What is it like to write stories that expose what you have always hidden and run away from your whole life?
Let me tell you, it’s scary as hell, as though you are a fresh fruit with your skin slowly being peeled off with a small knife. It’s so tough that you can’t read it out loud without choking on your words, holding back the tears and wishing you were anyone anywhere else.
A friend said to me while I was “in” it, “you don’t have to write a book about it.”
“Why shouldn’t I?” I thought. I had been lead by some invisible force to that moment, a knowing that I had to write this story and there was no turning back.
Fearing the judgment and the hatred I thought would inevitably come, I expected everyone I knew or didn’t know to silence me. No one would understand. And where would I hide when it was all over? I thought about moving somewhere else or changing my name, but I knew the past would always catch up.
Speaking my truth was like being dissected by an alien cutting deep within looking for answers hoping to discover my reason for being. It was a long, difficult, painful process that involved a great deal of trial and error, self-doubt, nervous snacking, and bouts of depression and euphoria. Healing takes time and patience and is an ongoing process as we peel off the past layer by layer.
I told my teacher—healer David Elliott—when I began my writing journey, that I would never show Rabbi Silver the book. He would never understand. He will hate me and wonder how I could write such things, how I could be so disrespectful and unworthy. How could a child of a Holocaust survivor even dare?
“He’s the first person you should show it to,” David commented.
So raw and vulnerable, I was an open wound and thought, “I will never show him.”
One day, a few years later, my husband, son and I had an appointment with the Rabbi to prepare for my son’s Bar Mitzvah, the day he becomes an adult in the Jewish tradition. That morning, to my own surprise, I decided, if the topic came up, I would tell the Rabbi about my book and ask him to review it. He is a brilliant scholar, gentle and admirable. I would be fortunate if he said yes. What did I have to lose at this point in the game? All the writing, rewriting and crying I had done over the past few years had healed me to the point I was ready to handle the consequences. “Not much could hurt me now,” I thought.
In the Rabbi’s office sitting at his round cherry wood table, the sun coming in through the long rectangular window, we discussed politics, Israel and the economy. Just as the subject was about to turn into the real reason we came, the Bar Mitzvah, my husband said, “Hey, by the way, did you know Randi wrote a book?”
“No, I didn’t. Tell me about it,” the Rabbi responded, looking directly at me.
The moment I thought would never happen was happening. The window was open and the stage set. I forgot to breathe, almost gasping. Through my next inhale I released a sentence...
“It’s called Beverly Hills Concentration Camp; a healing journey and memoir.”
The Rabbi’s eyes opened wide. “That’s quite a title,” he commented.
In one long exhale I said “I was wondering, Rabbi, if you would read it and review it for me.” As I took my next breath, it was as though spirit had left my body and was running toward the nearby hills leaving only my hollow shell to take in the rejection.
“I would be honored to read it,” he answered. He seemed delighted I had asked him. Thrilled, I couldn’t believe my ears.
After he had read my manuscript, he had a different understanding of who I really am. He was full of emotion, with compassion for my mother, brothers and myself, and a newfound respect for what I had done—written my truth, saved myself and came out the other side with a newfound desire to help others. “It’s really something. It reads like a film,” he said. “I am so proud of you. It took a lot of courage.”
Unable to absorb and truly believe that he meant his response to what I had written, it took a while before I did. Soon many others followed suit with the same opinion. But even those that had loved the book asked, “Have your children read this yet?” Obviously they were worried that some of the more savory stories might be inappropriate. They couldn’t see themselves being so forthcoming.
“No, they haven’t read it, but I’ve read some of the stories to them. They will read the book if they want to someday. We are pretty open with our kids, and in turn, I think they know they can tell us anything.
Then of course there are those that would judge a book by its cover. In fact, there is a lot one could judge about my cover. Not hard to do when the title is "Beverly Hills Concentration Camp", with the image of a naked woman jumping through a tree with a Jewish Star behind her.
We need to look beyond what we think we know to learn more, to save the judgments until after we understand the message, the background and the point of it all. Sometimes the message is greater than we even understand while we are writing the story. As in the case of my book, the larger message only became clear to me after I had written it; that you can heal yourself and your lineage, thereby changing the course of the rest of your life. It also helps to be part of a writing group where you can be held accountable and your stories witnessed. And having a talented editor who knows exactly where to ask the questions, such as 'what did you feel just then during that horrible moment?', or, 'what happened after the bedroom door closed?' is invaluable.
When my friend had told me “you don’t have to write a book about it,” I knew she wasn’t talking about me but about herself, reflecting her own self worth or lack of it that had nothing to do with me. A big lesson during this process was that people’s reactions—wonderful or critical—to what I had written, is really about them. I did my job. I told my story, and like it or not, it's mine. I can now take the compliments as well as deflect the heat. I’m satisfied with what I have done so far and look forward to writing more.
With the right tools, journaling and breath work meditation, this process of healing became easier, lighter and even joyous. Once you start the process and keep releasing what you no longer need, you look better, feel better and ARE better, taking to heart the things in life that are most important; nature, spirituality, family and friends. The best part of my life now is the freedom to really show up as who I really am, the real and total awareness that no ones opinion is as important as my own. That nothing is as valuable as how we feel, and that none of us really has anything about which to be embarrassed. Getting past pretending to be perfect is the key. It’s those juicy, bold and tough places in life that makes us exceptional, able to teach and tell the story. Without these alluring and intriguing details, art would be just plain boring.