During the process of writing and publishing “Izzy’s Fire,” and then traveling to do presentations over the past 14 years, I have experienced miracles, not the least of which was how I was able to visit Lithuania (twice) and Israel and speak in both countries about the book, which I plan to write about later. Right now, though, I am especially reminded of miracles during this time each year when many people celebrate this most special season,which includes Christmas and Hanukkah.
At Christmas,my Christian friends and I celebrate the birth of Jesus. During Hanukkah, my Jewish friends and I celebrate the Festival of Lights. Each holiday is considered precious and rightly so. I have been a Christian since I was 12 years old, and Judaism has become evermore special to me since 1997, when I embarked on the journey that still leads me to write about Judaic subjects, as well as the Holocaust.
On Sunday, December 11, 2011, there was another very special celebration, which was–beyond a shadow of a doubt–also a miracle. Hundreds of friends and family gathered to celebrate the 100th birthday of Edna Ipson at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, VA. Her son, Jay, has been the director of the museum since its inception in 1997. I spent many hours sitting in the “potato hole,” an area recreated in the museum to resemble the hiding place at the Catholic farm family’s home in Lithuania where the three Ipsons and 10 others lived for some time during the Holocaust, until their liberation by the Russian Army. I used that time to try and realize what the experience must have been like for them, trying to capture it for inclusion in “Izzy’s Fire.”
I wrote about the 13, as well as one other family member, Sara Gillman, who was about 3 years old when she was secreted out of the Kovno Ghetto by her courageous cousin, Labaile Gillman. He ultimately lost his life while trying to save other family members, but Sara lived to grow up, marry, become a doctor and move to Canada where, at 70, she still works and enjoys her five grandchildren. While I spoke wih her during the process of writing “Izzy’s Fire,” gathering her parents’ information to include in the book, and even in May 2011, to tell her I had written another book, about Labaile and the Gillman family, I never dreamed I’d ever meet her. Imagine my unbridled joy when I did see her for the very first time, at Mrs. Ipson’s party. She and her sister, Luiba, along with their uncle, Israel Gillman (one of the survivors who is now 90) and his daughter, Etty, had traveled to celebrate Mrs. Ipson’s momentous occasion. They all reside in Canada.
Now, during the holiday of miracles, I’m reminded again of Ona and Vaclovas Paskauskas and her son, Stanislovis Krivicius, who risked their very lives to save those 13 Jews, Sara’s parents among them. What a sacrifice that must have been for them. Without the courage of that family, the miracle of Mrs. Ipson’s birthday would not have occurred, and what a loss for the world that would have been. It has been my privilege to write about her life, and it is because of her, along with my beloved late mother (of blessed memory), Beulah Mae Wright, that “Izzy’s Fire” was brought to light.
Today marks the anniversary of another day in December that will always be very special to me. On December 13, 2010, Rebecca Quesenberry, then a teacher at Elizabeth B. Davis Middle School in Chester, Va, called to say that she had organized an additional 19 teachers and that, together, they were going to teach “Izzy’s Fire” to all 450 seventh-grade pupils in the school. I’m still in awe that Becky, who has since retired, decided to undertake that task and will be eternally grateful. To have that kind of response to a self-published book was, to me, simply a miracle.