Last year, Liz Pearl reached a milestone, publishing the seventh, and final, volume of her Living Legacies series, a collection of personal narratives written by Canadian Jewish women.
Since its inception in 2007, the series has featured more than 200 stories written by women.
The latest volume includes 18 stories, ranging from women writing about how yoga, mindfulness and journaling have helped them, to an artist’s account of the influence Judaism has had on her artwork.
Gina Birencwaig Fogel writes about raising a developmentally delayed son, which she says taught her to accept her own limitations. Judy Zimlichman recounts her involvement in the creation of the first program for children with special needs in the Montreal Jewish day school system.
Karen Flam tells the painful tale of how a brain tumour changed her husband’s personality, from the kind and gentle soul she married, to an angry, stubborn and unpredictable man. Caryn Nash reveals how faith helped her through difficult times – the death of her eldest son and being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – after she and her family became observant.
Pearl got the idea for the Living Legacies series about 10 years ago, while she was eating dinner with her two daughters and her son. They responded to one of her stories by forming the letter “L” with their thumbs and index fingers planted on their foreheads. Pearl mistook the “L” to mean “loser,” as it meant when she was growing up. But her children said the “L” was a sign for “lesson.”
“When my daughters were at the bat mitzvah age, I started to realize that as social media was taking over the world, that it would be a good opportunity for them to have more exposure to female role models,” Pearl said.
“I also had never had a bat mitzvah, so I took it on as my own personal bat mitzvah project.”
She believed that Jewish women were an untapped source of wisdom. “I felt that it was out there in a scattered way and I wanted to have it in a more integrated way. I wanted to create a printed collection as a keepsake for the contributing authors and for the community,” she said.
After she self-published Volume 1 of Living Legacies in 2007, the series snowballed, with six additional volumes published over the next 10 years.
“Initially, I was hoping to find some higher-profile women, but after the first volume, I put that idea aside, because I began to realize that it was much more about ‘everyone has a story.’ ”
Pearl said that she chooses personal stories that have the potential to resonate with a broad audience.
As an editor, she sees herself as a facilitator. “I have been dubbed a legacy-writing doula. In terms of my actual role, each woman is unique, requiring a different amount and style of support,” she said.
A sisterhood has grown out of the Living Legacies series, with Pearl occasionally inviting some of the writers to her home for readings. “The sisterhood is a loose bond I have with the women. It continues after publication through readings, sometimes workshops, but mostly social media,” Pearl said. “I keep in touch with many of the women and we follow each other’s professional and personal journeys.”