F arewell, Abie! Shalom, Annie! And goodbye to Moe and Rob and Yeruchum and Harry and Reb Leibush and the Brauns and yes, even Aunt Cele. Mrs. Horn, I shall miss your European goodies (oh, those chaluptches!).

It’s over. A year of semi-obsession. A year when my every quiet moment was filled with imaginary conversations and endless “what-if’s.” What if Moe has a Jewish friend who dies in Pearl Harbor? (I just couldn’t do it — I liked Harry too much. And yes, Luigi’s death brought tears to my eyes.) What if Annie moves in with Aunt Cele and finds out her secret past? (Better: Let Rachel Levine reveal it. Too hard to believe that Annie would break with her father like that.) What if Moe has to choose between a sophisticated, worldly, and attractive British girl and a simple but courageous survivor he meets in a DP camp? (That was Plan A, dropped because there wasn’t enough time for me to develop a new character; instead, we got the mazel tov with a slightly softened Rob. Which worked better for Moe; he needs a wife as strong-willed as he is.)

This was a year when a Bais Yaakov grad who abhors violence, and who came to adulthood in the height of the anti-Vietnam War days, learned the ins and outs of basic training, artillery attacks, and how to dig a comfortable foxhole. A year when she discovered how horribly abhorrent — and how sometimes absolutely necessary — war and violence is in a world enveloped in sheker.

Unlike Moe and Abe, I didn’t travel on troopships or airplanes, and I didn’t have to dodge submarines or anti-aircraft flak. But though I didn’t jump out of a moving airplane, it’s been quite a dizzying journey. My first full-length novel for adults. My first serial, working with remorseless deadlines and unbreakable word counts. My first serious encounter with the history of World War II as seen through the experiences of American G.I.s rather than the Holocaust, and with the fascinating narrative of how Torah Jewry both melded and split with American life in the 1940s.

All during this journey, I longed to write a simultaneous account of what it was like to research, create, and write up the chronicle of the Freed and Levine families, a kind of writer’s blog that would focus on my own struggles and triumphs in the wonderful, challenging, and sometimes frustrating world of serial writing. But the same pitiless deadlines that drove me half-mad at times — and, yes, that enabled me to finally realize my much-delayed dream of writing a full-length novel — kept me from recording even a single sentence on the backstory of my serial writing adventures.

So now that it’s over, while other old and new responsibilities bang at my door, I’ll ignore the knocking for a bit and share a short retrospective on life during Freefall.

Beginnings

Freefall took me 12 months — and 25 years — to write.

It began about a quarter of a century ago, when I was reading one of Torah publishing’s earliest bestsellers, the classic All for the Boss by Ruchoma Shain. You’ve probably read it, her loving memoir of her father, Reb Yaakov Yosef Herman, and his uncompromising determination to live a fully Torah observant life in the “treifene medinah.” A beautiful story, inspiring and compelling.

I read it. I enjoyed it. And then came those two words that are the foundation of almost every fictional story.

What if?

Mrs. Shain a”h made it clear that it wasn’t easy having a father who would not compromise one iota on his beliefs — and who was loudly vocal when he saw Jews putting tentative footsteps on the dangerous road of assimilation. “All my friends are doing it” — the teenage girls’ mantra — was not an acceptable argument in the Herman household. Yet, though she touched on the difficulties of growing up in the atmosphere of battling for Torah, she also described a home full of warmth, caring, and love, all generously given by her father and mother.

What if? I thought. What if Rabbi Herman hadn’t shown his love for his children? What if Mrs. Herman wasn’t there for her daughter, giving comfort and understanding when the family’s dedication to Yiddishkeit made the going rough for a young American girl? What if young Ruchoma hadn’t understood the reasons for the sacrifices being demanded of her?

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, an image appeared — a man, uncompromising in his dedication to Torah. A man who loved his children deeply, but who was unable to express that love. A family with no mother to dry a daughter’s tears when she was forced to dress differently from her friends or to hug a son who was embarrassed by his peyos. Two orphans with no Mamma to explain why the demands of Torah life were worthwhile and would ultimately bring joy.

A rebellious boy, and a girl determined to love, being raised by such a father.

They had no names yet, this man and his children. They were just dim figures waiting to come to life.

It took close to three decades. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 544 – Shavuos 2017 Special Edition)