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Wells of Creativity
by Ruth Fogelman
The Second Annual Women
Writers' Conference in Tsfat

He brought me out into a broad space,
He released me for He desired me. *
Keep on walking into the brave new land
And even when I don't know where I am going
Trust, trust
That I am in good hands.**
Trust, trust That I am in good hands
That I am held, contained,
Loved, supported
He broadens my spaces
Expands my boundaries
Reveals me to myself.
He desires that I should live,
But really live,
For my life is His.
I fly free,
Released
Unprisoned
As a bird with new wings
Lifted by the wind
And born safely to another shore.

The Killer Whale, after eating his fill
So gently carried, in his sharp-toothed mouth,
The seal pup to safety.
As the sun set, he risked his life
Bringing the pup right up to shore,
Granting it new life.***

He released me, for He desired me.
He desired me.
He desires me.
Now.
Not tomorrow, or yesterday.
I am worthy.
Now.

The space broadens
The fog lifts
And new windows created,
Shined clean by my tears.
Channels of space
Holes in time
Are safely secured
For my passage.
He is my Gondolier.
He woos me
And carries me,
Only safely
To greater and greater vistas.
My Lover and Beloved
I can trust,
And rest,
Because of that trust.

*Tehillim, 18:20
**Varda Branfman
***National Geographic

R.Z., a music therapist and yoga teacher living in Jerusalem, wrote this spontaneously at the Tsfat Writers Second Annual Conference held in Beit Chabad, during Varda Branfman's workshop on Writing and Tehillim.

In her workshop, Varda, an author and teacher of creative writing, gave out single vivid verses in English from various psalms, and the conference participants used these verses as opening lines to inspire their spontaneous writing.

"Our own memories surface through Tehillim," said Varda. "When King David talks about his oppressors, we can also understand this as the oppressors within us."

Leah Kotkes, a free-lance interview features writer and writing workshop leader in Jerusalem, used this same verse of Psalms 18:20 for her spontaneous writing:

It has been so long, too long, forgive me.
As we traveled,
I traversed the skies, the blue expansiveness.
I allowed my eyes to move over mountain to mountain and beyond.
The space is beautiful
Mine, my country.

Oh, HaShem. Why?
Why did I hide behind walls for so long?
This is Your place, Your palace
And I am Your servant
With permission to come and go with no fear.
Why did I allow the world out there to transform me into a stranger even to myself?

Today, I felt excited as we passed orchards and flourishing acres.
I saw myself in the fields sowing new seeds.
Tomorrow I will move my feet; I will move beyond and embrace life and living once again,
Beyond the boundaries of yesterday.

Lori Leiba Smith, who together with Esther Susan Heller, organized the 24-hour conference, opened the afternoon with thoughts relating to the creative process, and quoted Rabbi Henoch Dov (Howard) Hoffman, of Denver, Colorado, who visits Tsfat every summer: "Any real experience of Torah, any learning, any tefilla and any involvement with mitzvot should necessarily create transformation in a person." She went on to say that the very act of delving into the mystery of the Torah, into the deepest places where Torah causes us to examine who and what we are, what we believe, and what we are doing in the world, must transform us in the end.

Basing her words on the teachings of Rabbi Hoffman, Lori Leiba said that false humility lies in hiding so much that one seems to disappear and is therefore incapable of making any impact on the world. True humility comes from a place of confidence that recognizes that one has a contribution to make. Withholding that contribution is, in the words of Rabbi Hoffman, like stealing from the world. "Knowing who I am means knowing that I must give over some of that to others or I am withholding my G-d-given talents," she said.

She expanded Rabbi Hoffman's insights to the creative process of writing and suggested that truly good writing becomes an act of transformation for the writer facing the mystery and moving through the process from the blank page and the initial creative spark to the end product of the fully formed and completed final piece.

Dr. Judy Belsky, psychologist, author and creative writing teacher, presented the opening workshop on memoir, in which participants were requested in advance to bring an evocative photograph. "Photos are a gateway to memory," she explained, and eloquently demonstrated how one needs to go beyond the information given by the photo. "You'll travel on paths of discovery into yourself again and again," she said.

