First presented on www.AndreaGrinberg.com
I am honored to share with you an interview that I was able to do with Gila Manolson. I had known about this woman long before I met her in person; Her book about the depth of physical touch was passed on to me by a friend, and after reading the whole thing in one night, I sought out her other books and finished them within the week! Little did I know that when I went to study in Jerusalem, I would get to meet her in person and she would become one of my teachers!
Gila Manolson’s books and lectures address the topics that are most important to us, and she does so with beautiful insight and refreshing honesty. These topics include: physicality, modesty, dating, sexuality, and love. In this interview, I was able to ask her all the questions that I have been wondering about for years, as well as find out about a new project she is working on. For those of you that have read her books and seen her speak, I’m sure you can understand how excited I am, and for those of you who don’t yet know her… well, you should! And now is your chance.
AG -What made you feel the need and decide to write books about modesty, physicality, dating, and relationships?
GM – Simple: I saw the way these issues were handled in the secular world, and I wasn’t impressed with the results. Women are defining themselves more and more physically and having cosmetic surgery at younger and younger ages. In relationships, we put the cart before the horse and dive head-first into physical involvement before we’ve established any corresponding degree of emotional intimacy. And as so many female authors have described, the results are devastating in terms of women’s self-esteem and happiness.
AG – Have you noticed changes in the way that this secular generation is growing up? How is this different from before? How would you advise we address the issues that they are dealing with?
GM – Today’s generation isn’t actually doing anything people weren’t doing when I was in college–they just have different names for it. We called it a “one-night stand”–they call it “hooking up.” We called it having a male friend who’s also more than a friend–they call it a “friend with benefits.” There is, however, a huge difference: One, many more people are doing this kind of stuff than before (I’ve heard up to 95% on at least one campus); two, they’re doing it with far greater casualness; and three, they’re doing it with no pretense at any ideology. No “free love,” “breaking old sexual taboos,” nothing. Just basically hedonism. On the one hand, at least they’re not deceiving themselves. On the other hand, it’s sad that we feel no need to even pretend there’s a deeper motivation to what we’re doing. It’s kind of like what happened with tie-dye T-shirts. They used to be an anti-establishment social statement. Now they’re just a fashion statement. Nothing means anything anymore. What we have to do is to re-educate ourselves, because the education is unlikely to come from anywhere else. The media is happy to have us superficial and insecure because then they can sell us more stuff. The PC world we’re in wouldn’t dare attack our sexual mores, no matter how clear the evidence that they’re not producing. We have to take a deep look at the situation we’re in, realize it may take some radical re-evaluation to get us out of it, and have to the courage to make the change.
AG - Were you always interested in public speaking? If not, how did this come about?
GM - No–in fact, I never did it in my life until my husband pushed me to many years ago. And then once I started, I was hooked. What better way for a strong-minded, opinionated woman with a big mouth to get her ideas out there? (Actually, even better is writing books, but that came later, when I realized a big mouth can reach only so many people.)
AG - Can you tell us a little bit about why you decided to offer your book to those from other religions, specifically Christians?
GM - I have ALWAYS wanted to do this, because I don’t believe that what I have to say is relevant only to Jews. Jews just happened to be my audience. Already 15 years ago, I sent a generic version of The Magic Touch (which explains the practical benefits of the Jewish practice of not getting physical before marriage) to Zondervan, the Christian division of HarperCollins. They really liked it, but said they were sorry they couldn’t be my publisher because the book had no specific Christian content. Then about a year ago I made the acquaintance of Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who has extensive connections in the Christian world and is director of the Jewish Christian Alliance, and he told me that there’s enough interest in Judaism in the Christian world that I could write a book for Christians and still have the book be Jewish. The resulting book is called Hands Off! This May Be Love. One of the top graphic designers in the Christian publishing world did a great cover, and it should be out sometime in the spring. I have high hopes for it, and believe it could really change a lot of lives. (I’ll let you know when it’s out!)
AG - What is one of the largest struggles that you have to deal with when writing and lecturing?
GM - I don’t know if it’s a struggle, but the trickiest thing is always to be as cognizant as possible of exactly whom you’re speaking to and where they’re coming from. Many of the issues I discuss are so sensitive that if I use one wrong word I can blow it. You have to know how to say what you want to say in a way that the other person will be able to hear it.
