Serenade at the JDC & the JDC in Cuba

Posted January 6, 2015

Nice New Year’s surprise: a lovely article in the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee blog and newsletter by Devorah Landau. She focuses on my parents’ experiences while living in Cuba for eight months in 1939. They were placed in the detention camp, Triscornia, where the conditions were deplorable and many refugees were weak and sick, some even perishing. 

My photo of the entrance to the former Triscornia camp in 1999.

Then they were in Havana when the St. Louis was in the bay and the passengers were refused entry. Immigration official Manuel Benitez issued landing certificates to the passengers with the hopes of profiting from the sales and tourism. Cuban President Brú learned of his motives and invalidated them. The ship’s captain and the JDC negotiated with the Cubans to no avail. The U.S. government denied the passengers entry as well and the ship was turned back. Great Britain, Belgium, France and the Netherlands took some refugees in, but some died in concentration camps.

Passengers on the St. Louis in the bay.              

My parents were very fortunate to be out of Triscornia and living in Havana by then. The details are in Serenade. Thank you JDC for this uniquely focused article.


Serenade at the Bank of Books Bookstore

Posted November 17, 2014

I had a lovely afternoon and early evening on Saturday, Nov. 15, at the BANK OF BOOKS in Ventura, California. The store is packed with new and used books from floor to ceiling. I thought that Ventura meant Ventura County, which includes Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, Ojai and other designated areas. But Ventura is a little city of its own with adorable shops that are along the lines of Solvang, according to my taxicab driver, who drove me all the way from West Los Angeles to Ventura for the book signing. Yes, my car was in the shop. I had a rental but was afraid to drive it that far, so Mr. Taximan and I with my credit card kept my commitment. I took some photos with Nancy, who thought that her mother would like Serenade, and with John Motz, the manager. It was a lovely afternoon. An expensive trip. Ventura is between Oxnard and Santa Barbara. A quaint historic town. A charming old-fashioned bookstore.


Serenade at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Posted October 20, 2014

I was privileged to sign books and meet some incredibly interesting people on Saturday, Oct. 18, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. There were a lot of school-age children in Washington, D.C. that weekend, with parents and teachers as chaperones. They were touring the historical sites and museums.

One man told me that his daughter had graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and was a promising mezzo. Another woman, who was my age, told me about her Viennese parents who fled from Vienna during the Nazi era just like mine did.

I had the opportunity to speak to a third young man about my parents’ experiences in Havana. He is planning a trip there in January and wanted to know more about Jewish Cuba. Another woman was born in Chattanooga, so we talked about my chapters on Tennessee. One woman was from London. And another graduated from the University of Southern California where she studied theatrical costume design. We talked about my father’s costuming career in Hollywood.

They all purchased my books and were very enthusiastic. We exchanged e-mail addresses and plan to keep in touch.


Serenade at the Wiener Staatsoper

Posted September 10, 2014

Serenade is now available at the Arcadia Opera Shop in the arcade adjoining the Vienna State Opera. Seeing it in the window gives me great pleasure, more than seeing it in any other window in any other store, because the story is about my parents who were born and raised in Vienna where my father graduated from the Neues Wiener Konservatorium and became an opera singer. He may not have been able to sing in the Staatsoper due to the traumatic circumstances of the times, but now he is sitting in a window there, surrounded by the likes of Mozart, Verdi, Meyerbeer, Wagner, and Maria Callas. I’d say that he’s in pretty good company. A big thanks to Helmut in the opera shop.

Serenade on top in the sun


Serenade at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust: A Hot Hit

Posted August 4, 2014

It was hot outside and I was wearing a blue long-sleeved suit as I made my way to the car that would drive me to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust near the famous Farmers Market and The Grove. My girlfriend’s mother had just died, and I had just ordered flowers for her funeral the next day. I had all of my materials in a tote bag but had forgotten to bring a cart to roll the heavy load. I arrived at the museum before 11 a.m., met some extremely nice people who led me upstairs to a small library with a podium in front. My books were arranged on a table on the side waiting to be signed.

Everyone was enthusiastic, and the fellows who helped ready the computer for the slide and video presentation were from Austria. I was excited to meet them, and they were anxious to hear about my book.

