3 Question Interview - Allison Ofanansky
I'm so happy to feature my #BookMeshuggenah friend Allison Ofanansky on the blog today! Her ideas and projects have been inspired by "the landscape and the people" she observes during her life in Israel. Read on to learn about Allison's stories . . .
creativity . . . and connection.
STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
The first books I published, my “Nature in Israel” series (KarBen), were inspired by the epiphany that the Jewish holidays are intimately related to the agricultural and natural seasons in Israel. I first realized that while doing the olive harvest with my family and friends – Hanukkah is a harvest holiday, celebrating olive oil! I never knew that, lighting those little colored candles in the US.
The Patchwork Torah (KarBen) is fiction, based on a real Torah scroll our community in Tzfat bought, which a sofer put together from parts of damaged Torah scrolls.
My Mimouna story (שק של מזל in Hebrew by Kinneret 2019, A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night in English by Groundwood Books 2020) grew out of my involvement in coexistence/interfaith activities in Israel. I wanted to write a story with a theme of interfaith friendship, but not something overtly political. The specific story was inspired by something I learned years ago, while working for a Moroccan-Israeli professor. I edited an academic article he wrote on Mimouna, and that is when I learned about the tradition of Jewish families getting flour from their Muslim neighbors and inviting them to the Mimouna party. This story went through dozens of revisions with feedback and input from many people. The only similarity between the first draft and the final version is the core idea of the meeting between the two girls on Mimouna night in Morocco.
Image from A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night
I have a Purim story coming out in 2021, Esther Didn’t Dream of Being Queen (Apples & Honey). That has a long backstory too, some of which is difficult. I am a rape victim/survivor (20+ years ago). While hearing the story of Esther each Purim, I was struck by the repetition that “Esther was taken” – she was raped. One commentary I read (Malbim) noted that Esther was praying another woman would be chosen before her turn to “be taken” to/by the king. The fact that her prayers weren’t answered wasn’t a punishment. She didn’t do anything wrong. She just didn’t yet know the end of her story and the role she had to play in it. The difficult things she went through put her in a position to become Queen Esther, and save her people (instead of staying the anonymous Hadas, which might have been easier). I found this idea comforting. Recently I got involved with a group of women who read the megillah (and are now writing our own scroll!) and as I was reading my chapter over and over, I was struck with the idea that the Esther story is the opposite of the Cinderella story. There are similarities – both were orphans, both became queen in a sort of beauty contest, both hid their identities. But Esther didn’t want to be queen, Achashverosh wasn’t prince charming, and she had no fairy godmother to wave a wand and solve her problems.
My big in-process project is historical fiction for middle school readers – by far the longest book I’ve ever written! It is the story of an American girl whose Communist parents decide to move the family to a kibbutz in Israel in 1951. They move to a kibbutz on the shores of not-yet-drained Lake Hula and she is placed in a children’s house. The idea for this story first came from an article I read about a frog (or more accurately a tailless amphibian) that was thought to be extinct and was rediscovered in the Hula Valley in 2011. I loved the idea of something we think is gone being found again unexpectedly. I thought about writing a picture book about this, but as I started doing the research, I became fascinated with the history of the Hula Valley and its (unfortunate) drainage, as well as the kibbutz movement. It is a part of Jewish and Israeli history that doesn’t get much coverage.
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
I have always loved books and am thrilled to be able to put a few out there in the world of literature. I want to share with others some of the things I have learned about since moving to Israel. The ideas for my books grow out of my life here – the landscape and the people.
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
I am pretty isolated up here in Kaditah (a small village in the Galilee). I am on the board of the English library in Tzfat. I went to the Tent conference a few years ago. I gained a few critique partners from that. More recently I joined SCBWI and went to their Sail Away conference in Tel Aviv, and they hooked me up with a three-way critique group (I’m working with them on my middle grade novel). Now I joined Book Meshuggenahs and Book Mavens and a few other online groups, which is nice. I love the idea that authors are not in competition – our collective goal is to create high-quality and diverse literature/children’s literature/Jewish children’s literature, which no one author can do alone. We can and should support each other!
Allison Ofanansky was born in the US and moved to Israel in 1996, where she lives in the village of Kaditah with her husband, Shmuel, and daughter, Aravah. Her books include the “Nature in Israel” and “How It’s Made” series (photographs by Andy Alpern), The Patchwork Torah (illustrated by Elsa Oriol) which won the National Jewish Book Award, and שק של מזל A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night (illustrated by Rotem Teplow). She works as an editor/translator and volunteers with various organizations working on behalf of community, ecology, social justice, and women’s issues.
CONNECT WITH ALLISON: