One day – two amazing women – Marion Blumenthal Lazan (photo on right) and Cheryl Stern (photo on left).
These two Jewish women are from different worlds – one born in Germany before the war and the other born in New York after the war was over. But they have impacted my life deeply and are changing the world – day by day – encounter by encounter. They are connected – to quote the end of my book – as part of the “singular strands of the universe” that have “been woven together” in my life and in the telling of Sam and Esther’s story.
I got to visit them both yesterday!
Marion Blumenthal Lazan was under five when the war started. In her book, Four Perfect Pebbles: A True Story of the Holocaust, she describes her experiences from the perspective of a child – through those innocent eyes that became clouded as she lived in Westerbrook, a refugee camp in the Netherlands and then the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp. The book published some 20 years ago tells the world about her experiences during the war. And she has indeed told the world – the book is translated into German, Hebrew, Japanese and other languages that I cannot recall. There is a school in her home town in Germany named for her! Marion, now in her 80’s, together with her husband of 65 years, Nathanial Lazan, travel the globe speaking to crowds large and small to tell the story of her childhood in Nazi Germany. She emphasizes, among other lessons, that we all encounter hardships in life and yet, we can overcome and move beyond.
Here is a link to her website: http://www.fourperfectpebbles.com/
I was introduced to the powerhouse that is Marion Lazan because of a chance encounter with a friend from college this past summer. Michael Lazan was on a business trip to Seattle and asked if he could stay with us for Shabbat. As we sat and discussed my project – My Soul is Filled with Joy – he told me about his amazing mother and her book. I suggested that perhaps she might write an endorsement for my book and indeed, she generously agreed to do so. When Michael told me all this, I had not yet read Four Perfect Pebbles – so I figured I better read it.
Because I love listening to books, I decided to get the book on Audible. As I listened, I realized that this book is very special – it is indeed a book well suited for middle school and high school students – it is educational, engaging and emotional (and not too long!). But as I finished listening, with the sound of the narrator still ringing in my ear, I realized that I had discovered the voice for My Soul is Filled with Joy. I knew I wanted to have an audio book, but the idea of finding just the right person to narrate was daunting. But here she was – Cheryl Stern – a captivating voice with emotion and modulation and terrific accents for the dialogue. I knew she was the voice I wanted. But how to find her – all I had was a name. I sent an e-mail to Michael and asked if his mother knew how to get in touch with her narrator. He said that it was done through the publishing company, so she did not, but kindly sent me a link to her website and it happily had an e-mail address. I looked at her website and realized that she is an actress in New York city and has done many creative projects, bringing art, entertainment and new levels of awareness to her audiences everywhere. In fact, she is a recurring character in the very popular series Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – she appears in episodes 4 and 5 of the new season!
Here is Cheryl’s website: http://cherylstern.com/
I sent her an e-mail explaining how I found her, how much I loved her narration of Four Perfect Pebbles, and that I would like to discuss the possibility of her narrating my book. She called, and we discussed the project and boom – she agreed to do it. Conveniently, her husband Tom, is an audio producer and together they could provide a finished product. In fact, she said, Tom is a composer and he could write some music for the opening and closing.
“Oh, no I said – I have the perfect music for the audio book.”
I explained about the song we sang to the Stys family and how I wanted the song to be used for the opening and closing, as well as smack in the middle of the book – at the point where I describe how we sang the song to the Stys family. She loved the idea and that was that. I am pleased to report that the audio book is complete and should be up for sale on Audible/Amazon in less than a week. Cheryl did not disappoint. Her narration is passionate, full of emotion and energy and the song is placed at the perfect spots. I could not be happier to have yet another dream fulfilled.
Since I am in New York for our daughter Elisheva’s wedding – last Sunday – I knew I must meet these two women. Yesterday morning I took the subway to mid-town, got off at Columbus Circle and walked a few blocks through the concrete jungle to a beautiful apartment building. I was announced by the doorman and rose in the elevator to the 23rd floor. As I entered their apartment, we hugged. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction to meet these two people who sat for hours struggling over the Polish and Yiddish words in my book. I have such a deep sense of gratitude for the hard work they put into the audio book and I am so happy to have them now as a part of my life.
When I left them, I walked 20 blocks down to Penn Station and took the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) to Lynbrook, where Marion and Nathanial Lazan were waiting for me. I received the warmest welcome, as if we had known each other for many years. As I entered their beautiful home (where my friend Michael grew up), I could tell that this was a home filled with love. We sat for hours eating a beautiful lunch talking about her book, my book, her travels and the zillions of encounters she has had with students and adults alike – all over the world. Nathanial showed me his lair in the basement where his computer and office sit, amongst the posters shining with gorgeous photos of Marion at various events and receiving honors. As I sat on the LIRR heading back to Manhattan in the late afternoon, I felt that same feeling in my gut – the sense of God as the grand weaver of the strands of the universe – the same feeling that overwhelmed me as I finished writing the book.
Two remarkable women – in one day – what a lucky woman am I.