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Close Encounter

The other day, instead of reaching for my contact lens conditioning solution, I reached for my contact lens 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 secretary’s 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 assured her.

“Why…it couldn’t be…might I ask…you’re not the writer of all those books, are you?”

“Yes,” I replied meekly, hoping this wasn’t going to cost me my stamp of approval for all those expensive eye drops.

“Oh, I’ve really wanted to sit down and talk to you for quite some time,” she said emphatically, shaking her head. “I’ve wanted to ask you…. I’ve never read any of your books, but I’ve heard about them from friends. They say they are very well written. But the subject… I mean, I’ve wanted to ask you…if it’s not too personal , I mean, this is your own spiritual sphere, a very private place, I realize, but I’ve wanted in any case to ask you if you didn’t think it might possibly be a desecration of G-d’s name?”

“I’d really love to talk to you about my books,” I replied sincerely. “I mean, I’m willing to spend a few hours with you. But I can’t really discuss my books with you, if you haven’t read them….

“But…!” she interrupted.

“And it’s not enough to hear what your friends and neighbors think…You’d have to read them yourself.”

“But … can I just ask you something?”

“Sure,” I said pleasantly, watching her roll that stamp between her fingers.

“Doesn’t it bother you that people say those kinds of things about your books?”

“Well, I’ll 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 let’s face it, there are a lot if bad things…

She nodded thoughtfully, agreeing.

“To me, the real desecration of G-d’s name is that people are doing these things, not that I’m 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 isn’t our religion, it’s 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 history…You really should read one of my books.”

“Maybe I will… but I wanted to ask you…a favor. I’ve written a book. Would you read it?”

I looked at her again. A writer! How wonderful! I thought.

“I think that’s 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 wasn’t 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. There’s a woman who’s the wife of an important haredi Rabbi that writes under the name Chana Bat Shachar. She’s published a number of award-winning books. Some of them quite erotic. Even her husband doesn’t know it’s her…”

“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 she’d taken my papers and stamped everything. “So you think I should be honest, tell everything…?”

“That’s what it means to be a writer. Also, it’s 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. You’re eye, I mean. And I’ll think about what you said…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. That’s a book I’d love to read!

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