Writing can be lonely, difficult work. The journey to getting published isn’t exactly a cakewalk, either. Perhaps that’s why the word “community” kept popping up at the recent Jerusalem Women’s Writers Seminar, an annual event that brings together Orthodox female authors of all ages.
“We live in a generation where there isn’t enough face-to-face contact,” says Tamar Ansh, director of the seminar and author of the best-selling cookbook A Taste of Challah. “At the seminar, women get a chance to sharpen their writing skills, make contact with publishers, and learn how to make parnassa from their writing. It’s also a day to reconnect with friends – women come from all over Eretz Yisrael.”
The Traveling Seminar
While Tamar Ansh is the current director of the event, the idea of bringing together English-speaking Orthodox female writers to share knowledge and inspiration goes back several years.
“At first the idea was to give women permission to write, to feel that writing is important,” says Esther Heller, editorial director of Menucha Publishers. Although she lives in Tzfas, Mrs. Heller and several friends traveled to Jerusalem to attend the first seminar, which was organized by authors Dr. Judy Belsky and Varda Branfman. “Women have so much to do. For many of us it was hard to believe we had a right to write,” she recalls. “But after we returned to Tzfas, we were still so fired up that we decided to do a workshop there.”
Tzfas became the home of the annual seminar for three years, and then it returned to Jerusalem under the direction of writer Leah Kotkes, who gave it a new name: The Writer’s Journey. But when Mrs. Kotkes moved to England, it looked like the journey of the seminar had come to an end.
“Then I got a phone call from Tamar Ansh,” says Mrs. Heller. “She said we had to continue.”
And continue they did. The first Jerusalem Women’s Writers Seminar, or the JWWS, as it’s called today, attracted about 120 women and featured a program that included several speakers and three or four workshops. In the years that followed, the number of attendees and the program grew. For this year’s event, which was held at the Shirat Yerushalayim banquet hall in Givat Shaul, the approximately 200 attendees had their pick of 14 workshops, which ranged from workshops on how to write memorable characters, to how to blog or write a film script, to how to write for teens. There were also workshops on practical aspects of the publishing business, such as one on copyright law and another on how to deal with clients and get paid.
“If you want to be a serious writer,” says Tamar Ansh, “you need to get serious about making sure to do just that – write! On a steady basis, with set times. And most of all, invest in your career by getting out there to learn from others. This is the main point of our JWWS seminar.”
But perhaps the biggest draw for the seminar’s attendees is having the opportunity to meet with Orthodox book publishers and representatives from the English-language magazines. “People feel more comfortable when they’re talking to someone in person,” says Mrs. Ansh. “They can ask questions that they might not ask in an email or a query letter. And they can get immediate feedback about their idea, which is another big plus.”
Let’s Make a Deal
Among the nine publishing companies who sent representatives to the May 24 event were major players in the Jewish publishing world, such as ArtScroll/Mesorah, Feldheim Publishers, and Judaica Press. Although Israel Bookshop Publications, one of the event’s main sponsors, couldn’t attend this year’s seminar, it explained its continued sponsorship of the event in an email comment: “We’ve met talented authors at the JWWS. It’s a wonderful venue to meet many authors all in one location on the same day.”