Veterans: Writing with passion

Intent on moving here, Tami Lehman-Wilzig didn’t give up and is now a much sought-after author.

Lehman-Wilzig 521 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Lehman-Wilzig 521
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
She’s an award-winning children’s author, and her books, Jewish-themed more often than not, are written from an Orthodox perspective – but Tami Lehman-Wilzig says they’re extremely popular with both the ultra-Orthodox and the Reform. So one could say they have universal appeal.
That’s quite an achievement for the 58-year-old, Manhattan-born writer, who made aliya in 1977 and only began writing for children less than 10 years ago after a career in copywriting. Today she is looking ahead to all the possibilities the Internet has to offer.
Not one to rest on her laurels, she’s busy investigating the idea of a digital book, has done Skype interactions with Jewish schoolchildren in America and would like to do more, and is more than up to date on technological developments in education.
She first came to Israel with her parents in 1967 and fell in love with the country. Her father, Dr. Emil Lehman, had escaped from Vienna in 1939; after a short time in London, he went to the United States, where he worked in Jewish education and then the Jewish Agency.
“My father was a passionate Zionist,” she says.
“There were pictures of Herzl all over the house when I was growing up, and I was convinced he was a member of the family.”
On that first visit, she learned to love the straightforwardness and honesty she encountered in Israelis, and came back for four consecutive summers, working on either a kibbutz or an archeological dig. In 1970, she came as a volunteer for Jerusalem’s Alyn Orthopedic Hospital and Rehabilitation Center. It was a given that whoever she married would have to be ready and willing to live in Israel.
“I would interview potential dates,” she says, “and if they said they weren’t interested in Israel, I’d tell them not to call me again.”
She married political scientist Sam Lehman-Wilzig in 1974 and soon had him thinking her way.
“I made an aliya monster out of him,” she says with a smile. They became active in the North American aliya movement, and while her husband finished his PhD, she got a job working for the newly established cable TV, having gained a master’s in broadcasting.
“I produced shows, sold air-time, wrote brochures – and I wasn’t that keen to leave any more,” she recalls.
Meanwhile, Sam had been in touch with Bar-Ilan University, which knew of him – and he’d been on a pilot tour. When the “mahapach” (turnaround) of 1977 resulted in Menachem Begin’s election to the premiership, Sam suddenly found himself in demand.
Moshe Dayan, Begin’s foreign minister, had taken people from the political science department of Bar- Ilan, and suddenly there were vacancies. Sam had a job and was itching to come.
“I’d gone off the idea by this time, but I couldn’t go back on what I’d been saying for years – so we came,” she says.
THEY SETTLED in Petah Tikva, liking the Anglo and religious community they found there. They both knew Hebrew from being yeshiva-educated, so they plunged straight in. He worked and was happy in his job; she applied to educational television but was told there were no vacancies. She stayed home, was miserable and wanted to go back to the US.
Then one day she saw an ad – an American film company was looking for someone to help out with sales.
“I got back to copywriting in English, and I learned marketing skills,” she says. She handled promotional material for Israel Food Week, leading her to write her first book, The Melting Pot – an Israeli cookbook for tourists that’s still a hot seller.
For years, she had her own copywriting company, The Write Stuff, but 10 years ago she decided to move on.
Writing children’s stories had always been a hobby, and after several rejections she struck it lucky. Her Tasty Bible Stories was published by Kar-Ben in New York, a new quality children’s house that used her book as its first publication. It was the first of several books that she calls “added value” books because they include activities for the readers.
That was in 2002; she has written 10 books altogether.
After a visit to the US and a quick browse around the children’s book shelves, she realized that she needed to update some of her ideas. Her latest books bring some of these updates to fruition. In Green Bible Stories for Children, she uses familiar Bible tales to teach about ecology and environment, with sections on activities children can do. And in Nathan Blows Out the Chanukah Candles, she handles the delicate subject of autism.
She is determined to keep up with all technological developments that can lead to a wider readership.
“I don’t want to be an alter cocker [old fart],” she says.
Years ago, she took private lessons to become conversant with use of the Internet and social networking, and she uses them both effectively. She also writes two blogs, which have received a huge response. She will soon have a children’s book coming out – available only for iPad – called The Sun Goes to Bed.
“I realized early on that I’ve got to be a part of all this,” she says, “and in some ways, I’m cultivating another career.”
With two sons now grown up and a small grandson, she and her husband have made a satisfying life here in Israel, and have absolutely no regrets.