Character Study – Fruma Ya’el

Published March 27, 2015 by rochellewisoff

 

The most dramatic operation she [Fruma Ya’el] had done in twenty years was to extract a well-deserved bullet from Pinkas Rabinovich’s backside after a tavern brawl. Never did she imagine she would be called upon to perform such grisly surgery as she had on a poor orphan. She wiped the amputation blade with her rag and laid it in the mahogany case between a pair of scissors and a scalpel. What else could she have done? Sometimes life left one no choices.  

Taken from PLEASE SAY KADDISH FOR ME by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields         

  • Framed Fruma Ya'el

    Original Artwork © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Although Havah’s introduction to Fruma Ya’el is a painful one, she will become one of the most important people in the girl’s life.

            Fruma Ya’el Levine, the cantor’s wife, is a one of Svechka’s most beloved citizens for she is the village midwife. She is proud of the fact that she’s seen most of the babies’ faces before their own mothers. Her great love of children has earned her the title of Auntie Fruma.

            In her youth she had the opportunity to immigrate to America to study medicine, but tragic circumstances barred the way. Trapped in an arranged and empty marriage, she pours her love into her only living child, Gittel.

            Fruma Ya’el sees in Havah the passionately intelligent girl she used to be. Little by little an ironclad bond forms between them.

 

Published by W&B Publishers

Represented by Loiacono Literary Agency

***

As a child growing up in a Jewish family, it never occurred to me that not everyone had a Hebrew name. My friend Lori Ginson was proud of her Yiddish/Hebrew name “Fruma Ya’el,” meaning Pious Strength of God. However Lori was a troubled soul and died much too young. I think she would be pleased that I gave her name to one of the strongest characters in my novels. 

Lori Ginson

 Lori “Fruma Ya’el” Ginson

1962-2004

27 March 2015

Published March 25, 2015 by rochellewisoff

Another Hightway

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PHOTO PROMPT ©David Stewart

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Genre: Historical Fiction

Word Count: 100

CURTAIN CALL

            “What’s to become of me?” whispered Minnie as she sat beside the hospital bed and gazed at her wrinkled hands that used to make the piano sing.  

            “Mama?” Maud opened her eyes. “The concert…the audience…I let them down…”

            “You have a little gastritis. You’ll be well enough for your concert on January 8th.”

            “Do you love me, Mama?”

            “Who made sure you practiced your violin twice a day?”

            “You did.”

            “Who sacrificed everything so you could study in Europe and become the famous Madame Powell?”

            “You did.”

            “And don’t you forget it. I did it all for you.”

            “Did you?”  

For more about Maud Powell

Character Study – Arel Gitterman

Published March 20, 2015 by rochellewisoff

 

“Havah saw him as if in a dream remembered long ago. His hair and beard, inky shadows, framed a face as pale as dawn. Like silver-gray clouds, his prolific eyes spoke with silent words.

Arel. A strong name. Lion of God.”

Taken from  PLEASE SAY KADDISH FOR ME

Represented by  Loiacono Literary Agency

Published by W&B Publishers (Summer 2015)

 

Arel Gitterman - Original Artwork © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

AREL GITTERMAN – Original Artwork © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Arel Gitterman is the youngest of Yussel’s five children and his only son. Arel was five-years-old when brain fever killed his mother and took his father’s sight. A gifted child, he became Yussel’s eyes for reading.

He’s always been an obedient son, groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps as the next rabbi. At the age of thirteen he was betrothed to Gittel Levine, the cantor’s* daughter.

Arel’s never questioned his role in life—until the day of Havah’s dramatic arrival in Svechka. For both he and Havah it was love at first sight.

Much to her chagrin, he’s a man of his word and he refuses to break his covenant with Gittel, Havah’s adopted sister.   

 

*The cantor sings or chants prayers in synagogue service.

The following video is the Kaddish prayer that Havah chanted the night of her escape from Natalya. It is the prayer that’s traditionally recited or sung in honor of the dead. Rather than a prayer for the dead as some believe it’s a prayer honoring the Almighty. Here it’s sung by a Hasidic cantor.

