Aimee Ginsburg Bikel is the author of the new children's book Theodore Bikel's The City of Light. The book is based on a story her late husband, the actor, told about his childhood. She worked for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth for 16 years, and is the director of the Theodore Bikel Legacy Project.
Q: A version of this book was first published in Moment magazine in 2014--how did this new book come to be?
A: I had thought about bringing out this story as a book for a long time--then, in January, Nadine Epstein, who originally published the story in Moment, and had started a new publishing imprint, Moment Books, asked me if I would like to publish it through Moment Books. It was the easiest and quickest decision I ever made.
Q: What do you think your husband would think of this new version of his story?
A: He would be absolutely smitten with it: tickled pink to have a children's book, moved by the additions I made folding in more of his story, and proud of the work I have done on it. He loved it when we worked on projects together, as did I.
Q: What impact did his childhood experiences have on him as an adult?
A: Theo took the trauma of his childhood experience, of becoming a refugee when only a young boy, and knew that he never wanted any other person to experience the horrors of bigotry and discrimination. So he devoted his life to Tikkun Olam, making our world a better place.
But, at the same time, underneath his bountiful joy there was an abiding sorrow and the guilt of a survivor. It was hard for him to accept easily that he was saved while so many others never got out.
He tried to live his life in a way that would justify the fact that he survived. This is a beautiful thing but also a very difficult thing.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: That instead of letting difficult experiences make them bitter, instead they can use what they learned personally in order to be a force of goodness and light in our world.
That we all have an incorruptible light inside of us, that can banish meanness, hatred, and injustice.
That our grandparents' world was rich and beautiful in many ways and it feels good to learn about it.
That while not everything that has been broken can be fixed, we can do our best and try.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A memoir from my own childhood, a historical novel, and a collection of my writings from India.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I have been astonished by the response of young people to the book: they care so much about our world and are committed to finding ways to make it better. They will lead the way with light. I am proud of them.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb