Author Spotlight: Rabbi Ori Strum
Welcome to our exclusive interview with Rabbi Ori Strum, the esteemed author of “Ready. Set. Grow.” In this intimate conversation, Rabbi Strum shares his inspiring journey from composing weekly d’var Torah to authoring a celebrated book. He opens up about the challenges and triumphs of his writing process, his personal reflections on life and faith, and the hobbies and interests that shape his everyday life. Dive into the world of Rabbi Strum, where spirituality, authenticity, and a deep passion for writing merge to create a unique and compelling narrative.
Inspiration and Writing Process
- What inspired you to write your book?
I always dreamed about one day writing a book, but honestly, I thought it would remain in that realm — just a dream. A few years ago, I started writing a weekly d’var Torah with relatable anecdotes and inspirational messages, and my grandparents asked if I would send it to them so that they could print it out for Shabbos. I made it part of my weekly routine to create a write-up for that week, and began sending it via email to a small list of close family and friends. After about three years of this consistent writing, I looked back and, baruch Hashem, was shocked to see that I had enough material to write my first book. And so, with the help of Hashem, I did.
Challenges and Enjoyment in Writing
- What are some of the challenges you faced while writing your book?
Like many things in life, not everything always goes as planned. But our job is to embrace the challenges, channel them, and hopefully produce something creative and meaningful. One of the challenges I faced when writing the book was what’s called “writer’s block.” Writer’s block can be defined as the inability to begin or continue writing for reasons other than a lack of basic skill or commitment. I remember one particular incident where I was completely lost for words and had no idea what to write next. At that moment, I decided to write about writer’s block, and I ended up coming up with a real-life lesson and d’var Torah from this concept. If you ever experience writer’s block, a good piece of advice is to stand up from your desk and take a break. When you return from the break, you’ll often feel refreshed and have a clearer mind.
- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Although writing might seem to be a somewhat stale and boring experience, that’s not the reality in the slightest. When you are focused on your writing, trying to convey messages and points in clear, emotive, and meaningful ways, it becomes an invigorating experience. The feeling of crafting a well-written sentence, with proper structure and verbiage, is an unbelievable feeling. It enables you to connect to your audience even before they read it!
Personal Reflections and Experiences
- What was a failure you experienced?
Something tells me I may not be alone with this, but one the things that scares me most is rejection. Being rejected never feels good. But I think it is important to reframe that because, with Hashem running the show, there is no such thing as rejection; rather, it is redirection. With that in mind, I try to look back on events and experiences in my life where I may have felt rejected and like a failure at the time, having come to the realization that Hashem was merely redirecting me to a greater success.
- Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?
In general, I’m not a big fan of using a pseudonym (although I did write an article once, in a comment section, under the name Manny Flare!). The more authentic the author is and believes in himself, the more the readers will believe in the author and truly connect with the writing. If you are an author and you write something, it comes with responsibility. Using your real name provides more of a sense of credibility and relatability.
Lifestyle and Hobbies
- What are some of your hobbies or interests outside of writing?
Although writing is a big part of my life, I am a human being and obviously have other hobbies and interests as well. I enjoy being a husband and father, a brother, and a friend. A more recent “interest” I discovered is changing light fixtures in my house. There is a very satisfying and thrilling feeling after rewiring the electricity and discovering that the connection works. I enjoy sports, music, and creating meaningful Jewish content videos and inspirational graphics.
- What is your favorite mitzvah?
I’ve heard this question before on interviews and questionaries, and I always thought that if I were ever asked this, I would think of the most random mitzvah and make a wild connection as to why it’s my favorite. But I will just be completely honest and straight up. My favorite mitzvah (currently, at this point in my life) is Shabbos. Shabbos is the day of rest, which is the mekor ha’berachah. It mamesh has rejuvenating powers, or perhaps better stated, reJEWvinating powers. It’s a mitzvah that only Jews are allowed to keep, and it is a unique gift from Hashem to us. And I really feel that without Shabbos in my life, the hustle and bustle of life would never stop. Shabbos allows me to relax, focus, start again, and reJEWvinate.
