Inspiring Jewish Women

Women to know: Sudy Rosengarten – writing was something she couldn’t have escaped if she tried

Even at a young age, Sudy Rosengarten was a woman of many interests. Raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Rosengarten spent hours in the furniture department on the seventh floor of Macy’s, studying their model room sets, lighting and decor. She was an avid reader and a lover of classical music. She also enjoyed going to shul, enchanted as she was by the niggunim.

Most importantly, she loved people, especially the babies and toddlers she cared for, and the family members whom she visited in faraway places. “I loved to listen in on their adult conversations; it broadened my horizons,” Sudy, who now lives in Bnei Brak, recalls. “I absorb[ed] what they had to say, though [I was] too timid to add my voice.” Her keen interest in the world around her would one day help her become one of the Orthodox world’s most prolific writers. Not that it was something she planned. “I don’t remember wanting to be a writer,” Sudy says. “I wanted to be a nurse.” But writing was something she couldn’t have escaped if she tried. “There was always writing going on in our house. Every Rosh Chodesh, my mother would write postcards to all her good friends, wishing them a good chodesh… Every Thursday night she would write checks for certain poor people she knew, always adding an encouraging letter with a long list of brachos for their health and happiness.

My sister Shoshana won a city writing contest when she was in seventh grade in Bais Yaakov. Writing was the way we expressed ourselves. But we never talked about it or even thought about it. It was a natural thing for us to do.” With the encouragement of two teachers, Sudy discovered her talent—and the desire to share it with others. She eventually became a teacher of limudei kodesh at Bais Yaakov and TAG in Far Rockaway, in time marrying and becoming a mother. In 1969, at the age of 37, Sudy moved to Israel with her family, which dramatically altered her career trajectory. “I wasn’t fluent in Hebrew,” Sudy explains. “I was afraid to go into teaching. So I began to write seriously.”

The results were the well-known books An American Saga; Worlds Apart: The Birth of Bais Yaakov in America; An Onion for the Doctor and Other Stories; and her most recent work, Our Father, Our Child, about a family caring for their aging father. Sudy’s stories are very diverse, featuring a wide range of voices, but the source for all of them, she says, is the same. “Life is my inspiration for whatever I’ve written. Most of my stories and books are about things that I actually experienced or felt very deeply about… I don’t write lullabies; I write about life with all of its ups and downs.” Her audiences seem to appreciate her unfiltered look at life, as evidenced by her devoted readership, which has grown exponentially thanks to the expansion of the chareidi literary world in recent years. In fact, Sudy says that when she was growing up, Orthodox literature was practically nonexistent. “Are you joking? There was nothing called chareidi reading when I was young. Here and there, if something did come out, everyone would grab it because people were starved for kosher reading material.

Today, when you go into a Jewish bookstore, you don’t know where to look first; the place is packed with quality reading for all ages and interests.” I can’t help but wonder (since I have yet to discover the answer myself) how Sudy managed to balance the pursuit of her passion with the demands of raising her family. Sudy concedes that it wasn’t easy. “When a woman is trying to fulfill the needs of her family as well as her own, the two often collide head on. A pact must be established between the two. In my case, my husband and I went to discuss the matter with our rebbe, z”l… He explained that when a person has the need to express himself, in whatever area it might be, it’s the voice of his soul begging to be heard, and that voice must never be choked into silence or ignored.

When a married woman with a family is determined to write, it has to be with careful planning so that her husband and children are not neglected or short-changed. But, the rebbe emphasized, it can be done.” Part of what helped Sudy achieve her goals was the rental of a machsan [storeroom] 20 minutes away from her apartment that became her designated writing room. “I’m really ashamed to talk about my writing room because it’s a real mess,” Sudy admits. “But for me it’s a lifesaver because it’s the only place that offers me the privacy I need. Time and again I’ve tried writing at home, but it never worked out because people were always knocking on the door, the telephone was ringing, or I would suddenly remember to take out the garbage or do a load of laundry.” Despite her achievements, Sudy is quick to say that she is no wonder woman. “We are neither supermen nor angels.

We’re human beings, normal people who don’t always succeed in reaching the heights we strive for. But the test of life is that when we do fall, we mustn’t stay down. We must do everything to get back on our feet, and then we stand tall.” Sudy’s ability to stand tall in the face of challenges was evident most recently during a trying legal battle against a bestselling author whom Sudy accused of plagiarizing her work. Sudy accused the author of incorporating Sudy’s story “A Match Made in Heaven” into her own book. After a year, the Jerusalem District Court ordered the author and her publishers to pay Sudy a settlement for copyright infringement, distortion, camouflage and literary copying of “substantial and significant” portions of Sudy’s story, stating, “The chapter was planted in a book that is foreign to the views and spirit of Mrs. Rosengarten as a chareidi woman.”

The experience of finding her story, which was about her son, in another woman’s book was undoubtedly shocking for Sudy, not to mention that Ragen painted the chareidi world in a negative light. But now that the year-long saga is over, Sudy prefers to focus on the present and the work she has ahead of her. These days, she spends her time for the important things—family, her work, and occasionally a good book. “Unless it’s really good stuff,” Sudy says, “I almost have no patience to read… Today my life is filled with people, live people with their joys and sorrows who are determined, despite their struggles, to live a life in the service of our Creator.” In the meantime, she’s just as keen an observer as she always was, urging young writers to “pay attention, to look at what seems ordinary and to realize that there’s more than what meets the eye.” As for emotional inspiration to spark her creativity, Sudy need only to open her siddur. “When you concentrate on the words, they are so beautiful and inspiring. Think of the tefillos of the Yomim Nora’im—the Kohen Gadol doing the avodah, the description of the Aseres Harugei Malchus. Where else do we respond with such true and overwhelming emotion?” Great writing advice, if you ask me.

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