Writing a Memoir about Spirituality: Interview with Rabbi Tamara Kolton

In this interview, Rabbi Tamara Kolton, Ph.D., author of Oranges for Eveshares insights on her book and the process of writing it.

Initial Inspiration for Oranges for Eve

Olivia Edwards: Oranges for Eve combines memoir, a history of the Feminine Divine and spiritual guidance. What initially inspired you to write this book? 

Oranges for Eve

Rabbi Tamara Kolton, Ph.D.: I cannot remember a time when I did not dream of writing a book. I remember how I felt in second grade when my teacher bound my story and it looked like a real book. I just held it and looked at it with awe. In the way that painters look at paintings or dancers look at dances, I have looked at books, longing for the words and the way to one day tell my own story.

This yearning all came surging forward on July 21, 2012 when I found myself in the middle of a terrible temple board meeting. At the time, I was the rabbi of the congregation and I knew I had to resign. This was the also the congregation where I grew up so my heart was literally breaking.

With dozens of people screaming and yelling around the board room table, at 10:30pm, I walked out from the board meeting and sat myself down at my desk to write my letter of resignation.

A friend of mine followed me, leaned against my desk and said, “Oh. You’re going to need an exit story.” Somehow, I knew in my gut that I would bring together my dream of writing a book with the big story that I was now living. This thought gave me power and some hope. If I could tell my story than I could heal. I didn’t know how. I just knew that I absolutely had to find a way.

Choosing a title

Olivia: The biblical story of Eve provides a touchstone for the themes in this book. How does the story of Eve speak to you? Can you please tell me about the title, Oranges for Eve?

Tamara: I obsessed over titles for the book. I sucked on them like hard candy in my mouth, turning them over and over again. Was it this title or that title? Does this explain it or is this catchier? I kept coming back to “Oranges for Eve.” At one point, I suggested a different title to my daughter Maya, who was 10 years old at the time. She jumped up and protested, “Mom! We already decided that your book title is Oranges for Eve!” Note: WE ALREADY decided. I took that as a strong sign from Maya and the Universe. So, that was that!.

Symbolism of the orange

women have to unlearn how to treat themselves.  We have to unlearn our shame and stop being mean to ourselves about our bodies and even our right to exist. The orange really fit because sweet, juicy oranges are the opposite of bitter, poisonous apples. I came to understand that poisonous apples are any story that carries shame. Shame is poison. It is the only emotional state that has absolutely no benefit. It shuts us down and robs us of our power. Shame is the way feminine power has been shut down by the patriarchy for the past 2000 years. So, it had to be oranges. Round, sun-kissed, sweet, juicy oranges.

The orange is also a symbol in the Jewish community for women rabbis. There is a story that someone asked an Orthodox rabbi if a woman could share the bima, Hebrew for alter or stage. The Orthodox rabbi replied, “A woman belongs on the bima like an orange belongs on a Seder plate.” Meaning, she doesn’t. A Seder plate has the foods we think of in the Exodus story like matzoh. There are no oranges. That would be ridiculous. So, as a protest to this rabbi and this way of thinking, Jewish households all over the county began to put an orange on their Seder plate. In doing this, we are all saying, “Women should be rabbis and anything else they want to be.” Today, thousands of people all over the Jewish world put an orange on their Seder plate.

For all of these reasons, Oranges for Eve stuck. And I like the title and I am grateful to my daughter for reminding me that WE had an agreement!

Advice on Writing a Memoir

Olivia: How did writing the memoir parts feel, especially the stories that are personal and even painful? What advice do you have for other memoirists?

Tamara: The first chapter in the book felt the riskiest. It describes the showdown board meeting that set in motion a series of irreversible events. I wrote the chapter in my head first over and over again, wondering, “How will I actually tell that story?” I was afraid people would judge me or be mad at me, or think I was crazy. I was also afraid I would be sued or somehow bring painful energy to me, and I had enough of that!

First, I sat down and wrote out the whole story without censoring myself. Then, I went back and eliminated certain parts that felt like they were, “For my eyes only.” I added in other paragraphs that shared my appreciation and deep love for my temple. I really wanted to convey my deep love and respect for my rabbi, who was the founder of the congregation. I deleted all the names or even versions of names and changed gender around a bit until all the actual people that I referenced were unrecognizable except to me.

