This article is based on an interview I saw in my Israeli Culture class on Chana Bat-Shahar, a female Israeli author. It’s amazing to see women pursue their dreams in spite of the odds and oppositions. That’s why I am sharing this story of one woman’s dreams come true.
Who is Chana?
Chana Bat-Shahar is a religious woman writing secular literature. She is a novelist who writes under an assumed named. She does so for a couple of reasons: (1) her religious background. She is the daughter of a Rabbi and the wife of a Rabbi, who runs his own religious school. She admires them both and would not want to embarrass them. (2) Religious women have a hard time becoming writers in their own rights. They have to hide the fact that they are women in order for people to read what they wrote. The religious journals even give them a hard time. So in order for women to fulfill their dreams they much conceal their identity.
Chana Bat-Shahar is not any ordinary religious woman. Her mother encouraged her to write at a young age, which is unusual because of how women have to struggle to be heard. Nevertheless, her mother saw something in her that needed to be released and needed to be read. I believe that if her mother had not encouraged her, she would never have become a writer. Her mother taught her that she can do whatever she wanted to do. No matter what society said or what her parents’ lives were like, she had a right to be whatever her heart desired. She desired to write.
As a child, Hanna read a lot other literature in addition to Hebrew literature. This opened her mind up to other ways of life. This probably affected a part of her decision to write the type of novels she writes. The other part comes from real life experience, whether in her own life or those of the women around her.
What Does She Write?
She writes secular novels filled with loneliness and alienation. They show relationships becoming disjointed and women who are constantly longing for something else. I believe her books reflect her life, her inner conflicts with life and society. Not just hers, but every woman who wants to be heard.
What people sometimes forget in religion is that people are human beings first and have real feelings and emotions. It does not matter if the emotions are appropriate or not. They are still real. This is why she is popular. She can identify with so many women who are longing for something else. While she may not be going from one broken relationship to another, she does long to be heard in her own voice with her own name without a backlash from the religious community she loves so dearly. She wants to be known as a writer, not a Rabbi’s wife who has lost her mind and desires the secular world more than the religious world.
The Two Masks
In her interview she speaks about wearing two masks as a leader. People look up to her and her family for answers, support, and strength. They probably expect her to know everything and to be happy all the time. If she is having a bad day, she cannot just tell people to leave her alone. She has to smile in their faces and encourage them in their bad situation. She could be crying on the inside, but she cannot show that on the outside. If she does, they equate the whole religion with her. They walk away thinking if God cannot keep her, a leader, happy then surely there is no hope for them. When, in fact, they should just look at the leader as a human and nothing more. Because she has no intention of leaving the religious lifestyle, she hides behind a pen name to fulfill her dreams. While this is unfortunate, these are the rules she lives by in her society.
Her husband does not even read her books and she does not want her husband to read her books either. When she first started out, he did not even know she published a book. She probably does not want him to look at her differently because of the type of novels she writes. She is not sure if she is a bad influence or not. I guess that would depend on who is doing the judging. Since I have never read one of her books, I cannot say one way or the other. However, I enjoyed her interview a lot.
I thought she spoke from her heart with honesty. I could feel what she was saying and even though I have never read one of her books, I could only imagine that they are filled with passionate words that draw you into the character’s world, making you feel like that character yourself. Her interview held my attention with the passion she spoke from.
Her works of literature include five collections of short stories and novellas, and three novels. While all of her works are written in Hebrew, there are a few stories translated into English and Spanish.
Get more information about Chana Bat-Shahar.