Gail: I’ve always wanted to write a book – I was an avid reader and kept a journal. But for years, all my writing was kept in dark spaces where no one else could see it. There came an urgency as my father became older. There was so much written about my father who has been interviewed hundreds of times. I never quite believed that I had anything to add to that conversation and then there came a time when I realized “I have my own view of this” and it became important for me to address my story as a second generation account [Holocaust survivor].
In the process of writing the book, I was able to move through a place of really deep pain, to come out on the other side with eyes wide open. I became aware that I changed something in the trajectory for my family by putting this out into a public space and finding the courage to express myself and our story. It changed things for me, for my dad, for my children – who now know a very transparent, authentic story.
In a broader sense, I was disenchanted with what was happening in our country and around the world and wanted to write a story about my dad’s strength and ability to lead with hope and healing, even after all he had been through. If he could do that and if I could tell his story – sculpt it in a way that had universal meaning – other people could take that roadmap and learn from it. Carry that into their own lives and impact their own choices as well.
Gail: I took about two years, though I had been writing pieces of it for many years. For instance, I included a poem from my twenties, which has that sound of angst in it. I sometimes looked at those old journals to see how I was feeling [and be inspired to] write in a vulnerable way and express it to the public.
Gail: I knew from the beginning that I would not write the book without my father’s blessing because so much of the book was taking private stories from his life for other people to read.
So I set up a date at the Rockville Silver Diner and we sat across the table from each other – sharing a pastrami sandwich on rye and a chocolate milkshake- and I asked him “I’d like to write this book about you and mom and me and the history of our family – what do you think?” He looked at me and he said “You know, I always wanted to write a book, but I don’t know how to do that. But you do. You’re a writer and it would be great for you to write this book.”
I walked away with his blessing and I’m so fortunate that I had him to call and send messages to as I was writing the book, asking questions like “am I getting this right? Am I remembering this correctly? Was anyone else there?” I got answers to all the questions I had and that lends itself to the book’s authenticity.
Whenever I go to see my father, he always has my book in the canvas tote that he carries and he’ll say “you know, I’m still reading your book. It’s so good.” He’s very proud and happy about it.
Gail: The overarching goal is that people don’t forget the stories of Holocaust survivors and that trauma reverates through generations.
I also really want people to reassess their choices – how are they living their lives? The greatest gift is when people write to me and tell me they’re making a change because they read my memoir and asked themselves the critical questions at the back of the book. I want people to feel they can access the courage to face what they have been burying. It’s not a coincidence that this book is written through a coaching lens because I am a professional coach.
Gail: When somebody comes to me with a work related challenge, we get into a deep-dive about what has, and has not been, serving them. In many cases, resistance and critical self-talk were learned in their family of origin.
I believe you can continue to operate the way your parents taught you, or you can begin to examine the pattern and choose another way. You can look into the place of limitation and restriction from your own family legacy and create something new. And once we do that, it feels like an enormous relief.
A great place to start is by looking at our values – what has been passed on and what do we want to keep – and the book is really meant to help lead to self discovery and empowerment. I try to get to that through storytelling and then I lay out powerful questions at the back of the book that can help people address some of the hiding places and some of those family wounds for themselves.
Gail: Exactly, it’s curiosity. It’s a willingness to look there and to name it. When my husband and I got married we took the time to be introspective and carve out ways for us to live lives full of Jewish tradition that work for us.
Gail: The value of education, for sure. The fact that he did not get to finish his education has always been a source of shame and remorse, because he’s a really smart man but he’s always been self educated.
Integrity – I saw at a very young age how he treated his customers and our neighbors and anyone who was different from him. It was always with compassion, empathy and integrity.
And family. Every time I talk to him he talks about how it’s all about family. He says you can take every kind of success and nothing compares to building a family that loves each other. And, of course, independence.
I agree and I’ve found that passing those qualities on is key. Especially to our daughters as we do our best to empower them.
Gail: Yes, those are key questions I ask myself every day as I’m promoting my book. This stage of talking about my book, I will be speaking to university students. It’s important to educate young people, through stories, so they feel equipped to act when faced with difficult choices. What we’ve always known is that when people are familiar with someone else’s story then it is harder to hate them.
I hope this book helps students find their own way to speak up about whatever family legacy issues or trauma that are personal to them. I want young people to know that they are still shape-shifting and by asking powerful questions, they can identify their wound and find ways to move through that, rather than repressing it and letting it control them.
On another note, three organizations – The Holocaust Musuem, Yad Vashem, and The Simon Weisenthal Center – have requested my book. These are places that we hope will live forever and they have worldwide audiences. I hope people will learn from the lessons of the past and not let it keep us as victims, but let us express and teach what we know from that place.
No matter what people look like from the outside, everyone has a place in them that they feel is too vulnerable to express. So, I like to challenge and inspire people to look to that place to see how they can stand up for civil rights, for allowing others to flourish.
Gail: I would love to write another book, but I don’t know what that would be – yet! It was a lot of effort to write the book and the biggest challenge was in developing a writing routine because I never had one that was longer than just writing in my journal. Maybe I’ll write a book of poetry or a coaching book, cookbook or something else…who knows!
The writing process, or any creative process, is amazing because it’s so much about faith. The tenets of Judaism and writing are actually pretty closely aligned.
Gail: Anything that will be fulfilling will take consistent effort. The effort is yours, but it doesn’t mean you have to create in isolation. Part of the beauty is in the collaboration. Find people who will lift you up and cheer you on.
I would tell myself, the definition of “success” will evolve and it will not look like anyone else’s.
I’d say to remember that inspiration doesn’t always shout – it often comes in a whisper. It might appear as a longing or interest that won’t quit or as butterflies in the stomach. Pay attention to nuance. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission. Finally, that we don’t have to do it perfectly, the important thing is to keep trying, take small actions that add up to something meaningful over time.
Gail: Pretty much anywhere books are sold like Amazon and Indiebound. More locally, it’s at Bethany Beach Books and the local Potomac Library. If your library doesn’t have the book you can always request it and they will order it. That’s the great thing about libraries!
Find out more about Gail Weiss Gaspar at www.gailgaspar.com and get Gail’s Memoir, “Carrying My Father’s Torch: From Holocaust Trauma to Transformation” here.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.