I am still most insecure about chapter one but, at the same time, I marvel that it is all there in print. I didn’t just experience it, but I actually wrote it down and told the story in a clear way that I find beautiful. It does not blame anyone but it holds people accountable, including me. I have cried and cried while reading the last few paragraphs of chapter one out loud. They take me right back to the moment when my daughter and I kissed the temple goodbye and left forever.

The research process

Olivia: Oranges for Eve includes informative research about the Feminine Divine throughout history, including new archaeological evidence. What was your research process like? 

Tamara: Chapter five, which contains my research, took the longest and required the most concerted effort to write. I think it might be helpful to other writers to explain my process. First, I identified the key books and articles that I needed to read. I knew five or six and once I had an overview, I dug in. I highlighted and took notes. I read and reread the books and the notes that I took. It was a process. Meaning, it took time to master the new information and really integrate it.

In my research I used the bibliographic and reference sections of those key five or six books as road maps. I relied on them to show me the way to other books. They were stepping stones.

The research process was calculating and linear. I wanted to make sure that is was grounded in academics. It had to be accurate.  But, the process was also highly intuitive. I was looking for the quotes and the images that moved me. I trusted my own clear knowing. If I read a quote and it gave me chills throughout my body, I knew I was onto something. If I was not moved by something I read or interested in it, I moved on. If I found a book that knocked my socks off, I studied it.

Table of Contents Tip

*By the way, I have a confession to make: I am a Tables of Contents Nerd. In writing my book I read hundreds of tables of contents to learn all the different ways a book can be organized. I love reading table of contents and you can do this endlessly on Kindle because the book samples are all free!

Journaling as a spiritual exercise when writing a memoir

Olivia: Oranges for Eve includes some excerpts from your journal entries. How did keeping a journal prepare you to write a memoir? Many of the spiritual exercises involve journaling, and the book even includes space for readers to write. What do you think is the power of journaling?

Tamara: For me, journaling is like dreaming. Journals reveal what we would otherwise never know about ourselves, how we really feel and what are really thinking about. I think every writer would benefit from journaling. Journaling makes your writing personal and compelling. In my journals I rarely write about what I did. I write about what I felt and what I want myself to know. I have journals from when I was seventeen years old, living in Israel and falling in love for the first time. And while my writing has grown since then, my writer’s voice is right there in those journals in the sensitive, yet bold and brave way I was even at seventeen.

Journaling is also a way to move beyond the ego mind and inner critic. When you write for yourself, for your eye’s only, it frees you to just be you as a person and a writer.

Just one more thought on journaling: I was told not to include journaling or journals in my book because publishers don’t like journal entries. But then I thought about my number one commitment for the book: To write the book that I would love to read.  I love exercise and places to write in my book. I also love journal entries. Consider books that you love written by writers like Ann Frank. They are journals! My book had to include journaling as a way to get to know the authentic self.

Connect with your muse

Olivia: In Oranges for Eve, you advocate celebrating women’s power and wisdom. Who are some women that have influenced your life? 

Tamara: My Grandma Jeanette showed me that the greatest value in life is learning how to love. Chapter two of my book is all about her and how she made the journey from fear and self-doubt to a life of joy and over-flowing love.

Eve was with me too. I drew on “Eve Energy,” every time I sat down to write. I imagined golden light pouring into the crown of my head, sliding down my throat and into my typing fingers. I asked Eve to help me be brave too. I asked her to help me find the light of the Feminine Divine and bring forth truth into the world. I asked her for the power to be a spiritual badass too and pick the apple! I said to her, “Okay Eve.

You are going to have to help me write this book.” And she did. She helped. My rabbi who died ten years ago helped. My Grandmother helped. I drew on people living and dead. Known and unknown to me. Giant spirits sat with me as I typed and inspired me when I lay in bed and dreamed up things to write about.

Lisa Tener very much encouraged this process of connecting with my muses. I remember a call with her in which she encouraged me to go and play with my muse. I had never had anyone “legitimate” tell me that! My muses were with me every step of the way. I encourage all writers to explore the possibility of muses!

How to achieve your writer’s voice

Olivia: Oranges for Eve is personal, spiritual, and persuasive, all at the same time. How did you use your writer’s voice to achieve this?

