New JewishGen Class | Crafting Stories from Your Family History

Krasner Family, Newark, New Jersey 1912

Express your research stories spontaneously without hesitating over style and composition. You’ll write to timed prompts in real-time.

The class meets for two hours on four consecutive Sundays via Zoom: May 1, 8, 15, and 22 from 11 am to 1 pm ET.

Tuition $200. Register now at https://www.jewishgen.org/education/

Led by Barbara Krasner, genealogist and author

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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 16, What Makes the Heart Race

As Sonja Livingston’s Week 16 prompts asks us to make a list of what made our hearts race when we were younger, two things came to mind: tests and boys. I chose to write about tests and their three phases: studying, taking the test, receiving the results. Each of these phases produced its own set of worries. Of course, much depended on the subject matter and the teacher. I usually used the first step to determine the teacher’s strategy like the high school history teacher who liked to ask questions about textbook illustration captions. I developed a habit of getting up super early to study, say 3 am, because the house was quiet and because I didn’t see the sense of studying and then sleeping, strengthening the possibility that I could forget all that I studied. Anxiety amplified throughout the day if the test occurred any later than the first period. Should I look at my notes or textbook more or just let it be? My heart races now just thinking about it.

Standardized testing was a whole other matter. Even just entering the room, the room you entered every day, had a different feel, an air of expected performance. Getting that little circle filled properly with the lead of a No. 2 pencil. Heck, just following directions and understanding the question required mustering all intellectual capabilities. When my twin sister and I received the same score on a standardized math test, the teacher insisted I cheated. She’d favored my sister since she had her in her freshman algebra class. This teacher obviously wasn’t aware of identical twin performance. I could have told her we had exactly the same IQ. She didn’t want to hear anything from me. I think my mother had to intervene.

I made receiving test results into a dramatic art form. On the day I expected the teacher to return the test grades, I wore all black and got mightily peeved if the teacher re-neged and hadn’t finished grading. I’d have to figure out what black clothes I could wear the following day and while my wardrobe was extensive, I had few black choices. As the teacher stood at the front of the room, a stack of mimeographed papers in his hands, how would he disperse the grades? Were the papers randomly organized or arranged alphabetically? Or, arranged by grade? Again, the heart races.

What made your heart race?

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Mid-Week Field Notes–April 20, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  1. Two more sets of rejections of my poetry have come in from what I’d categorize as Tier 1 literary journals. While I can certainly aim lower, I want to print out all recently written poems and work on each one, asking myself: what imagery can I add to make the poem more effective; have I left anything out; does everything need to be here; is this form effective?
  2. Amherst Writers & Artists dedicates the month of May to its Write Around the World fundraiser. For as little as a $10 donation, writers can choose from among dozens of opportunities to write with others around the world to timed prompts. I’m donating my time to leading three sessions focused on writing the past. See the event schedule.
  3. In commemoration of Yom Hashoah, please join Leon Geyer and Avi Wisnia, grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, as they share how their grandparents’ legacies shaped their lives and mission. Click here for more information and to register. Sponsored by the Mercer Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Education Center.
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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 15, Differentiation

Week 15 asks what we did as kids to define our own identities. How did we differentiate ourselves? I had more work to do in this area. Not only did I need to forge my own identity among my peers, but also to create and maintain a separate identity from my identical twin sister. Some of this came naturally. By the time we became high school juniors, our interests and skill sets had organically diverged. I leaned toward language and history and she toward math. Together we considered ourselves one person.

One way I differentiated myself was making all my own clothes as a means of creative expression. I was not unique among my peers this way. Anyone of us could spot a Simplicity 9688 skirt sashaying down the hallway. But I’m pretty sure I was the only one who ran a factory in the summer, keeping spreadsheets on planned vs. actual production, tracking operating budgets and costs, and filing fabric swatches and pattern alteration specifications.

Another way I distinguished myself was with super-long fingernails, usually painted pale pink. But perhaps other ways included whip-fast snarky retorts and relationships with teachers with whom I felt far more comfortable than with peers. I served as student secretary to the German and Russian teachers. I think I may have been known for a killer work ethic, too. I was probably the only student in the school at 7 am.

My high school graduation portrait. I’m wearing my green wool crepe dress that I made. I wore it with either green or red stockings.

What identity did you create for yourself?