Translation:

May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified, throughout the world, which he has created according to his will. May his Kingship be established in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future;

and all say, Amen.

May his great name be blessed, forever and ever.

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored elevated and lauded be the Name of the holy one, Blessed is he- above and beyond any blessings and hymns, Praises and consolations which are uttered in the world;

and all say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel;

and all say, Amen.

He who makes peace in his high holy places, may he bring peace upon us, and upon all Israel;

and say Amen.

20 March 2015

Published March 18, 2015 by rochellewisoff

Snorkeling in St. Thomas

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Genre: Realistic Fiction

Word Count: 99

GULF

On fragrant spring afternoons, on the mossy stone patio in Arlene’s backyard, we shared sandwiches, secrets and giggles as only little girls can. In summer we waded in the creek that ran behind her house and tried to catch tadpoles that tickled our bare toes.

When we entered junior high, Arlene withdrew and when I tried to talk to her about it, she turned away as if I no longer existed. I never knew why or whether I had done something dreadful to offend her. 

The questions, answered by silence, scarred my heart. Fifty years later, the ache remains.  

***

Rochelle with Ami 1961

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” –E. E. Cummings

There’s no time like the present to get over the past and  get on with the future.  

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Character Study – Havah Cohen

Published March 15, 2015 by rochellewisoff

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he

has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

–Henry David Thoreau

Friday morning as I decorated cakes at work, I received a text message and an email from my agent, Jeanie, that began with, “I hope you’re sitting down” turned my world upside down. With several hours left to my work day, I tried to keep focused on tasks at hand while vacillating between smiles and tears. A nine-year-old dream that began with a story and nascent writing skill was about to come true.

***

 Click here to read all about it. 

Framed Havah

HAVAH COHEN GITTERMAN Original artwork © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

 

Barefoot, wearing only a nightgown, Havah Cohen escapes the brutal massacre that takes her parents and two brothers on a frigid November night in 1899. To keep her mind off her razed village as she runs through the woods in search of safety, she recites the Kaddish, the prayer said in memory of the dead. Who else will perform this mitzvah, blessing, for them? Just before sunrise she collapses on the synagogue steps in a nearby village called Svechka, Moldavia.

Havah is the daughter of a free-thinking rabbi who saw nothing wrong with women having the same education as men. To avoid the inevitable disapproval in her new surroundings, Havah tries to keep her knowledge a secret. However, Arel, Rabbi Gitterman’s son, finds her irresistible because of it. If only Arel wasn’t betrothed to Gittel, Havah’s adopted sister.

Both PLEASE SAY KADDISH FOR ME and FROM SILT AND ASHES revolve aroundHavah, her life, her loves and her challenges which she faces with stubborn passion. Althoughshe has a strong faith in God, she pushes the boundaries of religion and traditions.

www.rochellewordart.com

Published by W&B Publishers

Represented by Loiacono Literary Agency

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 March 2015

Published March 11, 2015 by rochellewisoff

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Friday Fictioneers and Poppy

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Genre: Historical Fiction

Word Count: 100

RADIOACTIVE

            Au revoir, mon ami.” Marie kissed Pierre’s ice-cold cheek.

            “Where Papa?” asked fourteen-month-old Eve.

            “He’s going to sleep his last sleep beneath the earth,” said eight-year-old Irène.

            Marie placed a bunch of periwinkles and Pierre’s favorite photograph beside him. The picture was of her on the balcony of their first apartment on rue d’Allemagne.  Refusing a black drape, she and her daughters adorned his coffin with flowers.

            “I’ve no future without you, Pierre.”

            “Remember our dream for humanity,” she heard him say, “for science.”

            Days later Madame Marie Curie returned to the laboratory, her haven of discovery, joy and solace.

.

.

Pierre_and_Marie_Curie

 

 

Marie-Curie-with-her-daug-007

 

Character Study – Yussel Gitterman

Published March 9, 2015 by rochellewisoff

YUSSEL GITTERMAN Original Artwork © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Click here for a brief Summary of PLEASE SAY KADDISH FOR ME and FROM SILT AND ASHES

 

In both PLEASE SAY KADDISH FOR ME and FROM SILT AND ASHES, Havah’s greatest ally and father figure after the murder of her own father is Rabbi Yussel Gitterman.

