her way to New York where she eventually became the first woman stock broker at Dean Witter Reynolds, then third largest US brokerage firms. My own mother, now a successful Israeli artist who’s sold literally thousands of paintings in her career only began painting at age forty. In my nascent feminism of the early 70s which I developed independently from the lexicon and ideas that had already entered US culture, I ached for the tremendous waste I sensed in the previous generations. It took the penning of three novels and the premature death of a talented cousin with whom I had discussed our grandmother many times for me to finally begin to tackle this big subject that was both personal and global.

2) In JERUSALEM MAIDEN you introduce readers to a young woman in early 20th-century Jerusalem who struggles with her traditional faith as her personal desires pull her away from home. Is there a message for today's women in Esther's journey? What about women in non-Western style societies?

Esther's story is still universal. Having lived and traveled abroad, and having worked with women in Third-World nations, I learned to appreciate our freedoms and opportunities. Yet, even in the 21st century, all too many women in Western societies are bound by self-imposed social, religious or psychological constraints lodged in their heads, constraints that hold them back no less than did Esther’s God—or the rabbis’ interpretations of His will.

This is not the case with women living in non-Western societies. Whether in China or Congo, Argentina or Saudi Arabia, women do not have the access to education, health care, economic resources, birth control, political power or civil liberties that would make it possible for them to even envision—let alone accomplish—independence and personal fulfillment. Also, not mutually exclusive is the fact that around the globe poverty is feminized, which immensely affects priorities. The key to change, of course, is education—of women, but also of men and governments, for development can be accelerated when women share the resources, gain confidence, and contribute to the betterment of society.


  1. Congrats on those most brave women of your wonder we can now enjoy your daring, inspirational style! My gratitude for your sharing your talent with us. Suri

  2. This is the first time I've ever commented on your blog. We are friends on Facebook.

    Please don't forget that there are women out there who are completely and totally fulfilled by the "stereotypical" woman's role. I'm one of them. And I wouldn't trade it for anything. The years I spent trapped in a career mindset were the most miserable of my life.

    We often feel like we've been shoved to the side and that what we want isn't worthy of being wanted. A woman needs to be able to do ANYTHING she wants, *including* being a wife and mother who stays home and pours herself into her children. No woman should ever be judged for wanting that.

  3. Congrats. dear talented Talia, on all those most brave ladies of your wonder we can now enjoy your daring, inspirational style. Our gratitude for your sharing!