Miriam was moved to write by Sarah's anthologies

ANTHOLOGY author Miriam Liebermann had strong female role models in her family although she was born into a New York religious community in which women did not usually adopt public roles.

The author, who has just published her third anthology and is already working on her fourth, said: "My aunts were really incredible role models.

"My eldest aunt landed up with a PhD in psychology, which was unusual in her devoutly religious family.

"My aunt actually went to ask a shaaleh (halachic question) of a major rabbi if she could go to college. She went all the way through and ended up becoming a therapist.

"She just passed away at 91, totally independent till the end. She was vibrant and active really to the very moment of her death, which was amazing."

Miriam added: "Another amazing aunt ran a stamp company in the developing African countries. She travelled all over the world, met princes in Africa and set up the whole stamp system there.

"She was also a drama therapist and taught in the New School for Social Research. She joined dance troupes and danced all over the world.

"Another aunt was on the board of Stern College for many years. My mother was in real estate business almost to the moment of her death. I come from a group of very high-powered women."

The expectation in the community in which Miriam was raised was that she would marry early and defer studying at graduate school till after her marriage.

But it did not quite go to plan. While holding down good jobs, like running the office of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue and programmes at the Council of Jewish Manpower, Miriam dated almost 80 young men till she found the one for her.

"I saw myself as this sophisticated West Side girl," she told me. "It was a cosmopolitan type of community, religious, but very out there, exposed to everything and open-minded.

"I thought I needed a sophisticated professional.

"When I was turning 22, I told my parents, with all respect, that whether married or not I had to go to graduate school. I was not going to wait around. I was filling out my forms when I met my husband, Heshy.

"He had never gone to college. He was the first gentleman I had met who had not. He had just come back from four years advanced Talmudic study in Israel, where he was ordained as a rabbi.

"Having grown up in Vienna, he was well-travelled and worldly. That was obviously the combination I needed. I fell for him on the first date."

But then tragedy struck. Miriam's father died at her engagement party.

She recalled: "He got up to speak and collapsed. We got married two months later. I became pregnant right away, but we lost our first pregnancy at seven months. It was a very tough first year."

As a result of her double tragedy Miriam began to research grief and bereavement. Qualifying as a social worker, she held support groups in her home in a voluntary capacity and gave individual counselling.

An avid reader with a keen eye for appropriate articles which could help others in similar situations, Miriam collected articles on grief and bereavement, leaving them in the homes of people sitting shiva.

Although Miriam went on to have six children, her initial miscarriage gave her an insight into infertility problems and she edited ATIME, A Torah Infertility Medium of Exchange magazine.

Then, more than 20 years ago, she read something that made her concentrate even more on her writing and editing skills.

She said: "I was a great fan of Sarah Shapiro anthologies. Her father, Norman Cousins, the editor of the American Saturday Review, was a major writer in the secular world.

"Sarah became religious and started compiling anthologies for women. She gave an opportunity for many religious women to be published. I believe she started the whole writing process for many women in the religious world, including myself."

It was Sarah's introduction to the second in her Our Lives series, which had such an impact on Miriam.

She said: "It really moved me to write. She talked about writing as a way of transforming our lives into a very meaningful and rich life.

"Those who write are much more aware of the details around them. Our antennae are always out looking for material. Everything becomes so much more profound and clearer. As we write, our life becomes richer and much more meaningful.

"I knew that that was me. I wanted my life to be as meaningful and as full as possible. There and then I began to write."

Miriam was fortunate to have the right connections which would help in her in the religious publishing world. Two of her old friends were editors of the-then newly-established Horizons magazine.

She said: "I sent them my articles about my family life about which I was very open and they were published. That was an incredible validation for me."

She then co-authored the book, Saying Goodbye, a guide for teenagers on death and mourning, with child psychologist Dr Neal Goldberg.

Miriam said: "For a while bereavement was my major focus. But I want to move on now."

About 10 years ago, Miriam was approached by publishers Targum Press to write a book for women aged between 40 and 60.

She told me: "When I was asked to compile the books, I was flattered, but at the time I was in the process of trying to marry off two children. I was totally distracted.

"I said, 'Thank you, but no thank you'. I was very fortunate that a couple of years later they came back to me. They thought I was the right person."

Miriam's first anthology for women in the transitional years was called The Best is Yet To Be. Miriam took the title from Robert Browning's poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra. It dealt with such issues as menopause, empty nest syndrome and moving onto new careers.

It sold so well - and helped so many people - that she has just published its sequel, To Fill the Sky with Stars (Menucha Publishing), whose title comes from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Again Miriam's wide circle of friends came in handy for collecting material for the anthologies.

She said: "I am very fortunate that I have a wide circle of friends, acquaintances, mentors and teachers. I have been cultivating relationships to keep expanding my own world. I meet interesting people and I love it. So I had many women to ask to contribute to the book."

To Fill the Sky with Stars contains a whole host of articles on such topics as 'Launching Young Adults', 'Furnishing the Empty Nest' and 'Embracing New Roles'.

It also deals with the physical effects of ageing such as whether or not to undergo cosmetic surgery, as well as with coping with the death of loved ones and loneliness.

Miriam, who is a member of that 40-60s generation and has contributed several articles herself to the anthology, said: "I feel I am also writing the book for myself.

"I am going through these issues myself. I need to hear what other people are going through. It helps me and validates what I am going through. It is helpful on a personal level. I need to fill my day with meaningful work. This is as meaningful as I can get.

"I feel that God has really blessed me, allowing me to be a conduit for these books. It's a chesed (kindness). We are creating a sisterhood.

" We are all going through similar situations. We are all connecting through these books. Now that this book has been so well received I am already beginning on the next book, Blossom and Grow for Man is a Tree of the Field."

© 2014 Jewish Telegraph