AG - What would you say to a woman who has grown up in the media-saturated world, but is just starting to see through the facade and now her world is crumbling? How can we help others that are going through this?
GM - I wouldn’t say her world is crumbling–the media is so powerful that it continues to influence us well after we’ve consciously rejected it. Women just need constant affirmation that they as people are beautiful, and that while they should make the most of their looks since, like it or not, we live in a world in which looks matter, self-confidence and authenticity are more powerful in making a woman attractive than another layer of make-up. We have to return to ourselves. And we have to support our friends in their own struggles by helping them discover their own deeper and far more compelling beauty, and to stay firmly anchored in it.
[AG - I agree wholeheartedly; Her world is not crumbling, it just feels like it. In reality, it's just shedding some layers in order to build something sustainable and real.]
AG - What are your long term hopes in terms of reaching out to different types of faith?
GM - Really, I would just like to see good people of all faiths spared the pain that so many suffer today due to unsuccessful relationships. (I’ll tackle the topic of internal self-definition in my next book for the non-Jewish world, if my first one is successful.) If, at the same time, I can impress people with the wisdom in Judaism, that will make me very happy, since we Jews need all the good press we can get!
AG - Could you tell us what you think is the most important step that women of the world have to take today?
GM - We have to reclaim the right to define ourselves by our own values and standards, not by those thrust upon us by the beauty industry or any other external factor. We have to get in touch with the power of our souls and learn to define ourselves internally.
AG -What role do men play in your writing and lectures?
GM - Although my books are written from something of a feminine (and sometimes feminist!) perspective, they are in fact addressed to men and women alike. So I certainly hope men will continue to read them. As far as speaking goes, I always appreciate men in the audience simply because they ask such different kinds of questions than women ask, which provides me with a different kind of stimulation than I usually get. I really like men and what they have to say. And let me just mention that, while men definitely operate on a different plane than women do, I am adamantly against male-bashing (not only because it’s unfair to men, but because it’s detrimental to women to have such low opinions of men).
AG - How has having a family shaped you? How have they influenced your writing and teaching?
GM - Having children has definitely made me feel even stronger about the kind of men and women I’d like them to grow up to be. My daughters in particular have made me aware of what a huge struggle holding to religious behavior is for a cute teenage girl, and has greatly increased my empathy for those who find it very challenging.
AG - I know that you are very conscious about the food that you choose to eat and are an advocate for exercise. Could you share some of your thoughts in regards to this?
GM - Judaism is a religion that acknowledges both the spiritual and physical sides of life. We are souls put into bodies for the purpose of accomplishing things down here on earth, in the physical realm, and to do that, we have to take care of our bodies. You can’t do as many good deeds if you have a back problem or no energy because of a lousy diet. For me, eating natural, whole foods and making sure I get enough exercise is part of serving God. And because of the absolutely horrific cruelty to animals involved in factory farming, as well as many other reasons, I have chosen to be a vegetarian, which to me seems to be most in line with Jewish values about the respect for all living things (although I have no argument with those who eat humane meat).
AG - What would your answer be to someone who thinks that your modesty is a result of your being repressed?
GM - One person’s repression is another person’s liberation! Modesty liberates me from superficial self-definition, allows me to have respectful and mutually gratifying interactions with men without any undercurrents, and gives me the dignity to be taken seriously as a person. At the same time, it enhances the sense that the body is special and beautiful when it IS revealed, and I’ve never met a woman who would object to that in her marriage. How can personhood on the one hand and an intensified intimacy on the other be repressive??
AG - What is your favourite colour?
GM - Beautiful blue-greens, like the color of the Mediterranean. Purple/plum is a close second.
AG - What are you grateful for today?
GM - Having Judaism in my life, having a wonderful husband, having seven precious children and two adorable grandchildren, having terrific friends, having a deeply satisfying career, and living in Jerusalem. And the ocean.
… sigh :)
Wow. Didn’t I tell you she was refreshingly honest?
If you have questions of ideas you would like to share with Gila Manolson, please leave them in the comments section and I will make sure they get to her! She now has a new website which you can check out at gilamanolson.com, and her books, Outside Inside, Head to Heart, The Magic Touch, and Choosing to Love are all available through her site. I highly recommend all of them (they are on my shelf), and I will be sure to let you know when her new book comes out, because I know there are a lot of Christians on here that share many similar dating and marriage values.