Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Boy Named 68818

Yes, it’s finally out!*

A Boy Named 68818 is rolling off the presses. The first softcover copies came out last Thursday and the hardcover edition can be released any day. Kol HaKovod to Mr. Yisroel Starck!

A bit of background: 

Mr. Starck is a devoutly religious businessman from Chicago. He is a holocaust survivor now in his mid-eighties. I first met Mr. Starck many years ago when I was just starting out in the importing business (a bygone endeavor). Aside from being a very pleasant person to do business with, he gave me a lot of encouragement and mentoring advice. His words of wisdom have guided me not only in business, but in all facets of life. For business, he gave me such pearls of wisdom as: “A sale is not a sale until you count your money.”- and “You can sell your merchandise at cost price and still make a profit ... just make sure to always buy below cost price!”

On life in general he told me: “Whatever happens, don’t let yourself get plagued with marah shechoira (depression).” I am certain that this adage is what enabled him to survive the horrors of the holocaust and to build a successful business and raise a vibrant G-d fearing family.

In any event, over the years, we have carried out what can be described as a parent-child relationship - I have always looked up to him and he has always looked down on me. So, naturally, when I wrote my book eight years ago and was in search of sponsors, Mr. and Mrs. Starck were at the top of the list to be solicited. Thankfully, they came through big time and their donation more or less covered about half of the expenses. Yet Mr. Starck (and his eishes chayil) were not interested in being publicly acknowledged. As such, in the Acknowledgment section of my book, you can read the following:

I am literally indebted to those people who cooperated to sponsor this project. At the head of the pack stand the officers of the Ezras Israel Charity Foundation whose generosity made this publication possible. They have taken a very personal interest in this project and their support goes far beyond the scope of this work.

I can now disclose that the “Officers of the Ezras Israel Charity Foundation” were none other than Mr. and Mrs. Yisroel Starck.

Over the course of knowing Mr. Starck, I had heard from him many fragments of his holocaust experiences - all of them spellbinding - but I hadn’t gotten the entire picture. That would be enough to fill a book. I might have said so. Definitely, others have said so. And it looks like he finally caved in – he wrote the book!

Interestingly, about ten years ago (five years before Mr. Starck began his book project), he was interviewed by Rabbi Hanoch Teller in preparation for Rabbi Teller’s magnificent work – Heroic Children. Rabbi Teller put many years of painstaking research and precision into his book and only first released it about six weeks ago. As one of the nine subjects of the book, Mr. Starck’s story appears in a more concise form.

Both books contain historical backdrops and maps of the relevant regions (and approbations from Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, Shlita) plus photographs of the people involved (in some cases – the same photos). But there is something very different and unique about Mr. Starck’s book. Whereas Rabbi Teller’s book is an adult oriented book written in grownup language for a grownup audience, Mr. Starck’s book is written in the voice of a 14-16 year old boy – the boy he was at the time. As a medium for his silent thoughts, "Srulek", the Mr. Starck of 1944, speaks to a fictitious pet dove, Taibele. The book also contains hand-drawn illustrations of the events being told. All this is because the book is aimed at the young adult (10-18 year old) audience.

This is because, unlike Rabbi Teller’s book which is meant to tell stories of tender age heroism and perseverance to readers who are already familiar with the basics of the holocaust, A Boy Named 68818, is meant to be an introduction to the horrors of the holocaust for young readers who have no access to first person accounts of the holocaust and have not learned much about it (if at all). Despite what their parents can tell them, they probably do not know and will never know a true living holocaust survivor; they will never see a living arm bearing the tattoos or scars of beatings and injuries that my generation was perpetually witness to.

As such, besides being an autobiography and memoir, this book is a textbook of sorts. For this reason it includes a multi-chapter appendix with a glossary, historical overview, timeline and maps and learning guide. Parents of today may not have fully grasped that most likely their children will never meet any true survivors. But sadly, this is the case. For this reason, this book is a must for every Jewish household.

Note – I highly recommend Rabbi Hanoch Teller’s book as well – Heroic Children. Both books are independently published and distributed by Feldheim Distribution.

* Clarification - I am told that the book has not as of yet actually reached the store shelves. This may take a few more weeks, hopefully in time for Yom Tov. -- YH

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