I just heard that a bookstore in Boro Park received complaints from three customers about our book. It seems that they object to the cover of The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden. What is there to object to? Well, apparently the cover drawing is considered by these three men (no women, what a shock!) to be immodest because a girl is shown on horseback. The owner of the store has been forced to remove the book from its display table. This is sad on many levels: the book has been selling briskly and now inevitably sales will be affected, livelihoods are hurt, and of course I wrote the book for the frum community. I have to admit that though it’s only one bookstore and though many frum Jews have already read the book and adored it, and found nothing wrong with it, I feel hurt. I know I shouldn’t. Somehow it seems like an attack on Seraphic Press. I know this is completely irrational. But I also know that there are degrees of frumkeit, of modesty, but to pounce on this book because of the cover seems unfair to its content. As a result, if you go into a Jewish bookstore and don’t see The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden on display, speak to the proprieter and he will gladly lead you to it.
Archives for November 2004
At last, the new site is up and running. It’s been a struggle getting to this point. All our efforts have been channeled into getting The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden published and distributed. Unfortunately, the website fell through the cracks. But thanks to my friend Jackie and the wonderful folks at the Big Blog Company, the Seraphic Press website is here. As you can see, this is Seraphic Secret expanded; Karen and I will continue to blog, hopefully even more frequently.
Special thanks to Jason Maoz the Editor-in-Chief of the The Jewish Press, who lists Seraphic Secret in his superb Media Monitor column of Most Recommended Websites in the Nov 26 issue of The Jewish Press. Jason points out that the sites listed are in no particulat order, yet I cannot help but take pride in noting that Seraphic Secret is number two on his list. I also can’t help but kvell that this blog is in the company of people whom I greatly admire: Hugh Hewitt, Weekly Standard, Front Page Mag and Lileks, all of them articulate and influential conservatives.
In the same issue of The Jewish Press, Aharon ben Anshel writes a glowing review of The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden. He calls it “…a compelling fable… and a facinating coming-of-age story that is difficult to put down, yet not too difficult for young adults to manage on their own.” I will add the entire review later on.
I’d like to thank all you who have told us how much you enjoyed The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden. Karen and I treasure each and every letter. Your generous thoughts confirm our notion of Seraphic Press as a suitable matzevah for Ariel.
I’d like to ask a favor of all those who have read and enjoyed the book: please write a positive review on Amazon.com or on Barnes & Noble.com. These reviews carry considerable weight with other readers, especially Jewish readers. And we are particularly anxious to reach those who will want to know if the book is appropriate for Torah Jews.
I’m working on the next book in The Hebrew Kid series and I’d love to hear from my readers about what you would like to see happen in subsequent stories.
All through Shabbos, men from the group I fled from Friday night come over to offer words of comfort. Said one man: “Your tears said everything we wanted to say but couldn’t.” Fearing another emotional meltdown, I skip the next group meeting. Instead I stay in my room, read and nap. Karen and I take a walk around the lovely grounds. We feel peaceful and removed from the real world. It is Shabbos and some wonder if it’s proper to take part in these grief meetings, after all, on Shabbos we are commanded to rejoice.
But there is happiness in Camp Simcha. On Friday night the men sit around two large tables and fervently sing Shabbos z’miros until late at night. Even I, a loner by nature, sit nearby and allow myself to be swept along by the soaring melodies. If a stranger were to step into this room, he would have no idea that every man and woman in the room has lost a child. He would have no inkling that the men who sing with such love and devotion have had their worlds annihilated. Here are men and women who exist in a separate plane from all others. To lose a child is to live in a world that forces you to recognize a betrayal in your life and there will be no armistice.
On the last day of the retreat, I choose to attend the final group session.
The men nod at me as I take my seat. I ask the psychologist if I can say a few words. He gives me a single nod of the head.
“I’m here out of respect for this group, for all of you who sought me out during Shabbos, who offered chizuk and nechama.”
Men offer closing thoughts and before too long I am cringing. The men take refuge behind p’sukim. They wield chapter and verse like weapons. Each one trying to top the other with a more clever, a more sophisticated quote from Talmud or better yet, form some obscure work of halacha. Unlike the women who, Karen reports, speak from the gut, from the heart, who attempt to confront and analyze their innermost feelings, the men cloak themselves in the armor of chapter and verse. Schooled in the mental discipline of the Beis Midrash, the men have nothing left to fall back on.
“God has a plan, we cannot know what it is.”
“She is in a better place.”
“It’s a test.”
I stare at the floor. I don’t feel like crying.
I feel like screaming.
The death of our children deserves more than over ripe clichés. Yet I understand the impulse. In the face of the unspeakable, what is there left to say?
The man who was away from home when his son died rambles on endlessly, repeating the phrase “Gam zu L’tova.” – “This too is ultimately for the good.”
My heart beats in my chest like a trapped bird. No one objects. They all just sit here and nod. Yes, yes, they are affirming with their silence, the death of my child is tragic, but on a higher level it is acceptable.