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Mid-Week Field Notes–April 13, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  1. I’ve been accepted into the 2022 Kenyon Review Online Poetry Workshop. I’m excited to be working with Solmaz Sharif. I’m such a fan of her documentary poetry.
  2. Amherst Writers & Artists dedicates the month of May to its Write Around the World fundraiser. For as little as a $10 donation, writers can choose from among dozens of opportunities to write with others around the world to timed prompts. I’m donating my time to leading three sessions focused on writing the past. See the event schedule.
  3. Check out my new website at barbarakrasner.com.
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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 14, Excuses

Week 14 requests a list of excuses made as a kid and then on to and through adulthood. We could write about one of these excuses or write about them all. As I drafted my list, I thought about the excuse I made for marrying the man I did thirty-five years ago. I knew I was making a mistake. But now for the life of me, I can’t remember what I said. Was my excuse, “I was temporarily insane?” Because all signs indicated this man was an incredibly poor choice for me.

My mother and I at the Jade Fountain at my surprise bridal shower, 1987

As I wrote, I used the various excuses on my list: I didn’t hear you, I didn’t see you, I don’t remember. I literally wore rose-colored glasses, and that would make a great excuse. Even this photo makes it look like I’m giving some kind of explanation or excuse, as if to say, “I know, Ma. But I’m turning 30 and he’s Jewish.”

What excuses have you used?

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Mid-Week Field Notes–April 6, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  1. Emily Stoddard of Voice & Vessel introduced me to what she calls “Field Notes.” In this video, she explains what she means by field notes and how they can help you with your writing process.
  2. I’ve been named a Curt C. and Else Silberman Faculty Fellow, accepted into the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s virtual seminar on Teaching Holocaust Photographs. This is my second time as a Silberman fellow.
  3. On June 27, I will be presenting “Family, Hope, and Survival: Patterns & Trends in Holocaust Youth Literature, 1940-2020,” at the annual Association of Jewish Libraries conference in Philadelphia. I hope you’ll join me!
  4. Two of my poems have been published by the Newark Public Library’s literary journal, Mason Street.
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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 13, Why Me?

The Week 13 prompt asks Why Me? What experience as a kid put this question in my mind and mouth. At what point did I think the world unfair to me personally? I first started writing about my 2014 cancer diagnosis. Clearly, I was not a kid when this happened. But after I wrote a few paragraphs in scene, because the prompt does not want or call for description, something else came to mind.

As a high school sophomore, a teacher made me call him at home to apologize for saying “shut up” in front of a parent. He had embarrassed me by saying I was one of his top students, so I said, “Oh, shut up.” He also angered me by saying “one of” instead of “the top student.” My sister worked with him at a Saturday school and she came home the next day. “Boy, are you in trouble! she said. She handed me a slip of paper with his phone number. He required an apology.

Several shots of the “high school” me

He was in his second year of teaching and very hung up on what others, particularly parents, thought. He never thought about the impact of his words on me. I curled up in a ball in my bed and cried for hours before writing out a script and calling.

Why me? There was another dynamic developing which took me thirty years to understand. That spring I became his student secretary. By the time I graduated, he had gifted me thirteen necklaces, one of which was a heart-shaped locket, a stuffed animal, a key chain, and the world’s ugliest earrings for pierced ears (which I didn’t have then).

Why me, indeed?

What event in your life made you ask, “Why me?” Write about it.

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Mid-Week Field Notes–March 30, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  1. Time to reveal the cover!
  2. Another poetry rejection from a Tier 1 literary publication rolled in, a standard form letter. One of my Q2 goals is to hone my skill in poetry revision. I have made a list of the projects I want to engage in over the summer, including completing a novel in verse manuscript and revising a graphic novel. If anyone is interested in a graphic novel critique group, please let me know!
  3. Last chance to register! Join award-winning author Dr. Wendy Lower for a discussion of Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields on March 30, 7 pm ET via Zoom. To register, click here.
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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 12, This I Used to Believe

This week’s prompt was tough: to write about something I believed in with my whole heart and then write about when that belief changed. I couldn’t think of anything I believed in that way. The prompt suggested three beliefs as examples: that marriage should last forever, that lying is inevitable, and that babies are delivered by storks.

What I wrote addressed each of these beliefs and why I never believed it. The first marriage proposal I received I rejected, because I knew the differences in our respective religions and our values would lead to divorce court. I didn’t believe lying is evitable, because I value truth and have crossed several people off my friend list, because they lied to me or betrayed me in some way. I never believed that storks brought babies.

I gave some thought to expressions I used in high school: “The princess is not granting audiences today,” “It’s my opinion and it’s very true,” and “And above all, modest.” Now, I’m more likely to say, “From your mouth to G-d’s ear” and “Man plans and G-d laughs.” I see a definite shift in point of view here, a relinquishment of control. When a prospective employer asked me the inevitable question, “Where do you see yourself in five years,” I laughed, because it’s such a stupid question. We can’t see into the future. We didn’t anticipate COVID. We didn’t anticipate crisis in Ukraine. I didn’t anticipate bullous pemphigus vulgaris.

What did you once believe in with your whole heart? Write about it and include either why you still believe in this concept or idea or why you no longer do.

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