Local Author Succeeds
By Candice Russell / November, December 2012
Antonia Phillips Rabb had a vital role to play in her family, from the moment she was adopted at the age of three months. Her new parents had suffered the terrible loss of four sons who died from the Tay Sachs gene. All their hopes and dreams were invested in the beautiful, bright-eyed baby girl, born in 1929.
"One Last Child," a newly published book by Rabb, a resident of Coral Springs, is a memoir of her remarkable life as part of a prominent family in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, Jacob Rabinovitch, was the founder of Stop & Shop, a multi-million dollar grocery chain and a forerunner of the modern supermarket. A successful, dedicated and generous man, he established fifty organizations to help fellow Jews who had emigrated from other countries to start over in Boston.
She writes with great love and admiration, "And, as for my father, I had never found a man to compare him to, his belief in himself, a contagious confidence that rallied lesser ones to his side."
In our interview, Rabb says, "My father saw people who needed so much. He started fifty charitable organizations. He really felt it was his calling. He had his own personal tragedies, but this was how he got away from grieving his four sons, which was a ghastly situation. I was the solution."
But things weren't always easy for young Antonia, despite her comfortable home and family's financial success. "What a child sees, touches, and feels is what she lives. It became apparent to me that my mother was not to be spoken to harshly. I had to tread rather carefully. My father was involved in politics with the state of Israel. I was forced into the position of being his hostess for coffee klatsches and cocktail things. I had help -- there was another woman in the house and a man drove us places. It was early training."
The book is also about Rabb's quest to answer questions about her biological parents and siblings. "I had a burning desire to know where I came from," she says. "It took me ten years to find my two brothers and biological parents."
What was the biggest challenge for her in writing this memoir? "This is an era I don't want to see washed away by time," Rabb says, considering her own life, including three marriages, six children and seventeen grandchildren.
Determining to write the book was a matter of personal reflection and a realization that the years were passing by. A significant motivation for what she calls "this long and lingering birth" of the book was the death of her husband two years ago. "I was able to turn inward," Rabb says. "I thought it was therapeutic. When you take care of someone you love so much (referring to her husband), where do you turn? You turn to yourself and give yourself strength."
Though she had interviews with her father preserved on a reel-to-reel tape recorder and "a great deal of background from him," the process of writing the book was "very hard." Fairness and honesty were her guideposts. "The word unwritten is the thought unspoken," says Rabb. "If I don't write down this story, it is gone forever."
With nine books of poetry under her belt, Rabb, in the role of instructor, enjoys encouraging others who meet every Friday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Parkland Library's writers' cafë. "Teaching helped me enormously," she says of her own writing process. "People are so eager to talk. Writers feed off one another, as a spark jumps from one person to another, and it incorporates into what they do. I get all excited when I see words put together as never before. When it comes to words, we're all very shy."
"One Last Child" captures time gone by. "I think the glorious age of philanthropy has waned somewhat," Rabb says. "I hope new immigrants will find wonderful people and things in this country. My father had a love for institutions of higher learning. He took pride in his love for other people. My mother supported him. They were great people."
What were the most important lessons she learned from her parents, Jacob and Ada Rabinovitz? "From my father, never look away from other people," Rabb says. "My mother had a depth of kindness and gentleness and was so vastly understanding of others."
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