October 2002's Author! Author!
Accolades for Rolf
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, MyShelf.Com
I was first attracted to Rolf Gompertz because he is considered a guru among publicists. With more than four decades experience in public relations and some 28 as a PR instructor at UCLA, I knew I could learn from him. It turned out he had much more to offer than words of wisdom about how I could promote "This is the Place."
A holocaust survivor, Rolf Gompertz has a spiritual side that reaches out to others when they come in contact with him; he has used his verbal skills to reach still farther with books accessible to all. I feel confident that by sharing what I have learned from him in an interview and the review of his newest book, MyShelf visitors will benefit from knowing him as well.
Rolf's website address is: www.authorsden.com/rolfgompertz
|An Interview with Rolf|
|By Carolyn Howard-Johnson|
An Author Needed in These
Times of Trouble
"If I had not been a Jew, I might have become a Nazi," says author Rolf Gompertz. He is sitting near a pool on a cool southern California evening and the contrast between his easy manner and his words is startling.
Gompertz grew up in Nazi Germany. When he was eleven years old, he and his parents fled to America, arriving in 1939, after living through the terror of Kristalnacht,The Night of Broken Glass, November 9, 1938. It was the dress rehearsal for the Holocaust.
Today, he is the author of eight books, including two biblical novels, My Jewish Brother Jesus and his newest one, Abraham the Dreamer: An Erotic and Sacred Love Story.
"My books are my response to what happened. They are my affirmation of what Hitler tried to destroy – Judaism, Jews and me." The emotions expressed ring true for me, though there is no comparison. Still, my experiences, too, had started me on a life-long interest in exposing the corrosive nature of prejudice, however subtle or blatant it might be.
Because most of my writing explores prejudice, I naturally wanted to read his work and know more about him. I found his novels stimulating, provocative and unconventional. Gompertz’s spiritual approach to his subject is numbing.
With a background like that, my reporter’s blood was stirred. After questioning him mercilessly, I realized that others could benefit from knowing this extraordinary man especially in these extraordinary times. I would like to share his thoughts with you.
Carolyn: As I recall, you were born in Germany in that nation's worst historical moment. How do you think your childhood/youth affected you as a writer?
Rolf: I believe it affected me on the deepest level. For one thing, it turned me towards a spiritual search for meaning and for involving myself with the "big" questions: Who am I? What’s it all about? Why am I here? I always felt that since I survived, I had to make my life mean something. I found my purpose through my writing.
In the profoundest sense, my books are my response to what happened. They are my affirmation of what Hitler tried to destroy: Judaism, Jews and me.
This is best illustrated by my two biblical novels. The first one I wrote is called My Jewish Brother Jesus. The title already affirms its purpose: that Jesus was a Jew – he was born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died a Jew. I wanted Christians to know that, remember that, and never forget it.
I also wanted Jews and Christians to get a better understanding of and appreciation for Judaism, which inspired Jesus, and the Jewish world in which he lived.
Jesus was not the first messianic claimant to be persecuted and crucified. Pilate and Rome were afraid of revolution. Pilate worked through the Jewish High Priest, whom he controlled.
I wanted to set the record straight so that the perverse and pernicious deicide charge, which has been leveled against the Jewish people, arousing hatred and persecution, culminating in the Holocaust, can be dropped once and for all. We cannot change the biblical text, but we can reinterpret it, given new facts and new insights – which is what we do all the time.
Finally, I wanted to show that Jews also worshipped and continue to worship a God of Love and that Jesus found his inspiration within the Jewish tradition, even though his life and his teachings were eventually reinterpreted and given a new and different direction.
I wrote this book neither to undermine faith nor to convert anyone from one religion to the other. I wrote it, rather, to create understanding between Jews and Christians, so we could live together, side by side, respectful of one another, in dignity and peace.. (This paperback book may be browsed and ordered at http://www.amazon.com )
I was drawn to the story of Abraham because he represents the first Jew. The Jewish people trace their beginnings to Abraham. If Abraham had not come along, there would be no Jews or Judaism. In fact, there’d be no Christians and Christianity. There would be no Muslims or Islam. Our three major faith communities trace our beginnings to Abraham, the first biblical patriarch.
Carolyn: How does your newest novel fit into this plan?
Well, there is more that intrigued me and led to my most recent novel, Abraham, The Dreamer – An Erotic and Sacred Love Story.
I wanted to explore what it was like to go from the known to the unknown – from worshipping many gods to worshipping just one God, from living in a highly civilized society to moving to an unknown, foreign land. How did this new God and Abraham speak to each other? What did this new God want and how was He to be served?
I was especially intrigued by the relationship between Abraham, his wife, Sarah, and Hagar, "the other woman." The childless Sarah had given Hagar to Abraham, so he could have a child by her. We know from the biblical text that there was tension and animosity between Sarah and Hagar. I wanted to explore those feelings -–and the possibility that Abraham might have developed a deeper love for Hagar than he had for Sarah.
But most of all I was disturbed by what is called in Hebrew, the akedah, "the binding of Isaac." Sarah finally does give birth to a son, Isaac. When Isaac is older, Abraham hears what he considers to be a call from God, ordering him to sacrifice his son. I continued to find this scenario deeply troubling. Is this what God really wanted? If not, what was going on here? Why would Abraham resort to this? Was there something else going on in his life that might have triggered this? If so, what was it? I realized that at the very heart of the story of Abraham, symbolized by the akedah, was one of the most critical questions of our lives as well: What is the will of God and how can we be sure that it is the will of God?
Carolyn: What is the most vivid, defining memory you have of Nazi Germany? Can you share a bit about your move to the United States? How you felt?
Rolf: I would have to say that the most defining moment and the most vivid memory for me was Kristalnacht.
We lived in Krefeld, a modern city of around 140,000 inhabitants then. Today it has a population of around 223,000.
We lived in an apartment on the second floor of the Bismarckstrasse ll8. I had a room on the third floor. I was nearly eleven years old. I was sound asleep. Suddenly there was a pounding, a loud, constant pounding and I woke up--a pounding, a terrible pounding at the front door.
"Open up, open up, or we'll break the door down!" somebody screamed.
I ran to the banister. I saw my parents on the second floor below, frightened, hesitant. My father wanted to go down, but my mother stopped him. He just had an operation around his eyes, and she did not want anything to happen to him. Before he could argue, she was down the steps.
"Open up, open up, or we'll break it down!" a man yelled.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," my mother called out.
I was scared. I rushed into my room, grabbed a small suitcase and rushed out again.
"Vati, Vati!" I called down. "Daddy, Daddy! If they take you, I'm going with you!"
My mother had reached the door. As she opened it she and the door were hurled against the wall.
Nazis, half a dozen of them, with rifles, rushed up the steps.
My mother followed. I came down. We all met on the second floor. They wanted to lock us into the kitchen.
"No, no!" my mother screamed, "we won't be locked up!"
We ran around through the rooms, one after the other.
As we came into the study, my father rushed to his desk, with the head Nazi close behind.
My father opened a drawer, pulled out the Iron Cross, his medal from World War I, held it up and shouted, "Is this the thanks I get for having served the fatherland?"
The Nazi and he stood face to face.
What now? Curses: "Damned, dirty Jew!"? The butt of the rifle in the face? Or an even quicker, final answer: a bullet in the head?
For a moment, a long moment, there was silence, deadly silence. Their eyes seemed locked for an eternity.
Suddenly, the Nazi turned, signaled his men silently, led them down the stairs, out of the house and into the black night, without breaking one dish.
Elsewhere that night, in Jewish houses and homes, on our street and throughout Krefeld, dishes and windows, furniture and crystal were smashed and broken. The synagogue was set on fire. This was Kristalnacht! In Krefeld and in all the cities of Germany.
Day broke but it wasn't over. They came to take my father away to the concentration camp along with all the other Jewish men of the city. He was at the doctor's. They never came back for him.
Kristalnacht was the dress rehearsal for the Holocaust. My parents and I fled in l939. The Nazi government only allowed us to take $10 per person with us. We were saved by Anna Coffee, a distant relative in America. We arrived in June. Three months later World War II started in Europe, with the Nazi invasion of Poland.
You asked how we felt coming to America. Grateful beyond words.
Carolyn: Who are the people most instrumental in your growth as a writer?
Rolf: Marian Keyes, my high school English teacher, turned me on to English and American literature and made it come alive for me. She gave me my first sense of what I wanted to be – a writer. I became an English major in college, receiving a B.A. and M.A. from UCLA. I loved the poets – from Beowulf and Chaucer to Wordsworth and Whitman. Herman Melville became my favorite author and is, to this day. I started out as a poet while still in college but shifted to prose, to reach a larger audience. After college, I spent four years as a newspaper reporter and editor. Journalism’s influence, with its emphasis on clarity also influenced me.
Carolyn: I know you are most passionate about Abraham, The Dreamer, but I know you have written other books, too. Can you tell me a bit about them?
Rolf: I have written books in two distinct areas: l) publicity and 2) spiritual matters. I earned my living for more than 40 years as a publicist and public relations practitioner, including some clients in the entertainment field. I spent four years as a newspaper editor and reporter and 30 years as a publicist and then publicity director for NBC. Since 1987 I have been an independent PR consultant and PR writer. I have written two publicity guides which are highly still in print: Publicity Writing for TV and Film and Publicity Advice & How-To Handbook. The latter is general and generic. Both books can be browsed and ordered at: http://www.amazon.com .
