Friday night dinner: what happens when the guests go home?

‘Let’s Bench’, my most recent short fiction piece, was published by Jewrotica last month.

If you haven’t yet read any of my other stories, or if the only ones you have read are the original two on this site – ‘Fringes of Memory‘ and ‘Before the Canopy‘ – then you will see that my latest tale turns up the heat (although for those of you who have read ‘I Will Watch You‘, you will know this is not the only example I have of explicitly detailed sexual encounters).

The story looks at what can happen when a guest is inappropriately flirtatious with his hostess and how that affects the sexual dynamic between a husband and wife. In this case, it leads to what has been elegantly termed: “jealous arousal”.

If you would like to read some more about the story’s evolution, then take a look at my latest email to my mailing list (where you can also read my ponderings on erotic fiction).

But better yet, why not read the story?

Screen shot 2015-03-03 at 7.23.13 AM

 

Sacred Sperm – talking about haredi sex

Continuing the subject of my last blog post regarding the conversations going on at the moment in the Orthodox Jewish world on the subject of sex and, in particular, what is good, what is forbidden: have you seen the new film ‘Sacred Sperm’?

Incredibly, my previous post neglected to mention this film at all (bad Shosha!) even though I had expressed hope that current discussions around sex might eventually reach out into the ultra-Orthodox sections of the Jewish world – the very purpose of Ori Gruder’s new film!

Gruder, an Israeli film maker who become a baal teshuva (newly religious) from around the age of 30 and now lives within a Breslav Chassidic framework, decided to make the film when he found himself struggling with how he should talk to his own son about masturbation and other topics around sex.

The film seeks to address the confusion, uncertainty and laws around a topic which is generally considered taboo within the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world  – as well as many other environments.

As Gruder says in his interview with Haaretz: “I believe the rabbis feel the time has come to put these subjects on the table and talk about them.”

sacred sperm - 1Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see the film. I do not live in area where it has been released and it is not available on iTunes (plus I don’t download pirated films) so my ability to comment on the film is somewhat limited. But from the interviews and clips I have seen I am beginning to form a few thoughts:

  1. This is an important development. I am thrilled that the film exists and that this topic is being raised within a haredi context.
  2. This is a film made with love. I am delighted that it has been made by someone from within the community who respects its traditions but who is also willing to ask questions. Without having seen the film, I can’t know how far Gruder’s enquiry goes; perhaps, out of respect for the frum discourse, he won’t ask enough questions, but at least he is asking questions with the aim to inform, educate and clarify – and he is doing so from a position of understanding of, and sympathy for, the sub-cultural nuances.
  3. What about women? My reservation about the film from all the promotional material I have seen is that it is appears to be male focused. While the prohibition on masturbation is, according to most poskim (arbiters of Jewish law), about spilling or wasting of seed – which only applies to male masturbation – when we use the term ‘masturbation’ we need to remember that it can also be applied to the self-pleasuring of women. It is not just about those sacred sperm.

We can talk about whether an unwavering expectation that the biblical prohibition against male masturbation will be kept (especially by young men) is either fair or right, but that’s a discussion for another time… and maybe a discussion for the film. What I would like to know is whether the film gives as much consideration to the drives, concerns and knowledge of women – young and not so young – or whether it lumps male and female sexuality together which, by doing so, will inevitably lead to neglect of the female perspective. It is interesting to know whether those who can step over the taboo of talking about male sexuality are also capable of taking the next step to talk about female sexuality. It’s a lot of steps.

I can’t wait to see the film. If you have seen it please let me know what you think and how it addresses some of these issues. I would love to know.

It’s also worth mentioning that if you compare some of the discussions in ‘Sacred Sperm’ with the conversations happening in the ‘Joy of Text’ it is clear that in some places there is an enormous difference between views held at the progressive and conservative ends of the Orthodox world. These differences in the interpretation and implementation of halacha (Jewish law) can be significant – and that’s even without stepping outside of Orthodoxy into the progressive Jewish movements (Conservative, Reform Judaism etc). I love that the Jewish world is so diverse!

In the meantime, here are some more clips about the film that you may find interesting…

Oh, and I forgot to mention:

  1. I love Ori Gruder’s energy – so gentle, so positive.
  2. The film has been exciting a lot of interest and has been included in this year’s Raindance Film Festival line up.

You may also be interested to read the Daily Mail article on the movie…

Enjoy!

Shosha xx

Talking about the sex lives of religious Jews

Let’s talk about frum sex…

If you follow me on Twitter you might remember just how excited I got about a new podcast called ‘The Joy of Text‘. The monthly podcast features New York-based sexual health therapist Dr Bat Sheva Marcus – who entered my universe in the past month (via the New York Times) and now she is constantly flashing on my radar – and Rabbi Dov Linzer who is Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei in Riverdale, New York. The podcast, moderated by Ramie Smith, is sponsored by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) and Dr Marcus, Rabbi Linzer and Ms Smith seem to be coming from a progressive Orthodox perspective – not a lot of chumras going on here!

The point of all this is that I am a quite simply delighted that the dialogue about sex in the Orthodox Jewish community appears to be opening up. I’ll admit that most of the conversation is happening in the more liberal edges of the religious world (Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist), but at least it’s happening. I am optimistic about a ripple effect. Who knows? Maybe one day these conversations will eventually reach to the furthest, blackest corners of the community.

So, here are the first two episodes of the ‘Joy of Text‘ if you would like to listen for yourself. The first I found full of interesting and useful information. The conversation was lengthy and in-depth and covered a good amount of material. I listened while preparing for a large Shabbat meal and by the end of the program I found myself hoping my husband would be home soon (!). (Unfortunately, as of writing this, the first episode does not seem to be enabled to be embedded, so here is the link again for you to listen.)

The second podcast was interesting but disappointingly short – although the discussion on condom use in pre-marital sex surprised me. I hope their usual practice will be to have longer programs. Perhaps we can all help by sending in questions for them to consider and discuss. I’ve started drawing up my list already…

Coincidently, you can also WATCH a Huffington Post Live interview from this week with Dr Marcus, Rabbi Linzer and Dr David Ribner (Chairman of the Sex Therapy Training Program at Bar-Ilan University and co-author of ‘The Newlywed Guide to Physical Intimacy‘) for a segment entitled: ‘Deep Dive: Ooohhh G-d! Orthodox Jewish Sex‘:

It seems you don’t have to be Jewish to want to talk about frum sex.

If you are visiting my website and reading this post then it’s probably no secret to you that there’s lots to talk (and think) about in the realm of kosher sex.

I can’t wait for the conversation to evolve…

One book published – more to come soon…

My first collection of short stories, I Will Watch You, was published in the last week of January, but that just means the work is now really about to start…

It was wonderful  to have the short stories finally published. The process took time, largely because I was learning my way around what’s involved in producing good-quality (which I hope it is!) self-published work.

With much of that learning curve behind me, my focus is returning to Tamar, the central character in my novella, the first draft of which is already completed. Tamar is divorced, a woman in her mid thirties who is looking for love and bursting with her own welling sexuality. How she manages to navigate the former while exploring the latter is the subject of the story. I look forward to it taking life.

In the meantime, expect a new piece of frum erotica to be published soon on Jewrotica. This one’s raunchy, so brace yourselves!

Finally, a special request: it makes a big difference to the Shosha Pearl project if you read, buy and REVIEW my stories. If you like them and have ten minutes spare, please drop a rating at your local Amazon or at Goodreads (the book will be listed from tomorrow). If you want to read them but don’t want to pay, you can always sign up to my mailing list.

Happy reading!

The new year in focus – smiling into 2015

The end of the calendar year is a curious thing. It might not be very Jewish to celebrate New Year’s Eve (NYE), but it’s quite hard not to notice it. Franky, I feel a compulsion to mark the changes in our measurement of time –  from one year to next – because as long as we use the Gregorian Calendar, New Year’s Eve has temporal resonance for Jews as much as anyone else.

Of course, marking the event this year has been made more complicated as year New  Year’s Day 2015 coincides with Asarat B’Tevet. But those for whom this would be an issue (ie those who celebrate NYE with vigour AND who fast on Asarat B’Tevet) are likely to be few. I’m not overly concerned.

When I was younger I threw myself into the annual celebration with enthusiasm, but experience has informed me that the quest to capture that much anticipated magical moment of time in the midst of a whole lot of other people who are seeking exactly the same thing means that there’s a good chance you’ll be disappointed. I’m not saying those moments didn’t happen – they did, once or twice – but after a while I realised that the moment I was most likely to experience was anti-climax.  And that’s ok for a while and then you realise you’re better off staying home.

