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Sheldon Oberman


by Jane Enkin, May 25, 2012

[Editor's note: Sheldon Oberman was my journalism teacher at Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate. He was a creative genius and I am very grateful for having had him as a teacher [that is, during the times that he and I both actually made it to class.]I remember that if it was nice outside,Obie, as everyone called him, would take us outside and we'd sit in a circle and he would conduct the class.  

Obie's journalism class put out the  J.W.C. Eye, a now defunct school newspaper. Sheldon was in charge of doing the final edit of the paper to ensure that everything was "kosher" and there were no inappropriate remarks. Otherwise then principal Jerry Cohen could give him a what for. Accordingly,I spent the final night before each edition adding as many hidden innappropriate into the newspaper, making it as difficult as possible for Obie to catch them all on his final edit. I remember seeing him in the mornings as the JWC EYE was coming off the presses. Obie would look at me with a glimmer in his eye, and a smirk from ear to ear, showing me how many of my inappropriate comments he had found and removed. I also remember him coming up to me on occassion afterward when he realized he'd missed something with mischief in his eyes, saying,while laughing  "You're really going to get me in trouble with Jerry this time."

On a serious note-if my own children have an English or journalsim teacher half as good as he was, they will be very lucky. I regret that I was unable to attend the event that Jane Enkin has written about below.But I  certainly look forward to reading Sheldon's new book and sharing it with my children as I have with all of his others.]

Sheldon Oberman 's new book  " The Wind That Wanted to Rest "

by Jane Enkin

A warm gathering of family, friends and story-lovers came together at McNally Robinson Booksellers to launch a new picture book by Sheldon Oberman, The Wind That Wanted to Rest. The event was hosted by Lisa Deveris, Oberman's widow, who spoke about her husband's career and the development of this new work.

Sheldon Oberman was born in Winnipeg and taught high school, wrote and told stories here. Oberman's story The Always Prayer Shawl was submitted to a contest and was picked up for publication. The picture book received the National Jewish Book Award. He went on to publish several more books for children and young adult readers. Sheldon Oberman died in 2004, and has remained an important part of many people's lives.

Among those attending the celebration, several were Oberman's high school students who sustained a friendship with him after they graduated. They found Oberman encouraging and open. “Everything he said was meant to inspire creativity,” a former student told me.

Lisa Devris recalled the importance of storytelling for her husband. Their son Jesse was often the first listener for the stories, which were then shared with students and other audiences before they were written down. The book reflects Oberman's storytelling voice, a sophisticated one with wonderful rhythms and dramatic words. “Potted plants, oil lamps, sheets and towels, papers and pens went askew, awry, amuck – a mess!” Jesse, now a young man, was present to read his father's book at the launch.

Many of Oberman's papers were donated to the University of Manitoba, and are accessible to everyone. Some stories remain with the family and with publishers.

Boyd Mills Press published a collection by Oberman, Solomon and the Ant and Other Jewish Folktales. Oberman's long-time editor, Larry Rosler, still has the manuscripts for several stories that were not included in the collection. “One of them,” writes Rosler, “ was a tale titled “The Wind That Wanted to Rest: A Jewish Tale from Soviet Russia.” Sheldon thought the story might form the basis of a picture book. Some years after Sheldon’s death, I began to think about his beautiful tale and thought it was time to move forward with it. Neil Waldman, who illustrated Sheldon’s The Wisdom Bird: A Tale of Solomon and Sheba and By the Hanukkah Light, loved the story and agreed to do the art. I never had a chance to ask Sheldon where he found or heard the story or why he subtitled it a Jewish tale from Soviet Russia. Since I couldn’t confirm the origin of the tale, I thought it best to remove the subtitle. Peninnah Schram, the noted folklorist, addresses the matter in the afterword that she wrote for the book. Boyds Mills Press is proud to offer another book by Sheldon Oberman , who was a wonderful writer and a special person.”

An old, weary wind is the main character of the book. He looks for a place to rest, and everywhere he goes he is sent away. The story and the illustrations shift dramatically when the wind's despair is transformed to anger. He lashes out and wreaks destruction on town and countryside. “ 'No one cares!' the wind bellowed. The old wind cried tears of ice and rain, until the trees bent to the ground.” One person understands and offers compassion and respite, bringing the story to a close.

There is complexity in this simply presented story. It is logical for everyone to reject the wind – why should they want to be cold and exposed? But there has to be a place for the rejected of the world. At last a place is found where no one will come to harm. It is especially poignant that this wind is an elderly character, not easy to care for, but deserving of respect.

Older children and adults can discuss the themes they find in the book and appreciate the skill in the writing and illustrations. Neil Waldman's watercolours of an Eastern European landscape are in delicate shades of cold blue. Here and there brilliant light glows from a window. Waldman shows every emotion in the old, lined face of the wind in clear, simple strokes.

Younger children can see their own feelings reflected in the emotions and energy in the book, and enjoy the pattern of the story, as the wind over and over finds a place to rest and is pushed away. Everyone

can appreciate the beauty of The Wind That Wanted to Rest, and feel glad that Oberman's words continue to reach us.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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