Jane Saginaw’s ‘Because the World is Round’
Jane Saginaw will share her book, “Because the World is Round,” from 12:30 to 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 21, 2023, at Temple Emanu-El.

A mother’s strength, her daughter’s gift

By Deb Silverthorn

Kibud av v’em, honor your father and mother, is a mitzvah to keep this Mother’s Day weekend, and throughout life, even after a parent has passed. For Jane Saginaw, that practice now includes the publication of “Because the World is Round.” The book shares her family’s adventurous travels around the world decades ago. From 12:30 to 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 21, at Temple Emanu-El, Saginaw will share the story and connections between her and her mother. It’s a story like no other.

Saginaw will share in a question-and-answer session with Will Evans, CEO and publisher at Deep Vellum, which released her book last fall, and a conversation moderated by Temple Emanu-El’s Rabbi David Stern.

“Because the World is Round” is Saginaw’s memoir of global travel, personal growth and family responsibility as seen through her teenage eyes.

Responsibility is not something many teens hold beyond completing homework and making curfew. For Saginaw, responsibility meant the caretaking role she held for her mother. Rose Saginaw was a survivor of polio, which she contracted in her first year of marriage and while pregnant with her first child. She used a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

“I never knew my mother as a mobile person; that chair was there all of my life with her,” said Saginaw. “She was a strong woman, through and through, and never allowed it to defeat her or make her less. She never allowed it to stop her from doing and achieving anything.”

That strength and grace were passed down to her children and theirs from early on in life, from an escapade few others experienced.

In 1969, Saginaw’s parents, Rose and Sol, of blessed memory, sold their Brake-O automobile repair business. When her father asked out loud, “What now?” the 15-year-old said, “Let’s go around the world.” What some might take as a flippant notion was just the response the family would adhere to. Jane was withdrawn from the second half of her sophomore year at Dallas’ Thomas Jefferson High School and her brother Harry missed that semester of his studies at The University of Texas at Austin.

They didn’t visit the luxurious beaches or follow the common travelogues, but rather for five months, from January to May 1970, the foursome traveled to Portugal and India, then to Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia and London. Each chapter of the book visits a different country, holds a different vessel of reminiscences.

“We found the Jewish communities wherever we were and nowhere was Jewish life the same, and yet so much was familiar,” said Saginaw.

In the book, she shares her meeting with Golda Meir in Israel (connected by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas contingent of women, led by Fanny Schanen, that was in town); being introduced to the head of the Jewish Federation in Yugoslavia; participating in a Passover Seder in Amsterdam; turning sweet 16 abroad; and a near-death experience in India.

Jane Saginaw and her father Sol

“Mom’s life expectancy was maybe to 50; instead she was here — and vital — until she was 83,” said the author. “I didn’t start writing until her later years and as I did, I thought about how she lived, what she gave us in all the years. There’s nothing we couldn’t do because there was nothing she believed she couldn’t do.”

After ultimately graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, Saginaw earned degrees from University of California, Berkeley and The University of Texas School of Law. On May 15, she will receive a master’s degree in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas, where she is also completing the Ph.D. program in literature.

Saginaw served for four years in the mid-1990s as the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional administrator for Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas). She then worked as a trial lawyer and began writing vignettes. She submitted a short story, about how she helped her mother to the restroom during a flight to India, for a nonfiction writing program at Stanford University (for which she has earned a certificate). When asked how she was in that predicament, and she expanded, she was pushed for more.

“I started writing personal stories, memories and more and more about the trip,” she said. “I shared my writing with my mother and she loved hearing my take and revisiting that time. My favorite place? It’s always the last place I’ve been.”

The list of places she’s been — with her family of origin and the family she and her husband of almost 35 years, Stephen Lerer, created through their children Joe, Lilly and Katie — is extensive.

Saginaw recalls that when her family was cleared to take their once-in-a-lifetime trip,  Rose fisted her hands into balls and squeezed her shoulders to her ears with a broad smile. That moment — the grit, the joy — has lasted throughout her daughter’s lifetime.

To register for Jane Saginaw’s presentation at Temple Emanu-El, visit https://www.tedallas.org/event/book-talk-with-jane-saginaw/. “Because the World is Round” is available at deepvellum.com and Amazon.

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