Among the books that I classify as spiritual is a comedy-drama, The Messiah of Midtown Park, which deals with the question, What would happen if the Messiah came today but wasn’t quite sure how to make himself known? Another is A Celebration of Life and contains my poetry and the text of my one-man show, of the same title. I hope to reissue these soon.
My wife, Carol, in fact, was the inspiration for one of my books. After I had written My Jewish Brother Jesus, she turned to me and said, "It’s all very nice that you have such a spiritual outlook on life, but how can other people get it?"
The question startled me, and then intrigued me. I realized how intangible "spirituality" is. How, indeed, can you help someone else see the world in spiritual terms? How can you train someone to live with a spiritual point of view?
The result was a spiritual self-help book, Sparks of Spirit: How to Find Love & Meaning in Your Life, 24 Hours a Day. It is a spiritual training manual that is non-denominational in approach. It uses spiritual phrases and concepts as mind-conditioners. It is simple to understand and to put into practice. This book, too, may be browsed and ordered at http://www.amazon.com . It is decicated “To Carol, Who Asked How.”
You went back to Germany, didn’t you? Why? And what effect did that have on you, if any?
Rolf: That’s a long story, but I’ll make it short and just get to the heart of it. Yes, I went back. Twice, in fact. The first time was in 1987. It was initiated by Renate Stark, a high school religion teacher and her students, who made contact with those of us from Krefeld who survived and fled to different parts of the world. Her activist-husband, Pastor Helmut Stark, campaigned to get the City Council and the Association of Christian Churches to invite us back for a Week of Encounter (June 29 – July 7). We returned – 130 of us, some with companions, for a total of 244 people, ranging in age from 47 to 89 years, from 22 different countries – with all expenses paid by the city of Krefeld.
I remember how I wrestled with whether I should return or not. How could I? What should my attitude be? How could we face each other again? What do I say? Finally, I agreed to make contact and accept the invitation. Midway in flight on Lufthansa, I panicked. "This is madness!" I told myself. "What are you doing? Don’t you remember what happened there? You got out with your life – and now you’re going back! Are you crazy? What if they keep you now and you’ll never get out again! This is insane!" I tried to calm myself. "Look," I said. "Relax! This is 1987 – 42 years after the end of the war! People have been traveling back and forth to Germany without any problems. Even Jews! Germany has changed – it’s a different Germany than the one you lived in. It’s not the Germany any more of Nazis, Kristalnacht and the Holocaust. It’s a new, democratic Germany."
The Week of Encounter exceeded all expectations. It was attitude-changing and life-changing, as reflected in the articles I wrote when I came back. It was also evident in the 45-minute speech I delivered, in German, when I was invited back the next year to deliver the keynote address in Krefeld on the 50th anniversary of Kristalnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.
It was the hardest speech I ever had to give and one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. What could I say? What should I say? I decided to be truthful and share my anxieties and conclusions with my listeners. I also decided to be honest about what I discovered about myself. I told them:
"When I started thinking about Krefeld two years ago and started to wrestle with my soul, a new, terrifying question suddenly came to me:
If you had not been a Jew, I asked myself, how would you have acted?
How would you have acted--as a young boy?
How would you have acted--as a teenager?
How would you have acted--as a young man?
How would you have acted--as a mature man?
Would you have been a conformist? Would you have shown courage?
Would you have offered active resistance? Would you have gone along?
Or would you have stood by passively, diverted your eyes and closed them?>
Would you have participated--from the Hitler Youth to the SS at Auschwitz?
I came to a terrifying, humbling conclusion: I didn't know how I would have behaved! I only hoped I would have shown character and strength and remained human."
It was my final insight, however, that surprised me most. I kept looking for the meaning of it all. What was it all about: Nazi Germany, Kristalnacht, the Holocaust? What was at the heart of the matter, the central meaning, not just for me, but for us, all of us? I finally realized what it was and what I had to say, and so I declared:
"We, Jews and Germans, are now bound together by Kristalnacht and the Holocaust for all eternity.
But our story should not and must not end there.
We are human beings.
We stand here together now.
We regard the past.
We can't forgive, we must not forget, but we can transform. We can, we should, we must transform the past, for the sake of life.
That is our triumph. That way, instead of victims, we all can always become victors again.
And if there is a central truth to be snatched from the flames for the lessons of today it is this: that we must always remember our common humanity. In case of conflict, in case we are forced to choose between ideology and our common humanity, we must choose humanity.
