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Ochs, Vanessa 1953–

Ochs, Vanessa 1953–

(Vanessa L. Ochs)

PERSONAL:

Surname is pronounced "oaks"; born November 2, 1953, in Rochester, NY; daughter of Bernard Yablin (a pediatrician) and Barbara Grandis (an artist); married Peter Ochs (a theologian), 1974; children: Juliana, Elizabeth. Education: Tufts University, B.A., 1974; Sarah Lawrence College, M.F.A., 1977; attended Conservatoire National d'Art Dramatique and Pardes Institute.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Jewish Studies Program, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400126, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4126. Agent—Molly Friedrich, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency, Inc., 565 5th Ave., New York, NY 10017. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Educator and writer. Teacher of writing at Colgate University, Hamilton, NY, Yale University, New Haven, CT, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel; adjunct assistant professor of writing at graduate school of Drew University, Madison, NJ; Ida and Nathan Kolodiz Director of Jewish Studies and associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Senior associate at CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, New York, NY. Member of board of directors of Women of the Wall (WOW).

AWARDS, HONORS:

Fellow of National Endowment for the Arts, 1991.

WRITINGS:

Words on Fire: One Woman's Journey into the Sacred, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1990.

Safe and Sound: Protecting Children in an Unpredictable World, Penguin (New York, NY), 1995.

(Editor, with Irwin Kula) The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL's Guide to the Everyday and Holiday Rituals and Blessings, Jewish Lights Publications (Woodstock, VT), 2001.

(Author of introduction) The Rituals and Practices of a Jewish Life: An Introduction for Personal Spiritual Renewal, Jewish Lights Publications (Woodstock, VT), 2002.

(With Elizabeth Ochs) The Jewish Dream Book: The Key to Opening the Inner Meaning of Your Dreams, illustrated by Kristina Swarner, Jewish Lights Publishing (Woodstock, VT), 2003.

Sarah Laughed: Modern Lessons from the Wisdom & Stories of Biblical Women, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 2005.

Inventing Jewish Ritual, foreword by Riv-Ellen Prell, Jewish Publication Society (Philadelphia, PA), 2007.

Contributor to the anthology Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism's Holy Site, Jewish Lights Press, 2003. Contributor of articles, stories, and reviews to periodicals, including Newsday, Woman's Day, Child, Moment, Congress Monthly, Lilith, and Croton Review.

SIDELIGHTS:

In her controversial 1990 book Words on Fire: One Woman's Journey into the Sacred, feminist writer Vanessa Ochs examines the subordinate role Jewish women play in Israeli society and questions the social and historical constrictions that continue to prohibit Jewish women from reading the text of the holy Torah. The author spent a year in Israel conducting research for her book, which takes its title from a second-century rabbi's assertion that he would rather see the Torah burned than taught to women. Los Angeles Times contributor Ruth Broyde-Sharon noted that through this groundbreaking study, "Ochs defines and refines her own identity as a woman, a Jew, and a scholar."

Ochs followed up this work with Safe and Sound: Protecting Children in an Unpredictable World, which was described as a "warm and accessible book" by Kathryn Carpenter in Booklist. Ochs became very overprotective of her children after she was injured in an automobile accident, but she recognized that in seeking to shield her children from all possible dangers she was also hindering their development. After interviewing other parents and reviewing studies that showed that sheltered children often have low self-esteem, high anxiety, and interpersonal difficulties, Ochs wrote Safe and Sound as a way to help parents evaluate risks and balance safety and independence for their children.

Ochs is the coeditor of The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL's Guide to the Everyday and Holiday Rituals and Blessings, which the publisher described as a collection of "teachings that can help to sanctify almost any moment in your day." Numerous rabbis and scholars from all branches of Judaism contributed lessons on how to bring Jewish spirituality into over one hundred different occasions, from mourning a dead pet to running a marathon to making a to-do list. Even "organizing a room becomes a symbolic act of repair, of bringing order to a chaotic world," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Ochs teamed up with her daughter Elizabeth to pen 2003's The Jewish Dream Book: The Key to Opening the Inner Meaning of Your Dreams. The book is meant to help individuals discover the meaning of their dreams from a Jewish perspective. It is divided into two sections: an overview of Jewish teachings on dreams and their interpretation and a variety of dream interpretation techniques. "This slender book, illustrated with vivid paintings in deep dream-like blues, can clear a new pathway to self-knowledge," remarked a critic in a review of The Jewish Dream Book for Publishers Weekly.

In Ochs's 2005 book Sarah Laughed: Modern Lessons from the Wisdom & Stories of Biblical Women she reflects on the lives of several of the Old Testament matriarchs. A reviewer for the Thecelebritycafe.com praised Sarah Laughed, calling it a "touching book." Published in 2007, Inventing Jewish Ritual, with a foreword by Riv-Ellen Prell, explores how Jewish practice can become more meaningful through reviving, reinventing, and creating rituals, such as divorce rituals, Shabbat practices, homemade haggadahs, ritual baths, and healing services.

Ochs is a member of the board of directors of the Israeli organization Women of the Wall (WOW), which was founded in December 1988 during the first International Jewish Feminist Conference in Jerusalem. With members and supporters around the world, the mission of the organization was to secure the right of Jewish women to pray aloud as a group at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Ochs's article "Women and Ritual Artifacts" in Women of the Wall: Claiming Sacred Ground at Judaism's Holy Site draws from her experience of serving as a director of WOW.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, August, 1995, review of Safe and Sound: Protecting Children in an Unpredictable World, p. 1919.

Iris: A Journal about Women, March 22, 2003, Katherine Goktepe, "Women of the Wall: An Interview with Vanessa Ochs," p. 16.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, April, 1992, review of Words on Fire: One Woman's Journey into the Sacred, p. 36.

Los Angeles Times, December 29, 1990, Ruth Broyde-Sharon, review of Words on Fire.

Publishers Weekly, June 5, 1995, review of Safe and Sound, p. 58; November 12, 2001, review of The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: CLAL's Guide to the Everyday and Holiday Rituals and Blessings, pp. 55-56; August 25, 2003, review of The Jewish Dream Book: The Key to Opening the Inner Meaning of Your Dreams, p. 58.

ONLINE

Jewish Lights Publishing Web site,http://www.jewishlights.com/ (March 10, 2002).

Thecelebritycafe.com,http://thecelebritycafe.com/ (January 21, 2008), Kim Heik, review of Sarah Laughed: Modern Lessons from the Wisdom & Stories of Biblical Women.

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