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AUTHOR, AUTHOR, AUTHOR : Bagels : Noah benShea writes about the person he aspires to be. In 'Jacob's Journey,' that man sets out to reconcile his route to reality.

October 17, 1991|HILARY DOLE KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

He began writing when he was in his 20s. Born in Toronto and raised in a poor section of Los Angeles' inner city, he was the first person in his extended family to graduate from high school. He went on to UCLA, where he was made an assistant dean of students at 22.

His first book, a collection of poetry, won the Schull Award for new poetry. After its publication, he began to travel and give poetry readings, which eventually became talks that reflected his own attempts to make sense of life. It was then that he began to create the stories about Jacob.

Over the next few years, he was invited to be on the faculty of a number of schools and colleges. The president of the International College once looked at a collection of his stories, he said, and told him: "You know, Noah, if you were a 65-year-old rabbi, people would think this was the compilation of a lifetime. But from a 28-year-old man, people are really going to be suspicious."

Although he continued to write, he said that in his 30s, he gave up public appearances.

"At 30, I just wasn't sure I was wise--or prepared to be any kind of a guru figure," he said. "I was uncomfortable with the responsibility that people wanted to coronate me with."

Between 30 and 45, he says, he began the bakery business, raised a family and said goodby to his father.

"These experiences connected me with a sense of compassion and kindness that was the final bonding between myself and so many of my readers," he said.

About five years ago, a former student, now the editor at a small publishing company, contacted him about doing a book using the stories and parables benShea used to tell.

"It took me six months to find the right attitude," benShea said, "and two years to put together the things I had written over the previous 18 years of my life."

Then came "Jacob's Journey," which is also filled with quotable, elementary and useful sayings such as "Reality is only a memory ahead of its time" and "People who grow old can also grow love."

BenShea is one of those rare individuals who splits his time with ease between the world of business and the isolated work of writing. He writes at home in the morning, then goes off to the factory in the afternoon.

"For many people today, work is singularly a vehicle for the release from work," he said. "What makes my work such an indulgence is that it is a challenge that is endlessly enriching for me."

Like a modern-day Santa Claus at the North Pole, benShea receives letters addressed simply to Jacob the Baker, Santa Barbara, California.

But in case he gets too cocky about his new-found success, he has his children to keep it in perspective.

One time he asked his 15-year-old daughter: "Do you know what the definition of a giant is?" She just looked at her watch and said, "Is this going to be one of the long ones or the short ones?"

As it turned out, it was one of the short ones: "A giant is anyone who remembers we are all sitting on someone else's shoulders." Short in words, long in clarity.

* FYI

Noah benShea will be speaking at the Ventura Bookstore at 600 E. Main St., Ventura, at 6 p.m. Friday. His book "Jacob's Journey" (published by Villard, a division of Random House, $17) is the companion volume to the international best seller "Jacob the Baker." For information, call 643-4069.

From "Jacob's Journey"

We usually fall asleep in our relationships, not because we are tired of love but so we can dream of new relationships.

Wisdom surrounds us. It is seldom hidden but often overlooked. When we shut our eyes, the truth does not go into hiding.

Like life itself, your children are a gift to you, and only expectation can find disappointment in gifts that have not been opened.

Anyone who has suffered a loss knows that a man does not have to be a hero for his death to be a tragedy.

Experience is a mask we wear to hide our innocence.

Only those who are afraid to fear, fear too much. Strength is not the absence of weakness but how we wrestle WITH our weakness.

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