In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist


Born in Nashville, TN and raised in Virginia, Ruchama King Feuerman bought herself a one-way ticket to Jerusalem when she was seventeen to study Kabbalah with mystics. She went to college in Israel and returned to the United States to get her MFA at Brooklyn College.  The stories she wrote there became Seven Blessings, her acclaimed first novel about matchmaking from St. Martin’s Press; Kirkus Reviews called her, “The Jewish Jane Austen.” Today she lives in New Jersey with her husband and children where, among other things, she runs writing workshops for Orthodox and Hassidic women; she talked to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the lure of the Talmud, the people she met in Israel and her abiding belief in the power of the story.  

Yona Zeldis McDonough:  Tell me about the time you spent in Jerusalem.

Ruchama King Feuerman: The ten years I lived in Israel – nine of them in Jerusalem – I fell in love with Torah study.  Chumash, midrash, philosophy, Maimonides, law, the works. I loved the act of throwing myself at the text, beating my brains to figure out what Jewish thinkers had thought centuries ago, touching their minds. This was in the eighties when a whole revolution was taking place in Orthodox women’s Torah study. I tutored and taught at Brovender’s, perhaps the first school to teach women Gemara. After six or seven years, though, I started to feel like a walking brain. I found myself craving a more Hassidic type of learning. I met kabbalists, I prayed with the Hassidim, and I studied the Hassidus of Breslev,  Chabad, Chernobyl, whatever I stumbled upon. I loved how if there was a great rabbi or rebbetzin you wanted to talk to, you could just get on a bus and go meet them.  I loved the many wise and powerful Jewish women I met there with their artistic head scarves. Jerusalem seems to breed them. Three decades later, I can’t stop writing about Jerusalem, the personalities I met there.