~ By Yael Unterman
A note from Melissa (aka Melina):
I met Yael a few months ago at a literary event near my neighborhood of Katamon, Jerusalem. I knew even before the event that she writes about Jewish singles on the Upper West Side and Katamon – two neighborhoods I’ve lived in and know very well. Let’s just say her stories hit very close to home.
Why did I ask her to share this post here, even though many chapter members might not relate to some of the cultural aspects of her stories? Well, as you’ll see, what she says about romance it pretty universal.
And who among us can deny being able to relate to the story of running into somebody we thought we made up?
I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
Thanks for visiting, Yael!
I’ve been a novel writer since I was aged nine and living in Manchester, England. In 2002 I was studying for a Creative Writing Masters Degree at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, where I now live, and one of our lecturers, Mark Mirsky, gave us an excellent trigger, instructing us: “Write what you are scared to write about!” Each of us went home to find out what that was; and I discovered that for me, it was the experience of living as a traditional, Jewish single woman in a singles community in Jerusalem, surrounded by other singles, all of us with a relatively happy life on the surface, yet underneath, currents of sadness, loneliness, despair, loss of faith and of self-esteem ran deep.
Thus it was that I began to write fictional stories about people – mostly women – in their late 20s and 30s, with one foot in the traditional world with its expectation of marriage by 25, and another in the modern world where self-fulfillment and later marriage beckons. I described the tedium and helplessness of going on blind date number 88 and being rejected, yet again; the pressure from society, to the point where it feels as if heavy objects are being thrown at you; the price of full honesty in a relationship with a rabbi; the trials of internet dating; and more. The result was a collection of stories that – along with a couple of stories not about singles – came together as a book, The Hidden of Things: Twelve Stories of Love & Longing.
And then it was out there, exposing the soft underbelly of the life of my community and of my own life. Some people loved it; some couldn’t read past the second page as it was too close to home; some told me that now they understood this singles’ world better, they really had had no idea what it was truly like; and some just enjoyed reading the hilarious antics of my wacky character Katamonsta. I was happy to receive feedback and delighted that the book was being read – and all of that was very normal and nice.
I never expected what happened next.
Picture the scene. I’m attending a seminar a few months after the book has been published. One of the participants, a man who also happens to be single, approaches me. I had not paid him much attention initially, but we begin chatting and I immediately see that he is a fascinating and attractive person. He says something and I smile broadly to myself. He asks: “Are you laughing with me or at me?” “Well, you’ve just said a line from my book,” I respond, opening my laptop to show him how he has exactly echoed the sentiment of one of my characters. We smile and continue talking, and then someone asks him where he is from. He names a locale, and my eyebrows shoot up. My character is from that exact random town in that exact American State. Again, I show him the proof in my laptop. (I actually know nothing about that town – I think someone had suggested it to me long ago).
I go home, rather surprised, and scrutinize the story again, only to notice that my character actually has the same Hebrew name as this man (many Jews have traditional Hebrew names alongside the English names they use). I email him to let him know this, and while I am at it, I ask him for the name of his mother/ grandmother/ grandfather/ dentist! (I kid you not – my character has a dentist…). Bingo! the grandfather’s name is the same. As I am mulling this over, I realize that in a different story of mine, the main protagonist/love interest has the exact same first name as this man, and there are lines in it such as “[Man’s name], to say your name is to pray all my lost prayers” and “[Man’s name], you are my intended, ordained by God forty days before I was born” and similar stuff of romance.
As you can imagine, by this point I am rather unnerved. I decide not to tell him about the second story – it seems too intimate, even though I did not write it about him! Plus, he seems to be freaking out enough as it is. I spend the next few days of the seminar interacting with him and wondering what on earth is going on. The seminar ends, we part. I offer the banal “It was lovely meeting you,” and he says “We didn’t just meet, you channeled me in 2005 when you wrote the story!” We go our separate ways, and I wonder what will happen next.
Now I know that if you or I were writing this story, this remarkable tale would continue in a romantic vein. How intriguing, to channel your beloved into a book and thus to know he is the one! However, tell the truth I must, even at the risk of disappointment. Although I received a few more increasingly bizarre signs (if I told you, your jaw would drop, I promise you), the actual connection did not end up manifesting in a romantic way, for various reasons. However, a kabbalist (psychic/mystic) whom I consulted confirmed that there was a strong soul connection there. I do feel as if I channeled someone from my close “soul family” into this book
As if this wasn’t enough, in my book I have another story describing a highly sensitive ultra-religious Jew who rebels in order to educate himself in world wisdom, and at the same seminar was a highly sensitive ultra-religious Jew who had come in order to educate himself in world wisdom: he could not believe his eyes when he read my story; could not understand how I could write something so close to his reality without being part of that world. So you could argue that another character came true, in a way, and I have a strong connection with him too.
Since then, there have been one or two minor sightings of people with names and traits of various other characters, though nothing as spectacular as the first man. As a postscript I will add that a fellow writer told me that she and her writer friends experience this kind of precognition on a regular basis. One day she wrote about a random jewelry store she knows of; the next day, they called her up out of the blue – and claimed that she had rung them! I guess that there are things in this world we simply do not understand. Perhaps writers are blessed with a form of prophecy (see e.g. the writer Morgan Robertson who predicted the Titanic disaster in his book Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan).
Meanwhile, I have been focusing on the most mature and attractive man in my book, the character I would most like to marry: a man named Bo with a diamond-shaped mole cluster on his face (where did that come from?). I am hoping that he will soon show up in my life…. you never know, watch this space.
Yael Unterman is the author of two books. Her first book, “Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar”, was a National Jewish Book Award finalist in 2009. Her second book is ‘The Hidden of Things: Twelve Stories of Love & Longing”. Her website is www.yaelunterman.com