What Bessie’s Readers Say

Bessie’s Pillow selected as a featured review in Kirkus

“At the turn of the 20th century, a young Lithuanian woman flees the Pale of Settlement in Lithuania to begin a new life in New York in  . . . [this] tragic, affecting Jewish-immigrant narrative.

Aware of the anti-Semitic mood on the streets of Glubokoye, Lithuania, Boshka’s father sacrifices his calling as a rabbi to sell pots and buckets—a means of accruing sufficient funds to secure his daughter’s passage to the safety of the New World. Eighteen-year-old Boshka finds herself on a train station platform in Vilna, waiting to board a train to Hamburg, where she’ll set sail for New York. As her family exchanges final goodbyes, they’re approached by a woman from their hometown who asks Boshka to carry an embroidered feather pillow to her son, Nathan, in New Rochelle, N.Y. Boshka agrees and finds comfort in the pillow throughout her arduous journey. In the Receiving Hall on Ellis Island, she’s given the name Elizabeth (later shortened to Bessie), her birth name being difficult for the American tongue. Bessie travels to the Upper West Side to stay with her sister Lillian but rejects the offer when she discovers that Lillian’s wealthy husband intends to employ her as a maid. She instead goes to live with family friends in Washington Heights, in the northern part of Manhattan. Eager to forge a profession for herself in the city, she first takes on work at a tough Lower East Side factory before working at a millinery store and at an outlet that sells paints and wallpaper. Her position, juxtaposed with the snobbery of high society, allows her a key viewpoint on the destitution of Manhattan’s immigrant slums. Romance finally enters Bessie’s life when she finds Nathan to deliver his mother’s pillow, yet this tale primarily remains a mournful look at the struggle of a resilient Jewish Diaspora punctuated with personal tragedy and loss.

These events—based on conversations the author had with her mother and grandmother—are presented with an agreeable fluidity and ease.  . . .  [T]he author’s storytelling skills offer laid-back prose that will convince readers to care about Bessie from the start. An intimate story of fortitude and finding independence.

Couldn’t put it down

“Set aside time to read this book . . . because one you start, you won’t want to put it down. Cheryl Weinstein, Trustee, Sharon Public Library, Sharon, Massachusetts

Exceptional woman

“She was the embodiment of pioneer women. Instead of going across the country, she went across the ocean. She looked forward and faced everything with such courage. She did it. She did for others. Her valor. She was a role model for what people should do for others. She had common sense and heart and acted upon it. Forthright, brave, an exceptional woman.” Wendy Greenberg, Retired Reading Specialist, Mahopac, NY

Love the Flashbacks

“I love the flashbacks. Each one teaches you something to help with your own life. Just as I put the book down, something happened with one of my grandchildren. I read her one of the flashbacks to help her regain her courage. Thank you, thank you for Bessie’s Pillow.” Ann Rogak, Pine Island Ridge, Florida

Felt like I was part of the family

“This is a beautiful book with the power to engage and enlighten even people like me, whose family arrived in America 300 years before Bessie. I learned a lot about what it was like to live in New York in the early 20th century, but I learned even more about how alike we are, no matter who our ancestors were or where they came from. This is a story about a young immigrant’s journey, yes, but it’s also a story about survival, compassion, and triumph. And best of all…Bessie was a real woman! By the time I was done reading, I felt like I was part of the family. Thank goodness the author wrote an Afterword — I wanted to know what happened to all of the people I’d fallen in love with. (There are photos of the main characters at the end, too, but don’t peek!)” Booklover, Atlanta, Georgia

Recommending to my library

“This book is well worth reading. An easy read, the book (based on a true story) is interesting and moves along. Bessie’s life makes you think about what times were like then. She was a unique person with experiences that merit reading about. I am recommending this book to our library and all my friends.” Victor G.

Finished book and wanted more

It is an incredible story, how at 18, her grandmother came by herself, first class (not steerage like my family!) and with spunk and conviction, turned tragedies to experiences from which she teaches us all – even those of us reading the book today. At her talk last week, a 12-year old came over to me and said how much he loved the book – and yet I, who you know is much older than 12 . . ., was so disappointed when I finished reading the book because I also wanted more. Marilyn Arsham, Biochemist, Danbury, CT

Such a strong woman

“I loved your book, Bessie’s Pillow. I couldn’t stop thinking about your grandmother for many days. She was such a strong woman! Peggy Campbell Wolff

 Sending to my mom

“I felt like I was experiencing this story with Bessie. I couldn’t put the book down! I’m sending a copy to my mom, because I know she’ll love it!!!!” Leslie

Mesmerizing

“I couldn’t put it down! I loved it from beginning to end. I felt like I journeyed with Bessie through her ups and downs. The history was fascinating and the story was mesmerizing.” Pamela, New York City

So engaging

“I am so busy and never have time for recreational reading, but Bessie’s Pillow was so engaging I could not put it down. Thank you for sharing it! After reading the book it has given me a renewed sense of genuine interest in listening to the older adults I work with about their history and journeys. Thank you for sharing.”
Jennifer Rogak, LCSW-R, Senior Options Systems LCSW LLP

History at it’s best

“You don’t have to be Jewish or from New York to love this or take away some of its wisdom. This is history as it’s meant to be told—in a story.” Jan Lowe, Publisher, United Writers Press

Touched by the book

“First, the writing is very professional and polished. It’s totally consistent in style, which people cannot do who are not professional writers, and the style is very simple and straightforward. This lets the reader be in the story, instead of reading about it from the outside. The book is a hit, as it tugs at the heartstrings but is also historically refreshing. I am very biased in its favor because it is a thread of my own life , and that of so many others, probably.

