Two books, one shared truth

Jacqueline Markowitz and Barbara Williams have never met or spoken, but they know one another. They must, as each has recently published a moving account of a family in which a suicide rules emotionally, and most everybody averts their eyes.

Hope, though, arrives by virtue of the will to look back in favor of the truth.  Each author accounts for things with skill and grace. You read Conversations For Two and you want to befriend Jacqueline; similarly, you read The Hope in Leaving and you'd like to find yourself in Barbara's life.  Hard earned insight fills both books.

Consider me biased, though, as I know Jacqui and Barbara, and know something of their stories. Jacqui is a friend and Barbara is married to an old friend.  That said, Conversations For Two (found here: and The Hope in Leaving (found here stand on their own; each evokes in us the yearning to share in the wisdom and strength possessed by both women.

Three more matters, briefly.

First, Jacqui sent me the manuscript of Conversations For Two last year, asking if I might write the Afterword. I was curious, but doubtful: you have to really like a book to put your name to it in such a personal way. Reading her story, I became almost inhabited by it. The Afterword came easily, and here is an excerpt:

With little warning, Conversations for Two carries a barely suspecting reader into the miasma of grief, and a haunting memory that only suicide can evoke. Remembered fragments, slowly retrieved and recounted, wend their way into the heart of the reader drawn back - willingly and not - into the vapours of pain left floating long ago.

As with many suicides, the family knows, but it doesn’t know; they remember, but don’t remember; they want an accounting of things, but they really don’t want that either. And, most of all, they are quietly desperate to end the internal havoc caused by losing a brother and a son.

Conversations for Two pulls you into its clutches and refuses to let go... It’s both imagined and all too real.

Second, read what Jane Fonda writes about The Hope in Leaving:

If you appreciate Mary Karr or Jeannette Walls, you’ll want to read Williams’ eloquent memoir of growing up in and out of the harsh lumber camps of British Columbia. In an honest, compelling voice devoid of self-pity, she tells of finding solace in nature’s beauty, of grasping for shards of love. Through this painful, riveting journey, this bright, curious child manages to grow into a resilient, hopeful artist.

Finally, want to hear and meet each author in person?

  • Barbara will be in conversation about her book with Mary Walsh on May 7, 7 pm, in Jackman Hall at the AGO.  
  • And Jacqui will speak about her book on Shavuot evening June 11, 11 pm, at the Miles Nadal JCC. 

Two worthwhile books, two worthwhile evenings!

Three favourite essays

I love long essays combining fluid writing and substance on something or someone I'm curious about. Here are three such essays  for a quiet weekend afternoon, or a plane ride, or when sleep fails.

I'll post such essays from time to time. For now: 

Read and share, and if you're so inclined, email me at with your favourite such essays.

One rabbi’s story of change

I wrote a piece (published December 20, 2015 by The Times of Israel) which captures how I came to write Evolution of An Unorthodox Rabbi. As I say at the top of the piece, I was writing another book when I realized I had to do this one first. "One Rabbi's Story of Change" is about we change and often in unexpected ways. You can also read the piece as an introduction to my book.

Click here to read "One Rabbi's Story of Change".