On November 9, 1997, my life was irrevocably changed. Months earlier I had been asked by Gwen Woolf, an editor at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va, to write a story about the Virginia Holocaust Museum, which had been established in Richmond, Va. I refused because I found the Holocaust such an awful subject.
Gwen kept after me to do the story, and following months of promopting from her about the assignment, I decided to attend the Kristallnacht ceremony that is held every year at the Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery in Richmond. I was determined to go to the service and still refuse to fulfill Gwen’s request. After all, at that time, I didn’t know one Jew in Richmond, so I beileved I could just blend into the crowd and then quietly leave.
I was fine until the survivors walked to the microphone to recite the names of their lost loved ones. The final man, Alan Zimm, quietly began to say the numerous names of his family members who had been killed. For some odd reason, I started counting the names on my fingers. I ran out of fingers before he finished reciting the names of his loved ones. I began to cry and realized at that moment that I had to write about these courageous people. The Holocaust had been reduced to one family and I could identify with Mr. Zimm’s agony. I could not imagine having my family slaughtered because I am a Christian. I told Mr. Zimm that day that he had changed my life. He continues to be a constant encouragement to me. I, nor my life, have ever been the same since our meeting.
I subsequently visited the Virginia Holocaust Museum, wrote the story for Gwen and found a calling that I have not been able to shed until this day. Many of my columns and numerous stories about Holocaust survivors have appeared in Richmond magazine. “Izzy’s Fire: Finding Humanity in the Holocaust” is the direct result of having met my wonderful friend, Edna Ipson, who suffered so much during World War II. We ultimately worked together for seven years, and I used her voice, as well as her husband’s memoirs (coupled with other Jews who were with them) to tell the story of “Izzy’s Fire.” She has been, and remains, one of the greatest influences on my life.
Recently I was at the annual Kristallnacht ceremony where my dear friend, Inge Horowitz, led the service as she has done every year since I first attended. I hugged her after the service and told her that I had no idea that I would still be attending the service some 14 years after I first met her. She, and so many of my Jewish friends, have been such blessings to my life. I am so richer for having known them. When I think of the agony of writing “Izzy’s Fire,” I always have to remember the friends, extended family and love I’ve gained in my life. It makes it all worthwhile.