One great surprise is that people actually came over in first class and lived here in first class uptown. For some reason I thought everyone came in steerage and ate chicken fat with sour pickles all the time. Maybe that was just us on the Lower East Side. I always thought it was just crowded and poor. I didn’t think about the stench and death from the lack of sanitation or the slave labor. It’s amazing my family made it out of East 8th Street by ‘Avenuh’ C.

I guess I am touched by the book because it is our story too — we were in Brooklyn — and fills in the blanks for us. I expect many many people will be similarly affected.” The Honorable Allen Hochberg, Magistrate, New York Family Court

Recommending it

“I finished reading the book and LOVED it! A wonderful story. It was a pleasure to read about and re-step the history of your family. Bessie
was an amazing women. What a role-model, especially for that time. … I can recommend it to the immediate world!” Marlene Hochberg, Human Relations, Mahopac, NY

History students should read Bessie’s Pillow

“After I finished reading Bessie’s Pillow, my only regret was that it ended. What sheer enjoyment on every page…even as I wiped away the tears. You made the immigrant experience come alive….I wish every history student would read this for class….a century later, Bessie’s story will inspire ordinary people to embrace life.” Ellen Purcigliotti, Student Teacher Supervisor, Secondary Social Studies Education, SUNY New Paltz, NY

My Grandmother’s story

“[My husband] surprised me with a copy of your book…it already reminds me somewhat of the story of my paternal grandmother.” Diane Meskin

Laughed and cried

“I couldn’t stop reading it. I was with Bessie. I was scared, I laughed and I cried. I haven’t enjoyed a book so much in years.” Diane  Gorelick, grandmother, Mahopac, NY

My family’s story too

“I like to read books with shootings and adventure, but my wife loved this book so much, I scanned it to see what she was talking about. Before I knew it, I couldn’t put it down. I was reading it between patients. I was upset when it was done. I absolutely loved it. It’s my family’s story too. My mouth watered when I read about her eating the herring, egg and onion sandwich. It took me back to my childhood. I’m giving my copy to my granddaughter who’s going into 8th grade. I want her to read it. This is about her family and her country.” Dr. Larry Gorelick, DDS, Mahopac, NY

Felt such emotional connection

“I felt such an emotional connection to Bessie and her struggles. It was like I was there experiencing what she was experiencing. I cried when she lost Joshua and Ellie, laughed when she chased Marvin out of the house with the broom and got chills when she flashed back to conversations with her father. Her will to carry on and her strength when woman shouldn’t or couldn’t be strong was remarkable. It’s a great book and I’m so happy to have read it.” Robert Goldberg, project developer, Briar Cliff Manor, NY

Amazing book!

“This was an amazing book! It was beautifully written allowing the reader to live and experience the life of Bessie and her family. The message of this story delivered so clearly and with such poignancy will always stay with me. May we all find a bit of peace in our everyday lives to hold onto, our very own, “Bessie’s Pillows.” Thank you, Mrs. Silbert for sharing this wonderful history of your family.” Nicole Giebelhaus, teacher, Kingston, NY

Transported back in time

“I was captivated by this book from the first sentence and by the time I finished the prologue, I couldn’t put it down! As an a avid reader, I was engrossed not just by the story but the courage and strength of Bessie. I found the descriptions vivid and felt as though I was transported back in time. Not only am I a New Yorker, but I live in Westchester which made the setting all the more interesting.

The strength, courage and drive that Bessie had is something that everyone can relate to. While I know some of my own family stories, you can be sure that I will talk with my 86 year old Dad to capture his recollections.” Janice Kohn, Briar Cliff Manor, NY

Can’t stop talking about it

“I love how this book is written. I’m in the story and going through life with Bessie. I can’t stop talking about it.” Melody Weisman, CPA, Mahopac, NY

Not just a “woman’s book”

“I’ve read lots of immigrant stories including some about whole families. Bessie’s Pillow is one of the best. What an amazing woman, and the story is told in such a captivating style. This isn’t just a ‘woman’s book.’  Thank you Linda Silbert for telling Bessie’s story.” Eric M. Alexander, painting and finishing, Denver, Colorado

Everyone can relate

“I didn’t expect to become so involved in this story. This is not just a book about one immigrant. It’s a book that everyone can relate to. I’m Irish Catholic and can’t stop reading it. I can relate to Bessie and her story.” Sharon Fennessey, Assistant Principal, New York City

Great role model

“She [Bessie]was some woman. She’s a wonderful role model for everyone. I want my kids to read it, son and daughter.” Ellen Litsky, Wappingers Falls, NY

Wonderful gift

I spent a wonderful day yesterday with your Grandmother Bessie. I laughed, I cried and today I can’t stop thinking about her which is always my way of grading a truly good book, movie or play.  . . . You gave all of us who read Bessie’s Pillow a gift too. Thank you so much. Nancy Baumel, Lee, MA

Love her never-give-up attitude

“Oh, I just love Bessie. Her spirit, her never-give-up attitude. Can’t imagine coming alone to America when she was only 18! What a brave young woman she was.” Regina Smola, web security services, Chicago, Illinois

Can’t wait to share

“Just finished your book. I really enjoyed it – stayed up until 2:30 Thursday night reading. Fascinating! And having worked in New Rochelle and having lived in Yonkers until I was 26 made the story even more interesting. I can’t wait to share [Bessie’s Pillow] with my family and friends.” Nancy Sapir, Spanish tutor, Mahopac, NY

What a strong woman

“Thank you for your book. I just finished it. That was so interesting about your grandmother and everything she went through to get to New Rochelle and then everything she dealt with there.  Wow, what a strong person (even more impressive given the times and that she was a Jewish woman).” Edward Schnitzer, Attorney, New York City