MIAMI (CBSMiami) – For Russel Lazega, becoming a writer was practically forced on him. His grandmother, his ‘Bubbie’, wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“She was determined that I write down her stories and tell what she went through to get to this country,” Lazega said.
Using his Yiddish grandmother’s accent, “and so she’d say,‘ I want you to write these things down, a million dollars they’ll pay you for my book’,” he said quoting her.
It took decades, but the lawyer by trade published a book on the side. The story talks about a Polish Jew who escaped WWII Europe and lived to be 95.
Lea Lazega’s life story, in the book “Managing Bubbie,” is truly remarkable.
“She was alone, she was pregnant with my father and my two aunts were school-age girls and she ran. She ran from Belgium to France, then across the Pyrenees mountains, in winter, along with her kids, with just surviving on random help of kindness of strangers,” Lazega shared.
She was interviewed in 1986 by the Holocaust Documentation & Education Center. She described her journey of escape, how with incredible courage and persistence she arrived in America.
“She had to cross five countries, continents, an ocean, gunships, submarines, bombings, and more to get her kids safely here,” said Lazega.
“It included putting them on a boat and never knowing if she’d see them,” he added.
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The vibrant book is a labor of love, it is both poignant and funny. The life of this matriarch with unlimited chutzpah provided plenty of material.
“If you told her to go left, she’d go right. She was kicked out of five assisted living facilities in like six months because she was impossible,” said Lazega.
But it’s not impossible to see why her story is significant. In a country made of immigrants, many readers relate and have reached out to Lazega.
“I’ve gotten emails from Russians, from Cubans, from people who said ‘that’s my grandmother’,” Lazega shared, adding that “there are not too many stories where a grandmother or a grandparent is the hero, so that resonated.”
In promoting the book, he’s spoken at synagogues and senior centers all over the country, He also created a lively Facebook page and an audiobook voiced by a host of award-winning actors, starting with Linda Lavin as Bubbie.
“It became like a snowball, then Gavin MacLeod from “The Love Boat” joined on, and Judy Tenuta the comic from the 1980s, Lainie Kazan from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, Rene Taylor from “The Nanny,” recalled Lazega.
He knows his Bubbie would be proud of him and hopes others will be inspired to document their families’ stories too.
“So those voices that we don’t hear so much anymore, with the accent from the old country, they are fresh in my head, it’s our part of who I am, it’s definitely the inspiration for what I did,” said Lazega.
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He adds that it puts our own struggles and complaints in perspective.
“We think things are really bad until we see what our parents and our grandparents did to get here, and they never look back with regret or negativity,” said Lazega. “They said, ‘I’m alive and I’m grateful to be alive’.”
You can find the book on Amazon, and there is a film project in the works as well.