Cover Image: Quest for Eternal Sunshine

Quest for Eternal Sunshine

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Neither Myra Goodman nor her mother, Edith, knew that her father, Mendek Rubin. had a "robust inner life" until, after his death in 2012 at the age of eighty-seven following a long battle with Alzheimer's disease, Myra decided to edit his unfinished manuscript and publish Quest for Eternal Sunshine. Myra relates that after her mother read the book, she said, "You made me fall in love with your father all over again." Indeed, Mendek's legacy is love. More particularly, self-love. Due to the passage of time, there are few Holocaust survivors left to relate their experiences. But their stories are important and must never be forgotten. Although in life he preferred to avoid the subject, Mendek's story teaches a great deal and now, because of Myra's efforts, will be remembered.

Mendek grew up in the little town of Jaworzno, Poland, where Jews were the minority and disparaged. Most of the Jews were merchants in a town that was largely supported by five coal mines. Mendek's family lived in the center of town, the son of a Talmud scholar who was disappointed that Mendek did not display an equal aptitude for his studies due to dyslexia. Mendek "felt like a disgrace and lived in fear of [his] father's wrath." Mendek had one brother and four sisters. Because Jaworzno was close to the German border, it was one of the first to be occupied when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. His aunt hid textiles from her store before the Germans took it over, and his family survived by smuggling those textiles to a Christian grocer to trade for food. Mendek was required to work in a coal mine and describes watching a group of two hundred Jews of all ages walking along the highway and he knew they were walking to their death. Later, he learned they were walking to Auschwitz, situated fifteen miles away, but he did not yet understand Germany's evil plans. His observation of that walk haunted him for many years because he turned his rage, helplessness, and humiliation 
inward.

A few weeks later, in May 1942, each Jewish family was required to select one member to go to work in a labor camp. To spare his parents from making the choice, Mendek volunteered and, at the age of seventeen, he was forcibly taken by armed guards to a concentration camp. It was the first of seven camps in which he would spend the next three years. He saw his parents standing on a side street, and describes meeting their eyes. "It was the last time I ever saw them." Mendek was certain that most of his family would perish, and felt guilty that he wanted to live.

Mendek survived, despite experiencing and observing "unspeakable brutality." Following the liberation of the camps and the end of World War II, Mendek made his way back to Jaworzno and found that nearly every person he had ever known had died. He relates being overcome by anxiety, but otherwise feeling nothing except a desire to move on. He returned to Germany and happily discovered that one of his sisters, Bronia, had miraculously survived eighteen months in Auschwitz. In 1946, the two of them came to the United States. But they were unprepared for the aftermath of what they had endured. Bronia experienced survivor's guilt and neither of them knew how to move on. 

Mendek never resumed the practice of the religious beliefs and rituals that defined his life before the war, and feeling guilty about it. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and served during the Korean War. Like so many soldiers, he was given aptitude tests that revealed his mechanical abilities. After his discharge he began working for free in a jewelry manufacturing company where he devised a way to mechanize setting stones in rings and soldering them into place. He parlayed that into a successful business and, later, figured out how to mechanically stamp clasps for bracelets. Along with his cousin, Simon Geldwerth, he formed Do-All Jewelry in 1954, and operated it for many years. At the age of thirty-seven, he met and married Edith, a fellow Holocaust survivor, and they had two daughters, Ruthie and Myra.

Despite his thriving business and adoring family, Mendek spent years suffering from guilt and depression. Although he enjoyed good times, he felt empty. Edith also struggled with intermittent depression.

So Mendek commenced a journey to find relief. The bulk of Quest for Eternal Sunshine is devoted to his description of the various methodologies he employed in his determination to experience true joy and peace. He describes his experiences with hypnotherapy and Freudian therapy, as well as his study of psychology. In the 1960's and 1970's, encounter groups were popular, and Mendek and Edith immersed themselves in them. Eventually, they found their way into a group known as the Pathwork in which a woman named Eva Perrakos allegedly channeled a spirit referred to as the Guide. For years, they spent every spare moment studying and interacting with the cult-like group which claimed to practice Core Energetics. For the first time, he felt free and discovered his joy of writing, memorializing poems, affirmations, and revelations in an effort to access his "Higher Self." Eventually, they even took up residence in the group's compound, but left when they became disillusioned. Mendek longed to break out of the decades he had spent mired in self-pity as a result of what he suffered. 

Mendek's pilgrimage to enlightenment also included meditation, painting, and "a wide variety of spiritual teachings." In 1982, they abruptly left New York and moved to Carmel, California when they fell in love with California and decided that they wanted to live near the ocean. He sold the jewelry business and retired, but continued his quest to resolve the conflict he still felt. Periods of respite gave way to unhappiness and he was preoccupied with the workings of his mind. Eventually, through ongoing study and experimentation with visualization, affirmations, and getting in touch with the child he once was, Mendek came to grips with his childhood and feelings of rejection by his father. He began to remember happier times and events, and accepted that the little boy he once was still lived inside him. He came to understand that his parents loved him but were defined by the extreme circumstances of the time, and learned to love his imperfect self.

Ultimately, Mendek found true joy and decided "to always have faith in the limitless power of love." And he overcame his survivor's guilt when he realized that he was, in fact, lucky. 

Quest for Eternal Sunshine is written in straight-forward, easy-to-read language. It is a fascinating and deeply moving story about a man who, like so many others, was born at a time in history and a place where he was destined to endure unspeakable cruelty and witness indescribable atrocities, and yet, miraculously, survive. Nonetheless, for decades he was unable to embrace his good fortune, particularly because his home, neighbors, and family (with the exception of Bronia) perished. Formal treatment (hypnotherapy and Freudian therapy) did not provide Mendek relief. Rather, Quest for Eternal Sunshine details Mendek's determination to work his way through the mysterious workings of his own mind in order to find lasting peace. The book is an homage to him by his admiring daughter, Myra, and a tangible testament to his character, as well as his intellect, unwavering fortitude, and willingness to absorb and learn from frequently unpleasant truths about himself that he discovered through his exploration. 

Perhaps most astonishing was his capacity to forgive -- not just his captors, but also himself and his people. He finally realized and accepted that nothing he or his people could have done would have altered the outcome.

Eventually, Mendek committed to always being present in the moment because he found that "[p]resence is where peace lives." Mendek understood that he was an everyman and the lessons he shares in Quest for Eternal Sunshine are relevant to and can be employed by anyone who has experienced trauma and suffered in its aftermath.
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I anticipated this story being about a Holocaust survivors tales of survival in the camps so when it was actually the story of Mendek’s life, not about the period in time that defines him to the rest of society, I was emotional. This wasn’t a sob story because of the atrocities he faced in labor camps and losing everyone except one member of his family in the Holocaust, it was a sob story because it was a man that found happiness after a long time of feeling isolated, feeling alone in his struggles, and struggling with bouts of anxiety and depression. I love Mendek and his life lessons. May he Rest In Peace.
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A heart wrenching memoir of a young boy who suffered through the holocaust was the only survivor of his family..Suffered through years of debilitating depression.A brilliant inventor who overcomes all the sadness to live a joy filled life.A memoir a man who you will cheer for a story you will remember.#netgalley#shewritespress
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