Can we build bridges again? Yes. We should, we must. Because, after all is said and done, there is only one answer left: Love and Reconciliation. Shalom."
Carolyn: The world is in turmoil and right now Israel is at the center of it. How do you feel Abraham, The Dreamer fits into the current events? Is there anything in Abraham (in terms of theme, perhaps) that a reader today can bring into his/her own life and time in order to deal with the state of the world?
Rolf: Let me first say that I am extremely disturbed by the current situation. For the first time in my life, I feel again the same fears and terrors that I felt growing up in Nazi Germany. I am appalled at the hatred expressed again against Jews in vicious words and vicious deeds all over the world. It freaks me out and fills me with a great sense of despair and a deep sadness. Yes, there is something we can learn from Abraham, and from what I have to say about him in Abraham, The Dreamer.
Let’s look at this from a short term and long term view. There are two elements here that apply.
First, the short-term view. The book deals, ultimately, with a profound human question, as symbolized by the akedah, the Binding of Isaac. Abraham believes that God wants him to sacrifice his son, to demonstrate his faith in God. I challenge that view, as not worthy of either human beings or of our view of God. I believe that Abraham, in his attempt to serve and understand this new God, actually misunderstood God. I believe something else much more personal and troubling was at work here, which comes out in Abraham’s final showdown with his wife, Sarah. As a result, Abraham is left with a much more humble and humbling view of God and of God’s will.
Today, so many speak in the name of God. They claim to know the will of God and seek to justify cruelties and brutalities as the will of God. We are not served well, and we certainly do not serve God well, by such smugness, presumptuousness, arrogance and self-righteousness. We do not know the will of God. We can only hope that our thoughts and actions will be pleasing and acceptable to God.
Second, the long-term view. We need to remember that Abraham is the First Patriarch of Jews, Christians and Muslims. There have been times in history where all of us have lived together, respectful of one another, in peace and harmony. Jews see themselves as the descendants of Abraham, through Sarah and Isaac. Christians, too, make that connection, spiritually, if not physically. Muslims also see themselves as the descendants of Abraham, but through Hagar and Ishmael. Sooner or later, the tragic, current conflict must and will end, and the descendants of Abraham will remember their common bond and choose to live together in friendship and in peace.
Carolyn: Is there anything that you would like to add?
Rolf: Yes, dream the impossible dream, work to make it a reality, and, in the process, keep the faith.
RESOURCE BOX: Rolf Gompertz may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org . His two paperback biblical novels are, "My Jewish Brother Jesus," which is still in print and may be browsed and ordered at http://www.amazon.com , and "ABRAHAM, THE DREAMER — An Erotic and Sacred Love Story, which may be browsed and ordered at http://www.iUniverse.com and also at http://www.amazon.com
Review of Abraham, The Dreamer
An Erotic and Sacred Love Story
By Rolf Gompertz
Iuniverse - : 2001
ISBN: 0-595-17697-6 - Paperback
Fiction - Historical (Biblical)
by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, MyShelf.com
Buy a Copy
Sheds Light on
Anyone who has ever been bothered-morally or ethically-by some of the events in the Bible may want to read Abraham, The Dreamer. Rolf Gompertz manages to examine the doubts and questions we have all felt when reading the story of Abraham and the near sacrifice of his son, Isaac.
Gompertz uses time-honored midrash-- the telling or retelling of a legend-- to achieve that end. He has examined the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and their sons, Isaac and Ishmael as it is told in the Bible. Then he has studied interpretations by biblical philosophers, psychologists and other experts, and so given the ancient story new life, new meaning without losing any of its authentic qualities.
As Gompertz examines the possible motivations for the actions of the characters, the Biblical tale comes to life for even a casual reader looking for a good read. After all, as Gompertz says, his "primary concern is to shed light on the human condition."
I found that reading about these people in the context of a love triangle made me look at many Biblical stories in a different light. The time, the place, the culture, and the evolution of religion all influence the thoughts and actions of people, then, now and forever more. We ought not forget that.
Bible scholars the bibliography alone will be worth the price of the
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, MyShelf's "Back to Literature"
columnist and awards-winning author of "This is the Place"
and "Harkening: A Collection of Stories
ABRAHAM, THE DREAMER: An Erotic and Sacred Love Story
MY JEWISH BROTHER JESUS
Publisher: The Word Doctor Publications
SPARKS OF SPIRIT: A Handbook for Personal Happiness
(How To Find Love & Meaning in Your Life 24 Hours a Day)
Publisher: The Word Doctor Publications
PUBLICITY ADVICE & HOW-TO HANDBOOK
Publisher: The WordDocor Publications
PUBLICITY WRITING FOR TV & FILM
Publisher: The Word Doctor Publications
|2002's Honorary List|