Novel as “Destiny”

Naomi Ragen, a freelance journalist who has been living in Israel for twenty years, had begun and abandoned several novels. And then something so dramatic happened that she could put off her destiny no longer. A Hasidic woman living across the street killed her only child and commited suicide. What circumstances could have caused the young American to fall into such despair? With the scalpel of fiction, Ragen attempted an autopsy. The result, Jephte’s Daughter, is a rare foray into the world of ultra-Orthodox women.

Ragen herself grew up in the mainline Orthodox community of Far Rock-away N.Y., and without apology, Ragen considers herself a “very traditional” wife and mother. Her husband Alex, a computer scientist, is her first editor. They have four children — the eldest will soon enter military service in Israel, the youngest is three. Ragen works in the morning hours, concentrating completely on her work and sometimes turning out an entire chapter in one morning. When her children return from school, she closes shop and devotes her time to them.

Yet Ragen is enraged by the term, “housewife-writer.” Long before she made waves in the publishing world, she considered herself completely professional.

Gila Berkowitz is a novelist living in Teaneck, NJ.