At a writer’s conference four years ago a prominent New York agent took an interest in PLEASE SAY KADDISH FOR ME. She asked me to add twenty-thousand words to it and then send her a hard copy.
For months I made a point of rising three hours before going to work at 7:00 am to write. Heart pounding, I sent the fruit of my labors only to have it returned in a matter of weeks. In her rejection letter she said it was “too much like FIDDLER ON THE ROOF” and it was “a story that everybody already knew.”
Ironically, I’ve told others that my book could be subtitled “The dark side of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.” On the other hand, does my novel tell a story that everyone knows?
Often, when I’m asked what my book is about and I answer that it’s about a woman who survives the pogrom in Kishinev, the capital city of what is now known as Moldova, the next question is, “What’s a pogrom?” It is that the question that convinced me to continue writing.
“‘Kill the Jews!’ Frenzied shouts came from the tailor shop sending icicles down Havah’s back. Sounds of machines toppling and tearing cloth ripped through her.”PSKFM
On April 19, 1903, as Christians celebrated Easter, the pogrom began at noon. Fueled by the rumor that a Christian child had been murdered in a Jewish ritual and the blood used to make unleavened bread, a frenzied mob rampaged through Jewish neighborhoods for two days.
Reportedly, local police made no attempt to interfere with rioters wielding iron bars and axes. Those who were taken into custody were soon released.
By the time the violence ended two-thousand families were left homeless, five-hundred were wounded and fifty Jewish people were dead.
“Crushing silence, heavy and cruel, closed in on Havah like a burial garment. She opened her eyes. Her soul pleaded for a sound. Children’s laughter. She longed to hear it. Craved it like sweet raisins. But only more quiet answered her plea.” PSKFM
“No one needed to identify the last corpse in the row for it was draped in Itzak’s father’s tallis. Itzak took off his hat, scraped a handful of dirt from the street and sprinkled it over his bare head. With a muffled sob he fell beside Evron’s body, clutching the prayer shawl’s fringes. Then he uncovered his brother’s face for one last goodbye, kissed his cold forehead and replaced the cover.” PSKFM
News of the bloody pogrom sent shockwaves around the world. Rallies were held in London, Paris and New York. President Theodore Roosevelt urged the Czar to denounce the massacre. The Czar refused.
The New York Times reported:
“The anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev, Bessarabia, are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Russian Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, “Kill the Jews,” was taken up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep. The dead number 120 and the injured about 500. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babes were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews.” (“Jewish Massacre Denounced,” New York Times, April 28, 1903, p 6)
Historians have called pogroms such as these the dress rehearsal for the Nazi Holocaust. Over a hundred years have passed since Kishinev and other such pogroms. Do we remember them? Is this really a story that everybody already knows?