Monday, March 24, 2014

Ilene Schneider, Rabbi and Author

How many women rabbis have you heard of? And how many of those are authors? We are pleased to know Ilene Schneider who is both! I’ve asked her to tell you (and us) a little about herself. Welcome, Ilene!
One question I am asked frequently is if I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I answer that I have always been a writer, beginning with parodies of nursery rhymes when I was about ten. My dream was to write for Mad Magazine.
At camp, I hated sports, so I volunteered to run the camp newspaper during the free period. I fell in love with journalism. I was twelve. My role model was comic strip icon “Brenda Starr, Reporter.” We had the same hair color.
My first nationally published work was a eulogy of JFK accepted by Ingénue Magazine when I was fifteen. I turned my attention to magazine writing.
I was a communication major in college, concentrating on journalism. I was an editor of my college paper, and a founding editor of a Jewish student paper in Boston. My new goal was to be the first woman editor of the New York Times.
Despite getting sidetracked, I still continued to write, taking over the editorship of a Jewish student paper in Philadelphia while I was in rabbinical school. After that, my writings were academic or curriculum design or reports or grant proposals, which can be a form of fiction.
About ten years ago, I found myself temporarily underemployed. (In case you’re wondering, that’s a euphemism for unemployed.) I’ve been a voracious reader since first grade—it would have been earlier if my mother hadn’t been afraid the teachers would be angry with her if she taught me to read before I started school. For quite some time, I had wondered how certain books had gotten published, let alone made the bestseller lists. But I also believed it was dishonest of me to criticize books if I hadn’t written one. So I did. It took a while. And it took longer to give up on finding an agent and concentrate instead on looking for a small publisher who did not require an agent and was willing to take a chance on an unpublished author. Eventually I did. But until I recently retired, I still hadn’t given up my day job.
There are certain things I dislike in others’ writings. One is implausibility. At no point is Rabbi Aviva Cohen, my protagonist, aboard an icebreaker in the North Atlantic, where she is tied up in a boiler room that is about to explode, and then on the next page is in Paris. Forget about how she escaped: I want to know how she traveled without money, credit cards, a passport, clothes, or time to go to the bathroom. Aviva eats meals and takes showers.
The other thing that bugs me is inaccuracies. I once read a book in which Shavuot, a two-day holiday seven weeks after Passover, was described as an eight-day holiday. I stopped reading the book.
For me, research was easy. After all, I had managed, eventually, to write a doctoral dissertation, and that was before the Internet. And, as inaccurate as it can sometimes be, the Internet is a boon to writers. There’s no excuse for not knowing whether it snowed on Dec. 4, 2002, in the South Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia. It did. I know. I looked it up when I needed icy roads as a plot device in Chanukah Guilt.
I had been at my new job as a hospice chaplain for only a few weeks when I got word that a small press wanted to publish Chanukah Guilt. Over the next few years, I managed to write two-and-a-half new books.
The next one was nonfiction, Talk Dirty Yiddish; as a non-Yiddish speaker, my research skills were needed again. Fortunately, I now had the Internet.
The next book was Unleavened Dead, the second in the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery Series.
The half was a new edition of Chanukah Guilt, the first book in the series. I rewrote sections so the clues could fit more than one solution, and then added an alternative solution.
Then I retired from my day job to devote full time to my first love: writing.
I no longer enjoy Mad Magazine, now that it’s printed on glossy paper and runs ads; there already is a woman editor of the New York Times; and Brenda Starr reported for the last time on January 2, 2011. (I Googled it.) But I have ideas for the next several books in the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery Series. Next up: Yom Killer. And anything else I feel like writing in the meantime.
As my friend since fourth grade said, “You’re living your dream.”
Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D., one of the first six women rabbis ordained in the U.S., has finally decided what she wants to be when she grows up. She has recently retired from her day job to devote full time to writing. She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries: Chanukah Guilt, which was nominated for the Deadly Ink David Award for Best Mystery of 2007, was one of My Shelf’s 2007 Top Ten Reads, and was a Midwest Book Review Reviewers Choice Book; and Unleavened Dead, which won First Place from the Public Safety Writers Association, and was nominated for the Deadly Ink David Award for Best Mystery of 2012. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine called Unleavened Dead “… a solid, funny mystery that provides an insider’s look at Jewish life.” A resident of Marlton, NJ, near Philadelphia, she is working on the third book in the series, Yom Killer, and is also the author of Talk Dirty Yiddish.
Please visit her website/blog: or email her at


  1. Nice to see you visiting Lorna, Ilene. Hope you continued to have a great time in Monterey.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. Loved seeing you over the weekend.

  2. Ilene,
    I enjoyed learning more about you. I look forward to reading your books.

    1. Marilyn, thanks for stopping by. You will enjoy her books. They contain so much of her humor and insight.