Writers family scars reopened, healed in new book

"Family is everything."

This is a rule of living, not some feel-good sentiment, as handed down by the narrator's grandfather in a new book chronicling the strengths and dynamics of a Jewish family's life.

Charlotte Krepismann's semi-autobiographical work, "Inheritance: A Mixed Blessing," opens with a Russian family emigrating to America.

Each section of "Inheritance" peers into windows of time in the family's legacy, reflecting on the joys and heartaches of each span, as the family struggles to build a new life in America.

Krepismann calls her work "semifiction," as she changed many names and places. But despite embellishing certain situations, the Los Altos resident maintains that the relationships in the family were real. Krepismann's frequent insertion of first-person references when she speaks of her writing perhaps explains this best.

The author says that her mother carried out that primary rule of her father, the zayde she characterizes as a loving patriarch, almost to a vengeance. As she recounts stories from her childhood, readers quickly become aware of her mother's virtually absolute dominion over her family and extended family.

Krepismann shares painful memories of a young girl growing up with a mother whom she adored but could not please. "I reveal my lifelong struggle to break free of my mother's grip. The book shows how I was able to strike out on my own and experience freedom, making my own choices as an independent woman.

"I wanted to show how we can move from one stage of parental control to another, and realize our own individuality."

Adding to the drama are the internal frictions and feuds between her relatives, as well as her close connections to each of them. Financial strain contributed to their problems, and impeded a formalized Jewish upbringing.

Krepismann describes her mother as emotionally and spiritually Jewish, someone who believed in God and afterlife. However, her father, who had great influence on her, was a pharmacist who took a scientific view of religion.

"Growing up," Krepismann recalls, "I remember visiting my bubbe every Sunday at a warm family gathering. We also had Passover, but my parents were too poor to belong to a synagogue or be part of the larger Jewish community."

Born in Brooklyn, Krepismann attended Hunter College and did graduate work in English at Columbia University. Following her marriage to her late husband, the couple settled in the Bay Area. Krepismann taught English and did writing consultation for a local school district.

After participating in Berkeley's Hillel activities, Krepismann joined Sequoia Hadassah where she served three presidential terms. The family belonged to Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto where each of her three sons had bar mitzvah ceremonies. For 10 years she sang in the choir at both Kol Emeth and Congregation Beth Am.

Krepismann explains her involvement in the Jewish community: "I consider myself an agnostic Jew although I go to Temple and celebrate the structure of Jewish life."

After retiring from teaching in 1985, Krepismann began a second career as a freelance writer for various magazines. For the past 10 years she has written a personal column called "Reflections" for the Los Altos Town Crier.

Writing the book has enabled Krepismann to understand much of her mother's motivation. "I can still feel my mother inside me, although she died 12 years ago. I have tried to pass on the Ten Commandments and values of Judaism to my children as she did for us.

"In addition, my mother gave me the emotion and strength of a poet. I learned to love and be involved with people. I try very hard as my mother did to bring my extended family together when I can. And no matter what happens, my mother taught me to have the strength to go on with my life."

Kreipmann says she couldn't "imagine a life without my two loves: teaching and writing." She quickly adds, "Actually, I have a third love — I met my present husband through the Jewish Bulletin Personal Ads three years ago."