Bat Mitzvah family project leads to business for Cambridge woman
By Susie Davidson
Natalie Kaminsky’s December, 2002 bat mitzvah at Temple Beth Or in Miami was a uniquely personal event. She and her mother designed and sewed a tallis, her father led the service and her grandmother made her a quilt which incorporated the Hebrew alphabet.
Aunt Janet Raskin wanted to contribute as well. “My perception of the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony had changed since I became a member of the ‘parent’ generation,” she recalled. Instead of a time to study Hebrew, learn the service, and have a party, she now viewed the ceremony as a pivotal point in a girl’s maturation, with accompanying joy, wonder and sadness. “I wished that I could give her love, hope, guidance, protection - all those things that never come in a box,” she said. “If only she had the benefit of the wisdom and experience that older family members had,” she thought. “If only she knew us, the members of her family, the way we know ourselves.”
At that moment, the idea for a collection of family stories came to her, and she asked family members to pen something from their lives: something they were proud of, a problem they solved, or a reflection on an event. “I asked them to share something about who they are and what they know of life so that Natalie could see them as people, beyond the role they play in her life, as mother, father, grandparent, etc.”
Raskin, a Cambridge resident and member of the B'nai Or Jewish Renewal congregation in Watertown, was born and raised in Miami and earned a bachelor’s degree in Speech at Northwestern University, majoring in Performance Studies. A former radio announcer at a classical music radio station in Chicago and singing and dancing banana in a theater troupe at Coconut Grove Playhouse, she wrote an award-winning CD-ROM adventure game, edited online learning courses and acted on many Boston stages.
Raskin chose to write about a night she spent in a haunted youth hostel. “I reflected on my tendency to have an ‘overactive imagination’,” she said. With some coaxing, wonderful stories came in from the others. Natalie’s grandmother Dorothy wrote about attending a one-room school in the 1930s. Her grandfather Ken wrote about learning to play the violin as a six-year-old in St. Paul. Her mother Carol wrote about getting lost on a train in Germany. Aunt Marcia’s poetic work chronicled her trips to the snowcone stand during hot Louisiana summers. Cousin Emily explained how she picked out her first dog; the youngest family members contributed pictures.
Raskin prevailed upon her parents to write stories about their parents, so that the great-grandparent generation would have a section. Extended family members came forward with more stories. “I assembled them by generation, created title pages, proofread, edited for grammar, designed a simple cover, and wrote a poem to preface the collection,” she said. She had Kinko’s do the printing with a coil binding and made books for each contributing household.
At the end of the service, Raskin presented the book to her niece, who had no prior knowledge of the project. During the subsequent luncheon, guests and relatives expressed appreciation. “Family members, particularly in the grandparent generation, thanked me for giving them the opportunity to write about their lives,” she said. “It was the kind of thanks that comes with a hand clasp that doesn't want to let go.”
Raskin believes that memoir writing is a universally-shared emotion, to be nurtured and encouraged. “When someone is given a purpose for writing, a structure for a story, a short task, and the goal of being published, it makes memoir writing more motivating,” she said. In fact, after the bat mitzvah, she decided to start a memoir book business so that other families could experience what hers had.
Raskin, who had eight years of experience in teaching English and writing and eight more as an editor in the educational publishing field, located business classes at Neighborhood Business Builders through the Jewish Vocational Service in Boston. She is currently designing keepsake memory books for a business she plans to launch this fall.
Raskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.