If you had exactly six words to describe your life, what would they be? That’s the challenge the online storytelling community I founded, SMITH Magazine, has posed since 2006. We call these short life stories “Six-Word Memoirs,” a reinvention of the form that, according to literary lore, Hemingway created when he was challenged to write a novel in just six words (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”).
The six-word limitation forces us to figure out the essence of who we are and what matters most. Above all, this concise form is often the starting point for larger discussions. And that’s exactly what we hope will happen with the latest chapter in the six-word story, the just-published Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life, with hundreds of Six-Word Memoirs that offer personal windows into the Jewish world. Below are six I love.
“Everything with us a question. Why?” – Mark Rosenblum
This miniature memoir captures the heart and soul of why the Six-Word Memoir books have become so popular, especially in classrooms and at conferences. The six words are an easy icebreaker, a simple catalyst to begin talking about your life. You can flip through our new book on Jewish life or any of the books, pick a six-worder at random and just start talking about it. Mark’s memoir is kind of “meta”—a question about questions—and well timed as Passover (and the most famous four questions in Jewish history) approaches.
“Family spends meals discussing other meals.” —Jana Loeb
There are some 360 short, short stories about the Jewish life in this book and the most popular topic (surprise!) is food (runners-up: interfaith, Israel, Torah, conversion, Holocaust, hair, guilt, and anxiety, among others). Jana’s take on Jews and food is smart, funny and little disconcerting; in other words, it’s a perfect six.
“Former monochromatic wardrobe now seeking color.” – Yaakov Hellinger
One of the joys of the six-word form is that a reader will inevitably invent a memoirist’s “backstory” in her mind. I imagine Yaakov as an Orthodox Jew who’s left the fold and is now expressing a newfound freedom. And then I wonder? Has Yaakov left Judaism behind altogether? Has his family accepted this turn of events or freaked out? We’ll probably never know, but the possibilities are limitless.
“I should have had the chicken.” – Larry David
At SMITH Magazine we believe the storytelling playing field should be a level one. As such, each volume of Six-Word Memoirs contains stories by the famous and the regular folks alike—you could be the most famous person in the world, but you still only get six words. That said, if you’re, say, my mother, whose Six-Word Memoir is, “Cooking chicken soup stirs mother memories,” it’s quite a kick to be in the same book as author Jonathan Safron Foer, artist Maira Kalman and “Seinfeld” creator Larry David (who would surely like my mom’s chicken).
“The guilt threats mobilize family gatherings.” – Rebecca Guber
Speaking of my mother… a few years ago I invited my pals Anthony and Toni to their first Passover Seder. As we headed out after an evening of great food, family and the retelling of the greatest story we’ve got, Mom said, “When are you coming home again?” (which I just realized is six words). The look on my face said: You’re making my crazy, mom. And Anthony offered a knowing smile. “The Jews and the Italians are the same,” he said on the ride home. “It’s never enough!” ’Nuff said.
“I guess I'd always been rabbi-curious.” – Lynn Harris
When our book called Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak came out a few years ago, writer and comedienne Lynn Harris contributed, “Engaged in Jerusalem—thank you, God!” It’s a funny and sweet story about a fairly religious but decidedly lobster-loving girl falling in love with a very kosher rabbi.
On April 3 at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in the District, seven storytellers will offer their own Six Words on Jewish life, and then have six minutes to offer the backstory. The evening ends with a “Six-Word Slam,” in which anyone from the audience is invited to share his or her own six words on the evening’s topic or on life in general.