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Life support for a book

More than 100,000 books come out each year. That means the competition for new authors is crushing. Most books die within three months of release, tossed onto the remainder table, ending their brief shelf life as tax write-offs for the publishing house. Several trends make the odds even longer for new authors. First, publishing houses play it safe by devoting their marketing dollars to authors like Sarah Palin, who are ...

My mother, the enemy alien

One Sunday over brunch several months ago, the family was having a political discussion about racial profiling. In her inimitable way, my mother turned to me and said, “You know, I was an enemy alien.” “What? When?” In recent years, my mother, who is now in her eighties, has begun to talk about her past, but I was completely shocked by this new revelation. “When I was 14-years old.” I ...

Adult children of survivors: 'I understand'

“I've just read some of your blog entries,” writes my high school friend, Carolyn Projansky. “Very powerful. I related to the story you told of the Holocaust survivor who over-mothered her children because she didn't get enough mothering. (See blog below, "The Forgotten Adults.") My mother did that, and you'll recall she was a Holocaust survivor, too. I figured out exactly that reason years ago, in therapy." For children of ...

Szrow zee ball!

There are scientific reasons why many immigrants can’t get the sz out of “throw” or the z out of “the.” Most likely, those who speak with an accent emigrated after the age of 8. Since the critical period for language development begins in infancy and ends between eight years and puberty, it’s difficult to speak a second language without an accent after that time. “Second languages learned after the critical ...

Thanks a million, HIAS!

The last picture taken of my mother with her parents before she was sent to America in 1938. When my mother came to this country at the age of 12 all by herself, she had no idea what program organized her journey. She was part of an American rescue operation recently named "the One Thousand Children," which sought to place child refugees in foster families to escape Nazi persecution. The ...

The German for 'Oy Gevalt!'

On a trip to Worfelden, Germany, where my great-grandparents once lived, local residents welcomed my mother and me with a specially compiled pamphlet for our visit that told of the town's Jewish history. In addition to the copies of the original blueprints for the synagogue and brief biographies of the Jews who once lived in the town, the pamphlet listed Yiddish words commonly used in Germany today. Under the heading, ...

The Forgotten Adults

After I give a speech, many people come up and tell me their experiences of immigration, loss, or the legacy of the Holocaust. One woman told me her poignant story many years ago and it has stayed with me. Here’s what she said: “I escaped Vienna as a child in 1939. The Nazis killed my parents so I never had a mother or father to love me after the age ...

The Forgotten Children

World news spotlighted another heartbreaking story of child immigration this week. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized to thousands of British who were shipped to Australia as children. They were promised a better life; instead, they had a Dickensian existence. More than 500,000 children were placed in foster homes, orphanages and other institutions during the 20th century, according to a 2004 Australian Senate report. Many experienced emotional, physical and sexual ...

When does childhood end…

...and when does adulthood begin? • Nineteen-year-olds can drive tanks in Afghanistan, but they aren’t considered responsible enough to drive a rental car. • Courts treat 13-year-olds as adults, yet they cannot rent adult DVDs. • Executing convicts for offenses committed before age 18 is unconstitutional. • In Judaism, a boy becomes a man (the bar mitzvah) at 13. “For drinking, driving, fighting in the military, compulsory schooling, watching an ...