With some fanning and a bit of air-conditioning, my mind slowly began to focus on my Serenade. People started to enter. First I saw a friend from my congregation. So good to see her. I felt at home.

Then someone was waving and smiling at me. It was my old girlfriend from elementary and junior high school. I made contact with her a few years ago after more than thirty years.

The talk -- part of the “Let’s Talk About It: New Conversations on the Holocaust” series -- was much like the one I gave at the Mid-Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library. The slides and video clips are detailed on my posting dated Dec. 26: my parents’ passports, a final letter from Theresienstadt, the site of the former Triscornia immigration camp in Cuba; video clips of Fritz Wunderlich singing “An die Musik,” Alexander Kipnis singing “Der Erlkönig,” Ferruccio Furlanetto performing the “Catalog” aria from Don Giovanni, Enzo Dara as Rossini’s Dr. Bartolo, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing “O Tod, wie bitter bist du” from “Vier ernste Gesänge,” and more.

But the highlight for me was meeting the people there and signing the books.

According to my friend from the Creative Arts Temple, who sent me this e-mail the following day: “I really enjoyed your presentation yesterday at the Holocaust museum. After reading your book, it was very informative to hear you explain your father’s participation in the various operas depicted and your parents’ insight into their activities during that horrible world period. You were easily heard, and the room was quite comfortable. I was so glad I attended.”

So I guess that the afternoon was a hot hit. I want to thank those at the museum who made it possible.


Fruitful Day of Learning at Leo Baeck Temple, Los Angeles

Posted February 10, 2014

In my last post, I wrote that I will never forget to take photos of an event again. Well, I did. I suppose that I am always focused on my talk, then respond to the audience with the answers to their questions, and then I am very delighted to talk to everyone during the book signing. I have been trying to think of the public relations and marketing aspects of publishing my book, but I am overwhelmed with the warm receptions I have received from all of those who come up to me after the talks with such enthusiasm. So once again, on my way out of the Leo Baeck Temple on Saturday, February 8th, I had someone take a photograph of me with Lois Littman, who was one of the organizers of the Yom Limmud Day of Learning and introduced me.

Lois Littman with Carol Jean

So what is a Yom Limmud Day of Learning? Well, at the Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, the day began at 9:15 in the morning with breakfast. Then there were four groupings of sessions. Briefly, from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., congregants could choose between learning about the history of Jewish Los Angeles with Rabbi Leonard Beerman to knitting healing blankets with Felicia Park-Rogers and Janet Grundfest. From 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., they could have a conversation about spirituality crossing religious lines with Rabbi Rachel Timoner and other religious clerics, or they could learn how to bake Challah. After lunch from 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m., they could learn the art of storytelling with Gary Buchler or the art of pickle making with Tyla Sawyer. And from 3:15 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., they could learn about SERENADE from me. There were 40 sessions in all.

I duplicated the lecture I gave at the New York Public Library with my PowerPoint slideshow and musical video excerpts. I left a few things out because I had less time, so I spoke quickly.

My book may be a love story, but I felt so gratified to realize that I was educating people at this Yom Limmud Day -- not only about Holocaust and World War II history, but about opera and Lieder as well. Again, thank you Leo Baeck Temple for your warm reception!


Enlightening New York Public Library Book Signing

Posted December 26, 2013

Yes, senility has set in. I had a wonderful experience on December 9th at the Mid-Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library, but I didn’t remember to have anyone take pictures until I arrived downstairs and was leaving the building. My cousin took a quick picture of me holding the book. It will have to suffice along with a photograph of the Mid-Manhattan Library.

Mid-Manhattan Library     


As I told the story of Serenade upstairs, I showed a Powerpoint slideshow of the illustrations and played video excerpts of some of the operas and Lieder: Itzhak Perlman playing Schubert’s “Serenade” with orchestra; Fritz Wunderlich singing “An die Musik”; Alexander Kipnis singing “Der Erlkönig”; Ferruccio Furlanetto performing the “Catalog” aria from Don Giovanni; Enzo Dara singing “A un dottor della mia sorte” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing “O Tod, wie bitter bist du” from “Vier ernste Gesänge”; and José Carreras concluding “With a Song in My Heart.”

Naturally, I introduced each excerpt with an explanation.

