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My Country is Judaism

Outsider experiences? The question hits home so hard that I don’t know where to start. I am an American Jew, writing in French and living in Nice.

I guess my American accent in French (and Hebrew) is as strong as was my grandmother’s; she lived a lifetime in Brooklyn and eternally spoke English as if it were the Russian- Yiddish of her childhood. It’s okay for a grandmother to speak with an accent, but what about a mother? I think my greatest estrangement was from my own children—I tell this story in Open\bur Eyes (Viking, 2003). When I picked them up at school they would say “Just walk and don’t open your mouth.” Probably the only fleeting moments in my life when I wasn’t a stranger were my days in the Newark Hebrew Academy and in Hebrew University in Jerusalem (where I met my French husband). But my country has always been Judaism, so I feel quite at home attached to my own portable roots wherever I am.

As a children’s writer, I go to all the mean sections, educational “priority zones” populated by North African kids and they ask me with great hostility: “Why do you write about Jews?” I answer, “Because I’m a Jew!” They look at me in horror. “Have you ever met a Jew before?” I ask. And they say no. “Well, now that you’ve met me, what do you think?” Dialogue is a real antidote to hatred! Gender issues as well as Jewish and foreigner status have been great themes in my books.

Susie Morgenstern was born in Newark, New Jersey. Life (and love) brought her to Nice, France. She has written 50 books among which seven are translated into English (Viking), and she teaches in the University of Nice.