Back in June, the librarian at Mount Scopus College asked me to come to the school during Book Week to discuss Dancing in the Dark with the Year 9 students. Since the book is about a Jewish girl who rejects an orthodox lifestyle in order to pursue a career as a dancer, when James Kennard, the school principal and himself an orthodox rabbi, found out about the scheduled visit, he had 'some concerns'. Reluctant to promote the book, he suggested I talk to the students about my writing, but 'not mention the book'. The librarian told him that wouldn't work, since the book was the reason she'd invited me in the first place, and instead proposed that she facilitate a discussion between him and me about the book. He agreed, and the discussion took place this morning.
To those of you who wanted to listen in, I did try to have the session recorded, but Rabbi Kennard didn't allow it. Basically, he was extremely critical of the book (I'd been warned he would be), and made it clear that its message was contrary to the values and beliefs of orthodox Judaism. In that he was correct, since one of the tenets of orthodox Judaism is that the orthodox lifestyle is the only 'right' way for Jews to live. My book, on the other hand, promotes the idea of individual choice in matters of religion, and rejects the one size-fits-all approach.
He also claimed that the book was full of 'inaccuracies' in its portrayal of the haredi (ultra-orthodox) community, and that religion was at all times conveyed in a purely negative light. I strongly disagreed with both these claims, and ended the session by suggesting that the students read the book and make up their own minds.
All in all, I think it went well, and was an interesting and valuable discussion, as a lot of hands went up for the Q&A session at the end. It was just a shame that we only had 45 minutes - another 15 would have enriched the discussion further.
I also had the privelege of running a writing workshop for a selected group of Year 9 students - once again, far too short, but the kids managed some terrific writing.