Creating a sleuth who’s a woman rabbi
Questions for Rabbi Ilene Schneider
The old expression — “When you want something done, ask a busy person” — holds true for Rabbi Ilene Schneider. Despite her demanding job, two sons, and a looming deadline for her next book, it took her less than three hours to respond to e-mailed questions from NJ Jewish News.
Schneider, who lives in Marlton with her husband, Rabbi Gary M. Gans, is the author of two Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries, Chanukah Guilt and Unleavened Dead, with a third on the way, in addition to a non-fiction book, Talk Dirty Yiddish. In her day job, she is coordinator of Jewish hospice for Samaritan Hospice in Marlton.
Adding to her very full calendar, she will be the guest speaker at the Sukkot brunch at Congregation Ahavat Olam, the Conservative synagogue in Howell, on Sept. 22. Her topic: “What makes a Jewish book Jewish?”
Schneider was one of the first six women rabbis ordained in the United States, graduating from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia in 1976. A native of Boston, she has served as executive director of the Board of Jewish Education of Atlantic County, among other positions.
NJJN: What do you see yourself as primarily — an author or rabbi or teacher or ….?
Schneider: I haven’t decided yet what to be when I grow up! My professional life has been as a rabbi, although in education and nonprofit work, not in a pulpit. But with the publication of my first mystery, Chanukah Guilt, I changed my on-line identity to “rabbi.author.” Note, though, that “rabbi” is first.
NJJN: Growing up, what did you want to be as an adult?
Schneider: From about fourth grade on, I wanted to write, and from eighth grade on, to be a journalist. My original goal was to be the first woman editor of the New York Times. I got a bit sidetracked.
NJJN: Given how much you love reading, if you have some available time, do you read or write?
Schneider: “Available time”? I wish! Seriously, it depends. If I’m in the “zone” and involved in my next book project, I write. If I’m still in the planning and thinking phase, or need to unwind from a particularly emotionally draining day at my day job, I read. I’ve also been known to justify my reading as “research.”
NJJN: Why did you make your star character a rabbi? Is she an alter ego?
Schneider: The proverbial “they” say to write what you know. So I did. People who know me say they hear my voice in Aviva’s. But I did try to make the details of her life different from mine (job, marital status, kids, other family details). She does, however, look like me.
On a mercenary note, so far she’s the only amateur sleuth protagonist who’s a woman rabbi. I’ve created a unique marketing niche for my books.
NJJN: Are you working on a book now?
Schneider: I should be working on the third Rabbi Aviva Cohen mystery, Yom Killer. But I’m spending a lot of time on marketing. I also have a couple of nonfiction books I’ve been “playing with.”