Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2
April 8, 2013 by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Rochelle Jewell Shapiro is a psychic, novelist, essayist and poet. In her latest novel, Kaylee’s Ghost, she continues the saga of Miriam, a character she introduced in her first book, Miriam the Medium. Shapiro tells Yona Zeldis McDonough about how she first became aware of her unusual gifts, the distinctions between psychics and mediums, and Joseph, arguably the greatest Jewish psychic of all time.
So you’re a bone fide medium! Say more about your work.
A medium focuses on seeing the spirits of the dead. I’m more of a “nuts and bolts” psychic. I see a client’s relationships, finances, work life, health concerns, etc. But of course, the spirits are always around. As a psychic, I see in symbols. I get mental images such as the scales of justice signifying either that the client is a lawyer or in the midst of a lawsuit. I see pink flowers for a birthday, red for an anniversary, a couple of Silly Putty eggs for breast implants, etc. It’s like walking around with a unique tarot deck in my head. Each reading is as individual as a thumbprint, as unique as the client himself, which keeps me thrilled with my work.
When did you first discover you had psychic gifts?
There was not one specific moment when I first discovered that I had a gift. As a child, I didn’t know that people couldn’t see people’s auras or get glimpses of what they were doing when they weren’t physically around them. I didn’t know that I was seeing spirits when I saw the transparent forms, the people-shaped shadows. I didn’t know that words that slingshot from my mouth could be other people’s darkest secrets. I had to learn the hard way—A frassk in the pisk, a slap on my big mouth from my mother. It took me a long time to realize on my own how hurtful my unasked-for insights could be. At eleven years old, walking down the aisle of a beach club—anyone remember Roche’s Beach Club in Far Rockaway?—I blurted out, “Mrs. Berger takes Valium and drinks scotch.” I didn’t even know what Valium was. My grandfather had schnapps, not scotch. One of Mrs. Berger’s friends was changing inside one of the wooden lockers and heard me. I was banned from the Bergers’ house. After that, not many other mothers wanted me around either. I was forced to apologize to Mrs. Berger, tell everyone I made it up, even though I felt in my gut that it was true.
How is being a psychic compatible with being a Jew?
Who is more Jewish than Joseph, the Old Testament dreamer? We all know the story of how he saw symbols in his dreams, such as bundles of grain that his ten jealous half-brothers had gathered, and the brothers bowing to the one that he had gathered–a dream that got Joseph sold into slavery. And Joseph interpreted the symbols in Pharaoh’s dream of fat cows and lean cows, withered ears and fat ears of corn to mean that there would be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. His advice to Pharaoh was so Jewish—save while you have it. When Joseph was finally reunited with his brothers, he forgave them because what they had meant as evil had, through God, been transformed into something good. A lovely ending in the spirit of my Bubbie from whom I inherited my gift. She always said, “People shouldn’t go from you crying.”
Can you foretell your own future?
I saw my daughter before she was born. She’s thirty-eight now, so this was well before the days of sonograms. My Russian grandma used to hold a pendulum in front of a pregnant woman, from her head to her belly. If it swung side-to-side, it meant the woman was carrying a girl. My grandmother explained the reason by swaying her hips side to side. Back and forth and it’s a boy. The gesture she made, poking her finger back and forth between the circle she made with her other hand was lost on me as a child. Without using a pendulum, I knew I was having a girl because I saw myself unwrapping a baby in a pink blanket. I saw her long fingers and limbs, her glistening skin, and dark hair. I even saw a strawberry-shaped mark on her left arm. When I actually held her for the first time, she was so familiar to me, but even I was surprised by the strawberry mark on her left arm.
In Kaylee’s Ghost, Miriam is initiated into psychic practice and lore by her beloved bubbie. Was this true for you as well?
I can still feel my Bubbie’s hands as she held my face and looked into my eyes which are pale blue and turned up at the corners like hers, and said, “Neshomelah, you have my gift.”
That was the greatest mentoring she could have given me. It made me watch her every gesture and memorize her every word in a way that her ten other grandchildren didn’t. She lived above my father’s grocery store and often would bring him lunch and take over at the cash register so he could eat it. I was next to her behind the counter and heard a distraught middle-aged woman tell her, “My doctor said I have a tumor in my womb.”
My grandmother studied the woman’s eyes for a few moments. “Don’t let the doctor operate!” she warned. “What you got is a miracle like Abraham and Sarah.”
That June, at forty-nine, the woman gave birth to a daughter, her first child. In those days, way before invitro, a true miracle! And I began to understand more and more what this gift was that my grandmother and I shared, and how it could help people.
Kaylee’s Ghost is a sequel to your first novel, Miriam the Medium. Do you plan to write another book in which you chart the journey of Miriam’s granddaughter Violet?
I already have 175 pages of a first draft for my next book featuring Miriam Kaminsky and her family. I write quickly for first drafts, and then it’s a seemingly endless task of organizing, layering. I’d rather put out a fully realized book than a rushed one.
What about the next generation? Do any of your children have psychic powers?
One night when my son was fifteen, I was up late—and I’m always up too late—my son came out into the living room shirtless and in his boxer shorts. He was about sixteen then and I knew by the trancelike state of his eyes and his movements—slow and dreamy, that he was sleepwalking again.
“Harvey is playing the piano.” he said.
There was no one at the piano. And the only one I knew whose name was Harvey was a cousin who had died so long before my son was born that I doubted if he’d even heard of him.
“What does he look like?” I asked.
He described Harvey down to the full-length dark coat he wore that he often kept on indoors because he thought it hid how much weight he’d gained. Then my son walked back into his room, got into bed, and fell into a deep sleep. He has that spark and I’m sure he has heightened intuition, but it isn’t developed, and frankly, I’m relieved. It’s often like a sensory overload that interferes with normal functioning.