Writing Community and Influence
- Do you read your book reviews? How do you handle positive or negative feedback?
I absolutely read all my book reviews, and value any honest feedback. Of course, receiving good feedback and a positive review is always a better feeling and a reminder of, “Hey, I wrote a good book.” But honest negative feedback is probably just as important. Embracing the negative feedback properly will help make you into an even better writer. And there’s always room to be better.
- What is your favorite sefer?
My all-time favorite sefer is the Torah, written by the most unique and creative Author to ever exist, Hashem! Over the last couple years, I’ve been very connected to the sefer Bas Ayin (written by Rav Avraham Dov Ber of Avritch), and even more recently, I’ve been getting into the works of the Chasam Sofer.
Current and Future Projects
- What are you working on next?
B’ezras Hashem, I am working on my second book. Since I put out my first book with Mosaica, Ready. Set. Grow., I’ve been continuing my weekly writing, and I’m starting to put the themes, topics, and ideas into a single manuscript.
Writing Practices and Routines
- Do you see writing as a kind of spiritual or therapeutic practice?
As I mentioned before, writing has the unique power to energize and invigorate the writer. I absolutely see writing as both a spiritual and therapeutic practice. Any time you do something that is spiritually positive, it somehow or another has a positive influence on your psyche, emotions, and body. As such, I would argue that if something is spiritually good, it will inherently be therapeutic as well. Of course, speaking and discussing thoughts and ideas is important, but there is something unique about the written word that is extremely deep and spiritually meaningful.
- How did you celebrate when your book reached completion?
Honestly, I take this question as a great mussar. I don’t think I celebrated enough. And whether it comes to the completion of writing a book, finishing a masechta, or whatever, it is imperative that we take the proper time to stop, revel, and celebrate. Thanks for the mussar!
- What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
If you are an “aspiring author,” that means you already aspire to be an author. That is the most important thing. Keep aspiring and, like our Sages teach us, nothing stands in the way of a deep will and aspiration for something. Practically speaking, try to stay committed. Write monthly, weekly, or even daily. You will be shocked that over a short period of time, you may just have enough content for your first book! And, this goes without saying: include Hashem. He is the greatest Publisher on earth, and if you believe in Him, He will believe in you, and set you up for success.
- Is there a story or joke you like telling, and why?
One of my favorite stories I like to share is about a wealthy man who had severe eye pain. He went to the top medical professionals, but despite their prescriptions and treatments, the problem didn’t go away. The man decided to ask the local sage what to do. Sure enough, the sage looked at him, contemplated for a few moments, and said, “This is what you need to do. Concentrate only on green colors and try not to let your eyes see any other color.”
The man thought this was strange, but he was desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures. He hired a group of servants to paint everything in his home green. Everything — all the furniture, walls, food, and even the people — were painted green.
A few days later, the sage came to check in on the man. When the sage got to his front door, he was met by one of the servants, who immediately poured a big bucket of green paint all over him. Shocked and confused, the sage said, “Why did you do that?”
“Oh,” said the servant, “our master cannot see any color other than green, so we painted everything in the home green, and everyone who comes to visit has to be painted green too.” The sage went in to see the man and started laughing, “You fool! If only you had purchased a pair of green-colored glasses worth just a few dollars, you could have saved so much time, energy, and money.
There is a valuable message here. Sometimes we think we can change the world around us; we think we can color the whole world “green” and all will be well. But in reality, this approach is foolish, unreasonable, and will prove futile. We cannot expect to shape and change the world around us; rather, what we can and should do is put on our own “green” glasses — our own lenses of kedushah — and see the world and our lives through that lens. If society is portraying a certain lifestyle of unholiness, I don’t need to go along with that. I can put on my own glasses of purity and holiness and see the world through them.
This story is a powerful lesson for us to focus on our own mission and learn to see the world from a perspective of holiness and kedushah.