Searching for God in the Garbage
An interview with Bracha Goetz about her memoir of a Harvard-educated woman fighting anorexia.
Bracha Goetz has written a remarkable memoir of a Harvard-educated woman, steeped in knowledge about the dangers of eating disorders, who nonetheless found herself fighting anorexia. Her search for meaning in her life took her from the depths of painful, self-destructive habits to a relationship with God, family, and community, a model for anyone struggling to find herself and her true purpose.
Bringing Searching for God in the Garbage into the light of day was a very courageous thing to do. You have a reputation as a children’s author and now you are sharing very personal, very grownup struggles that many people would have kept hidden.
I wrote the book right when the book finishes, when I was 32. I had been living in Israel for 10 years at that point, and I hand-delivered the manuscript to a very well-known non-observant agent in Israel. She read through the first part of it and called me up so excited to say that she had never read anything like it and she was very excited about publishing it. When I later called the publisher to ask if she had read the second half of the book, the half where I became observant, she wasn’t at all interested in the book anymore. When I then sent the manuscript to Orthodox publishers, none of them were interested in publishing it because of the first half of the book.
I continued to look for an agent or a publisher for the book off and on through the years – for nearly 30 years. Recently I found an agent who was different than all the other agents. She is a religious Christian who deeply appreciated the manuscript. She was very determined to find a publisher for it, and she finally did. When I thanked her for helping it to finally emerge, she said it was God’s work, not her efforts. That’s the kind of person she is.
I edited the manuscript every few years, so in a way, I can say that this book took 50 years to write, since I started it just before I turned 12.
Did you have doubts about publishing? Have you had any backlash?
I did not have any doubts about publishing it, but I was still frightened before it was released about whether people would react to me differently afterwards. Not that it mattered so much to me, to prevent me from wanting to have it be in the world, but it was still an uncomfortable feeling. Many years ago, one Orthodox publisher had read the manuscript and asked me why I would want to publish a book like this when I had such a beautiful family. She was upset, and protectively, she was asking me why I would want to leave myself open to ridicule by publishing it.
Her words did disturb me, but I had asked a Rav about publishing the book, and I was told that I could go ahead, so I kept trying. I feel one of the reasons I am here on Earth is to make the realizations in this book clear. I want to reach the girl I used to be, and everyone else to whom this book could be illuminating. Thank God, my wonderful husband trusts me to do what I feel I need to do, and all my amazing grown children who now have their own amazing children, thank God, have been supportive.
It’s still early days – but has the book fulfilled the purpose you intended for it?
I hope that this book can reach and help many people with all types of addictions, as addictions are widespread. I have distilled a practical take-away from the book. It is designed, specifically, for people with any type of food addiction, but it could be adjusted to help people with any kind of addiction. When people are overeating, they can ask themselves this simple question: Am I continuing to eat now because my body is hungry, or am I trying to fill my soul? And once that question pops up into one’s consciousness, many wonderful ways to fill one’s soul can come to mind.
Then the person can step outside and breathe in some nature, do an act of kindness for someone, like calling or texting someone who may be lonely, put on lovely music and get up and dance, learn some ancient wisdom, slowly count one’s blessings, etc. The choices are endless, but even just the awareness of these possibilities raises the consciousness of the individual, so that spiritual pleasures can be chosen, and the soul filled.
So the memoir is a tour inside my being to see how this realization came to be. I am praying that the book can help to free many people from their addictions, so that they can enjoy much more deeply pleasurable lives. And that’s what all my children’s books have in common with this book for older people. As Rabbi Noach Weinberg, the Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah taught, the purpose of life is to have the greatest pleasure possible. That’s why God created us – to give us this pleasure. So by letting our souls shine, as children and as adults, that’s how we can experience the greatest pleasure possible. That’s the goal for all my books, to hopefully help that happen.
What advice would you give writers who may feel that their memoirs would be good teaching tools?
I believe that I have fulfilled one of my purposes for being in this world with the publication of this book now, so I would encourage anyone that wants to – to experience this same awesome pleasure. It’s simply wonderful to let one’s soul shine and help people in the process. I heard that people are beginning to get the book for their clients, family members, and students with whom they work who have anorexia, and I hope that can extend to helping people with other food addictions, and a variety of addictions because the same basic consciousness raising can be beneficial to all hopefully. Once we recognize our divine, infinite, yet invisible souls, we can discover what joyously fills them.
Bracha Goetz is the author of 36 picture books that help children grow spiritually, inspiring each uniquely beautiful soul to shine. Ms. Goetz helped coordinate and contributed to an essay to the anthology, Women Look at Biology Looking at Women, while at Harvard, which became a text for many women's studies courses nationwide. In addition, she writes articles for many newspapers and magazines and has had essays published in Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies and Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood. Bracha Goetz's new memoir can be found here: Searching for God in the Garbage
A version of this interview was originally published on the blog, Jewish Values Online.