Lizzie Zakaim looks back on FIT and her proud moment of first becoming a published writer. Courtesy of Lizzie Zakaim
Four years have passed by in the blink of an eye. All too recently I was a hesitant freshman, discovering my niche in a diverse habitat — public high school — after popping my 10-year bubble of Jewish day school. In high school I encountered many people and many conversations about my customs: Why can’t I hang out on Saturdays? Why do I label my containers “meat” and “milk?” Do I own a dairy farm? I was learning how to cope with my new world, and I eventually found solace in writing. I have since adapted to my diverse atmosphere and wrote about some of my experiences as a Jew in public school (“Discussing God in the Chemistry Lab” and “Confessions of a Day School Dropout”). I am fortunate to have nine articles and one poem published on Fresh Ink for Teens.
I remember when my first article — “All Oranges, No Apples” — was published (June, 2012). In it I wrote about how an orange served as a metaphor for Judaism. Like the thick peel of an orange, Judaism may seem like a struggle to understand, but underneath the peel is a juicy treat; underneath Judaism’s commandments and restrictions is a culture and way of life that serve as a code of ethics for my life. This article was such an important step in my blossoming career as a writer. Being published changed my outlook on writing. I felt important knowing that my writing was being read and interpreted by others; I took my writing more seriously and invested more time in it. Whether it was through my fiction writing or essays for class, I became more aware of my strength as a wordsmith and felt pleased that my writing was strong enough to deserve publication.
My experiences shaped my words and I was able to watch my thoughts and research come to life. I really enjoyed reporting and conducting an interview for “The Battle Against BDS” (June, 2014). In that article I highlighted a recent trend of anti-Semitism — the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement — and its effect on teens in America. I also wrote “The Roots of Anti-Semitism” (April, 2015), which ponders the cause of centuries of hatred towards the Jews.
Writing about Judaism connected me to my religion in a unique way. My ideas were not just circling around my head; comparing Judaism to oranges was no longer a unique comparison. It became a way of understanding my religion and of hopefully getting others to see it from a different perspective.
Occasionally I found it difficult to produce articles, but inevitably a topic always came to mind. I had the idea for “The Devil is in the Details” (January, 2013) while thinking about some of my inner qualms about Judaism. I feared the concept of hell. I felt that if I did not watch my every action, I would be sentenced to a long and painful afterlife. I had trouble coming to terms with the fact that hell might be a dark and hot place, designed to cause suffering and pain. I wanted to write about this idea of hell, but was hesitant; I was worried that the idea would not be appropriate for FIT. After asking my rabbi about hell (gehenum in Hebrew) and after learning that the fiery pit I dreaded was not so bad and that it was a different experience for each person, I became more hopeful and drafted an article that clarified the concept of hell for others. Approval of my topic by my editor and the clarity of my rabbi’s answer encouraged me to write the article, and reinforced my faith in Judaism and morality.
I was pleasantly surprised by the feedback I got from my family about articles I’ve written on the challenges I experienced as a Jewish kid in public school. My relatives endured similar conversations and scenarios when they were in high school. My aunt called to congratulate me on my publication of “Discussing God in the Chemistry Lab” (November, 2014). She told me that she, too, had to make up work from being absent on holidays and that she, like me, had friends who really understood her religious commitments and were willing to help her out when necessary. She had to explain Shabbat, keeping kosher and other traditions and holidays that kept her out of school. She also had to approach her teachers to receive the work she missed from being absent. The articles I wrote opened up topics of conversation with my family, and I found even more ways to relate to and become closer with them.
Being published made me a more serious writer. I found a love for researching everything from funky ideas for the holidays to Jewish history; I improved my writing skills; and I turned my experiences into lessons for others to read. I have improved so much since I first put my pen to paper, and I plan to pursue a career in journalism in order to continue my love of writing. As a journalist I will have the opportunity to influence and inform the world; through my words I can spark action and keep people up to date on news and events. My faith in Judaism will not falter, and in college writing through the unique lens of a Jewish student in a diverse academic environment will hopefully capture an audience I have something in common with.
It is important for teenagers to express themselves. I found my outlet through writing, and I encourage others to take that path as well. I was nervous at first about having my writing published for the world to see, but my pride soon overcame my worry. FIT gave me the opportunity to grow through my writing, and my progress showed me that when I stick with something I can improve.
Writing for FIT demands originality and perseverance. Writing an article requires experience and research and the will to step out of your comfort zone and really make a piece the best it can be to impact your audience. Writing is something you have to do no matter what career you pursue; it’s a skill that is necessary in order to write resumes, cover letters, college papers, emails and the list goes on and on. It’s time to grab the reins of your future and exercise your writing skills — watch yourself become a better writer and a published one too! I have been lucky to exercise my talent through Fresh Ink for Teens. Becoming a published writer is a tremendous accomplishment.