Another Mother’s Day





Mother’s Day, 2014.   Another year, another day when I am missing my dear mother, Betty Russak, so very much.  She was my cheer leader, my counselor, my sage, my protector, my healer….perhaps the word “mother” best sums it up.  Those who have such mothers understand, and those who have lost such mothers, I know, share my tears.  So, in memory of my one beloved mother, here is a poem I wrote some years ago….

Mothers Shoes 002



What do girls do once they’ve lost their mothers?

Fill the cup.

The cup needs filling.

Who will care?

Who will plug the emptiness, the sadness?

Because you know that life goes on.

But not for mothers

who worry of belly aches

and finals

and two-hour plane rides

and almost jobs

choking sounds which are words made

when we’ve had a day that was, oh, not quite?

(The perfect pitch of mothers who can hear us in the silence)

Who find with equal grace

a dropped hem,

a swollen eye?

(Their eyes in shadow and yet they see the language of our souls)


What do girls do once they’ve lost their mothers?

They tell their husbands at the breakfast table

who smile and turn the page.

They tell their friends

who embrace and share a serving of heartbreak and coffee,

and then go home to their own stories left untold.

When all we really want  –oh–

  1. Mommy.  Ma.

Standing before us in the old blue sweater

tissues and safety pins in the pockets

with hands as firm, timeless as oak,

soft as the moon.

How many tears can one shed in a void?

Who will count the tears?
Does it really matter?

(There is a paradox in this proximity, so close we feel that breath

in harmony with our own.  Yet distance cannot reach them).


What do girls do once they’ve lost their mothers?

They wipe their tears and leave the void

to face their children

who have mothers still.

They take up the sweaters,

turn them inside out .

Arms in sleeves,

they fill the cup again.—Shirley Russak Wachtel


And so, I fill the cup…….

Mother's Day 2012 005




!Charlie and Shirley 001


And yet again….SEE PHOTO AT TOP!

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BlimaiconWhat did I do on my summer vacation?  Well, first of all, it wasn’t exactly a vacation since I taught a class and then began writing another novel (which, by the way, I am still working hard at).  On the other hand, I do love both teaching and writing, so perhaps these activities weren’t work, after all.  Today I would like to talk about another favorite subject, probably the best of all–family.

Va. Wachtel's

After a return trip to Washington,DC, where we revisited some memorials, saw others honoring those who fought in Korea and World War II, we proceeded to Richmond, Virginia, home to my brother-in-law, Mark, his wife Michelle, and son, Jesse and family.  It had been 21 years since we last visited, and now I wonder why we waited so long. We caught up with Mark and Michelle at a restaurant which used to be a tobacco warehouse, ate in a  family-style Italian restaurant, and visited the lovely home of Jesse and Shontea.  It was truly a pleasure to meet their young children, the beautiful Hannah and rambunctious JJ.  We could see that they are truly raising their children the right way, and that these two have bright futures ahead!  We are proud to have Jesse in our family not only because he is an Army veteran, but because he is such a nice young man.

We also visited Virginia’s Holocaust Museum, probably the best museum on the subject as it replicates camp bunkers and also the courtroom at Nuremberg.  At one point, as I emerged from a dark enclosure, I had the shivers, not even a close approximation of what those in blessed memory had to endure.

There was much more to my summer (hint–a trip to Europe!), but I will leave that for another time.  Meanwhile, look for me at The Town Book Store, 270 East Broad Street in Westfield, on Saturday, October 12, where I will be discussing My Mother’s Shoes between 2:00 and 4:00 PM.  I look forward to seeing you there!


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Just Do It!

BettyiconThe people we love remain with us long after they are gone.  While we may no longer hear their names each day or recall the ordinary moments we have shared, they stay, nevertheless, within us.  Their voices brace our spirits for whatever the future holds and spur us to seek our passions, no matter what the cost.  I continue to hear the voices of my departed loved ones speaking to me each day; they are the force which keep me trying, keep me writing.  In the words of the NIKE ad, they say simply, “Just Do It.”

I am happy to announce the publication of my personal essay, “When She Sleeps” in  You may recognize this essay as it appears as the prologue of my novel, MY MOTHER’S SHOES.  Check it out!

Also, I would like to share a new poem which expresses my desire to pursue our passions, no matter what age we are!





I am afraid.

Afraid to look

to examine too closely

that thing which

beats within us all.

Virginia’s angry moth, Emily’s insistent fly

I do not like to look at them

for fear of getting to the edge

and plunging toward

my own mortality.


And yet I write.

Some say it is a futile task

to dissect the pit of a plum when after all

soon all will turn to ash and earth.

What worth the pages in a desk drawer

if no one bothers to turn the lock?

But does not the simple sparrow delight in the beating of wings against the breast

as it makes a first ascent into the clouds?

Or the bee shiver with ecstasy as it yields its honey?

Or the whale inhale deep such liquid elixir as it plows beneath a wave?

The youth who dares smile as he tastes sweet wine upon the lips?


I cannot but move toward joy—

And if no one ever reads my words,

would I bother to write them?

Yes—I think—yes.



–Shirley Russak Wachtel 7/1/13


Zoey eats cake

Finally, I want to give a big shout-out to my adorable granddaughter, Zoey Grayson Wachtel, who just celebrated her first birthday.  She is the other voice in my head–the voice of the future.  Zoey, I love you more each day.

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Hooray for Hollywood!

