By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer
Jennifer Weiner, author of “Good in Bed,” “In Her Shoes,” and her latest, “Mrs. Everything,” was the guest speaker Jan. 30 at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County’s annual Lion of Judah Luncheon, held at the Polo Club.
The Lions of Judah, comprised of philanthropic Jewish women, contribute a minimum $5,000 per year to the 2019 UJA/Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County Annual Campaign.
Hosted by co-chairs Shelly Snyder and Jeanne Fibus, the Boca Raton chapter boasts more than 700 Lions of Judah, one of the largest Lions of Judah memberships in the country, and is a leader in the number of endowments greater than $100,000.
“This luncheon is every season’s premier event in local women’s philanthropy,” Fibus said. “We invite women of all ages to join our powerful, caring and fulfilling sisterhood, and be part of the vital difference our Lions make in countless lives.”
In fact, Snyder noted that since last year’s luncheon 55 new lions have joined their philanthropic group and highlighted their efforts around the globe, including working to resettle Russian Jewish refugees into Palm Beach County during the 1970s and continuing the fight against anti-Semitism.
More than anything, Weiner, a New York Times best-selling novelist, is a storyteller and she launched into a number of stories in front of approximately 400 attendees who came to hear her speak about her creative process, her personal experiences and writing for and about Jewish women.
“I’m happy to be here, although it’s bittersweet,” said Weiner, who would come to Florida to visit her “Nana,” who lived in Century Village in Deerfield before relocating to an assisted living facility in her native city of Detroit.
A large presence and influence in Weiner’s life, Nana was at once doting, but critical.
For her 100th birthday Weiner begged her to know what she could give her, as she usually declined Weiner’s efforts at gift-giving.
“Come speak at my assisted living,” she said and Weiner did.
“It felt good to finally make her happy,” she remembered.
She recalled the fact that her grandmother only had an eighth grade education and worked in a candy store before eventually marrying and running a furniture business with her husband.
Some of these real-life people and events are fictionalized in Weiner’s latest book, “Mrs. Everything,” which follows the lives of two sisters as they navigate a changing America over the course of their lives.
“What would Nana’s life have been like if she had more opportunities?” Weiner wondered. “I wanted to look at the life of women and their choices.”
She quoted poet Muriel Rukeyser, “‘What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”
She set out to analyze some of those pieces and tackle some of these issues in her novel.
Her Jewishness infuses her novels; most of her characters are Jewish with a Jewish sensibility of fairness and freedom. She’s inspired by Tikkun Olam, the Jewish concept of healing the world.
She recalls growing up in mostly non-Jewish Connecticut, one of only 9 Jewish kids in her high school graduating class of 400.
Her father left when she was young and told the kids to think of him as the favorite uncle. Her mother raised Weiner and her three siblings on her own.
Always the outsider, Weiner said she learned to observe and this became the catalyst for her writing life.
After college she took a job as a reporter for a small paper in Pennsylvania, then moved on to a medium-sized paper in Kentucky, before eventually landing at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
One day her brother called to tell her, “There’s a woman living in the house with Mom.”
It turned out Weiner’s mom had entered into a relationship with her JCC swim coach, Karen – becoming more fodder for Weiner’s fiction.
During that time Weiner had broken up with a long-time boyfriend and wasn’t sure she was going to get the happy ending she’d longed for.
She decided to write a book and give her protagonist the happy ending she wanted.
That book became her first bestseller, “Good in Bed.” (It’s interesting to note that on her website Weiner states, “I did not quit my day job until Book One was published, Book Two was written, and Books Three and Four were under contract.”)
When she revealed the title of the book to her mother, her mother responded, “How much research did you have to do?”
Her second book “In Her Shoes” was made into a 2005 film starring Cameron Diaz, Shirley MacLaine and Toni Collette.
Nana had a role as an extra in the film.
“I always knew I wanted to tell her story,” noted Weiner. “I wanted to tell the stories of the women I knew and the lives they led.”
We can all see a piece of ourselves in the characters Weiner has brought to life in-between the covers of her books.
For information on the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, visit jewishboca.org.