Featured Interview With David Hammerstein
Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?
I was born in Washington, DC where I grew up. My parents fled Nazi Germany. Although I had lived a tranquil and sheltered childhood, I always sense the upheaval my parents had experienced in Germany.
I attended Colgate University where I majored in psychology and German, having spent my junior year at the University of Vienna. I studied finance at the University of Chicago.
During my first career, I advised institutional investors such as pension funds, endowments and foundations. In 2013, I retired early to pursue my second career in writing. I focus on Jewish themes. In March 2016, I completed my first book, Kelev’s Journey, a Jewish Dog Wanders Home. Our family once had a dog, a lively American Eskimo named Snowball. Snowball helped inspire my book.
I currently live in Pittsburgh with my two children and three grandchildren.
At what age did you realize your fascination with books? When did you start writing?
I became enamored with books at the age of three or four when I started browsing shelves of books that my father saved when he fled Germany. I vividly recall the books with old German type. My parents bought an encyclopedia set when I was nine. These volumes intrigued me. I probably read the entire set during childhood. I focused on history and geography.
I began writing at the age of five when I entered first grade.
During my career in investment management, I wrote many educational papers about investment issues. I began to write a book about the institutional investment management process, but I found it difficult to finish it. I abandoned the investment book project.
After I retired in 2013, an acquaintance who had observed my vivid imagination suggested that I try creative writing. The notion of writing fiction had never occurred to me; I thought I lacked the interest and talent. But I began to write, and the words flowed. I wrote about a Jewish dog named Kelev (Hebrew for “dog”) who embarks on a journey to dig up his roots. I conveyed the Jewish experience through a dog because I believe that the dog’s innocence reflects the purity of spirit to which Judaism aspires.
Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read. Who Inspires you in your writings?
My early interests focused on history, travel and cultural issues. During my working career, I read extensively about economics and finance. I have recently added novels to my reading list. I enjoy books by Michael Lewis, particularly The Big Short. A recent favorite is The Temple Bombing by Melissa Fay Greene.
My parents provided the most inspiration for my writing. I admire their idealism and faith, despite their trauma from being uprooted from their homes in Germany.
Tell us a little about your latest book?
What does it mean to be a good Jew? I explored this question by writing about a Jewish dog who explores the roots of his faith.
Several years ago, I witnessed a seeing-eye dog—a black Labrador retriever—lead a blind woman across a busy intersection. Other pedestrians’ casual demeanor contrasted sharply with the dog’s intense focus on leading the woman to safety. That scene touched me deeply. It provided the idea for Kelev, the black Lab in my book.
Few humans feel the unconditional devotion to G-d that Judaism calls for. But it occurred to me that appreciation of a dog’s innocence, and his unconditional devotion to his guardians, can help guide us along the path to a deeper Jewish life with its ideals of benevolence, compassion, tolerance, and charity. In Kelev’s Journey, I convey the Jewish experience through a dog’s eyes. I believe that a dog’s innocence reflects the purity of spirit to which Judaism aspires.
When Kelev learns about his Jewish heritage from his beagle buddy Schmalzie, he embarks on a spiritual journey. Nosing through a thicket of thorny questions about Judaism in a quest to heal the world, Kelev becomes a leader among local animals, resolving disputes and helping neighborhood cats and dogs discover their own Jewish faith. His exploits range from facing off against a tough Doberman named Shlimazl to making a connection between Borscht, the Russian bulldog, and the beautiful golden spaniel Schmoozie, a “Jewish-American Puppy.”
I wrote the book in six months.
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