Bracha Goetz (pronounced “getz”), 63, was 12 years old when she was first published.
“I sent a poem to a publication, then called McCall’s Magazine,” she said. “When I won the Junior McCall’s Club award, my poem was published in it.”
Goetz has since written 38 children’s books and a memoir to date, with two more children’s books in the works.
Goetz was born and raised in Rego Park, New York. She attended Harvard University, graduating in 1977 with a degree in psychology and social relations, intending to become a psychiatrist. But after being introduced to Ohr Sameach (now Neve Yerushalayim) by an old friend in the summer after her first year in medical school, everything changed.
“It was a school where I could learn about the wisdom of Judaism in far more depth than I ever knew existed,” Goetz said. “In my search for spirituality through the years, I had been exploring Buddhism and Christian Science, but I never had the chance to study Judaism in depth.”
She soon met her husband, Rabbi Aryeh Goetz, who turned out to have lived only a few blocks away from her in New York. The couple lived in Israel for 10 years, where five of their six children were born, before moving back to the U.S. to care for Goetz’s ailing parents.
Goetz used to sit by the playground near her Israeli home, watching the children play and writing in a notebook. In 1982, those casual writings became the start of something new.
“One day, I wrote a picture book manuscript about the mosquitoes that were bothering us to share what we could learn from them,” she said. “I put the loose-leaf paper in an envelope … and mailed it to a publisher in the States. A few weeks later, I got a letter back that the book was accepted. That’s when I discovered that I could write children’s books.”
All but one of Goetz’s books have been for children. She finds pleasure and joy in creating “books that help children’s souls to shine so that they can enjoy their entire lives more fully.” Goetz also credits her “big sense of wonder about life” as enabling her to understand the ways children think and feel.
“It is a huge pleasure for me to write books on difficult topics and distill the concepts to their essence so that children can comprehend them,” Goetz said. “Simplifying ideas in a joyful way in order to enhance people’s lives is one of the things I believe I am here to do.”
Goetz also credits watching and interacting with her children and grandchildren as a way to get book ideas.
“Staying at home with my children for 17 years … I had the time and energy to figure out how best to communicate with them joyfully,” Goetz said. “These deep insights are actually embedded in all of my children’s books – even in the board books for little toddlers.”
Several of Goetz’s children’s books tackle some heavier topics, including eating healthy (“Hashem’s Candy Store”), how to treat and interact with children with disabilities (“Let’s Appreciate Everyone”) and most recently, sexual assault and privacy.
“When I learned in 2007 that young Orthodox Jewish children lacked sufficient education about sexual abuse, I wrote two…types of picture books to proactively teach Orthodox children about this vitally important subject in a calm, clear, upbeat and culturally sensitive manner,” Goetz said. “It took years of advocacy for the books to be published, but eventually ‘Let’s Stay Safe’ and ‘Talking about Personal Privacy’…have been game-changers, helping nearly all Orthodox families to use the books to keep their children safe from predators.”
In 2017, Goetz released her first non-children’s book: a memoir titled “Searching for God in the Garbage.” She had been attempting to publish it for 30 years with no luck. “Searching for God” is primarily a compilation of Goetz’s old diary entries, journal entries and letters, telling her story of becoming an observant Jew and overcoming anorexia.
“It was scary to expose the actual skeleton in my closet, but I felt it was worth it because it could help many other people struggling not only with anorexia,” Goetz said. “The insights gleaned from this book apply to every single type of addiction.”
Goetz has also been a coordinator for Jewish Community Services’ Big Brother Big Sister program since September 2000.
“It’s been almost 19 amazing years,” she said.