Although he’s blind from a bout of brain fever years before, he sees more than most. With assistance from his son, Arel, Yussel has continued to read and study the Holy Books on a daily basis. He still leads and teaches in the synagogue in Svechka, Moldova.

Yussel is immediately drawn to Havah, whose father was also a rabbi who taught his daughter more than women were allowed to know in the 1800’s.

As the father of five children Yussel has many regrets which include forcing his pregnant daughter to marry an abusive alcoholic, alienating another daughter who immigrates to America, and betrothing his only son to a woman he doesn’t love. Over the course of the novels, some of these mistakes will be resolved while others will continue to haunt him.

When I began my research for PSKFM I read many firsthand accounts from shtetls in the Jewish Pale of Settlement. One woman spoke of an uncle who lived with her family. He’d lost his sight while still in his 40’s and continued to study well into his old age. I was intrigued and from this account Yussel was born.

***

My earliest manuscript includes a prologue that takes place in Yussel’s early childhood. His father, Arel, is a rabbi and an artist who crafts a Hanukkah menorah that becomes a character of sorts. While it’s no longer the presence I originally intended it’s a recurring symbol of survival and will follow the family from Eastern Europe to Kansas City, Missouri.

ORIGINAL ARTWORK © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

ORIGINAL ARTWORK © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

The following story, based on my former prologue, has been published in my short story anthology THIS, THAT AND SOMETIMES THE OTHER published by High Hill Press. 

 

SURI’S HEART

Kishinev, Moldavia

A House in the Jewish Quarter

December 1846

 

  “Yussel!” Papa pounded the table with his fist. “Speak to me! A brokh tsu dir! Damn you!”

            Startled, five-year-old Yussel flinched and spilled hot tea in his lap. He winced at the sting. Swallowing his moans, he stared up into his father’s rage-red face. He held his breath and waited for a spanking.

            Instead, Papa whisked the boy up into his arms and tore off his clothes. “I’m sorry. So sorry.”

He slathered the child’s skin with butter and wrapped soft rags around his blistering thighs.

“You’re making me meshuggenah, crazy. Won’t you please say something for me? Three words? I’d even settle for two.”  

            Yussel clamped his lips together and wagged his head from side to side. Why should he speak? Had the Almighty listened to him? No! Not even one word.

            Papa sank into the rocking chair in a corner of the parlor, cradling the boy on his lap. Yussel laid his head on his father’s chest. Papa’s rapid thup-thup-thup heartbeat slowed to a soothing ka-thump-thump.

            Tucking his finger under his son’s chin, Papa forced his head to tilt upward. His coffee-brown eyes glistened behind his spectacles. “Silence won’t bring her back. If it would, I’d cut out my own tongue.”

            The boy recoiled and slid off his lap. He stomped to his bed, threw himself down and buried his face in his pillow. Papa’s gentle footfalls neared. The wardrobe door opened and shut. The mattress listed and Papa’s hand warmed Yussel’s naked back.

“I have something special to show you. I was saving it for a Hanukkah surprise but it’s only two nights away.”

            Curiosity bested him, so Yussel rolled over and snatched his clothes from Papa. He dressed and watched his father disappear into the next room. Buttoning his shirt, he followed.

            Papa opened the top bureau drawer. Yussel rose on tiptoe and glimpsed over the edge. It was where Mama kept her valuables—a  necklace, a pair of earrings and a silver broach Papa made for her during their betrothal. These things she wore as a bride and afterward saved them for special occasions.

            Papa grinned and pulled out a velvet bag the size of Yussel’s head. “Purple. Her favorite color.”

Yussel brushed his fingers over the soft cloth. His lower lip quivered. He snatched the bag and held it against his cheek. The fabric still bore her scent.

Papa’s lips stretched into a taut line. “Would you rather someone else should wear your Mama’s prized Sabbath cape? I don’t think she’d mind my cutting it up for this. You see this is a gift for her.”