After gazing at the photo in front of her, Donna Abraham, a cranial-sacral therapist and writer from Ramat Beit Shemesh wrote:

The hot pink and white satin of the bunny costume is pressed against my face as I twist myself into my mother's shoulder. Daddy is taking another picture and I am crying hard. Aunt Anne smiles for the camera, pointing to trick me into looking so they can capture my face on the film. My long white furry ears quiver and bend as I bury myself in my mother's neck. "No! Don't! I don't like!" My tears are making a stain on the shoulder of her blue and white flowered dress, and her lipstick kisses smear on my cheek and ear as she tries to comfort me. "Come, honey, what's the problem? Daddy just wants to take a picture of your Purim costume to send to Grandma and Grandpa! Be a big girl! Think how happy they'll be to see the picture!" Anne is stern, her finger points directly at the camera, and her mouth pulls down in a long upside down U making fun of my distress. "I thought you were a big girl Are you a big girl or a baby?" she exclaims. She tries to push my head up from my mother's shoulder and turn me bodily around. The camera terrifies me. It has an old-fashioned flash the size of a grapefruit that blinds me with its loud explosion. There will be a blue flash and I see yellow circles before my eyes for the next few minutes. Worse than that is the feeling of something stolen from me. I hold tighter to my mother and thrust my little hand into her black curls and pull. "Ow!" she exclaims, "Stop that! You're hurting me!" Reluctantly she lets me down to the floor and I dart into the stairway to one side of the picture seeking to hide from the camera's watchful eye.

Esther Susan Heller, the moving force behind the conference, Director of the Jewish Writing Institute and editor of the magazines Soferet and Stepping Stones, presented a fascinating workshop on subtlety, demonstrating step by step, with the aid of a newspaper opinion piece, how one builds subtlety in a piece of writing.

"Why write with subtlety? Why not be obvious, blunt?" Esther Susan asks. She answers that because HaShem gives us free choice, human beings balk at being told what to think. When the reader has to work a little to understand what the writer is trying to tell her, then the writer and reader become engaged in a relationship of transmitting and interpreting text. The reader cannot remain passive.

"If you are merely digesting what the author gave you, then you are not part of her creation. You are a passive recipient. But when you interpret and reflect upon the possibilities that her work presented, then you become part of the creative process," she said.

In an evocative workshop entitled "New Vistas: Interviewing," Leah Kotkes, a self-esteem leader in addition to her professional writing, presented exercises inspired by her work in partnership with Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, the world renowned psychiatrist, and Rabbi Yisroel Roll, a Baltimore self esteem consultant.

"Before every interview I daven very seriously to HaShem asking for His help and a wisdom to see beyond the pleasant masks and past the mazes of words. Usually at the beginning of every interview I quietly ask the neshama of the interviewee: Who are you? What would you like to share with others? Invariably I acquire the answer I need to write the feature HaShem wants me to write. I know I am just a vessel, a shaliach. I am acutely aware that HaKadosh Baruch Hu creates every feature I write," says Leah. She regards writing as her divine tool, and interview features as the pathway that takes her beyond her limitations and towards her expectations.

"Who are you?" she asked in an exercise. And in a tone that made the listener look more deeply within herself, "Who are you?" and again, "Who are you?" With each following question she encouraged her listeners to look ever deeper into their self and facilitated the peeling away of one's outer layers, to find one's innermost core.

With this inner awareness, new to some, she moved to a second exercise which involved finding a new partner (not someone next to whom participants had sat), asking the question, "Who are you?" listening to her verbal replies and perceiving her non-verbal responses. During this part of the exercise, each participant realized new levels of understanding and awareness within themselves and the person facing them. Leah was giving us an insight into the delicate art of interviewing and the value of refining and nurturing communication and relationships skills. The deeply touching readings that followed were a celebration of each woman's accomplishment; to go beyond the boundaries of her self in search of the other and in doing so, each participant received a gift more precious than she hoped.

"If we can get to know ourselves through writing, this can be the pathway to a more expansive place, both internally and externally, which ultimately affects every aspect of our selves and our lives. This is the power of writing," says Leah.

Esther Chana Stromberg of Jerusalem presented a workshop in Chavruta, stressing the gains a writer can receive when writing with a partner.

