I’m not sure what happened exactly, but something has crystalized for me. I have been writing this blog, participating in writing groups, taking classes online and in person and spending countless hours thinking over the past 7 ½ years, but it is only in the last month that it has become clear to me that I do have a book I want to write. Actually, there are three of them (I think)! But I have chosen one theme to pursue because it feels ready. That is why my blog writing has been sporadic. I have been channeling my writing energy into the book.
Maybe it isn’t exactly accurate to call it an ‘aha moment’ because it wasn’t a single moment really – more of an accumulation of moments. It is a funny thing because I have toyed with this idea – exploring how the Holocaust has influenced Gary and myself and the family we have created – for years. I felt like there was something there, but I couldn’t get at it. I couldn’t figure out the arc of it. I was writing all around it. Finally, I see it. At least I hope I do! I hope I can sustain the vision to see me through to the end of this project.
It has been a lot of work. I would have thought, with all the blog posts I have (over 300 of them!), that it wouldn’t be that difficult to piece it together. But there is a lot missing – big chunks are needed to knit the story together. The process of filling it in has brought a lot more memories and a lot more questions.
I’ve also wondered if I should share these new pieces on the blog. There is a part of me that wants to keep it for the book. There is also the practical matter of sharing some of these stories with the people involved before I make it public. With the blog, my policy has been if another person is being written about in any significant way – other than a tribute to them – I email them the piece to get their feedback. Fortunately, everyone has been supportive – there have been essays that have benefited from another perspective and only one that I killed all together. I am not interested in writing anything that is hurtful – certainly not deliberately – and if there is some pain in the story, it has to serve a purpose and permission of any of the involved parties. Gary and Mom are the two that this has really applied to, and they have been unbelievably supportive, encouraging me to write my truth.
I have no idea whether I will be able to find a publisher for this book, or whether I will publish it myself, or whether, once I finish it, I will feel satisfied to share it with friends and family and leave it at that. We’ll see. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. There is a lot involved in that process that can be overwhelming, so right now I want to focus on the story.
One of the things that may have contributed to clarifying my purpose was visiting YIVO, the Institute for Jewish Research. I took some of the documents and photographs that had been stored in my in-laws’ house, some from their war years – to YIVO to see if they were appropriate to be archived there. I met with an archivist and he was quite receptive. He also offered insight into some of the items that brought more of it to life. Some of that may or may not find its way into the narrative I am writing, but the importance of documenting their story, but not just their story, became more evident to me. Yes, their story must be preserved and to a large extent it has been by Laura Bakst, Gary and my niece, who wrote and successfully published The Shoemaker’s Son (available on Amazon, among other places), which details Paula and David’s journey. My focus isn’t to document their story, though I will recount it in less specificity, but on what it has meant to Gary and myself in terms of our Jewish identity and what we tried to pass on to our children and their children. My family of origin was also deeply impacted by the Holocaust in a wholly different way, and I want to share that as well.
Over these years that I have been writing I struggled with the merit of our story – not Paula and David’s, there is no question that it must be preserved (and has been in several ways). After all, there is nothing extraordinary about me or my family (of course I think my children and grandchildren are extraordinary!). But, going to YIVO made me reevaluate the idea that it isn’t worthwhile.
We live in a world where antisemitism continues to thrive. We live in a world where people are traumatized – by violence, by hate, by war. Ordinary people must cope with those realities, and they pass it on to their children, sometimes in the form of fear, but also resilience, as well as a myriad of other impacts. As an ordinary Jew, the Holocaust, even though it happened before I was born and long before my children were born, has shaped us in important ways, including my relationship with faith. I am exploring that in my book. I just hope I can fulfill my vision for it.
In the meanwhile, I will try to keep up with the blog. I want to keep the conversation going and keep my connection with those of you who have been reading over these years. If you have suggestions, if you want to comment on whether I should share chapters of the book as I go, I welcome your thoughts.