“I’m sorry, nothing good has come from Ariel’s death!” My voice is unnaturally loud.
Gam zu L’tova stares at me; he hears the anger in my voice, he locks eyes with me and he flinches because he sees that I could easily strike him.
“Ariel suffered horribly for years and years. There was nothing good about that. Ariel wanted to live. He fought every inch of the way. He did not give up; he did not surrender. He wanted to live. He did not want to die. So there is no way you can convince me that his death, or the death of any of our children is ultimately for the good. The death of these good and holy children is horrible. I resent what you are saying. It’s an insult to me, and also an insult to my son!”
The man answers, he rambles on incoherently about God’s will, and if he says one more word I really might put a fist through his face.
Thankfully, the psychologist intervenes. He calls a halt to the conversation and he wisely ends the session. My hands are shaking so badly that I’ve spilled half the cup of hot tea on my hand. My skin is pink from the burn. I didn’t even feel it happen.
Gam zu L’tova approaches me. He offers his hand. I stare at it for a second. Then I take his hand and shake it. He has lost a son. I have lost a son. The right thing to do is reclaim some measure of kindness, find the safe harbor of dignity. If not for ourselves, at least for our children.
I tell Karen about my latest group meltdown. She offers some not-so-practical advice: “Next time you’ll just have to dress in drag and come to the women’s group. You just don’t have the typically male mentality.”
“Yes, I’m a failure in that department.”
“And thank God for that.” says Karen.
Karen adds: I have spoken to women who have attended secular therapy groups, and the contrast between male and female is universal. It is not restricted to Torah Jews. The secular men don’t have the Torah phrases to quote, but they do cling to facts, or simply do not speak at all. How many women complain that their husbands don’t share their feelings? How many women despair when they want to talk about issues, not for the sake of solving a problem, but simply for the release, the sharing, the acknowledgement? Is there a solution? Will men ever be able to reveal their fears, their weaknesses, their neediness? I don’t know, but I do think the first step is in giving them the security, the acceptance and support that they do not know how to ask for.
On Sunday February 20, 2005 I will be signing my book at the Jewish Literature for Children Conference.
10400 Wilshire Blvd,. LA
Cost: $75 before December 15 / $85 after the 15th (includes lunch and autograph dessert party)
On Sunday April 3, 2005 from 3:00PM – 4:00PM I will be reading and signing my book at The Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.
6505 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90048
Information: phone (323) 761 – 8648 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
When the organizers of the Los Angeles Children’s Bookfest found out, three days before the festival, that The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden was available, they were so anxious to have the book present that they graciously shuffled schedules and made room for me to attend and sign my book. As I spoke with the organizers over the phone, it suddenly occurred to me that the address of the Bookfest was eerily familiar: 6150 Mount Sinai Drive, Simi Valley.
“Excuse me,” I say, “but isn’t that the Mt. Sinai cemetery?”
“Yes, it is. But no one can see the cemetery. The fair takes place down below, in tents. Does it bother you?”
“No, no,” I mutter, barely able to contain myself, “it’s fine.”
And so, Karen and I drive to the Jewish Children’s Bookfest where The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden will make its very first public appearance.
We drive past the Bookfest tents and follow the winding road into the cemetery. We get out of the car and approach Ariel’s grave. We say Tehillim. We cry. We look down at the bookfair, one hundred yards from Ariel’s resting place.
I sign and sell about thirty copies of my book. Karen laughs and says: “I’ve never sold anything before in my life. Now look at me. I’m like this insane Willy Loman.” We decide that some long dormant “hawking gene” has abruptly risen to life. Anyone who gets within ten feet of our table is fair game. I find myself talking up a meek seven-year-old girl before I get hold of myself and gently tell her to get her mommy.
After the fair, Karen and I climb once again to Ariel’s grave. The sun sets and long shadows fall across the valley. It is no accident that the The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden has made its debut here. As Karen said a few days ago, Ariel is looking out for us, watching over the creation of this book — a book written for him in his last days. Ariel’s physical presence is gone, but his essence, his intelligence, wit and kindness are as tangible as ever. Absence has become presence, and this day brings him closer to our wounded hearts. And for this we are eternally grateful.
Karen adds: The day at the fair turned out to be a day with Ariel. We have always gone to the cemetery in the early morning when the sun is just coming up over the eastward hills. I have seen the terrain of the Simi Valley with specific shadows, the land accepting the sun’s light on landmarked peaks. Having spent an entire day at the site, I returned in the late afternoon. It struck me: I have spent every moment of the day with Ariel when he was alive, but since he died, time with Ariel has been relegated to a certain slice of the day. The light is different now, the hills are darkening. I feel neglectful, I should be here all day with my son, every day, every moment. But I have to leave. I tell Robert it reminds me of the times in the hospital when I literally put Ariel to bed, making sure he had all his night time needs in place, and almost stealthily snuck out of the room when he finally fell asleep so I could grab some hours of rest. I feel guilty, but I leave the cemetery.