Friday, January 8, 2010

What's a Story without an Audience?

My (ex) father-in-law is in town. I've always respected him, but it's taken 13 years to truly adore him. Last night I tweeted that I was picking him up from the BART station because, even though he is blind, he wouldn't let me fetch him from the airport. There really isn't' any arguing with Michael, so ... I was there when he arrived in Berkeley.

The short story: Michael survived the holocaust with his sister by living in the woods for many years, was saved by Hillel, shipped to America, where he worked very hard and completed degrees at MIT. He married an equally amazing woman (also a survivor who had worked her way up to be among the first women to graduate Harvard Medical School) and had four kids. Regina died tragically of breast cancer when she was 48. Her youngest son was 10. Bankrupt from medical bills, Michael started all over and triumphed once again. He's been married to his second wife, a journalism professor at Rutgers, for over twenty years and between them they have 11 grandchildren.

Since separating from my husband, I've had the opportunity to spend time with Michael alone. When he is in town we'll go to lunch - just the two of us - and chat about current events, work and family. He is 85 years old and sharp as a needle. I spent time with him today and we spoke mostly about his latest projects - he's writing. Books. (He said "what else am I going to do all day? I can't watch television, or read the newspaper, so I write.")

He's completed an, as yet, unpublished autobiography about his life and, most recently, he self published a book compiled from Regina's notes - a memoir. GRIT: A Pediatricians Odyssey from a Soviet Camp to Harvard. This afternoon he was consulting with me about ways to market it. Despite a front page story in the New Jersey Jewish News, a review in The Jewish State, and a couple of speaking engagements, it was not selling. "Cori," he said, "HOW do I market this book?" Drawing from my long long long ago stint in publishing, I began to answer, but he interrupted with the kicker question: from my very wise 85 year old FIL, I heard "and WHY does it matter to me?"

Um, wow. Marketing a book - now that's concrete business stuff - I can work with that - help him sell a few more books with publicity on social media channels and plans for November Jewish book month and ... (blah blah blah)... but WHY DOES IT MATTER? to HIM? I'm flabbergasted he asked. Me. I didn't know what to say.

Finally, "well Michael, you clearly want Regina's story told, and what's a story without an audience?"
He agreed. Quietly.

Then proceeded to tell me about his current project - an epic novel spanning 3 generations - a reflection of his life during the illness and after the death of "Regina." He explained the outline... I suggested he skip the novel and go directly to a screen play. It's a good story. It would make a great movie.

I wonder who would play me.

PS - before writing this post I (obviously) googled Michael. I was surprised to find he has his own website. I've no idea who made it or keeps it for him, but it has some interesting stuff on it. .


  1. A great man indeed. Thanks for sharing this with us, allowing us a peek into the wonderful relationship you've formed with this special man.


  2. Wow. Your description of his life is moving enough, but I've just come back from his website and reading his poetry and...

    You are indeed honored to know this incredible man.

  3. I always look forward to reading the book before seeing the movie. I learned long ago, and consistently try to remind myself whenever I meet someone new that "everyone has a story". This man's sounds incredible. Thanks for posting this, Cori, and what an opportunity to know him better in these days ahead.

  4. Cori,
    I havent spoke to you in a year and a half, but I often thought of it, wishing I knew what to say.
    But reading this left me no doubt that I had to let you know how much I appreciate what you wrote about my father, and anything you even think about doing to promote my mother's book.
    I'm so glad you have made friends with him.
    Dad has given us a gift of life and inspires us to keep reaching for our dreams despite whatever hardships come. He has shown us and is still doing that daily by example, even though his own were and are beyond what anyone should have to endure.
    Thank you Cori.

  5. Oh as to who would play you? I'm thinking Julia Roberts for her big smile. and wonderfully curly hair.
    Me? Bernadette Peters. I get that I look like her a lot. (:D)


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