FOCUS ON OUR ELDERS
by Hazel Krantz (as told to E. J. Tivona)
“Have I told you this one?” Hazel Krantz asks as we sit on her couch with her companion pound puppy Willy curled up between us. Although Hazel’s eyesight is dimming, her thoughts are clear as she mentally scans the thousands of stories, both written and unwritten, that live in her prodigious memory. These stories are the quintessential tales of humanity … the ones that
have shaped us and nurtured us and helped us find and settle into new and often challenging circumstances. Over her 97 years, Hazel has written ten books, most of them for young adult audiences, and several more are still with her book agent awaiting publication.
Throughout her lyrical novels – whether young protagonists are friends in eleventh century Spain where Jews, Muslims, and Christians delight In the Garden of the Caliph; or orphans fleeing Tehran in 1943, crossing borders, seeking a new land, while pining familiar comforts of home in A Dream of Oranges; or a Navaho young woman navigating conflicting forces of modernity and traditional culture as she Walks in Beauty – Hazel’s message to readers rings out with clarity and authenticity: Despite our identities, we’re not that different from each other after all.
Hazel is a champion for the hopes and dreams of displaced people throughout history, especially the young. She reads voraciously, listens deeply, empathizes fully, interjects rollicking good humor, and imparts her wisdom with unique flare. But I don’t need to tell you this, because she can do that much better herself. I asked Hazel to share some of her wisdom and experiences with us, when I start the recording, Hazel jokes about my questions on recent immigration policies: “Are you referring to our august president?” I say, “I am.”
So Hazel begins…
On immigration policy:
I don’t know enough about him [Trump] … I remember him and his father and they built apartment houses. They were very wealthy in New York. I’m kind of disturbed about [his position on] letting people in. As you may or may not know, this has been one of the things in my life. Remember I had exchange students coming here? In my house, there was always an extra room. So all my life has been spent in welcoming people, most of them from other countries, making sure that they had a comfortable place to live. For Mr. Trump to be so afraid … so afraid to allow these people to come into our country and settle down. It’s a shame; I mean after all, let’s face it, where did your parents come from? My mother’s people came from the Ukraine; they were having pogroms there. So our ancestors came here for safety. …
When I heard about the Syrians I wanted to get in touch with the authorities and tell them I have a room, if you have an adolescent or anybody, one person, for shelter. That is my point of view. I don’t care where you come from. Now, of course, if you want to come to the United States and blow up the U.S. capital, I would not be happy. But most of these people … everybody’s after them … they don’t know where to go … they need a safe place. And that’s what we have to give them.
On the role of stories:
To tell the truth, [by] interviewing people, hmmm, I think you get to listen a little more. In fact, I had lunch today with a Japanese woman. Japan one time was at war with us; at one time they were our enemy. So by interviewing and telling stories … we become friends. I know her!
My first story, well, that was Malka’s Journey. I gave a course on Coming to America at the Senior Center, and everyone came with material from their own families.
Mine was Malka’s journey. Malka was my grandmother. At that point, she had three little girls and my mother was the youngest. And my grandfather was a socialist. Socialists, we’re talking 1900 before the Communists came in, weren’t very popular in Russia at the time. That was one of the reasons why he was encouraged to leave Russia. Anyway, my grandfather came to the United States. He got a job in the garment industry. Believe it or not, my grandfather was a weaver just like me. He wove little things that you put on clothes.
All right now, he saved up money, [but] he couldn’t afford to go [back] and get his family. Jews were trying like heck to leave the Ukraine because of the pogroms; so there’s Malka and her three little children. The Russian people didn’t care if they left, but they wanted it to cost money. You had to pay. [Jews] would hire a guide to get them across. [But when] they went with this guide, the baby, my mother, was screaming like hell. [The Russians] started shooting at them. So they went back and put my mother in a bag. Now we’re talking about a two-year-old at this point. They put my mother in a bag so she could yell all she wanted and no one would hear her.
I’m not quite sure the geography, but Malka knew she [eventually] got to England. That was where she was going to pick up the boat that would take her to America. And she left the little girls, I think the biggest one was about seven, she left them in the hotel room to go buy milk. And … she got lost. And there’s my poor grandma, doesn’t speak a word of English, and her little children are somewhere in a hotel … she doesn’t remember the name of the hotel. She’s hysterical. She goes to an English bobby. (You know how lovely the bobbies are….) She’s crying ‘My children … my children!’ The bobby says don’t worry. He goes to the east side of London where [there were] Jewish people. And they found her a Yiddish-speaking person who helped her find the hotel and [recover] her children. That was Malka’s real story. That she actually got to United States is a miracle.
My grandfather was mainly a weaver. But my grandfather was not content with just getting up in the morning and going and doing his little weaving. He had to have
a big mouth! He would go into a cafeteria, and he would order a cup of coffee for a nickel and sit there for (several) hours with his friends and they would argue politics in the cafeteria. He was very interested in politics especially Socialism.
On a lifetime of creative writing
The creative life? First of all, you have to have something that is important that you want to write about. Don’t you think it’s not running through my mind already about
this place here. [Hazel currently resides at Rigden Farm Assisted Living.] I see these people, many of them are very frail. Who are these people? Where did they come from?
I’ve got a boyfriend; he’s completely blind. He has what I have but [his eyes] went completely black. But he’s very interesting; he came from Binghamton. David and I belong to Baha’i; in fact, we went to a meeting today on behalf of Baha’i and other groups together.
So that’s one angle here … about people getting to know one another … talking … learning things they didn’t know before about other countries and other cultures … and their relationship with their children. You’ll find these people are fragile, yet mentally alert. And they go to meetings and have discussions and so on. I think that’s wonderful that they want to help the world.
On Writing for Peace
As Hazel and I were wrapping up our interview, I asked her, “Why did you want to be on the Board of Directors for Writing for Peace?” Hazel continues, “I want to show people how to get along. As we just finished saying, there are many different ways of doing it.” Hazel demonstrates this time and again in her own books, “Young people try to find a peaceful solution. There’s definitely room right now for a Syrian book. I’d like to see a Syrian book for young adults. In fact, you know me, I’m ready to go!”
Hazel concludes with her thoughts on DoveTales, the Writing for Peace annual journal, and the Young Writers Contest. I was once a reader and editor for the Young Writers Contest, to show how people of different backgrounds have a lot in common and then join one another. If you really want to know: the end thing is that it isn’t where you came from, or even who your parents were. Together, the young people have more in common than they have against one another. They need each other. The [people of the] world need each other. But I’m sure that you know that.”
Do we Hazel? Thank you, dear friend, for reminding us.
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