My journey continues, putting one foot in front of the other. When I began to write PLEASE SAY KADDISH FOR ME I knew I had a story to tell. I pitched it as “The Dark Side of Fiddler on the Roof.” I wrote, rewrote and edited Havah Cohen Gitterman’s story, thinking I would stop with this one book. However, the voices in my head compelled me to continue the saga with FROM SILT AND ASHES.
At a point where I thought I’d completed the first two books I began to write AS ONE MUST, ONE CAN. However, I had to stop to go back to the first book..and the second book. For five years the third book languished in an unopened Word doc. file. When I returned to my 60,000 word, unfinished manuscript, I found that my characters had grown, changed and gone in different directions than I’d originally anticipated. Not to mention that, after ten years I had also grown and changed as a writer. Perhaps 20,000 of those original 60,000 words survived the overhaul.
My agent, Jeanie Loiacono and W& B Publishing turned up the heat this summer by giving me a July deadline with the promise of a contract. Setting aside all writing time to devote to Havah, I sent Friday Fictioneers into reruns.
My story has a happy “ending.” The manuscript has been submitted and approved. Contracts with both agent and publisher are signed. Artwork for the inside of the book is complete and I await the proof copy to make any last minute edits.
Below are the divider pages for AS ONE MUST, ONE CAN to whet your appetite.
Four times a year a group of writers from all over the Midwest and beyond gather to share writing and marketing tips. Often agents and editors are invited to share their expertise and take pitches from aspiring authors. The conferences are free to members, save the motel fee and food costs.
With fellow authors Caroline Giammanco and Diane Yates
Madison Woods, OWL friend and creator of Friday Fictioneers.
My first time at a conference was in the summer of 2007. I’d “completed” PLEASE SAY KADDISH FOR ME and was interested in finding an agent. I really didn’t expect to find anyone in an organization with the word Ozarks to be interested in my Jewish historical novel.
How wrong can a person be? I found not only interest but a group of generous mentors. Each time I went to a workshop, I learned something new which precipitated a rewrite. One of the most significant classes was on how to pitch a book to an agent in five sentences.
Jeanie Loiacono and Me
The panel: Publisher Duke Pennell, Publisher Lou Turner, Editor Alex Hess, Agent Jeanie Loiacono
Over the years I’ve made some good friends and met people who have been instrumental in changing my life. The first is Lou Turner, founder of High Hill Press. In 2010, after I’d submitted short stories to ECHOES OF THE OZARKS and VOICES, two OWL publications, she invited me to compile my own anthology for HHP. In the process I learned a lot from her short story editor, Delois McGrew.
I’ve had the opportunity to pitch to and be turned down by a few agents until I met Jeanie Loiacono at the May 2012 conference. She now represents my two novels and is reading my third.
When I joined OWL in 2007 I was in awe of the authors with their tables. Now in 2016 I’m blessed to have three books of my own and one on the way.
Visiting old friends and meeting new ones made for a pleasant weekend. I was thrilled to see Lou and Delois. Jeanie was also one of the speakers. Hugs all around.
OWL art and photo contest winners.
My paintings took first and second place in the annual art contest.
Alex Hess, an editor from Skyhorse Publishing in NY spoke to us about the ever changing face of the publishing industry. I hope to implement some of her suggestions on using social media in the not too distant future.
President of OWL, Diane Yates, asked the two biggest hams in the group to open Friday night with entertainment. Ronda Del Boccio captured us on video.
“More pogroms. And so close.” Rabbi Yussel Gitterman’s sightless eyes filled with tears.
Eighteen-year-old Arel Gitterman pulled his coat around his ears and shivered, partly from cold and partly with rage. What had they done to make the Christians hate them so much? “We should retaliate. We should gather all of the young men—”
“Shah! Such nonsense!”
“Ouch! Papa, is it unreasonable for men to protect their homes?”
“Remember, my son. A soft answer turns away wrath.”
“How can you say that, Papa? Last night innocent people were murdered in their beds all over the countryside. Did they have time to make an answer—of any kind?”
Hershel Levine’s green eyes flashed. “The lad makes sense, Yussel. There is much cruelty in the world. Sometimes one has to wonder what the Almighty is thinking.”
“So, Hershel, my old friend, do you think the three of us, an old cantor, a blind rabbi and a boy who’s barely able to squeeze out a whisker are going to seek revenge on those animals with their guns and Czar Nicolas, may his name be blotted out?”
Arel gritted his teeth. “Reb Pinkas said he heard the Christians burned down a synagogue. A rabbi died trying to protect the sacred scrolls. Papa, it could just as easily have been you.”
“Reb Pinkas is up early bearing his tales. Yes, it could have been any Jew in this land, my Son.” Yussel patted his shoulder. “It’s dangerous to be a Jew in this Pale of Settlement. But now let’s tend to matters at hand. It’s Shabbes, the Sabbath, and we have a synagogue to prepare for morning services.”
“Yes, Papa.” Arel knew from experience arguing with his father would not accomplish anything. Still his anger boiled because they were Jews who lived in poverty under the tyranny of the Russians. Prisoners in their own country, unable own land and denied education beyond their Hebrew schools.