And so we did; this year, as for many years, we marked the event at home. We persuaded some friends to brave the five minute walk to our house to join us in the last half hour of the year to share a bottle of Tishbi red wine, the burst of revelry somewhere in neighbouring streets alerting us when the clock ticked over. It was a moment without expectation and it was genuinely pleasant.

While many people within the Jewish world may feel an awkwardness in relation to NYE, I am in favour of any event that makes us stop and think about our lives from a perspective that is not just daily (or hourly). The measurement of time gives us a framework by which to view of our existence from a distance. Like Rosh Hashanah, the secular year beginning offers an opportunity to contemplate what we have done over the previous 12 months. Unlike Rosh Hashanah, the introspection of NYE is less concerned with measuring how we have conducted ourselves and is more focused on glancing back at how the plot of our lives unfolded – and our hopes regarding what the next turn in the narrative my take.

On a personal level, 2014 was a challenging year which ended with kindness, providing me with a quiet sense of optimism about 2015.  I hope it will be the year in which Shosha Pearl unleashes her wings and begins to fly.

May 2015 be a year of good storytelling, but more importantly, may it be one of chesed, ahava and shalom (kindness, love and peace) for all.

 

Preparing for launch day

Shosha Pearl www.shoshapearl.comShosha Pearl has a face. It’s taken a year and a half of being an online reality, but at last she has a face and I think it’s pretty cute! Don’t you?

Recently, I read a fantastic book on self-publishing, Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success), the first part of an amazing self-publishing box set. Apart from learning much from the authors, the book has given me a kick-start back to work after my illness. It reminded me that the only way I am going to be a self-published author is if I AM a self-published author. In other words, if I do the work.

The other great lesson I absorbed was that you are really only as good as your next work: write your book, get it out into the universe, but don’t stop there. If you want to quit your day job and spend your life doing what you love, you have to treat it with the same commitment you would any salaried position. You need to Write. Publish. Repeat.

So, I have been back at my keyboard, going on journeys I didn’t expect, with destinations as yet undetermined. A short story I wrote last week has morphed into something unidentifiable; another is waiting to be submitted for publication after the release of my story collection, ‘I Will Watch You’. Of course progress is slow when jobs, families, homes and life take priority over creativity. These little steps forward can only happen if I manage to get out of bed an hour or so earlier (not easy for a night person) and type away without reserve. But I am doing it…

I Will Watch You cover image small Shosha PearlAt the same time, I am also finalising the ‘I Will Watch You’ collection and making it publication ready – this has been a long time coming considering the modesty of the work. The cover is now done. As you can see, it’s very pink, but we wanted to make it eye-catching so as to avoid burial amongst the crowds at Amazon. (You like?) I have a few short textual elements to insert, but the biggest task ahead is the formatting of the book for Kindle as well as for other platforms. This is the challenge that is making me nervous.

(Note: as you may have already noticed, the final version of the cover eventually changed.)

But once all that is done, the book should at last be delivered by the end of January 2015 (please G-d!). In anticipation of this, I have spent time over the past few days reworking the website. I have taken on board the experience of people who have visited the site and adjusted things accordingly – which is why the short stories are more visible on the front page. And I am trying to keep the conversation going on my blog which will (hopefully) soon evolve into a conversation with subscribers, hence the new sign-up widget on the site (please sign up, it really will be worthwhile!).

The little time that I do have for this creative endeavour is producing more – and better – outcomes than I could possibly have hoped. Shosha Pearl is a vehicle of creation who feels like she has found her moment. And now, Baruch Hashem, she has a face too!

Frankly, it’s all so very exciting. Please stay with me on the journey.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder – when all you want to do is write

Two things have been happening recently in my life that have halted my writing: we have moved house and I have been sick for weeks. The latter has meant that the world of function beyond necessity has effectively stopped – so that we still have numerous unpacked boxes in the house and today is the first day that I have sat down to write anything creative in at least a month.

Being ill drains my creative energies but, as time progresses, does little to stop the  need to express them which builds like a swelling river at the walls of my mind. What exacerbates this situation is that I have been able to read and tweet and do all manner of low-intensity activities which, after a while, add to the pressure at the damn walls – because it is a constant reminder of what I am NOT doing.