ShirleyIconI am a proud mom.  All of my three sons make me immensely proud everyday, but today I send special kudos out to my youngest, Charlie, who resides in Hollywood and is in one of the most daunting (and often frustrating) professions, movie-making.

Charlie & cast
Charlie (far right) and cast.
Four years ago, he set out cross-country to make his mark in LA.  He has endured several internships, jobs, and even rejections.  He went to LA knowing nary a soul, and since the day he set out as a pioneer for the land of fantasies, at least four of his very close childhood buddies have followed him out there.  A testament to the kind of a friend he is, I think.  A graduate of American University and the Famu film program in Prague, Charlie is a talented, determined, and optimistic young man who is not afraid to take risks to make his vision a reality.
Thanks, Charlie, for making me one proud Mama!
More Announcements…
Some of my poems have been accepted for literary magazines.  The first one, THE WRITE ROOM, includes “After the Storm” and “The Bird.”    These poems appear as two of fourteen featured poems in this online magazine.  There are a total of 341 poems.  Check out the first link.  My poem “Betty” appears in RIVER POETS JOURNAL, special matriarchal issue, page 10.  This journal will be coming out in print as well in a couple of weeks.  Click on the second link.  I am proud and happy to be in the community of published writers.  Thanks, as always, for your support.
 Finally, Happy Father’s Day to all you dads—especially two wonderful fathers….
my dear husband and dynamic Dad, Arthur, and my son, Howie, the best new Dad celebrating his first Father’s Day.  Zoey loves you, and so do we.
Till next time–Shirley
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Our Survivors

BlimaiconHello!  Just a quick note to let you know that I will be speaking with a group of survivors at Oheb Shalom Congregation, 170 Scotland Road, South Orange, NJ.  I will be offering a reading of My Mother’s Shoes and presentation of family photos as part of the Jewish Federation Metrowest’s Cafe Europa series.  I am honored and excited to meet with survivors and honor the memory of my parents and millions lost during the Holocaust.  The event will take place at 11am on Tuesday, May 21.

I am also happy to tell you that my haiku currently appear in Issue #15 of Haiku Journal, available in print and online.  Check them out!


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Our Second Generation

BlimaiconHello Again!


Here is a quick note to let you know about my next appearance, for the Hayat Speaker Series at Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen at the Friday night service,  7:30pm, April 19, 2013.  The title of my short presentation will be “Blima’s Daughter: A Second Generation Holocaust Story.”  Discussion will continue over refreshments.  I look forward to sharing my mother’s story and meeting everyone!

On another note, kudos to my friend, Michael G. Kesler, keynote speaker for Holocaust Remembrance hosted by the East Brunswick Public Library on April 11, 2013..  Michael is the author of Shards of War, a memoir of his experiences during the Holocaust, and frequently speaks at educational and commemorative functions.  Dr. Jack Berger also presented a fascinating explanation of how he traced family genealogy and translated Yizkor Bikher, the history of several lost towns in Europe.  The audience thoroughly enjoyed the Holocaust music of cellist Dr. Tamara Reps Freeman.  Finally,  it is always a joy to see Dr. Paul WInkler, Executive Director of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.  Paul has consistently supported my work and remains one of the greatest advocates for preserving the memory of the Holocaust as we move through the 21st Century.

Check out my blog as I update you on these and other events.  And, oh yes, kisses to Zoey!



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I’ll Have Another! (Poem, that is…)

ShirleyIconToday my poem, “Dreaming of My Daughters” was published in the online journal, Leaves of Ink.  It is only available for one day, so to make things easier, I have copied the poem here.  (Also check out some more of my online poems in the journal, Whisper).  Read to the bottom for a surprise.

Dreaming of My Daughters

Thursday, March 21, 2013 | Filed under

Contributor: Shirley Russak Wachtel

- -
I dreamed of my daughters
Long-legged sitting at the table
Pushing back strands of their yellow hair
Which fall softly into their eyes blue like my mother’s
I could hear their words in the silence as they read
The only sound in the room
The sweep of a page
Hands of the clock moving the minute the hour
And I knew my daughters
Their golden laughter in the dusk
Their fingers tender on my heart.
I knew them in their silences
The curve of the narrow lips, so much like my own
Their bold unspoken passions as they bounded in the door
Drenched in joy and sweat
They crunched cornflakes in the morning and
Apples in the evening and sometimes
Just stirred their cups
Sitting in the darkened theater they held fast for the fantasy
In the back of the van they nudged each other for a window seat
They squealed beneath the covers that settled like clouds.
And sometimes I could taste the salt in their tears and would comfort them
And sometimes they would twine their arms into mine and
Move us forward down the avenue as the hands of a clock
Move toward the minute the hour.
And I would drink their lives, the lives of these women now
Until the years seeped away, leaving behind
A swath of remembrance.

Only I have sons
And their laughter is golden in the dusk
Their fingers tender on my heart.

- – -
Shirley Russak Wachtel is a college English professor living in New Jersey. She holds a Doctor of Letters Degree from Drew University, and is the author of a memoir, My Mother’s Shoes, an acclaimed novel which follows her mother’s journey during the Holocaust and as a new citizen in America. She is also the author of a book of poetry, In The Mellow Light, and several books for children.

I thought this might be a good spot to show you a photo of someone else I am dreaming about night and day….my beautiful granddaughter, Zoey!  (8 months old)


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