Latest update: June 10th, 2013
Ashira Greenberg is a pretty, talented and articulate young lady who, at the tender of age of seventeen, has just published a book.
Many of us dream of writing our own book, myself included, but how few of us actually do it.
I went to a recent book signing by the young author, held in the home of family friends Sima and Abe Ancselovics in Hillcrest, Queens. There sat Ashira surrounded by her loving parents, Robert and Dafna Greenberg, facing an overflow crowd. All of us wanted to hear her story. On the table in front of her was a pile of her book, Don’t Judge By What You See.
Ashira was born with cerebral palsy. For elementary school she attended the Yeshiva of Central Queens where the YESS program is located. YESS – Yeshiva Education for Special Students – works with each special needs child and successfully mainstreams many of them. Ashira was mainstreamed but never forgot all the help she received and became a volunteer, working with YESS children in her school.
Ashira loved writing and she dreamed of someday writing a book. In seventh grade she was going through a particularly hard time. “Here I was in a normal school, but I couldn’t do what the other kids could do,” said Ashira. “ So I started to think of writing.”
She was blessed with a very special teacher that year who encouraged her to write. In fact, when the teacher gave out a class assignment to write about “what makes you unique,” Ashira felt that the teacher had specifically picked that topic with her in mind.
She went home that Friday and sat down in front of her computer to write and all of her frustrations came pouring out in poem form. Every time her parents walked into the room she closed the screen. “ They must have wondered what was going on, so now I can tell them, it was nothing unacceptable, I was just pouring out my heart and I didn’t want them to feel bad.” She brought the poem to school that Monday and showed it to her teacher. The teacher was so impressed that she showed it to all the other teachers in the school. They all agreed that it was incredibly well written.
Summers for Ashira were spent in Camp Simcha Special. That summer she asked her bunkmates and fellow campers to write a few paragraphs dealing with their feelings about their disabilities. She discussed with them her dream of putting these essays into a book that would be published. The campers all eagerly complied. But when she sent the work off to publishing houses, rejection after rejection came her way. The common complaint was that the manuscript was too short and too heavy. “Short, we could fix,” said Ashira. “But heavy? This is our life and yes, it is a heavy load to bear.” So the dream of publishing a book was put on hold.
Some years passed and Ashira was now a student at Central, Yeshiva University High School for Girls (my alma mater) and managing okay.
One year at the Salute to Israel Parade in New York City she saw her former seventh grade teacher marching with her elementary school. All her dreams of writing a book came back to her as she saw the teacher who had inspired her to write.
Before Ashira began writing again, she and her parents contacted publishing companies to see if any of them would be interested in publishing a book about children and disabilities specifically geared to children. The Israel Bookshop Publishing Company answered in the affirmative and Ashira began to write.
The end result is a beautiful children’s book written in rhyming sentences. One of my favorite parts of the book is where the girl goes to a party in her friend’s backyard and sees lots of children in wheelchairs or with other noticeable problems. She stares and stares at them, thinking that if their arms or legs don’t work maybe their minds don’t work either. The lessons are gently brought home in rhyme, in a way that doesn’t make the reader feel bad. In fact, it is very much a feel-good book, which in itself is a remarkable thing.
The book is beautifully illustrated by Rachelli Edelstein.
What’s next for Ashira? Right now she is looking forward to graduating high school in June and then…”we’ll see what happens,” was her sweet answer.
It’s clear to see that a loving family – Ashira has two younger sisters – and parents devoted to helping her dreams become reality, will help this young lady continue to soar.
About the Author: Naomi Klass Mauer is associate publisher of The Jewish Press.
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