It hasn’t helped that part of my reading has been going through The Indie Author Power Pack. It’s a fantastic resource which I thoroughly recommend for indie/self-publishing authors (I picked it up for 99c when it was first released, but it is still a bargain at $3.99). On the flip side, it has been causing me to go into conceptual over-drive about the things I need to be doing, how many different ideas I have and how exciting this whole writing adventure could be…if only I could do it!

My mind wants to sit and write but all my body wants to do stay horizontal in the warm embrace of bed covers.  This is where I start to feel sorry for myself – or go crazy…

But there is a bright side to all of this. Enforced rest and recuperation does give you time to stop and think about things in a quiet way. I won’t bore or frighten you with thoughts about my life (!) but I am happy to share that  so much time in bed has given me the conceptual space to reexamine some of the projects I have been working on.

529091_64006668 (1)In particular, it has helped me chip away at the concerns I have been having regarding my Tamar novella. Writing halachic erotica is fraught with unique sensitivities and considerations. I want to write a book that is fun, sexy and appealing, but I also need to be mindful that some of my readers can only travel so far along the road of erotic exploration. I need to strike a balance for Tamar and so far I have struggled with this.

Let’s hope, that when my coughing quietens and my energy reserves return, the reward of waiting will be that Tamar will finally have her moment in the sunshine.

What’s all this nonsense about halachic erotica?

I like to make a bit of a deal about how I created my own literary sub-genre: ‘halachic erotica’ (halacha is the Hebrew term for Jewish law). It sounds indulgent – and perhaps it is – but I allow myself to dwell on it for a number of reasons:

1. It’s true. I really did make it up and I am proud of my creation – in a nachas rather than ga’avah kind of way. (In other words, I am proud in a parental pride kind of way rather than the ‘I’m so great, look at me’ way.)

2. Talking about the stories in literary terms works to distract the minds of people whose stunned expressions betray their confusion/horror at hearing what I write about. These expressions articulate the shock people feel when they learn that these sorts of stories exist – and then five seconds later, the sense of bemusement that they had never before heard of their existence (mention Jewrotica and you get much the same response). Often, it’s as if they are offended at the possibility that they’ve been left out of a communal circle of confidence. Explaining that I made up this outrageous form of Jewish fiction seems, somehow, to make everyone feel more comfortable about a world in which halachic erotica exists – and their place in this newly reconfigured reality.

3. It’s like putting a ribbon around a gift. Giving these stories, which I try to make beautiful, their own special genus seems appropriate. Just as I try to create something that is a pleasure to read, so too do I want to honour them -and the characters that emerge from them – by giving them a formal place in the world. This might seem trite, but it’s how I feel.

With few exceptions, the stories that I write are about the intimacy that exists between a Jewish woman and her husband. They are about the sacred sexual power that desire and love can have for couples. They are about longing, tenderness, passion and obsession – states of being that are common to couples of all creeds and colours, including religiously observant Jews.

When I started on this creative path the lighting was dim. I knew I wasn’t going to write about anything that conflicted with mainstream halacha and I guessed that a lot of the stories would involve frum types, but I didn’t know much more. It’s been a surprise that the stories that have come to life from my keyboard so far have focused exclusively on religiously observant Jews – although from a distance this seems an obvious outcome. I am curious to know how things will develop over time.

In the meantime, it is exciting to watch these little tales of lust unfold before me. They contain elements of the unexpected that surprise and delight me as their creator – and I hope there will be readers who share my pleasure in glimpsing briefly into the lives of these characters.

Rich, poor, Jewish or not; we all share common human drives and desires. I enjoy showing that religious Jews, like the rest of the world, enjoy sex, share desire and dream of sexual reward. The only differences are the cultural and religious frameworks that govern how much of the broader sexual landscape they are exposed to (eg porn, popular discourse) and, to an extent, how far halacha will let them go.

 

The decision to publish is like eating the last of your favourite chocolates

Really! It means you can’t hold on to the anticipation any longer: you don’t have that moment to look forward to – and there is a chance that everything could be downhill from here.

Although we live in hope.

I made the decision to publish my short story collection about four months ago. Once I realised this was an option, I became very (very!) excited – and not just because it offered a legitimate distraction from my novella, which had been causing me – and continues to cause me – confusion. It also provided an opportunity to do something with  stories that I was proud of, but which, until then, I had not really known what I should do with.