For the next few moments Yussel’s cane tapping along the frozen ground was the only sound. Each man lost in his own thoughts, they approached the synagogue, the largest building in the Jewish quarter of Svechka.
To call a backward village “The Candle” was a contradiction. Arel supposed at some point in time the Russians considered it a place of enlightenment.
~~Taken from Please Say Kaddish for Me by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
To the best of my knowledge, the shtetl or village known in Please Say Kaddish for Me as Svechka only exists in the author’s imagination. Like Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof it represents the many villages scattered throughout Eastern Europe during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Shtetl is Yiddish for “little town.” These villages ranged in size from several hundred residents to several thousand. The Jews usually lived within the town while the Gentiles tended to live on the outskirts. Central to the Jewish community was the Synagogue and Kahal, the community council. Most of the shtetl Jews were artisans and shop owners while the scholars were the revered minority. Both Arel and Havah, the children of rabbis, have grown up in their respective shtetls, Natalya and Svechka, as members of the elite part of their societies.
Sol Mayer was born in Moldavia. When he was a child he moved to Poland with his parents who became successful shop owners. There he met and married his wife Zelda. Together, they immigrated to America where he owns Mayfair, a profitable dry goods store in Kansas City.
By most standards the Mayers are wealthy. While Zelda enjoys all that money affords and is wont to put on airs, Sol never forgets his humble shtetl beginnings. Although he owns a mansion on Quality Hill, he would be happy in a shanty as long as he had his wife and daughter, Wendy, at his side. He is known by the community for fairness, generosity and a quick wit.
In the following scene, Havah and Arel’s daughter Rachel is not quite two years old.
The long narrow shop smelled of leather, licorice, and chocolate, but for the most part, it reeked of Sol’s cigars. Havah moved between rows of shelves filled with dolls, toy trains and stacks of canned food until she found the tooth powder.
Behind the counter Sol Mayer smiled at her, his cigar clenched between his teeth. Smoke tendrils framed his bulldog jowls. He took a peppermint stick from a glass jar and held it out to Rachel who wriggled in her pram.
“Looks like the little maideleh needs one of these.”
“What she really needs is an n-a-p. But c-a-n-d-y might keep her quiet for a while.” Havah opened her coin purse.
“Put your money away, Mrs. Gitterman. My treat.” Sol walked around the counter and knelt. He handed the candy to Rachel who popped the tip of it into her mouth.
“What do you say to the nice man, Rukhel Shvester?” Havah snapped her purse clasp shut.
“Amazing!” Sol patted the child’s head. “Wendy didn’t start talking until she was almost three. Of course she hasn’t stopped to take a breath since. Just like her mother.” He brushed his hand over his balding head and winked at her. “I had a full head of hair when I married Zelda.”
Saturday, April 2, 2016 is a date that will stick in my mind and on my wall for a long time to come. For me this was a long dreamt of milestone—my first Barnes & Noble book signing.
It’s pretty special when your rabbi shows up. Thanks, Rebbe!
Although Please Say Kaddish for Me debuted in May of 2015 and From Silt and Ashes close behind in December, due to extenuating circumstances and a full time job, they were never officially launched.
For four hours old friends and new readers gave congratulatory hugs and asked questions. Friends and family members had already purchased the books but wanted them personally autographed. This author happily complied.
Isn’t ‘author’ a lovely word?
My hubby, Jan, managed to get in a picture. The young lady is our great niece Tarin Clay. How sweet that she made a special trip for the occasion. Sorry this one’s a little fuzzy. Still precious.
There’s nothing more wonderful than family at a book signing. I’m between my cousin, Jeffrey Weiner and his lovely wife Karyn.
Avid reader and good friend, Kim. I’m thrilled she got a copy of each book.
With Denise Mahoney. Isn’t she adorable?
Meeting a new fan. She read Please Say Kaddish for Me with her book club. On to From Silt and Ashes!
With Marie Gail Stratford, someone who has shared tears and laughed at my jokes. Thanks MG!
Theo and Terry…we were coworkers for many years. Now we’re ‘just friends.’
Although Havah’s older brothers, Mendel and David Cohen, perished at the beginning of Please Say Kaddish for Me, they are ever alive in her heart. Two very different personalities, Havah adored them both. Her memories of them are a constant thread throughout Please Say Kaddish for Me, From Silt and Ashes, and the imminent third novel in the trilogy, As One Must One Can.
Her eldest brother, Mendel, eight years her senior, wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps as a rabbi.
By the tender age of twelve, Havah had developed the attributes of a young woman. Despite her disappointed protests, her father agreed with her teacher that her Heder education should come to an end. The boys would never learn Holy writ with such a comely distraction.
Her brother Mendel became her lamed, her teacher. While she missed her classmates’ challenges, she enjoyed mornings with Mendel and flourished under his tutelage. A strict teacher, he never allowed her any leeway because of her gender or kinship.
~~Taken from From Silt and Ashes
David, who was two years younger than Mendel, was a gifted artist. In Please Say Kaddish for Me, Havah tells Shayndel that he could paint a flower so real that you would swear you could smell its fragrance.
