Shimshonit has been a regular commenter on my blog for quite a while now, even before she started her own blog, and I am a faithful reader of her posts, so I was thrilled when she accepted to be part of this series of interview. Thank you Shimshonit for your wonderful contribution to this project.
Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
I’m a 42 year old, full-time at-home wife and mother living in Israel, who occasionally neglects her household duties to be the author of the blog Shimshonit.
What is your religious background (if any)?
I am the product of a Jewish father and a Protestant mother. They were both non-practicing when they decided to get married, and agreed that since neither of them cared about their religion, neither would consider converting to the other’s faith. I was told while I was growing up that I was Jewish, but was never quite persuaded since my family was much more consistent and enthusiastic about Christmas celebrations than Chanukah or Pesach. I was in 11th grade when two schoolmates (both the daughters of mothers who were Reform converts) told me I wasn’t Jewish. It stung, but also confirmed what I’d believed all along—that I didn’t really “pass” for Jewish in any circles.
I’ve devoted many of my blog posts to my decision to convert and its outcome. This was my first. With that conversion, things fell into place for me. I was no longer a Jew just in my own mind, but on paper as well.
When and why did you decide to make aliyah?
My husband and I met on a post-college program (World Union of Jewish Students in Arad) in 1996. It was my first trip to Israel ever, and was intended only to last for 6 months. My plan was to come, get some remedial Jewish education, see the Jewish State up close, and return to Portland, Oregon where I’d just met a nice non-Jewish guy. Six months turned into 16, I met the man I knew I would marry, and while I was not ready then to make aliyah (it was still too soon for me, and I still wanted to convert, go to graduate school, and get married in the US), my husband and I had The Conversation about aliyah every six months or so for the first several years of our marriage. At Kol Nidrei 2005, a friend of ours gave a d’var Torah about the expression timhon levav which appears in the liturgy for the holiday. He described it as meaning “refraining from that which you know you should be doing because it’s easier to stay with the status quo.” On the walk home from shul that night, we agreed that it was time to start looking into what aliyah would entail. (Fortunately for us, Nefesh B’Nefesh had been invented, and aliyah is much simpler and better supported than in the old days.) The following Kol Nidrei, we were in Israel.
Where in Israel do you live and is there a special reason you live there?
My family and I live in Efrat. We lived in Beit Shemesh for two years when we first arrived, but then decided to look around a bit before deciding where to buy a house. Efrat is a nice size (about 9000 souls), mostly religious, close to Jerusalem, and except for the Golan Heights, has the most pronounced seasons in Israel. (We like a cold winter to balance the hot Middle Eastern summers.) We were able to get more house for our money here than in most other places we looked (on both sides of the “green line”) and while we are aware that tensions flare occasionally between Jews and Arabs, the vast majority of the time relations here between the two peoples are civil. We lack the shrines and holy sites of Hebron and Jerusalem in Efrat, but it is believed that Rachel gave birth to Benjamin in the northern neighborhood of Zayit (before dying and being buried in Bethlehem); a path believed to have been the path Abraham followed with Isaac to the site of Isaac’s binding passes near us; David is believed to have tended sheep around here; and a major battle between the Jews and the Assyrian Greeks was pitched across Route 60 from us on the site where the town of Elazar is located. This area, called Gush Etzion, was Jewish before 1948, and is an established cluster of Jewish settlements now.
When and why did you start blogging?
I was invited to join a group of bloggers at JewsByChoice back in March of 2008 after leaving a few comments on their posts. I wrote weekly posts for them from the perspective of an Orthodox convert and an Israeli for several months before the blog went into hibernation the following October. At that point I struck out on my own.
Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?
I’ve only been blogging solo for 17 months. My readership appears to be growing slowly, but I’m still pretty small-time. While I admire Treppenwitz and Jameel at the Muqata, I imagine that that degree of prominence also puts pressure on the blogger to post frequently and at a very high level of quality, and I’m not sure I would want that pressure in my life right now.
Writing for me has been a compulsion since I was a child, and an overabundance of opinions about politics, parenting, Zionism, the English language, and pretty much everything else has only fueled that compulsion. I will write as long as my fingers can find the keys on the keyboard, and I’m grateful to anyone who takes the time to read what I write.
To what extent do you feel your blogging activity reflects on the global perception of Israel?
I’m not sure what I write does a lot to influence how people think. From experience I’ve observed that people usually have their minds made up about Israel from the beginning, either positively or negatively. I’ve had a few hecklers leave comments on my blog, which tells me that strangers occasionally find their way to me. But I think, judging in part by the infrequency of comments my posts receive, that most of my readers either agree with me, or indulge me in my own opinions. I know some people who read what I write about Israel may never have come here, or may know little of the history of the land and its people, so I try when possible to offer my own perspective, supported as much as possible by history, examples, and authoritative sources. I don’t expect to sway others with my opinions, but at least perhaps they can learn something when reading my posts.
What post(s) are you most proud of?
I try to combine information, social convention, my own opinions and practices, and humor in my posts. When I can fit all four in a post, I’m usually satisfied. “Kitniyot unchained” achieved this goal, I think, and also seemed to strike a chord with readers. (Hits on that post from last year rose again prior to Pesach this year. It’s nice to have written a seasonal post that doesn’t lose its flavor from one year to the next.)
Would you care to share a blog or two [or five] you enjoy.
Other than yours, for its shared interests of teaching, gardening, Judaism, and cooking, I appreciate Westbankmama for her Israel advocacy, Leora for the way she captures beauty in the world, Mimi at Israeli Kitchen for her love of food and history (to whom I owe thanks for her Plain Sweet Challah recipe, a smash hit with my family), and Cake Wrecks for a good belly laugh.