The Q & A was lively, and then I signed my books. The library staff had organized them beautifully on a table, and I was so happy to be able to talk to everybody in attendance. My cousins were there. Representatives from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee were there. I was told that my presentation was unique and that Serenade should be made into a movie.

Let’s hope so, I thought.

Then when I arrived home, I received an e-mail from the programming coordinator and principal librarian: “From the comments, conversation and feedback following [the event], our attendees found your illustrated lecture both engaging and enlightening,” she wrote.

Yes, the trip was definitely worthwhile. And I will never forget to take photos of an event again.


Twins at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Posted October 21, 2013

Serenade was on exhibit in two places at the recent 2013 Frankfurt Book Fair: in the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) booth and the Indie Press Collective display by ForeWord Reviews (Hall 8, R68). Who says you can’t be in two places at once.

ForeWord Reviews

ForeWord Reviews




Serenade on KCSN Opera House with Bill Toutant

Posted October 7, 2013

I was honored to be a guest on The KCSN Opera House with Bill Toutant on Sept. 8 and 11. The radio show/webcast from California State University, Northridge at KCSN Classical 88.5 HD 2 and was an educationally significant contribution to the Los Angeles community until Oct. 1 when the station was renamed KCSN Latin Alternative. William Toutant is a highly-respected composer, professor emeritus, radio commentator, and former dean of the university’s Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication. Before my appearance, he complimented Serenade on a previous show by saying: “I’m dedicating the program to the book because it is multi-layered. Although it is a factual memoir, it reads like a novel and contains many references to specific operas and roles. So, if you like a good story, you’ll enjoy the book. If you love opera, you’ll enjoy the book. And if you like a good story and love opera, this book was written just for you.”

Bill and I talked, and he played the music as described in Serenade. Some of the excerpts included Bryn Terfel singing Schubert’s “An die Musik” and Wagner’s “O du mein holder Abenstern” from Tannhäuser; Plácido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes singing the beautiful Posa/Carlo duet from Verdi’s Don Carlo; Philip’s “Ella giammai m’amò”; Marian Anderson singing “Der Tod und das Mädchen”; Figaro’s “Se vuol ballare” and “Non più andrai” from Nozze di Figaro; Alexander Kipnis singing “Der Erlkönig”; Leporello’s “Catalog” aria from Don Giovanni; Jussi Björling singing “Che gelida manina”; some Beckmesser from Die Meistersinger; Dr. Bartolo’s “Un dottor della mia sorte” from Barber of Seville; Fischer-Dieskau singing “Vier ernste Gesänge”; and, of course, Schubert’s “Ständchen.”

Yes, my book is an education. And Bill enabled me to share that aspect of the book to potential readers. He dedicated more than two hours to Serenade. I will always be grateful.


Serenade at the Jewish Book Council Network Conference

Posted June 7, 2013

Paul Lawrence Rose, the Mitrani Professor Emeritus of History and Jewish Studies at Pennsylvania State University, first introduced me to the Jewish Book Council, which has 100 member organizations throughout the United States, including synagogues and Jewish Federations. Taken directly from the Jewish Book Council website, the JBC promotes “the reading, writing, publication, distribution, and public awareness of books that reflect the breadth of the Jewish experience.”

Carol Jean with author Suzy Farbman

On June 4th, I was one of many authors to present my book at the annual JBC Network conference in New York at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. It was a bit daunting for me to describe my 500-plus-paged book in just two minutes. But I did it with “passion,” according to the author sitting next to me. Panic was probably more like it. I had 30 seconds left and hadn’t said all I wanted to say. Yes, PANIC.

My father had sung for Konrad Henlein, the Nazi leader in the Sudetenland. He’d sung Dr. Bartolo from The Barber of Seville when troop movement was suspected near the Czech Maginot Line. My parents were placed in the Triscornia immigration camp in Havana, Cuba. The book is documented with 100 illustrations, including my parents’ passports and a letter from my great-aunt before she perished in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. There are many reasons the book should interest those in the Jewish community.

But foremost, I told the JBC members that SERENADE is unique because it reads like a great love story -- operatically lyrical like hearing Puccini -- yet it is true.

Hopefully some of them will invite me to speak at one of their book events. My slideshow projections should help create a vision.




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