AS: The stories in the Food for Thought series are brief, perfect for our hurried lives. And yet each of them has a powerful message. How do you write a story that “packs a punch” in such a short format?
RYH: Your question really gets to the core of why certain stories resonate with readers. The key lies in the “take-away.” There must be a message that is practical and meaningful, as well as easily applied. The first ingredient is good material. With a good story in hand, the job of the writer is to make it feel real and not overdo it with a long narrative. Readers tell me all the time: Keep it positive, keep it concise, and, with great stories, we’ll keep on reading. That seems to be the recipe.
AS: Your stories are so relatable to readers’ lives and concerns. How do you make that happen?
RYH: It’s interesting you mention that, because though I love a good “gadol story,” and there are plenty of those, the stories I connect to most are the ones about so-called “regular people.” Take the one about the man who was inspired to learn Daf Yomi after hearing just one sentence from the Talmud. I love the story about the yungerman’s wife who proved that the privilege of her husband learning Torah was worth more to her than thirteen million shekels, and the one about a not-yet-religious teen who crafted his own version of Asher Yatzar. These are stirring anecdotes about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
AS: Many of these stories touch our hearts. Can you share one or two that you found particularly poignant?
RYH: The one how bentching changed the course of a man’s life is one of my all-time favorites. Another, about the Pnei Menachem being yelled at by an Israeli soldier, “Atah kemo kulam! You’re like everyone else!” is marvelous as well.
What kind of feedback on your first collection have you received?
RYH: The feedback was incredible, boruch Hashem. I just returned from Eretz Yisrael, where I saw the book on display in a store window. When I thanked the proprietor, I was told that the book has been very well-received in Yerushalayim. It’s wonderful to hear that it has had a global reach. The new volume features over 150 photos, adding a unique flavor that I hope readers will enjoy.