A woman with a mission, I edited and re-edited and then sent my edited stories to be beta-read by friends, family and colleagues. All this was completed within two months (about seven weeks ago). But then, inexplicably, the momentum stopped and my manuscript sat waiting. And it waited.

I chose my cover art two months ago. Time after time I  revisited the image bank to check that I liked the picture, to see if it still worked – I did and it did. But still, I did not buy it.

Then yom tov happened. So nothing else happened.

One of the amazing things about Tishrei is that after all the yammin tovim, I invariably feel like I need to make up for lost time. And no doubt I do. So, this week I finally began to appreciate that my short story collection was never going to exist in the world if I didn’t get it out there. I heard my own call to action.

Two nights ago I bought the cover art. I was exited (you like?).

Beautiful pic, no?
Beautiful pic, no?

Last night I emailed the image and instructions to a friend who is arranging for a designer to put together a cover (thank you!). It was a difficult email to write, but I am grateful for the enthusiastic response my friend sent me. My shoulders loosened and the thrill came back. Excitement.

Today, in an unexpectedly brave move, I sent my manuscript to an editor. Now it is real.

I am that person who hoards their favourite chocolates for so long that they turn grey (or worse, green!) – and then has to throw them out. I am that person who puts aside a gift voucher for a special occasion, but leaves it so long that I wind-up wasting it on something I don’t particularly like because it is about to expire (or worse, it has already expired!).

Delayed gratification is delicious. But delay too long and it gets moldy.

So this week Shosha Pearl, the writer of halachic Jewish erotica, started taking her project seriously again. I’ve popped the last chockie in my mouth and it is oozing delight all over.

Sex in the sukkah: redefining the mitzvah of sleeping in the sukkah

I love Sukkot – and not just because it means that Yom Kippur is over. I love the ritual of it, the strangeness of it.

Sukkahs* are like great big, green, sweet-smelling cubby houses; refreshing, delightful and enchanting in  their quaintness and oddity. They’ve got that rustic charm thing going on; that outdoorsy nature thing; that crazy, crass, colourful noy sukkah (decoration) thing. Best of all, they’ve got that let’s squeeze in together for a yom tov meal under the stars and get little thrills from accidentally touching elbows and pressing legs against the person who’s squashed in beside you – all the while taking in the fragrances of recently cut vegetation and the aroma of the actual night air around you. It is positively erotic. (Well, almost.)

I don’t sleep in the sukkah. I never have, which is a pity in some ways. The fact that this is a mitzvah that it is only incumbent on men doesn’t get me feeling all feministy. I don’t get worked up about not having to camp out for a week in Tishrei with the bugs and the spiders. I just say goodnight and wish the sukkah sleepers well.

But really, this makes no sense.  Sukkahs conjure up images of the desert, when Bnei Yisrael was encamped like one big dysfunctional family and Moshe was trying to keep things together – even though, frankly, not much made sense and the rules were being made up as they went along. Sukkot transports me to a time in our national memory when late at night, as the sluggish desert wind brushed tents and the hand of sleep stroked brows, one might catch the delicate sound of a neighbour being pleasured by her husband. The half-stifled cry that is neither sigh nor moan but somewhere in between, calls for him to stop and continue forever at once.

When I think of sukkahs at night, this is what comes to mind.

So, I wonder….When our sukkahs today are guaranteed modesty by garden walls, wrapped tight and secure by canvas, tarpaulin or wood, why are we not all diving for the one (tznius) chance we have each year to make love under a blanket of stars in the perfume of night? Why are we not pulling out mattresses and pillows and curling up together for a midnight tryst in the moonlight, so that starlight breezes can stroke our backs while lovers trace our contours in the darkness?

Surely, the mitzvah of sleeping in the sukkah should not stop at sleeping? If we are truly to pause and realise the impermanence of life, to try to connect, once a year, to remember wandering in the desert without a home, without a land, it makes sense that we should be encouraged to live and love under the cover of leaves and between the shimmer of stars.

So I say, let’s revisit the mitzvot of Sukkot.

I will if you do.

Chag sameach

*For purposes of clarity, I have referred to sukkah in the plural as ‘sukkahs’ (rather than the Hebrew plural, ‘Sukkot’) in order to reduce the possibility of confusion between the use of the plural for the structure and references to the festival, Sukkot

This essay was first published on Jewrotica.