This week, Liz Rosen­berg, the author of The Laws of Grav­i­ty blogs for The Post­script on being a Jew­ish writer, one’s roots, and what can pull those roots apart. The Post­script series is a spe­cial peek behind the scenes” of a book. It’s a juicy lit­tle extra some­thing to add to a book clubs dis­cus­sion and a read­er’s under­stand­ing of how the book came togeth­er. 

To host” Liz at your next book club meet­ing, request her through JBC Live Chat

Recent­ly a man stopped by our house, to urge us to attend his church. We explained that we were Jew­ish. I under­stand that your hus­band is Jew­ish, but what about you?” I was also Jew­ish. Okay,” the man said, but have you always been Jew­ish?
Yes. I have pub­lished 5 books of poems, 24 children’s books, and 2 adult nov­els. The sub­ject has not always been Jew­ish. How­ev­er, I con­sid­er myself essen­tial­ly and per­ma­nent­ly a Jew­ish writer. I was at the Nation­al Book Awards the year Philip Roth won a life­time award. He was not, he declared, a Jew­ish writer. He was a writer, period.

I am a great fan of Mr. Roth’s work, but I was offend­ed by that dis­claimer. I thought it disin­gen­u­ous. And to me, it was as if he had spit on a pho­to­graph of his grandfather. 

We can­not choose or change our roots. We can hon­or or dis­hon­or them. 

30 years ago the germ of my newest nov­el, The Laws of Grav­i­ty, came via a Pitts­burgh news­pa­per arti­cle. A dying man sued his cousin for a bone mar­row trans­plant. The cousin agreed, then changed his mind — and the case went to the Supreme Court of Penn­syl­va­nia. After it was over, they inter­viewed the cousin who had refused, the sur­vivor, and asked how he felt. How do you think I feel?” he asked. I feel ter­ri­ble. I feel like throw­ing up.” 

This, it seemed to me, was the mak­ing of great tragedy. What pulls fam­i­lies togeth­er, or tears them apart? At a more per­son­al lev­el, I won­dered, what of the wid­ow of the cousin who died? What hap­pens now at fam­i­ly reunions?

That was the seed of my sto­ry, which changed in numer­ous ways, over the years. Instead of a bone mar­row trans­plant, I employed a legal bat­tle over cord blood. My cousins are one male and one female, the slight­est hint of a love sto­ry between them. The set­ting moved from Penn­syl­va­nia to my native Long Island, my oth­er roots. But the sto­ry didn’t come to full fruition till the main char­ac­ters became Jewish.

The bat­tle in The Laws of Grav­i­ty is a strug­gle between ethics and law. It is a fam­i­ly sto­ry — about oblig­a­tion and con­tracts, about mem­o­ry, friend­ship, love and death. It was, I felt, a quin­tes­sen­tial­ly Jew­ish sto­ry. There­fore uni­ver­sal, and par­tic­u­lar. My Jew­ish char­ac­ters range from athe­ists to a rab­bi who won’t boil water on Shab­bat. It involves a con­ver­sion, an adult bat-mitz­vah, a Shab­bos din­ner. Our son jokes that you can squeeze any page of this book and a drop of Man­is­che­witz wine will appear. 

As a writer I want to get to the heart of things, to fer­ret out the deep­er mean­ings. My books always fea­ture out­siders: chil­dren, old peo­ple and Jews, along with the dis­abled, the com­ic, the crazy and the vision­ar­ies. These are my cho­sen peo­ple. All of us. We have always been Jewish.

Liz Rosen­berg has writ­ten more than thir­ty books includ­ing nov­els, poet­ry, and non­fic­tion. For the past fif­teen years she has been a book review colum­nist at The Boston Globe. Liz teach­es at the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York at Bing­ham­ton where she won the Chan­cel­lor’s Award for excel­lence in teaching.