(August 13, 1999)
by Naomi Ragen
The other day, instead of reaching for my contact lens conditioning
solution, I reached for my contact lense cleaning solution, thereby giving my eye a
walloping dose of akyl ether sulfate. My next stop after the emergency room of Hadassah
Hospital and the local pharmacy for a variety of expensive eye drops, was my local health
fund, where I attempted to at least get some relief for my pocketbook, if not for my
dignity. In order to get reimbursed for the drugs, I needed the medical secretarys
stamp of approval.
I sat before a pleasant-looking religious matron in a flowing brown wig.
"Is that Reegan or Ragen ?" she asked with great interest.
"Ragen. Just like the former president of the United States," I
it couldnt be
might I ask
youre not the
writer of all those books, are you?"
"Yes," I replied meekly, hoping this wasnt going to cost me my
stamp of approval for all those expensive eye drops.
"Oh, Ive really wanted to sit down and talk to you for quite some
time," she said emphatically, shaking her head. "Ive wanted to ask
.Ive never read any of your books, but Ive heard about them from
friends. They say they are very well written. But the subject
I mean, Ive
wanted to ask you
if its not too persona.l ,I mean, this is your own spiritual
sphere, a very private place, I realize, but Ive wanted in any case to ask you if
you didnt think it might possibly be a desecration of G-ds name?"
"Id really love to talk to you about my books," I replied
sincerely. "I mean, Im willing to spend a few hours with you. But I cant
really discuss my books with you, if you havent read them
!" she interrupted.
"And its not enough to hear what your friends and neighbors
Youd have to read them yourself."
can I just ask you something?"
"Sure," I said pleasantly, watching her roll that stamp between her
"Doesnt it bother you that people say those kinds of things about
"Well, Ill tell you. What bothers me is that people in the secular
world look at the haredi world and see all the bad things going on there. And lets
face it, there are a lot if bad things
She nodded thoughtfully, agreeing.
"To me, the real desecration of G-ds name is that people are doing
these things, not that Im writing about them. At least when people read my books,
they understand that there are some wonderful haredi families, along with all the bad
people that are there. I also make it clear that the problem isnt our religion,
its the way people falsify it and trample it. And my last book, THE GHOST OF
HANNAH MENDES, is about secular Jews coming closer to their religion and their
You really should read one of my books."
"Maybe I will
but I wanted to ask you
a favor. Ive written
a book. Would you read it?"
I looked at her again. A writer! How wonderful! I thought.
"I think thats great. But you should never let another writer read
your work. Why not give it to a publisher?"
"I let Keter read it. They loved it, but they said it wasnt personal enough.
But how can I write personal things, intimate things? "
"If you want your book to be worth anything, you have to! Write it under a
pen name. Theres a woman whos the wife of an important haredi Rabbi that
writes under the name Chana Bat Shachar. Shes published a number of award-winning
books. Some of them quite erotic. Even her husband doesnt know its
"What do you say!?"
"And even with publicity, she keeps her identity secret. She and I were
once interviewed with two other religious women writers and she insisted the newspaper not
take her picture or use her real name. And they honored that.."
"What do you say!" By this time shed taken my papers and stamped
everything. "So you think I should be honest, tell everything
"Thats what it means to be a writer. Also, its the only way to
cleanse the world. To correct it. Open it up. Let the light of truth shine in."
She beamed at me. I felt like hugging her.
"Good luck," I said.
"Good luck to you. Youre eye, I mean. And Ill think about what
I enjoyed our talk."
"I did too," I said, thinking about the strange ways G-d has in
getting people together. I hope she goes home to her typewriter and pulls out all the
stops. Thats a book I d love to read!