By: Karen Greenberg
Erica, where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up in Edison, New Jersey and lived in the same house until I left for college. My parent had moved in several years before I was born. I had the same rabbi for my baby naming, my bat mitzvah and my wedding (this was a first for him). My husband and I even brought our daughter back to my old synagogue for her naming.
After law school graduation, I got married and my husband and I moved to New York City where I assumed I would live for many years. Who would ever have predicted that shortly after we would move to Hong Kong? We have lived here since 2002.
What do you do for a living?
After a brief stint as a lawyer for a large insurance company, I began to write. In addition to founding and running Asian Jewish Life- a journal of spirit, society and culture, I freelance as a writer (including a column for The Magazine) and edit for a number of publications, usually writing about Jewish Asia but also about culture, identity, travel, history and parenting. I am currently working on my first novel (fiction, middle grade-young adult). I also do consulting work and serve a regional consultant for the JDC.
How did you get started in writing?
I left my law job when we moved to Hong Kong for my husband’s work in 2002. My intention was to return in two years. Since we were moving with a 7 week old and a 19 month old, we decided that it didn’t make sense for me to work while we were there. It would take a long time for me to settle the children and find a place to live. Two years rolled into three and when we started to discuss staying long term, I was eager to work again. I told my husband I would contact my company in New York and ask them to find me a position in their Hong Kong office.
My husband’s response: “You are a NY qualified attorney from a top law school who has a great reputation within the company. If you make that call, you will likely be working by the end of the week. If your greatest passion in life is to be lawyer for a large insurance company, go for it. If not, you have a window of opportunity to figure out what you are most passionate about.”
I had always wanted to be a writer. I had studied English Literature and Judaic Studies in SUNY Albany’s Honors Program. My thesis was a creative piece. I would frustratingly search the New York Times and announce, “Oh surprise. No job adverts for Jewish poets today,” close the paper and put it down. Now I had the chance to do what I always wanted.
What types of readers do you hope to reach?
I hope that Asian Jewish Life will reach the broadest set of readers possible. The Jewish communities of the Far East (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, India, Korea, Nepal, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand) are unbelievably diverse in terms of background, nationality, denomination, Jewish learning, etc. We try to provide something for everyone. Additionally, our online readers tend to live outside the Far East (the majority are in the US and Israel but with growing readership in Australia, the UK and France), this also requires us to broaden the scope of the magazine.
What about your column in The Magazine?
For The Jewish Press, I tend to write memoir-type pieces that offer a glimpse of Jewish life in the region and what it is like to raise a Jewish family off the major arteries and in a third culture. My pieces are usually personal and weave in stories about my children, with quotes from them as well. Memoir, like biography and autobiography, has always appealed to me. I thrive on personal narratives. Everyone has a story to share.
Since I was a child, I was a natural storyteller, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I had a writer friend tell me to start putting down on paper (or computer) any story I find myself repeating three times. This was invaluable advice.
I went to law school entirely by default. When I proclaim that I didn’t get very much out of law school, my husband is quick to object. We met my second year when as President of the Jewish Law Student Association, I was giving free kosher for Pesach food out on campus.
How do you choose the specific topics you write about?
I choose topics I am interested in but balance that with what my readers want as well. I love narrative and hearing individual personal stories, finding out what inspires or moves people. I enjoy any opportunity I have to interview people about their passions.
Is there anything you are interested in writing about, outside of your regular column?
Since I have lived in Hong Kong for a decade, my work always ties in to Jewish life in Asia or Jewish history and Asia. While my interests are broader than that, I really enjoy giving others a glimpse of the remarkable imprint Jews have left on the region, as well as insight into what Jewish life is like today in this part of the world. A visitor who had read my article (Nei Hou From Jewish Hong Kong, 3-23) on costume shopping in Hong Kong for Purim, remarked that it was exactly as I had described and that she could see my story unfold as she walked down Pottinger Street. Sharing glimpses of my world with others is definitely something I would like to continue to do.
Do your family and friends play a role in your writing?
My family is heavily involved in the process. While my children love hearing how they are woven into my articles, my husband is an incredible first editor. He is my biggest fan but is also critical when I really need him to be.
Describe your writing process.
Once I decide on a topic, I walk around thinking of ideas and actually formulating sentences and paragraphs. Sometimes things come together best at night, perhaps because I work from home and it is quietest then, or when I am out walking in alone. Typically by the time I sit down at the computer I have already formulated most of the piece and the actual “writing” is a rather quick process. Also, since I like to write about my personal experiences, I am often writing stories that I have told a number of times. Each time I retell the story is sort of a draft.
What is your favorite part of writing?
My favorite part about writing personal pieces is the ability for my work to move someone else and being able to connect with so many other people. I attended a conference recently while I was in Jerusalem and someone there had read an article I wrote for The Jewish Press (1-21-2011) called Zionism – Made in China. She told me she had shared it with countless others and laughed hysterically at the line: On Passover we didn’t conclude our Seder with next year in Jerusalem. “Next year in Boca Raton,” we would shout, tongue-in-cheek.
Her enthusiasm is what makes writing enjoyable; that as a writer I have the ability to make people I have never met laugh, cry, find comfort or reflect is an incredible feeling. Likewise, writing has also opened the door for me to interview and meet some pretty amazing people and hear their stories.
Are you writing a book?
I recently started work on a novel for middle grade kids. I have the story mapped out and have done some preliminary research. I have always wanted to write fiction. Searching for books for my daughter made me see how few contemporary appropriate books are out there for girls in that age range. I also would love for there to be more stories with Jewish characters for the middle grade range.
About the Author: Karen Greenberg lives in Queens, NY. She attended the Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central) and spent her year in Israel studying at Midreshet Harova. She is now a junior at Queens College with a major in English and a double minor in business and secondary education. This article was originally posted at www.cross-currents.com.