April 22, 2009
‘Postcards’ Travel Through Jewish Lands, Via Heaven
While thinking of how to write about Dan Gordon’s book “Postcards from Heaven: Messages of Love from the Other Side” (Simon & Shuster, 2008) in a way that would demonstrate the concept of the title, I received a phone call from a friend wanting to tell me a story. While walking to her car she had noticed a kitten stubbornly sitting on the ground. Two men stood next to it, wondering what to do with the helpless creature. It simply wouldn’t budge.
“Today is my mother’s yahrzeit,” my friend told me, referring to the anniversary of a death. “When I lit a candle, I asked her to give me a sign that she’s with me. I felt like this was it, like maybe she was telling me to get a pet. When I was a little girl, she once got me a cat, but I was heartbroken when it died.”
This was her “postcard from heaven,” what author Gordon defines as often being “no more than a whisper, a familiar smell in the air, or just the feeling of presence as vivid as when the loved one was still alive.” Gordon probably wouldn’t chalk up my friend’s story and the timing of its telling to coincidence. In his book and life experience, animals, along with other people, can serve as the carrier of these postcards.
“I believe we receive messages all the time from people we love who’ve gone before. If we’re open to those things, they have the ability to affect our lives in the most profound way,” Gordon said in an interview at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills.
Gordon’s fascination with the topic goes back to the 1980s, when he was head writer of the hit TV series “Highway to Heaven,” starring Michael Landon as an angel sent to earth to help heal mortals. Since then he has written scripts for film and stage, including such films as “The Hurricane,” “Murder in the First,” “Wyatt Earp” and “The Celestine Prophecy.”
Gordon first wrote “Postcards” from his home in Thousand Oaks for his family. “Then people who read it said, ‘This is really a universal subject — you ought to publish it.’” He doesn’t consider the book a stark deviation from his fiction writing. “Everything I write has an integrity and truth to it; it’s masked behind a content of fiction, so it doesn’t get quite close to home.”
The highly readable 110-page memoir is a scrapbook of “postcards” from his own loved ones: his feisty father who left the Russian shtetl for Israel, only to get diverted to Canada; his brother, David, whose torturous battle with brain cancer is described with a sensitive mix of humor and depth; and his 20-year-old son, Zaki, a talented, budding filmmaker who died tragically in a car accident. Just as heartwarming as Zaki’s postcards is Gordon’s reply: founding the Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking in Sedona, Ariz.
The book is an inspiring read for anyone who has suffered a loss, but it also reads, in Gordon’s words, “as a personal history of a sort of whack-job Jewish American family that stretches from 1800s Tsarist Russia up to the present time.” It spans the shtetl in Russia, the ranches in Canada run by Yiddish-speaking immigrants, modern Israel, the entertainment industry in America and, of course, the heavens.
Gordon hails from 13 generations of Chasidic rabbis, and while his immediate family has long shed strict, Chasidic Jewish tradition, the stories in his book illustrate, in secular terms but with the skill of a master Chasidic raconteur, the presence of God in everyday life. “The recirculation of the soul, kind of the belief in reincarnation, isn’t foreign to Judaism at all or our literature,” Gordon said.
He said he continues to receive “postcards” and encourages others to share their own through the book’s Web site.
“One woman wrote to me that she had recently lost her brother, and she wanted to read one book to help her learn how to cope,” he said. “Her brother died of a brain tumor, and his name was David. Her other brother that took care of him was Dani (a few people in my life called me Dani). She had a niece who will go to Zaki’s school. She said my book was her postcard.”