Author Anita Diamant (fourth from left) with students at the University of Illinois Hillel.
By Meredith Rohter
Inclement weather could not prevent acclaimed author, Anita Diamant, from inspiring students at the University of Illinois Hillel. Delayed by rain and snow, Diamant, the author of The Red Tent, The Last Days of Dogtown and The New Jewish Wedding Book, arrived only moments before she was scheduled to speak. But the bad weather turned out to be a boon to students as it gave them two chances to hear her talk instead of just one.
Diamant spoke to the students about liberal Judaism, emphasizing “where it is today and where it is going” and presented a message of hope for American Jewry. She gave the students a different perspective on the fate of Judaism, saying that we are going to be a strong and vibrant force in the future.
“American Judaism is not in danger of disappearing, but currently in a Golden Age,” said Diamant. She also stressed the importance of “questioning” in Judaism asserting “Questions are the tastiest fruits on the Jewish tree of life.” She gave the students a different perspective on the fate of Judaism, saying that we are going to be a strong and vibrant force in the future.
“She had a very definitive optimistic view on the course of American Judaism, which is much different than most commonly accepted views about the fate of Judaism,” said sophomore Nathan Kramer.
Another major focus of her lecture was the importance of ensuring strong relationships between American and Israeli Jews. Diamant said there is a need for more dialogue between both sides and that there should be an increase in exchanges between American and Israeli students.
“I really liked when she said that Israelis have as much to learn from American Jews as American Jews do from Israelis, said senior Vince Donlon. “She pointed out that Israeli Jews can learn a lot about liberal Judaism from American Jews.”
Despite the bad weather, the turnout was excellent due in large part to the author’s popularity. Her book, The Red Tent, is currently published in 22 countries and 19 languages. However, it’s not the only book people love.
Melissa Cohen, Jewish student leadership coordinator at Hillel, said Diamant’s book, The New Jewish Wedding, “… inspired me. It opened up my mind to ideas about my wedding.”
“The popularity of her books is the reason why she was brought to campus,” said senior Eddie Brener, who was instrumental in bringing her to campus. “Diamant is an influential American Jew who had something to teach us.”
With all flights being cancelled the next day, she was forced to stay another day in Champaign, giving students an extra opportunity to hear her speak. Diamant attended Hillel’s Reform services Friday night and joined nearly 100 students for a delicious Shabbat dinner. After dinner, Diamant held an informal discussion session with students.
She spoke about how her books get published citing what she does and does not have say on. For example, she told the group, her editor told her they had to change the title of her book, The Red Tent, originally called The Book of Dinah, because after doing an Internet search he has found over 500 books all with the title, “The Book of...” Although initially upset about this change, she now admits to loving the title.
“It was interesting to hear who she collaborates with and that she doesn’t have any say in what the cover art of her book is,” said Deborah Shub, a sophomore. “She didn’t like the cover of the book [The Red Tent] because it didn’t relate to the book at all.”
“Anita Diamant was truly gracious, making the best of her unanticipated extra time in Champaign-Urbana,” said Illinois Hillel Executive Director Joel Schwitzer. “Her comments were both meaningful and insightful. It was wonderful having someone whose writing had such an impact on many of our staff and students on campus.”
Meredith Rohter is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.