Esther Rubenstein, of Tsfat, led a workshop entitled "The Inner Journey," using the steps of changes that one has undergone in one's own life as the basis for rounding characters in both fiction and non-fiction writing. "In real life," says Esther, "changes are slow, especially deep changes. These give the readers the most satisfaction." One often feels a lack or some kind of a threat, or one suffers in some way. Esther says that it is this sense of lack or suffering that can be used to create tension in writing, showing slow change through focused action.

The Tsfat conference was the meeting ground for observant women writers from Tsfat, Jerusalem, Betar Elit and Ramat Beit Shemesh. Some of the participants write professionally, some as a hobby, some write regularly in the Tsfat Women's Writing Group, Jerusalem's Pri Hadash Women's Writing Workshop, or in chevruta, while others write on a more sporadic basis. What made these women take off two days from their work and family to devote themselves to a writing conference? Many came to network with other writers, some to learn new writing techniques.

"I needed the encouragement to start writing again," says Jerusalem resident, Tzivie Tabak. The conference definitely encouraged her.

Free-lance writer Yoheved Leah Perkal, of Jerusalem, who came to the first conference last year, found it "an inspiring atmosphere to bask in." For her, one of the conference's highlights was writing without the pressures of editors' deadlines, word-counts and other special requirements.

For R.Z., taking the risk of reading her work before a large group opened up the opportunity to experience herself in a new way. "I experienced myself as a 'writer' among other 'writers' - a new identity," she said. "I strengthened belief in myself and my writing by reading out loud and receiving feedback," she added.

The organizers, Esther Susan Heller and Lori Leiba Smith, concur that the conference succeeded beyond all their expectations.

"We had excitement, inspiration and variety," says Esther Susan. Lori Leiba adds, "we had the pleasure of working with fellow writers and meeting so many women who are sincerely involved in writing as craft and in the personal transformation that comes from writing and sharing what we write. The feedback was more positive and enthusiastic than I ever expected."

For Lori Leiba, writing is a very personal effort that comes from deep places and which she hopes will allow her to affect deep places in others. "It is very special to see how much this perspective is shared by other women in the craft who, as Leah Kotkes said, use writing to understand and reveal the tzelem elokim in others." She says that what we gain from technical books and courses from the broad field of writing does not compare to what we can get when we share our understanding with other observant women who see our work not just as communication but also as a means of revelation of HaShem in the world.

This article would be incomplete without mentioning the evening's entertainment, produced by Danya Boksenboim and Elisheva Phillips.. It opened with a skit written by Danya and Karin Lesser, on the writing group's dealing with issues of unconditional love and acceptance. Exceptionally funny, the skit also provided much food for thought and discussion about these issues.

Talia Applebaum, member of Jerusalem's Pri Hadash Women's Writing Workshop, and editor of the recently published magazine, "A Woman's Way," followed with singing some of her own compositions. Varda Branfman read her poems and Judy Belsky read excerpts of her memoir.

The Tsfat Women's Dance Group, led and choreographed by Leah Heinrich, presented the "Mirror Dance," accompanied by Meron Klezmer music. This dance portrays the Hebrew women in Egypt who, despite their task-master (played by Elisheva Phillips) and heavy labor, took the time to look in their brass mirrors to keep themselves attractive for their husbands. The "Mirror Dance" was followed by last year's outstanding hit, "The Broom Dance," which was as humorous and entertaining as ever.

Tsfat's Chava Rachel Saban, accompanying herself on the violin, closed the evening with her own musical renditions of Tehillim, influenced by Irish folksongs.

This evening of entertainment presented the many different talents - acting, dance and song of the participants of the Writers' Conference and of Tsfat's women.

Ruth Fogelman was born in England, and came to Israel as a teenager. She studied at the Hebrew University, receiving a degree in English Literature. She is the author of Within the Walls of Jerusalem - A Personal Perspective, and her lectures feature slides of her photography of the Jewish Quarter. Her articles have appeared in the Jerusalem Post Magazine and in In Jerusalem. Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including Woman Prayers (ed. Mary Ford-Grabowsky), Heartbeats (ed. Shoshana Lepon), B'Or HaTorah, Yated Ne'eman and Horizons. Ms. Fogelman is a member of the Khan Katan Poetry Circle, Voices, Israel, and a facilitator of the Pri Hadash Women's Writing Workshop. Her site, Jerusalem Lives, which includes samples of her published work, is at www.geocities.com/jerusalemlives

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