June 23, 2024
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Joan Zlotnick’s New Book Offers Chizuk

Reviewing: ‘Holding it Together: Surviving Caregiving and Loss’ by Joan Zlotnick. Tfutza Publications. 2021. English. ISBN-13: 978-1600918018.

Joan Zlotnick never imagined that after her retirement from a successful career as an English literature professor at Brooklyn College, she would author a self-help memoir that would provide comfort, compassion and coping skills to its readers. Nor would she have imagined that a majority of her readers would come from the Modern Orthodox to haredi segments of the Jewish population. With the recent publication of “Holding It Together” by Tfutza Publications of Israel, Zlotnick has combined her academic, literary and psychological skills in an engaging volume about surviving caregiving and loss.

The volume, much of it authored at her son Ira’s home in Teaneck during the COVID shutdown, is an outgrowth of a column that Zlotnick was invited to contribute to Mishpacha magazine. Previously she had written a novel entitled “Griefwriting,” which drew on her experience of caring for her husband, Jack, who passed away in 2012, after battling a rare form of dementia for 12 years. During those painful years, Zlotnick cared for her beloved husband, only in his 60s, who had led a successful career as a professor of psychology and was a talented artist. Only in her 50s at the time of the onset of his illness, Zlotmick described the physical, psychological and spiritual challenges she faced. Interspersed throughout the poignant narrative is practical advice and recommendations for other caregivers on day-to-day survival and advocacy for their loved ones.

When writing the column in Mishpacha, Zlotnick was contacted by caregivers from around the world, mostly women, who were facing the same struggles and who were comforted by her helpful and thoughtful suggestions of techniques to help caregiver and patient alike. In “Holding It Together,” Zlotnick carefully inserts many of their personal stories, which are at once painful and uplifting.

For a few of the stories, she provides the full name of the contributor, but for the vast majority, she complied with their request to use only their first names or initials. Zlotnick understands that this preference for anonymity comes from a culture of being private and discreet, and she respects this in her contributors. At the same time, she shares their experiences, their pain and most importantly, their successes in alleviating some of the stress and anxiety of their situations. The WhatsApp group Zlotnick formed with these individuals is still ongoing.

After her husband’s passing in 2012, Zlotnick transitioned into a grieving phase which she explores in the book as well. Once again, she uses personal anecdotes and contributions from her WhatsApp group to suggest techniques for coping with the loneliness and challenges of widowhood.

After more than eight years of widowhood, Zlotnick shares recent dilemmas that arise and how she learned to cope with them. “While the vulnerability I feel as a widow hasn’t disappeared and probably never will, I’m doing a better job of coping with life’s blizzards—both real and metaphorical—including the all-too-real coronavirus pandemic. I remained sheltered in place alone for many weeks, learning how to order groceries online, Zoom into classes, and arrange for bills to be paid directly from my savings account. …

“I dealt with another blizzard when, three years ago, I began thinking about selling my house [in Brooklyn]. As hard as it was to move, I eventually decided it would be even more difficult to stay. I knew I would be more secure if I lived closer to my children. So I sold my house and moved across the Hudson to New Jersey.

“Crossing the George Washington Bridge on moving day may have taken only a few minutes, but in symbolic terms it was a very far journey,” Zlotnick continued. “Was I ‘moving on’ or ‘moving out?’ ‘Moving out’ entails packing up your belongings and relocating to a different physical location. ‘Moving on’ is more of a psychological concept. It implies that you have grieved long enough and now it’s time to leave behind your past. I’m pretty sure most widows don’t want to do that. There are many memories of our past that we cherish. We would, if we could, archive them, not abandon them.”

Reading “Holding It Together: Surviving Caregiving and Loss” can be likened to having a lengthy and meaningful heart-to-heart conversation with a dear friend. Zlotnick’s humanity, compassion, insight and warmth come through boldly in her writing. The new release can serve as a true source of comfort during troubling times.

The author currently resides in Fort Lee in close proximity to her children, Ira and Grunny Zlotnick, and four Zlotnick grandchildren. Daughter Carrie Woldenberg and her husband live in Manhattan with their four children. Zlotnick spends time with her family and doing many of the things she had dreamed of doing with her late husband.

“Things are not as I would have wished but they are better than what I would have imagined,” she shared.

Zlotnick and her daughter-in-law have recently completed editing an anthology of essays on ahavas Yisrael. Zlotnick has spoken about her experiences for the Young Israel of Fort Lee and is available for future speaking engagements.

To purchase a copy of Joan Zlotnick’s “Holding It Together,” visit your local Jewish bookstore or order a copy on Amazon. The publishers are Tfutza Publications and Israel Bookshop Publications.

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