Q&A: Judith Fein, Author Of THE SPOON FROM MINKOWITZ: A Bittersweet Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands

This week, our executive editor, Judith Fein, published a book that has already garnered great reviews and word-of-mouth referrals—THE SPOON FROM MINKOWITZ: A Bittersweet Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands. Writer Caren Osten Gerszberg interviewed Fein in the Q&A below for a YourLifeIsATrip.com exclusive. Read on to discover the story behind the story. 


Q: In your book, you recount your lifelong quest--since learning six facts about your grandmother's life in Russia--to return to her village. Why do you think you were interested to learn of your family roots at such a young age?

JF: I think that some of us were born to be musicians, teachers, writers, social workers, or mathematicians. I was fingered by fate to find out the truth about my ancestors, and to honor all of those who came before me. My grandmother spoke with an accent, believed in unseen forces, and came from an exotic country. She didn’t want to talk about her past life. My mother refused to tell me about the village her mother came from.  And the more they stonewalled me, the more I wanted to know. I was a little kid, but I followed the six paltry clues I had like a sleuth. In fact, I can honestly say that I was living in a detective story. 


Q: Throughout your journey, you were repeatedly "hitting walls" when it came to learning about Minkowitz--such as with your mother and the man on the train in Paris. What provoked your will to continue the search?

JF: I was obsessed. No matter what anyone said or did, I was undaunted. I loved my grandmother. I was on the phone with her right before she died.  It was my secret mission to get to her village and find out what no one would tell me. I wanted to know who she was before she was my grandmother.  And when I grew up, I discovered that a lot of people were just like me. No one in their families spoke about what happened before they came to America. I was absolutely determined to find out, for myself and for others who had never asked the questions, but who cared, who were curious, who wanted or needed to know. 


Q: When you first arrived in the Ukraine, you made connections with older women. How did that bring you closer to your grandmother and your plight to visit Minkowitz?

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Q & A: Judith Fein, author of Life Is a Trip: the transformative magic of travel

by Marlan Warren

“Maybe the mark of a good traveler is the stories he experiences and retells and what he learns from those stories." - Judith Fein, Life Is a Trip

What would you do if you were a travel journalist squashed cheek-by-jowl with the sprawling/squabbling family of an unflappable Maori Elder as they pilgrimage from New Zealand through Europe in one of three breaking-down campers? If your name was Judith Fein, you’d follow each “arrow” of opportunity, take care of your sanity, find the most meaningful moment, and then write about it. This opening tale in Fein's debut book LIFE IS A TRIP: THE TRANSFORMATIVE MAGIC OF TRAVEL serves as the portal through which she invites readers to travel with her while she traverses the globe in search of adventure and meaning.

Fein has culled 14 "greatest hits" from her favorite experiences and melded them into a poignant, often funny, memoir. LIFE IS A TRIP transcends the cliché of the "Ugly American" who wishes for a ballpark frank in Tunisia and the souvenir-seeking tourist who believes foreign culture relates little to his own life. It carries endorsements by travel luminaries such as editors Keith Bellows of National Geographic Traveler and Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times, as well as Shannon Stowell, President of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and international travel journalist/filmmaker Tahir Shah.

In person, Fein comes across humble and honest, like her stories. So humble you might not guess she is an award-winning international journalist whose travel articles have appeared in over 90 publications, co-founder and editor (with Ellen Barone) of Your Life Is a Trip website, travel editor of Spirituality and Health magazine, vice-president of the Travel Journalist Guild, and former reporter for NPR’s “The Savvy Traveler.” In her non-travel life, Fein is a noted screenwriter, playwright, opera librettist and theatre director.

I caught up with the peripatetic writer while she was living her creed “I live to leave,” packing for a month-long adventure with husband, photojournalist Paul Ross. Sitting down for a moment in her Santa Fe home, Fein, took a time-out for this Q & A interview:

Q:   Why did you decide to write this book at this particular time?

JF:   I wanted to inspire others to have cultural adventures that can transform their lives—across the world or across their hometown. Cultural adventure is the New Wave of tourism. 

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