Following the recent Highlight’s Symposium on Jewish Children’s Literature, I’ve been inspired to tell my family’s story. (I hope it isn’t going to be just to myself because my mother said it’s great.)
I recently acquired (lifted from my parent’s attic) a file of letters that were written to my grandmother by soldiers during World War II. I had initially intended to work them into an article titled Letters From the War. I have instead written a picture book manuscript and the same story is told from the perspective of my father as a child.
My grandmother Berdie (and my grandfather Izzy also to some extent) worked tirelessly to provide Shabbat meals, Passover seders, Purim parties, and other events to Jewish soldiers stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. In addition to numerous awards from the USO, soldiers, as well as their mothers and girlfriends, wrote to my grandmother to thank her for what she provided the soldiers with. From Europe, many soldiers put to words what a home-cooked Shabbat meal meant to them before deployment. I was so moved that they took the time to write to her to thank her.
The letters have taken me down a rabbit hole of research. Fort Jackson itself is fascinating as over 500,000 troops received training at Fort Jackson during World War II alone. There were 17 chapels for worship on the base. As for the soldiers themselves, I tried to uncover what happened to them, but often didn’t even have surnames to go on. Did they make it home? Did they marry their fiancees?
I hope that a version of this story makes it out into the world in some form.