A lifelong passion for writing

Dvora Waysman (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dvora Waysman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Elegantly dressed, with her white hair freshly coiffed, Dvora Waysman greets me warmly outside her comfortable Jerusalem apartment. Accepting a cup of coffee and a piece of homemade cake fresh out of the oven, I immediately discard all pretense of journalistic objectivity. I am hooked. One hour later, I am still entranced – not just by Waysman’s hospitality, but by the captivating tale of an 87-year life story filled with warm memories, fascinating experiences and a lifelong passion for writing.
Waysman, a popular author who has written 14 books and thousands of articles, short stories and poems, was born in Melbourne and explains that her writing career began at a very young age.
“When I was seven,” she says, “there was a children’s page in the Melbourne newspaper that we subscribed to. I wrote a terrible little poem which won first prize – two shillings and sixpence. This was big money for me and I thought, ‘I’m going to become a writer and I’m going to be very, very rich.’”
The walls of the apartment that she shares with her husband, Harry, featuring framed copies of the book jackets of her works, bear testament to the realization of her childhood writing dreams.
Dorothy Opas was born in Melbourne in April 1931. Her parents were also native Australians, which was unusual for the time, and Waysman explains that her forebears reached Australia under rather unusual circumstances.
Her maternal great-grandparents lived in Plotzk, a town in central Poland, and around 1850 their 18-year-old son was eager to leave behind the travails of the Old World and find his way to America. When he told his parents of his plans, they pointed out that while he was still a child, they had arranged for him to be married to Mila, the girl next door. Surely, he couldn’t leave without her, they said. The town rabbi was consulted, and Mila and Dovid were duly married before setting sail.
But somehow, says Waysman, Dovid had gotten confused, and the boat that he thought was bound for America went to Australia instead. Further problems ensued onboard.
“He got a job on the boat as a handyman,” she explains, “but he wasn’t very handy.” Dovid was tasked with ensuring that the meat on the boat was securely tied to anchor and lowered into the salt water to keep it fresh for the duration of the journey. However, he did not secure it properly, and it sank to the bottom of the ocean.
Fortunately, his wife was a skilled seamstress and maintained both the sailors’ uniforms and the masts on the ship until they arrived six months later in Port Adelaide.
Dovid and Mila moved to Bombala, a small country town located about 500 kilometers south of Sydney, and raised 11 children. The second-youngest was Dvora’s mother, who grew up in Melbourne with one of her sisters after her mother’s untimely death. It was in Melbourne that Dvora’s mother met her future husband, and it was there that Dvora grew up, the youngest of five children.
When Dvora was 16, she had a brief conversation that helped transform her childhood writing dreams into a tangible goal. Says Waysman, “My father was a chartered accountant. One of his clients, a famous artist who was a member of the Royal Academy, used to invite me over. One day, I was watching her paint, and she said to me, ‘What are you going to do when you grow up?’ I said, ‘I want to be a writer.’ When I would say that to anyone else, they would say, ‘Oh, that’s nice. Do it as a hobby, but study something.’ Instead,” relates Waysman, “she put down her paintbrush and said to me, ‘Dorothy, always follow your dream.’”
At 19, Waysman traveled to London for a three-year stint spent working, traveling and studying.
“In Australia,” she says, “we were taught about Shakespeare and Dickens and Byron and Keats and all the English poets and writers, so I felt that I had to go there.”
She worked in a London advertising agency as a copywriter, and also wrote scripts for the BBC. At night she attended courses in advertising.
“I wanted to work in jobs where I could use words. I didn’t mind what I did,” she says.
She and a girlfriend toured France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Holland. In 1955, Waysman returned to Australia, where she met and married Harry, who worked as a pharmacist. Dvora had four children, and never stopped writing, but she says, “The truth is that when I lived in Australia, I didn’t really have anything much to write about.”
In 1971, when they moved to Israel, her subject material greatly increased. Explains Waysman, “My husband said that we should come here and the children should look around and know that they had their own country.” But she was a most reluctant immigrant, since she had an elderly mother in Australia, and felt “terrible” taking away her grandchildren. “I didn’t want to come at all,” she confesses. The turning point was the Yom Kippur War, with its tragedies and triumphs. “For the first time, I felt I was part of a family. When good things happen, all of Israel rejoices together. When we lost boys, we all mourned together, and for the first time. I felt that I was part of something – that was when everything changed for me.” She also changed her name from Dorothy to Dvora, at the suggestion of her ulpan teacher.
Waysman continued her writing career and became the English spokeswoman for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, a post she held for 14 years. She was the 1981 recipient of the “For Jerusalem” citation for her fiction, poems and features about the city of Jerusalem, and she won the Seeff Award for Best Foreign Correspondent in 1988. In 2014, her book The Pomegranate Pendant won the Shabazi Prize for Literature and Art.
Today, she contributes to The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Press, and the Canadian Jewish Independent. She cheerfully says, “Whenever I get the urge to write something, which is pretty often, I send it somewhere.”
Waysman writes a regular blog about writing, and plans to continue her work, though she jokes, “I’m past my sell-by date.”
Waysman’s four children – two boys and two girls – all served in the army, and her entire family, including 18 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, all live in Israel.
“Israel,” she says, “has added another dimension to my life that was never there before. I couldn’t live anywhere else now.”