By Rachel Lankester, Editor

I loved talking to Lynne Golodner, a novelist, podcast host, and writing coach, who writes about strong women in Orthodox Judaism. We had a fascinating conversation about the role of women in an Orthodox Jewish community. Her first novel, Woman of Valor, is a testament to her literary versatility, adding to her impressive body of work that includes two poetry collections and six non-fiction titles. Her focus is on creating strong Jewish female characters, and enabling access and understanding of an oft hidden world. This is a summary of the podcast I recorded with Lynne. Listen to the full conversation here.

Lynne Golodner

Writing about Orthodox Jewish Life

Lynne’s debut novel, Woman of Valor, focuses on a deeply religious Orthodox community. Her upcoming novel, set for release in August 2024, will also explore Jewish identity, though it won’t center on Orthodox characters. This consistency of theme allows readers to anticipate the core elements of her stories, even as each book offers a unique perspective.

“I was Orthodox for 10 years, my 20s to my 30s, and so I have that experience, but I left it when I ended my first marriage, and there are things I still love about it and that I carried into my life, but I say I’m just Jewish. You know, I take and reject from each denomination equally.”

This personal history enabled Lynne to authentically depict her main character’s life. Her protagonist, Sally, is more religious than Lynne ever was. To ensure authenticity, Lynne did research, including speaking with Orthodox women including marathon runners, as the main character, Sally, runs, as do other modern Orthodox women. This dedication to realism extended to details such as Sally’s dress code and how she would cover her hair while running.

Lynne shared how following Orthodox Jewish women runners on social media, including an Israeli Olympian and a mother of five, provided invaluable insights. These real-life examples helped Lynne portray the intersection of faith and personal pursuits with authenticity.

Educating others about Jewish culture

Lynne wants to teach the world about Jewish communities and life through her novels. She shared her love for books about different cultures and identities, that allow readers to enter worlds they might never experience firsthand. 

“I think it’s really important to have all of these different identities and places in books so that we can build understanding. You know, that people who are never going, maybe people who never interact with Orthodox Jews or Jews in general, especially given the climate of antisemitism in the world today, you know, why not learn a little bit about the culture and say, these are people just like me.”

Lynne emphasized that her primary goal is to tell a compelling story filled with relationships, conflicts, and resolutions, with Jewish life being just one facet of her characters’ identities. However, the authentic portrayal of Orthodox, particularly the use of Yiddish and Hebrew terms, adds great depth to the storytelling. Lynne admitted she considered including a glossary but decided against it, preferring to provide enough context for readers to grasp the meaning without interrupting the narrative flow. I confessed to googling any terms I didn’t understand or wanted to know more about!

The book gives insight into Orthodox Jewish laws, rituals and customs, such the married couples separation during menstruation and the ritual bathing that follows, which are depicted in detail. Lynne’s thorough research and personal experience of living an Orthodox life for a decade helped her authentically portray these practices around a woman’s menstrual cycle. 

Food also plays a significant role in Lynne’s books, mirroring its importance in Orthodox Jewish life. Frequent mentions of food in Woman of Valor were intentional. Lynne had initially planned to create a companion piece with recipes from the book but decided to focus on her next novel instead. She explained how food is integral to the Orthodox experience, from preparing for Shabbat to dealing with dietary restrictions while traveling.

Customs around hair covering

Lynne’s journey into Orthodox Jewish life began with a quest for understanding. Faced with a lack of resources on the topic of hair covering, for example, she embarked on a mission to unravel the complexities surrounding this practice. As she delved deeper into her research, she realized the dearth of literature addressing this aspect of Jewish tradition. Her journalistic background equipped her with the tools to dig deeper, interview, and research extensively. Lynne took it upon herself to fill the gap in knowledge by creating a comprehensive resource. The result was a groundbreaking book that offered Torah sources and diverse perspectives on the subject of Jewish women and hair covering.

A married woman is expected to cover her hair and there are many types of hair covering employed, which Lynne has written about at length. While she covered her hair during her Orthodox years, Lynne never wore a wig. She found the available options unsuitable for her naturally curly hair and decided against it. She recalled observing Orthodox women switching from wigs to more comfortable head coverings on a long flight, a detail she found both practical and fascinating.

“So many things about hair covering really have to do with fitting into the community that you’re part of and not necessarily about observing Torah. And so there is a Torah source for it, but there are so many different interpretations. And I had a friend who was moving from America to Israel and I said, oh, which community are you going to live in? And she said, well, it needs to be one where I can wear a wig because I need to have hair. And in Israel, it’s not necessarily the norm like it is in other cities around the world. Most of the women in Israel, when they cover their hair, they do it with scarves or, it’s not the norm to wear hair. It’s more Americans or Europeans or whatever. So it was about where she could feel like she fit and that’s important to distinguish.” 

Published in 2002, Lynne’s book, Hide & Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering, remains the only one of its kind, shedding light on a practice often shrouded in mystery. Its impact reverberates beyond the Jewish community, offering non-Jewish readers a glimpse into a tradition they may not have encountered otherwise.

The intricacies of hair covering, from wigs to scarves, reflect not only religious observance but also community norms. Lynne’s friend’s experience of choosing a community based on her preference for wig-wearing underscores the influence of community dynamics on religious practices.

Indeed, Lynne emphasizes that the interpretation of religious law often varies among communities, highlighting the distinction between Judaism as a religion and the diverse expressions of it within different communities. This nuanced understanding encourages Jews to navigate their religious journey according to their conscience and personal connection with their faith.

Lynne’s journey into Orthodoxy was a personal one, driven by a desire for a more meaningful and purpose-driven life. While initially drawn to the peace and beauty of Orthodox practices, her experience within the community revealed both its virtues and shortcomings. Ultimately, her journey led her to find her own path within Judaism, one that reflects her values and beliefs. Religious practice is a deeply personal journey, shaped by individual convictions and experiences.

Midlife lessons learned

Cultural differences play a significant role in Lynne’s perspective. In Western cultures, older women are often dismissed. Lynne shared that a close friend of hers, a nurse, read about cultures where women at midlife and beyond are revered and experience fewer menopausal symptoms. There’s a significant mind-body connection in health. In Jewish culture, elders are respected and honored, with grandparents holding a special place. However, Lynne believes that this respect for elders is more about Western versus Eastern cultural differences than specific religious identities.

Menopause, Lynne noted, isn’t widely discussed in Jewish culture. She recalled hearing about a book where an Orthodox woman had an unexpected pregnancy in her 50s, which was a scandal in her community. This highlights certain preconceptions about life stages within orthodoxy that extend beyond the Jewish community. Lynne recently reconnected with a friend who had a baby at 49, and while some might see that as unusual, she finds it wonderful, challenging the notion that certain life stages should dictate our actions and experiences.

Midlife, Lynne believes, brings a new level of confidence and self-assuredness. “At this point, I don’t have any patience for people who are jealous or competitive. There’s enough room for all of us, so why not lift each other up?” she remarks, appreciating the supportive community she has found among women authors.

The shift away from competition is a significant aspect of midlife. Lynne reflects on how younger women often compete over the best mate, but post-menopause, the focus shifts. “The things I cherish now are about partnership, kindness, and joy,” she says, sharing her experience of remarriage and the simple pleasures of life, like cooking together and enjoying each other’s company.

Career pivots and founding a publishing house

Lynne’s career has seen several significant pivots, each shaped by unique challenges and triumphs. She started her professional life as a journalist in New York City and Washington, DC, working in the field for 15 years before returning to Michigan. Early in her career, she earned an MFA in Writing, which led to her first book, a collection of poems, and enabled her to teach at the college level. Even while working as a journalist, she taught writing classes at various universities.

In 2007, as the economy was spiraling downward and she was contemplating a divorce, Lynne needed to rethink her career out of necessity. With many magazines closing and the need for a reliable income becoming paramount, she leveraged her skills to create a marketing and public relations company that took a storytelling approach, drawing on her media expertise. This venture proved very successful, and she continued it until about five years ago when she decided to pivot again and focus on writing books.

Lynne transitioned gradually to ensure a steady income, ramping up her teaching and narrowing her marketing company to clients in the writing and publishing fields. She even shifted the focus of her podcast, started in 2018, to interview authors, ensuring all her efforts centered on writing. This shift has been incredibly fulfilling for her.

Lynne’s decision to start her own publishing house, Scotia Road Books, was born from a desire for control over her work and to support other midlife women writers. After her first eight books were published traditionally, Lynne expected to follow the same path with her novels. When she wrote “Woman of Valor,” she received positive responses from agents and publishers, including a contract offer from a small press, which she turned down. Lynne wanted control over her work and didn’t want to jump through hoops to make money for others. She also aims to write a book a year, a pace uncommon in traditional publishing, and didn’t want anyone to tell her to tone down her Jewish themes or avoid certain topics.

Scotia Road Books is not just for self-publishing but to support other midlife women writers. Lynne wants to lift others up rather than make money. She shared a story of a friend whose book was scrapped by her editor because they doubted her ability to write a 20-something character at the age of 50-something. Lynne was furious on her behalf and wants to write without such constraints. She knows other women feel the same way, which is why she started this venture.

Lynne story is a testament to the power of resilience, creativity, and the willingness to pivot and adapt. Her journey is an inspiration to midlife women everywhere, proving that it’s never too late to pursue your passions and redefine your path. 

Lynne offers powerful advice for women at midlife: “What holds us back is a lack of self-confidence and self-belief. We need to focus on believing in ourselves and using our voices.” In her writing classes, she emphasizes confidence and the power of self-expression over technical skills. “We are here to make a difference, and we can if we use our voices,” she asserts, encouraging women to embrace their potential and make their mark.

If you’ve liked this post, please check out the podcast interview with Lynne.

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Last Updated on June 6, 2024 by Editorial Staff

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