David was the mischievous brother who mercilessly teased his little sister. She regrets that shortly before his murder, they had quarreled.
With a suppressed sigh she covered the braided loaves with clean towels and set them on the back of the stove to rise. “The last time I baked Hollah, I couldn’t put raisins in it because my brother David ate all of them. I wish I hadn’t gotten so mad. I said horrid things.”
“Were they the last words you spoke to him?” Fruma Ya’el unfolded a linen tablecloth, snapping it so it billowed and dropped to cover the table.
“No.” Gathering the bowls and utensils, Havah hobbled to the sink. “I can still see him with Mama’s clean dish towel over his head, walking bent over. He sang all raspy like an old lady, too. ‘Little Bubbe Fuss Bucket. All astir over a raisin. A raisin. A shriveled little raisin. Oy, yoy, yoy.’”
She took a kettle of hot water from the stove and poured it over the dishes. “I could never stay mad at him. If only I’d known—”
Gittel grabbed a dish towel. “Would you have done anything differently?”
A soap bubble floated up from the water. Havah popped it with her finger. “No.”
~~Taken from Please Say Kaddish for Me
Each night of Hanukkah, Havah and her brothers took turns lighting the candles. Papa led the recitation of the blessings. To this day, when she heard distant thunder Havah swore it was Papa’s resonant voice chanting prayers in heaven.
One year, her brother David, then twelve, ate so many macaroons he spent half the night in the outhouse. The next morning, fourteen-year-old Mendel, always the teacher, seized the opportunity to expound on the evils of gluttony. David’s green-tinged cheeks flushed while six-year-old Havah giggled into her napkin.
“Mama, Jeffrey took my doll and hid it. Make him tell me where it is!”
Frustrated by her children’s constant bickering, Sarah Tulschinsky stood and hurled her sewing basket to the floor. “Can’t you two play nice? Don’t you know how good you have it?”
Eyes wide, twins Jeffrey and Evalyne backed away from her. Sarah wished she could take back her harsh words. She had always made it a point never to raise her voice to them. After all they were only four. How could she expect them to understand?
While they were outside playing tag and climbing trees, the postman delivered a letter from Arel that had been lost for almost two months. His detailed account tore her heart into pieces.
Before she could explain to her son and daughter what had happened to those poor children in Kishinev, the front door opened. Wolf stepped over the threshold. Evalyne and Jeffrey raced to him. He scooped them up, one on each arm and spun them around.
“Papa, the lights comed back on today and we gots water, too!” Evalyne always had to be the first to share whatever she knew.
~~Taken from Please Say Kaddish for Me
“Do you miss those boys and girls in Kishinev, Auntie?” Evalyne’s round eyes, brimming with curiosity, seemed to pop out of her slender face.
“Would you miss your nose if it fell off?” asked Havah.
Sarah held her finger to her lips. “Evie, you’ll wear Auntie out with your questions.” “How else will she learn? She can never ask me too many questions.”
Evalyne and Jeffrey Tulschinsky are Sarah and Wolf’s twin children. In the excerpt from Please Say Kaddish for Me they are five years old when Sarah receives a lost letter from Arel telling her about the Kishinev pogrom.
The excerpt from From Silt and Ashes takes place a few months later, after Arel and Havah have settled in Kansas City.
Evalyne is the more outgoing of the two children. Although Havah loves both children, she is drawn to the precocious little girl who is constantly asking questions.
Evalyne (author’s mother) and Norman Weiner on their 15th birthday.
After one last draw on his pipe, Wolf emptied it into an ashtray on the end table. He leaned back on the sofa and stretched his lanky arms over his head and his long legs out in front of him.
“Public school is a wonderful thing,” he said. “The twins will learn to read and write like American children. There’s talk at the synagogue of starting a Talmud Torah class as well. It will be like heder in the old country, so Jeffrey will learn Hebrew, too.”
“What about me?” Evalyne sat up straight.
“Talmud Torah classes are for boys, sweetheart.”
“Auntie Havah reads the Torah in Hebrew, doesn’t she?” Evalyne stuck out her lower lip.
“Yes, I do. Is this not America? Why shouldn’t Evie know what her brother does?”
Havah rose and arched her back in an attempt to find some relief.
“Are you saying we should be without tradition like the gentiles?” asked Wolf with a growl in his voice as he stood.
“I’m saying, our traditions should include women and girls.”
“Then your tradition contradicts Talmud!”
“My papa used to say the Talmud is just a bunch of rabbinic opinions.”
“They’re damn good ones at that, and I’ll thank you to keep your ideas to yourself where my daughter’s concerned.”
~~Taken From From Silt and Ashes by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
Wolf Tulschinsky is a self-made man. He met and fell in love with Sarah Gitterman on the way to America. Together they’ve forged a good life for themselves and their twins, Jeffrey and Evalyne. He’s a good husband and a loving father. While Wolf prides himself on his trade as a tailor and a modern American, his ideas concerning Jewish tradition are very much old world. Although it’s clear in both Please Say Kaddish for Me and From Silt and Ashes he admires Havah’s courage and strength, he disagrees with her radical stance on women and education.