States visited: Florida and New Jersey Number of Talks Scheduled: 3 Grand Total Attendance at all talks: 1,150 Speaking alongside my grandfather: Priceless
I landed in Florida and there my chariot awaited – a bald man in a suit holding a sign that read: “COHEN.” Ah yes, a girl can get used to being chauffeured.
Once deposited in Century Village – the gated community for retired Jewish grandparents – there were mine, waiting with hugs and, more importantly, lunch. But soon after, they were all business. “How did the talks go? Is the book still Number one on Kindle? How many books have you sold?”
My first scheduled talk at Temple Beth Orr in Coral Springs was packed. Papa spoke first, his voice shaking with emotion. “And ven I vas diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, I pushed Felice to finish de book.”
As many times as I’ve spoken to groups, whether a handful or hundreds, there are moments when I get choked up. It happens. I take a breath and it passes. But this night was the first time the 90-year-old subject of my book was seated in the front row, his watery eyes fixed upon me. I avoided eye contact, fearful it would trigger tears I could not stop.
The second talk at Temple Judea in Palm Beach Gardens was a similar experience, except for the two TV stations videotaping in the corner. It was the eve of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. “Every year we remember as every year there are less survivors,” I said. “That is why as grandchildren it is our responsibility to remember for them.” Then I forced myself to look at the front row, at my biggest groupie, nodding in agreement.
Leaving Florida was harder this time than any other visit. Sure, Papa and I spent our usual afternoon together running errands, but this time he seemed older, more fragile. At one point we stopped at a bank. He wanted to introduce me to someone. Inside, a strapping man popped out of his office and hugged Papa as if he were his own father.
“I worked in your grandfather’s grocery store,” the office manager told me, “forty years ago. I love this man.” When we left, Papa, beaming, said, “It’s nice to know people will remember me when I’m gone.”
I returned to New York long enough to unpack my luggage, sort through my mail and shower before I drove to my last talk in Somerset, New Jersey. It was Yom HaShoah, a fitting day on which to end my tour. The crowd was older, the guests warm and friendly.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of being welcomed by strangers. Aside from the requests for pictures, the offers of hugs, the patronage of buying books, it all adds up to a feeling that I’ve done something right. I didn’t set out to write this book. It was just something my grandfather asked me to do. But it has somehow taken on a life of its own. And as more requests to speak come in, I no longer shake my head in bewilderment. This has become a responsibility. And as hard as it can be at times to continue talking about this horrible topic, I have found a way – just like my grandfather – to push through the pain.