As a Jewish Writer This is Who I Am: Not What You Want

Recently an article that I wrote, Immoral Esther, was published by Tablet Magazine. I was proud, inspired and humbled that after years of hard work that finally my ideas and work had been accepted. However my incredible intoxicating high of joy was shattered by the mere replies to my article. From disagreeing to calling me a heretic, I have never expected such a response. In fact usually I would be prepared to handle the criticism, as a writer you`re prepared to handle people disagreeing with your work when published. It wasn`t just the intense criticism, but the comments. From having my work being called nudnik, being informed that my work wasn`t close to being published because of my arguments or, in the saddest case, not even promoted and given the chance to be read and talked about in greater detail.

More or less I have been told for the past three days, “Tyler it was nice but I disagree.”

Friday was the breaking point as I looked outside the window of the bus in deep thought. My article is bible criticism. It is taking the Book of Esther and applying critical insight rather than the tales of good old Purim fun, as a Jewish community it seems this s impossible to do or even think of trying to do. I am religious but I am not stupid and I do not look at the Torah or the oral traditions as this near perfect thing. It is not perfect and it has mistakes however as Jews trying to understand that text we improve it by offering criticism of the text.

However in this community of writers, these ideas are not wanted or needed. It seems my ideas are too radical or even too marginalized to be published to the greater Jewish community and for months I have felt this way. It seems everyone expects me to write stories about my the struggles of being black and Jewish and how that makes me feel. It makes me feel like insignificant, I am not this token prize you get a few stories of my personal experience; I am a writer and I have creative and intellectual thoughts that I want to share and not what you want me to share.

People who know me think I`m loud and demand to be treated fairly but in reality in some situations I am not this loud independent voice. In reality I allow myself to be pushed over or spoken down to or even tolerate unfair treatment with regards to my writing. When I was younger and still even today I read Chaim Potok. My inspiration and favourite Jewish writers of all time, his characters went against the Jewish grain. Asher Lev, the Hasidic painter who painted Jesus’ crucifixion using his mother`s face, David Lurie, the biblical scholar who dreamt as a child to practice modern Bible scholarship to finally Davita Chandal, the brilliant Jewish girl who comes into being from an interfaith marriage and is ultimately denied an academic prize at her Jewish day school due to her being female. These characters in a sense represent me, I refuse to confine myself in the corridors or what Black Jews are expected to write about, race and Judaism, race and politics, my personal experiences with White Jews etc.

I branch out and experiment and challenge thousand year old ideas to a new idea, just born and wavering alone. In many aspects I feel ashamed of writing “Immoral Esther”, it seems the only people that could literally enjoy it but still be critical are a few Jewish friends while the rest are non-Jewish. And its disheartening that the Jewish people, people who are built on critical thinking cannot question even a holiday.  We can question biblical characters, we can question our traditions but it seemed a nerve was pulled when Purim was touched.

Was it due to my condemnation of Jews celebrating a holiday that makes us celebrate the death of others rather than deliverance? Was it due to  the fact it didn`t fit the paradigm of what should be talked about on Purim? This frustration has been pent up for awhile now, in fact it has just blossomed after a deep hibernation. As a Jewish writer I will continue to be proud of each piece of work I get published no matter what anyone says if they disagree. I don`t make anyone happy by publishing it, I publish to contribute new ideas not only for the Jewish community but gentile. I won`t back down, I`ll continue.

tylerTyler Samuels is a liberal traditionalist Sephardic Jew, Political Science/History student at the University of Toronto and religious director of the University of Toronto Scarborough Jew Student Life. Also a small time writer and poet, Tyler runs his blog Bipolar Reb that mixes Judaism, politics and mental illness.

Header image courtesy of Pixabay.

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