Moved to write
BY JILL HAMBURG COPLAN
Hamburg Coplan is a freelance writer.
March 13, 2004
Educators and social experts say more and more people
are discovering the power and pleasure of writing about their life,
determined to leave their mark, record their involvement in
significant events or satisfy their children's persistent requests
to pass on their family history. Some write memoirs to purge nagging
demons or simply feel the joy of creative release. Mental- health
workers say they are even using memoir writing for its therapeutic
benefits in hospitals and clinics.
parent's memoir powerfully affects an adult child's
When Samuel Eisenstadt of Belle Harbor was diagnosed
with an illness in his early 80s, he immersed himself in recording
his memories of the Holocaust - and it changed his daughter's life,
The daughter, Debbie Mandel, a writer in Lawrence,
recalls that almost every morning in 1985 and 1986, Eisenstadt sat
in his home office, overlooking a neighbor's bushes, bent over a
manual Yiddish typewriter he had bought for the task. Sometimes,
His 200-page manuscript, which she has translated
into English, described his three young children's eyes as they were
pulled away from him and sent to their deaths in Auschwitz. It tells
of his refusal to accept help from a Polish doctor in the camp who
wanted to assist him - but only if he'd deny that he was Jewish. He
wrote about events and feelings he had never told anyone, says
Mandel, who's the daughter of a second marriage. Through the process
of writing, he stayed vital far longer than he might otherwise
Reading the manuscript had "a transformative effect" on
her, she says. "The core of the message was to be true to
Mandel was a high school writing teacher at the
time, but was inspired to shift her work toward an older
Now she leads groups of Holocaust survivors, and
does stress management with retired nuns and people in geriatric
residences - including memoir writing. Mandel recently wrote a book
on the subject, "Turn on Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind
and Soul" (Busy Bee Group, 2003
Sampling of Stories
Food for a
The late Samuel Eisenstadt recalled memories of the
Holocaust, translated from the Yiddish by daughter Debbie Mandel of
I observed helplessly how ill Yakov became. He
began to look otherworldly. He argued with me
"Why don't you eat my daily rations? I can't eat
anymore," Yakov said. "I hide my portions, saving them for you and
then the others come and steal them, robbing you of added
nourishment. When they dole out some wretched soup, I call your name
and you are not there to eat my portion. Eat, my friend Samuel, and
live from my food."
I gazed into his jaundiced face and said,
"Yakov, I can't lie to you. How can I watch you die inch by inch and
eat the very food that is your lifeline? I cannot help how I feel. I
cannot profit from your illness."
"But Samuel, you take
nothing from me," Yakov replied. "I cannot eat anyway. Why should
strangers and thieves benefit, while you, my dearest friend on this
earth, starve every day and do not save yourself through
I postponed my answer for another day. There was always
tomorrow and I could think of another excuse. The next morning I
went to visit Yakov earlier than usual. He was no longer there. I
was told that he was ignobly thrown into a wagon and removed to the
garage that housed the dead. Just yesterday we said the Shehechianu
prayer together and today I should recite the lonely Kaddish.
However, I did not say Kaddish for Yakov. What was the point? No one
in heaven was listening.
The realization of
Stasha Yontar of Sunnyside, writing about the first
10 years of her life during the 1940s in Cleveland:
December, Daddy's union went on strike. Daddy was a loyal union man
and would never, ever consider crossing the picket line, but the
strike benefits were not adequate to support our family.
he drove a truck, he delivered newspapers, he did electrical work,
he sold aluminum siding and storm windows. He worked at a
decorations and display warehouse, but he still didn't make enough.
We missed a few mortgage payments.
Mommy emptied out all our
kids' bank accounts, and took a part time job at a small, illegal
factory doing piecework. For the first time we were latchkey kids,
wearing the house key on a ribbon around our necks. We kids heard
Mommy and Daddy talking about losing the house. But the man who held
our mortgage told Daddy, "Pay me what you can and we'll make it up
when you go back to work."
The strike lasted for six months.
I realized for the first time in my life that we were really almost
Birth of an only child
Manhattan resident John
My daughter, Benita, was born in New York Hospital
on Nov. 5, 1975 at 4:15 a.m. We had waited 10 years to start a
family. Alice was 39 and I was 42. Benita was to be our first, and
It was an hour before dawn as I left the
hospital to walk home. I happened to glance over my shoulder at the
river and the 59th Street bridge. I saw the moving lights of pre-
dawn traffic flashing across the silhouette of the skeletal span. In
that moment, I felt the unique vitality of life itself. Life was
motion and mobility as it flashed across the inert steel
As I walked to York Avenue, I joined the vital flow
of my fellow humans as they bustled off to their early morning
rounds. I felt elated that we were all united in the stream of life.
Benita had joined us in that ancient, animated flow.
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