He opened the bag. “The Festival of Lights, how she loved it!”      

With a dramatic flourish, he set a Hanukkah menorah on the dresser. The silver shone in the afternoon light. It looked like a poplar tree with nine branches. The one on the far left was higher than the rest. It would hold the shamash, the helper candle used to light the other eight. Below the candlestick-branches and just above the trunk was an oval-shaped space. In the middle of it sat a pair of doves, breast to breast, faces turned from each other like shy lovers.

A vine with flowers twined around the trunk. On the lower curve of the oval Papa had engraved a verse from Song of Songs. Yussel skimmed his finger over the Hebrew letters.

Papa picked up the menorah and squatted beside him. “Go on, Son, read it. I know you can.”

In his mind’s ear, even after a year’s passing, Yussel could still hear her boast. “My Yosi reads better than boys twice his age. And only four he is. Someday he’ll be a rabbi like my Arel. Brilliant. Who knows? Perhaps he’s the Messiah.” In silence he bit his lower lip.

With a disappointed sigh, Papa stood and set the menorah on the dresser. He scooped the boy up into his arms. “Have it your way, I’ll read it. ‘Heenakh yafah, aynayeekh yoneem…Behold you are lovely, your eyes are like doves.’”

He pointed to the mirror. “I see her in your eyes.” 

***

Sabbath came. As usual the day was spent in shul, the synagogue. Papa, the small congregation’s rabbi, taught the lesson.

“Judah Maccabee and his followers seized back the temple from their enemies. Talmud tells us there was only enough sacred oil in the temple menorah to burn for one day. But Adoshem made a miracle happen. The oil burned for eight days until more could be prepared.”

“Rabbi!” Mendel, the blacksmith, jumped to his feet and waved his boulder-size fist. “Where was Adoshem when my son and your wife were slaughtered in the street like cattle?”

Another man leaped from his chair, upsetting the desk in front of him. “So many times they hit my David in the head, his mind is porridge.” 

Yet another cried out. “How many massacres until our miracle comes?”

Services disintegrated into a shouting match. Wives added their comments from the balcony. Husbands yelled at them to shut their mouths. Babies, awakened from morning naps, squawked their indignation.

Papa smacked the podium. “The end! Good Shabbes. Dismissed!”

*** 

Monday’s sunset heralded the first night of Hanukkah. Papa lit the candles and chanted the blessings from his frayed prayer book. “‘Blessed are you, Adoshem our Lord, King of the Universe Who has preserved our lives, caused us to persevere and enabled us to arrive at this season.’”

His voice sounded flat and hollow. Dinner tasted like sand. Dense silence settled like dust in the corners. Yussel’s ears throbbed with it.

Crawling into bed an hour later, he snuggled against his father and counted the stars through the window. Had Mama turned into one? Surely she was the brightest in the heavens.

The next morning the sweet aromas of sponge cake, frying eggs and tea woke him. Pots clattered in the kitchen. Papa still slept, one arm covering his face.

Yussel threw off the blankets and scooted off the bed.  Peering around the corner, he saw a woman at the cast iron stove, her crystalline-gray eyes sparkling.

She held out her arms. “Yosi.”  

He trembled and his knees chattered. Even a five-year-old knows death’s blow is final. The bag he’d clutched since Friday slipped from his sopping hand. Riveted by terror and longing, he waited for her to disappear. With his next breath he would wake up next to Papa.

She came toward him, even lovelier than he remembered. Her unlined face shone like the rose and cream colored china dishes she kept in the cupboard for Passover. She wore no kerchief to cover her head as mothers did, the way she used to. Instead her slate-black hair gleamed past her waist

He sniffed. Rose water tickled his nose. The rough floor chilled and scraped his bare feet. Never had a dream been so vivid.

 Foreign to his own ears, his voice rumbled in his throat. It started as a whisper and ended with a squeal.

“Papa, Papa, Papa, come quick!”

            Papa charged from the bedroom and swept Yussel up into his arms. He spun three times, laughing and shouting. “Adoshem, be thanked. My son’s found his voice.”