Tamara: I read my writing out loud. I had to hear it and feel it. It was all about how it sounded to me and how it felt. The words had to sound right, raw, and rhythmic. It had to feel sacred. The words had to register in my body and when I got full body chills, I knew what I wrote touched that which is sacred.

First, I hear my writer’s voice in my head. For me, my writer’s voice is actually a voice in my head. First, I hear the words, then I write them down. After that, I read what I wrote out loud, so, again, I can hear it.  If I stick to this formula while connecting to the energy of my muse… poof! We have a chapter. Or maybe, on an exceptionally good day, a few sentences at least!

How experience as a psychologist informed Oranges for Eve

Olivia: How did your knowledge as a clinical psychologist inform Oranges for Eve?

Tamara: As a psychologist, I have had the privilege of listening to people tell their stories of woundedness. I have a close-up seat to how harsh and even cruel we can be to each other and most of all, to ourselves. I have also had the privilege of seeing that people can change their way of relating to themselves. People can change their circumstances, too. People can make big moves when they have to. People are incredibly resilient, brave and strong. Week after week, I watch people grow and transform themselves by refusing to live in misery, especially when the misery is internal. They inspire me and my stories!

Advice for first-time authors

Olivia: Oranges for Eve is your first book. What advice do you have for other first-time authors who are coming from careers in other fields? 

Tamara: Write the book you want to read. Write the book for yourself. Write the book you can fall in love with. Write the book that if you saw it on the book shelf, you would freak out inside because it was so the best book ever!

I imagined that my book was on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, I discovered it for the first time and I took it off the shelf, read the introduction and kissed it!

You have to write your book for yourself. Then, no matter what happens with the outcome, whether or not people “Like it,” you will have accomplished something truly extraordinary. You will have written into life a treasure for your own soul.

Writing a memoir with a message

Olivia: Who do you have in mind as the intended audience of Oranges for Eve? What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Tamara: I made the decision to write the book to my “Soul-Sisters.” I include the feminine as it shines through men too but this book is really a woman-to-woman conversation. I hope that every person who reads Oranges for Eve sees Eve in a totally new light and reclaims feminine truth. I hope that every person refuses to believe any lies that were every told to them about being anything less than Divine. I hope the book empowers us to wake up as a collective and push past patriarchal boundaries.

I also hope the reader emerges kinder to herself and holds herself the way a Great Mother holds her children, softly and safe. Imagine if we could all be Great Mothers to ourselves and sooth the injured parts of ourselves rather than project them onto other people! Imagine if we understood that Mother Earth is alive and sentient. There are so many game-changing truths in the book. I hope people find them and fly with them!

Celebrate Your Life Soulfest

Olivia: Recently, you spoke at the first Online Soulfest hosted by Celebrate Your Life, after you were selected in a contest they sponsored. Can you please tell me more about this event?

Tamara: Celebrate Your Life Events is one of the largest spiritual speaking platforms in the world. They held a contest to discover up and coming spiritual speakers and I was one of the recipients of the award. My topic is “Embodying the Feminine Divine.” From the perspective of the Feminine Divine, I believe that the number one thing we are meant to learn at this time is how to be at home in our own bodies. For thousands of years feminine power has been shut down by training women to hate their bodies. In 2020, we are waking up and healing. I am thrilled to find myself right in the center of this energy! I believe we teach best what we have to learn most. So, here I am!

May Oranges for Eve, like every person who ever put her foot on a bold new path for healing and transformation, find her wings and fly!

About the Author

Rabbi Tamara Kolton Ph.D. is the author of the international bestseller Oranges for Eve: My Brave, Beautiful, Badass Journey to the Feminine Divine. She is an independent rabbi, psychologist & feminine mythologist. As a rabbi for over 20 years in the Detroit community, she has shared life’s greatest joy and deepest sorrow with thousands of people.

Rabbi Kolton was the first person to be ordained a humanistic rabbi, an achievement recognized by The New York Times.

Seven years ago she resigned her pulpit and set out on a brave quest to discover a God she could believe in. In searching for “Him,” she found, “Her.”

Rabbi Kolton integrates spirituality and feminism. She asks us to see Eve, of the bible, as a heroine and an unabashed powerhouse of beauty and spiritual bravery.

She asks us to see ourselves that way too.

This interview was published on How to Write A Book.

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