As the director of educational outreach at the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center for twenty-six years, Merle Saferstein worked closely with hundreds of Holocaust survivors helping them to pass along their Legacy of Remembrance to hundreds of thousands of students and teachers. When she retired from the Holocaust Center, she developed a course entitled Living and Leaving Your Legacy® and teaches and speaks to audiences locally, nationally, and internationally.
She trains hospice staff and volunteers showing them ways to help patients leave their legacies and works closely with the patients at the end of their lives doing sacred legacy work. For many years, she has volunteered at a camp for children who experienced the death of a family member—helping them gain important tools to cope with their grief and also facilitated an all-day parent session at these camps. Merle currently facilitates a writing for wellness group at Gilda’s Club for women who have been impacted by cancer.
Merle has been facilitating a weekly journaling circle since April 2020 at the start of Covid. For fourteen years, she culled through her journals taking excerpts according to approximately seventy topics. This June, Living and Leaving My Legacy, vol. 1, a book containing eleven of these topics will be released. The second volume will be published in 2023.
Merle is a council member of the International Association of Journal Writing, is the author of Room 732, a short story collection which pays homage to the historic Hollywood Beach Hotel and a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, and is a contributor to the Huffington Post, Medium, Authority Magazine, and Thrive Global. Her chapter on legacy journaling appears in The Great Book of Journaling: How Journal Writing Can Support a Life of Wellness, Creativity, Meaning and Purpose.
Merle was chosen as the 2019 Greater Miami Jewish Federation Volunteer of the Year.
- When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
MRS: As a young girl, I wrote letters to my relatives who lived all over the United States. Around age nine, I vividly remember telling myself I needed to lead an interesting life to always have something to write about and share. Even back then, I was feeling the stirrings to be a writer.
- How long did it take to write your book?
MRS: Living and Leaving My Legacy, Vol. 1 is not a typical book because it is a compilation of excerpts from 359 journals that I wrote from 1974–2016. I began going back into my journals in 2002 and taking excerpts I thought I might want to share. That process took me fourteen years, and then I spent approximately five years editing down the excerpts into those to put into Living and Leaving My Legacy, Vol. 1. This book was a long time in coming.
- What is your work schedule like when writing a book?
MRS: I often devote at least an hour each morning to journal when I first awaken. Then after that, unless I am teaching, I might spend anywhere from three to eight hours a day focused on working on the book. Once I am in the flow, I allow for little to interrupt me. Generally, I find that even in my dreams, thoughts of the book float in. So, even if I’m not actually doing the writing, I am thinking about it, which in a way is part of the process.
- Where do you get your ideas or information for your book?
MRS: In the case of Living and Leaving My Legacy, Vol. 1, everything included in the book is from my own life experiences. It is a combination of my thoughts, feelings, conversations, encounters, memories, dreams, travel adventures, life lessons, values and beliefs, and hopes and dreams. The material is all recorded within the pages of my journals.
- When did you write your first book?
MRS: I wrote my first book in 1984. It was during a period of time when I was in between jobs. While I was interviewing for positions, I decided that what I wanted to be doing above all else, aside from finding a way to make a difference, was to write. And so, that began my journey as a writer. I spent an entire year writing A Slice of Life, which ultimately never got published. Surprisingly enough, I was offered a contract to make a movie from the book. The process was underway when the person in charge of the project decided to leave and build a movie studio in Hungary. That ended the fantasy of my book becoming a movie, but it certainly was an exciting time leading up to the end.
- What do you do when you aren’t writing?
MRS: I am fortunate to be leading a full life at age seventy-seven. After I retired in December 2011 from being the director of educational outreach at a Holocaust center in South Florida, I developed a course entitled Living and Leaving Your Legacy®. I have since taught sixty-three eight-week classes, speak locally, nationally, and internationally, and volunteer with hospice organizations doing sacred legacy work. I also facilitate a weekly journaling circle and a bi-weekly writing group at Gilda’s Club with women who have been impacted by cancer. I enjoy traveling and do as much of it as possible—especially visiting with my family and friends all over the United States.
- What does my family think of my writing?
MRS: For all of their lives, my children have known me as a writer. My daughter, who is now fifty, recalls how she would fall asleep listening to the clicking of the typewriter keys. I’ve often wondered how my husband feels as he has often sat at my side when I’m journaling. He never seemed curious, although I think if the tables were turned, I would be. When my son was younger, he was always interested in what I was working on. Collectively, I believe they all just accept that writing is what I do.
- What was the most surprising thing I learned in creating my books?
MRS: For this book, in particular, what surprised me was how much about my life I remembered when I went back into my journals and read them. Occasionally, I would come across a name, and I’d have no idea who it was, but that didn’t happen often in all those years of reading my journals. I believe that because I journaled, it has helped me remember in a way that most never do.
- How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
MRS: In all, I have written four books. The first two I wrote in 1984 and 1994—neither of which were published. The one I wrote in 2012, Room 732, pays homage to the historic Hollywood Beach Hotel. It is a book of short stories which weave the history of the hotel within its pages. The chapters take place in room 732 of the hotel. I loved that book because it was something I had thought about doing for many years and finally wrote it when I first retired from my position at the Holocaust center. I self-published it and had a positive experience. This latest book, Living and Leaving My Legacy, Vol. 1, is especially dear to me because in many ways, it, along with volume two which will be published in 2023, is truly my life’s work.
- Any tips/suggestions on getting started?
MRS: I truly believe that to write a book, the only way to do it is to sit down and start writing. Sometimes it means facing a blank screen with no clue as to what to write. If that happens, my suggestion is to begin with answering these questions: What do I envision this book to be? Who are the characters? Where will the book take place? Why is this a story I want to tell? When is the time period of the book? Answering these questions might help get a jump start. Writing is rewriting. So, regardless of how rough the first draft is, getting it, all down is what matters. The editing comes later. Just write!
- What do you think makes a good story?
MRS: To me a good story is one with universal truths. If readers can identify and find something that resonates for them, then to me that is a most important quality. The story must have a setting, plot, characters, conflict, and a theme.
- As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
MRS: Aside from a brief time when my mother had surgery and I thought I wanted to be a nurse, I always wanted to be a teacher. I had an excellent role model as a teacher—my mother, who was beloved by all of her students. By the time I went to college, I chose elementary education as my major. I eventually taught almost all ages. I began teaching third grade and then first. Later, I taught pre-school, worked with teens of all ages, and in the last ten years, I began teaching adults. Who I am is an educator. It comes through in my daily living and in my writing.
Pre-order Living and Leaving My Legacy, vol. 1 (Available: June 7th): https://www.amazon.com/Living-Leaving-My-Legacy-Vol-ebook/dp/B0B1GZCL5V/ref=sr_1_2?crid=DTAB7726B2NX&keywords=merle+saferstein+book&pldnSite=1&qid=1653432356&sprefix=merle+safe%2Caps%2C244&sr=8-2
***Book Launch Event: Temple Sinai of North Dade, 18801 NE 22nd Ave, North Miami Beach, FL on June 12th @ 4p (Books will be available for purchase at event)***
I met this lovely lady with my mom 9 years ago at the Nova Southeastern Library (FL). She was giving us notes about writing along with sharing her new book (at the time), Room 732 (stay tuned for the book review!).