“Ari.” Her wisp-gentle voice lilted like a song on a cloud.

“Suri?” In mid-spin, he gasped and dropped to his knees. Yussel toppled to the floor.

She sank down beside them and gathered Yussel onto her lap. “Yes, my love.”

“What cruel trick is this?” Papa’s outstretched arms shook and his trembling fingertips reached for her cheeks. “The horses…they…they trampled you…her. You…she died in my arms.” 

Grasping his hands, she kissed his palms and held them against her face. “If I’m not Suri then how do I know about the butterfly-shaped freckle on your left hip? And what about—?”

His face turned scarlet and he hissed through pursed lips. “Suri. The boy.”

Yussel wrapped his arms around her waist. She felt like Mama, warm and soft. She sounded like Mama. She even smelled like Mama. Who else could she be?

He pressed his ear against her breast and listened for the sound that used to lull him to sleep. A faint melody, like tinkling bells and whispered prayers, was all he heard. He drew a deep breath and let it out in puffs. “Where’s your heart, Mama?”

“Right here in my arms.” She brushed her hand across his legs and unwound the makeshift bandages.

The stinging ceased. He stared at his thighs and dropped open his mouth. The blisters popped and melted like bubbles in a brook.

She kissed his forehead and patted his behind. “Get dressed, Little Yosi. I need to talk to Papa.”

On the way to his room a glance over his shoulder showed his parents walking hand in hand toward their bedroom. Papa leaned over and whispered something. She giggled. The door shut behind them.  

***

At breakfast, Papa’s cheeks glowed and his gaze never left her. “This is the best meal I’ve ever eaten.”

She returned his gaze. “How would you know, Ari? You haven’t taken a single bite.”

Yussel gulped down a second piece of sponge cake. “Wait ‘til I tell everyone Mama’s back.” 

Her brows knit together, her eyes blazed and she held her index finger to her lips. “No! You mustn’t tell anyone. Not a soul, do you hear?”

Someone knocked on the front door. Papa jumped from his chair and rushed to answer. Yussel followed. A frigid gust blew through his muslin shirt. He peeked around Papa at the blacksmith.

“Rabbi, please forgive my outburst the other day.”

“Forgiven.” Papa smiled, nodded and swung the door to shut it.

Mendel slid his massive foot over the threshold. “Rebbe, please, my wife sends me to invite you to dinner this evening. To tell the truth, she wants to match you up with her cousin, Rayna.”

Yussel squeezed Papa’s knees. “But…but…what about Mama? She says—”

Papa slapped his hand over the boy’s mouth. “Thank your good wife for us, but we’ve made other plans.”

He fished a folded slip of paper from his pocket with his other hand and shoved the note into Mendel’s coat pocket so hard the man staggered backward.

“Would you pass this note to Reb Shmuel, our Yeshiva student? Tell him I’d be honored if he’d share his wisdom and knowledge in my absence this next Sabbath.”

Mendel did not seem to notice the shove or the note. He stared, open-mouthed, at Yussel. “Your son, Rabbi. He spoke!”

“Did he now? I didn’t notice. Yom tov! Good day!” Papa slammed and bolted the door.

***

For the next seven days, Papa and Yussel left the house only to visit the outhouse. Mama fried latkes, potato pancakes, every day. The house swelled with fragrance and laughter.

Every morning Mama and Papa emerged from the bedroom with radiant smiles. After breakfast, Papa studied the holy books with Yussel. She swayed back and forth in the rocking chair by the parlor window, humming and knitting. A huge ball of royal-blue yarn lay in the basket beside her.

On the last night of Hanukkah, the lit menorah illuminated her face. When she picked up her son and held him close, her eyes were sad.

“Goodnight, my Yosi, my heart.”  

The next morning he leaped from his bed and skipped to the kitchen. Papa sat alone at the table polishing the menorah.

Yussel blinked and rubbed sleep-grit from his eyes. “Where is she?”

“The Garden of Eden.”   

“Was she really Mama or was she an angel?”

Papa wrapped a blue scarf around Yussel’s neck and a matching one around his own. He kissed the yarn fringes.

“Yes.”

 

 

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