Q&A with Robin Levinson, Author
How long have you been writing and what do you find yourself writing about most often?
I have been a professional journalist since graduating from the University of New Mexico in 1981. During my newspaper days, I wrote on a wide array of topics, from politics to science to humor. I also wrote a number of consumer health books when I began freelancing in 1993.
Iíve always enjoyed writing, but never felt truly fulfilled by the craft until I began writing about Judaism about five years ago. I had been involved in Jewish learning for a decade and it really changed my perspective on many things.
I began writing feature articles for Jewish Woman Magazine and later, book reviews for Jewish Book World. Unlike writing about the secular world, writing about Judaism has made my life more seamless. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to combine my two greatest passions in such a meaningful, creative way.
What interested you about writing the Gali Girls series?
Editorial consultant, Arthur Kurzweil, told me about the call for Gali Girls story submissions, and I knew that I had to pursue it the moment I read the writerís guidelines! What could be more important than imparting Jewish values to young people in a way that captures their imagination and broadens their knowledge about Jewish history and culture? History had never been my strong suit, and writing this series has provided an opportunity to begin filling in some gaps in my knowledge. Jews have a fascinating and complex history. The more I learn the more I want to learn, and the more I want to write about what Iíve learned.
What or whom provided the inspiration for Miriamís Journey?
The Miriam character is based on my maternal grandmother, Mamie Michaels, to whom the book is dedicated. My grandmotherís rather unique immigration experience was common knowledge within my family, but I had never heard her describe it in any methodical way.
About a year before she died, I brought a tape recorder to her house in Brooklyn, where she lived independently well into her 80s, and interviewed her on tape. She recalled her harrowing experiences in great detail, including the saber-wielding soldiers who terrorized her village and the long voyage across the sea to America. What happened to her mother and sisters on Ellis Island further traumatized her. But unlike Miriam, who looked forward to her new life, my grandmotherís difficulties had just begun when she moved to New York.
She was sent to live with an aunt because her mother couldnít afford to support all of her daughters, and this aunt wasnít exactly the nurturing type. My grandmother slept on two chairs that faced each other. For some unknown reason, a box of coal was set beneath the chairs, and whenever the chairs separated as my grandmother slept, sheíd fall between them into the coal.
The aunt treated my grandmother like a servant, forcing her to go food shopping and do other chores every morning, which made her chronically late for school. My grandmother loved school, and it broke her heart to miss so much. She lived right across the street from the school, which made matters worse because sheíd look out the window and see her classmates file into the building. My grandmother used to say, ďI wasnít brought up, I was dragged up!Ē
Despite such a despicable upbringing and a hard life even in adulthood, my grandmother was one of the kindest people I have ever known. She treated everyone, even beggars on the street, with compassion and respect. I loved her very much.
What do you hope young women who read the story will learn from Miriam's Journey?
Several things. Firstly, the importance of community - this is central. Just as Miriam reached out to people in need, such as bringing bread to shut-ins in her shtetl, people reached out to her when she was in need.
I also want to remind my young readers that the safety and respect Jews have in the United States and elsewhere today is a relatively recent phenomenon. We should always be grateful for the determination of our grandparents and great-grandparents who suffered so we could have a better life. Itís like planting a tree that takes a generation to bear fruit. We are that fruit, and we owe it to our ancestors to spread our sweetness wherever we can.
Are your stories specifically for Jewish girls, or do you think they have a broader appeal?
Although Miriam is a Jewish adolescent, this story conveys positive, universal values, and provides an informative and exciting lesson in Jewish history. Itís a story that boys and girls alike can enjoy and relate to, as well as readers from all religions and cultures. Thereís danger, adventure, and conflict. The main characters are strong, smart, and courageous. Basically, itís a good story with a good message. Itís also way of honoring my grandmother and thanking her for being such a wonderful blessing in my life.
Click here to read Chapter One of Miriam's Journey
Click here to read Chapter One of Reyna and the Jade Star
Click here to read Chapter One of Shoshana and the Native Rose
Click here to learn more about Robin Levinson!