Julie Gray
Editor, Writer and Only Slightly Reformed Overthinker.

She opens her mouth with wisdom

When I made aliyah two years ago, I came here with a dream. A lofty dream that was soon subsumed – no – gobbled up by my day-to-day wrestling with being an olah.

It’s like dealing with some kind of a fiendish version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, being an olim: masgan, masgan, masgan, affordable food (still looking btw), mosquito repellent, Misrad Hapnim survival kit, bus card, masgan. And that jelly fish sting-be-gone stuff.

Then there are the bonus rounds: (Mis)adventures in Ulplan, figuring out the difference between a “sherut” and the “sherutim” (turn out, it matters) and navigating the various holidays that we American Jews have honestly never head of. Color me schooled.

As you can imagine, as I trudged up three flights of stairs in the 150% humidity of Tel Aviv with my twelve thousand shekel bag of groceries, it didn’t take long for me to put my lofty dream behind me as the silly whim of a naive American. Who has time for dreams when I had a 90-minute phone call with Bezeq to get through, after pressing *1 for Anglit six times only to be told lo, en efshar b’Anglit? I think I developed a nervous eye twitch in less than eight weeks time.

In the Before Times, I lived in Los Angeles and worked in the entertainment business. I was a Hollywood script reader. Over time, I opened my own consulting company and began to work with what in Hollywood are called “aspiring writers” – writers who would like to write and sell screenplays. I reveled in my work and was very good at getting writers to not only learn and adhere to the strange rules of screenwriting but to stay productive, positive and tenacious as they chased after the constantly moving target of a Hollywood script sale.

But now, I was in Israel, and slowly, but surely, I began to adjust and to be able to say elegant and scintillating things in Hebew like: “I live in Ramat Gan and before, I lived in Los Angeles” or “I would like to go to Kaplan Street”.

Slowly, a new kind of normalcy was regained. During my time here, I have published a screenwriter’s atlas and have twice taught at the London Screenwriter’s Festival. I do my thing. I get around. I work with writers all over the world.

About a year ago, following my bliss (read: thick noggin) I decided, almost on a whim, to start a writing group in my home. I won’t lie to you, there was cat fur on the behinds of the writers and we ran out of tea. Inspired, I started looking for cafes where we could meet. The group grew, slowly at first, and then gradually, we had over a hundred members of our Facebook group and fifteen to twenty regular attendees of our weekly salons. Some weeks are quite crowded, others are very intimate. But week in and week out, the Salon has shown up and I have seen amazing things: brilliant writing, friendships born and confidence levels raised beyond measure. Finally – I have contributed something, ever so small, to Israel. It only took two years.

Really, I think most of us don’t do more than cope on a day to day basis. We must work, shop, take care of our households – doing things like reading a book or seeing a movie feels like bonus time already. Much less doing charity or volunteer work, much less taking the time to feed our passions for yoga, writing, painting, dance – but are these not the foundations of a life well-lived? Doing what we love?

That all sounds terrific until you’re our of hummus, milk and bread, right? 

For those of us who work in the arts, whether we be creators, facilitators or both as in my case, putting an emphasis on art and expression is more than a luxury, it is our dream, our passion and sometimes even our livelihood.

The lofty dream I came to Israel with was this: what if I could facilitate writing groups to find amazing talent and creativity in Israel not just to forward to Hollywood, not just to pitch publishers with, but to open up dialogue? What if I could tap into those who have not yet had the opportunity to write? Who don’t quite know how, even? Who don’t want an academic course from a university, but rather a friendly, safe environment of encouragement? What would come out of these writers over time?

The Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon has yielded bushes of pure gold. The love, laughter and talent in that group is off the charts. I have never, literally never seen such a concentration of talent in one place.

Just today I caught myself again thinking about that dream – what if even more writers were involved? What if this experience were available to not just urbane Tel Aviv writers but to writers living in other parts of Israel, writers who don’t even know they are writers? Specifically, I thought, what about women writers who don’t often have the time or opportunity to get out of the house and feed their creative spirits?

Can reaching out to more writers and facilitating community, friendship, confidence and expression change the world and bring peace to the Middle East? To Israel?

I wish.

But for every woman who has her creativity acknowledged, and specifically for every  Israeli woman who writes about her experience; her relationships, her family, her life in Israel, there is created an opening – a possibility – for more understanding. And if we can collect this writing and publish it, we can shine a light on Israel of a different kind. One of humanity and humor and a wide variety of expression. That was my dream. To give Israeli women a wider audience and a celebrated voice.

Now that I have the masgan figured out – perhaps it’s time to dream again.

Come and dream with me and join the Jerusalem Women’s Writing Salon FB page.

About the Author
Julie Gray is a story editor and nonfiction writer who made the leap from Los Angeles to Israel almost seven years ago and has many (mostly) humorous adventures ever since. A longtime Huffington Post contributor and self-described "Hollywood refugee", Julie works with writers all over the world on fiction and creative non-fiction books. Her own memoir, "They Do Things Differently Here" is an understatement and a work in progress. Julie heads up The Gidon Project, a collaborative memoir about the nature of memory, the spirit of resilience, the Holocaust the art of aging well and other lessons learned from one man's life. Julie's favorite color is "swimming pool" and when she's not working with and wondering about words, she loves to knit "future gifts" in her beloved Big Red Chair.
Related Topics
Related Posts