EMERGING writer Eli Glasman felt “re-engaged” with Judaism after completing his debut novel The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew, a narrative set around the Orthodox community where a teenager tries to reconcile his faith with his homosexuality.
The book’s protagonist, Yossi, feels that his homosexuality makes him less of a Jew and when he is caught kissing non-religious Josh at the bathhouse, he is propelled into facing his new reality.
In the novel, which is being launched this weekend, Glasman explores Judaism and teenage love against the backdrop of the vibrant Melbourne community.
While Glasman was raised in the same world as his character, he left the Orthodox community after school, opting to live in Brunswick rather than Caulfield, and pursuing a creative writing degree at the University of Melbourne over studying at a yeshivah.
His family is considered a staple of the community – his brother is Yaakov Glasman, chief rabbi at the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation, and his grandfather is the famous bagel baker, Mendel Glick.
Glasman, 28, straight and secular, tells The AJN: “The rules of the world in which Yossi functions is reflective of my formative years; however, the central conflict of a homosexual boy in an Orthodox community is based on someone close to me.”
Glasman says he found writing the novel a cathartic experience as he reconnected with his Judaism in a way he had never done before.
“I wanted to re-engage with my upbringing and the attitudes towards homosexuality that encouraged me away from the religion in the first place. I could do that through my character Yossi.”
Glasman says he sought to create a “realistic response” from the Orthodox community to his character’s predicament.
In his research, he discovered that some people responded well and gave Yossi a lot of support, while others didn’t. “What I think is quite true universally is that even within a community, there is a such a range of people, a range of religious devotion and a range of attitudes to any number of matters.”
However, Glasman says the reaction to his book from the Orthodox community has been “very good”.
“Those in the Orthodox community that I have come across felt I was very measured and not bitter about my upbringing. I think they found that refreshing.”
Glasman has been writing since he was eight years old. Last year he won a $5000 literature prize from Queensland’s Griffith University for a short story about the first date between a young man and woman from Orthodox Jewish families who met on the internet.
After winning the prize, Glasman wrote The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew in eight months.
“After I finished writing the book, I emailed it to Sleepers Publishing,” he says. “I had three weeks until I was set to leave to Europe and the publisher accepted the book the day before I left.”
The novel has opened a lot of doors for Glasman. He has been invited to be a panellist at the Sydney Jewish Writers’ Festival and the Melbourne Writers Festival this month, as well as taking part in the State Library of Victoria’s “Inside a Dog” program for teenage readers.
Glasman has big plans for the future with his next book underway and then, possibly, making a move into teaching.
“At the end of next year I would like to do a PhD in creative writing and I would like to start tutoring and teaching it,” he says.
REPORT by Zoe Kron
PHOTO of author Eli Glasman