An excerpt from

Demonic to Divine: The Double Life of Shulamis Yelin
by Shulamis Yelin and Gilah Yelin Hirsch

Preface—Gilah Yelin Hirsch

Being Shulamis’s daughter was not easy. The only child of Shulamis (Sophie Borodensky) Yelin and Ezra Yelin, I was born in Montreal and left when I was seventeen. Despite the decades of geographic distance, Shulamis has been viscerally present throughout my life. As a toddler, I experienced my mother’s inventive tenderness, such as when she would leave me her lipstick that carried the scent and color of the lips that kissed me when she left and returned. But most of my childhood and adult memories are iterations of highly volatile abuse.

Despite the many years of relentless difficulties, at a rational level from a very young age I somehow knew that Shulamis was doing the best she could within the limitations of a troubled personality and a life characterized by turmoil and tragedy. I admired the fact that although from childhood she experienced persistent emotional disturbance multiplied by chronic physical pain beginning in her fifties, she was always a highly gifted artist, feminist, explorer, adventurer, and delighter in life. I credit Shulamis with making culturally unpopular decisions toward my welfare. Knowing the potentially negative psychological effects of a terribly disturbed mother and invalid father, Shulamis perceived the necessity and encouraged my early departure from home to facilitate my own growth and far-reaching explorations. Although we visited annually either in Los Angeles or Montreal, it was not until my mother’s death in 2002 that I reconnected to my birth city in more ways than I could imagine. As executor of my mother’s will, I had to deconstruct her tapestried environment layered with beauty and substance, an apartment filled helter-skelter with a lifetime’s treasure trove of all things multicultural, artful, musical and literary that she had created or acquired. I knew that each of these carefully selected and cherished objects carried the zeitgeist and values in which I was raised. In this process I discovered many unpublished stories and the seventy diaries Shulamis kept from age thirteen when she first noted the “moods taking over”, until just days before her death at almost ninety. This cache of public and private work prompted me to consider a posthumous book that would include stories and diary excerpts to form a biographical arc that would provide a deeper understanding of the writer’s life.

. . .

Those who knew her well both deeply loved and feared Shulamis. They all had vividly memorable “Shulamis stories” citing both her dazzling presentations and her equally bizarre and often outrageous and cruel behavior. There was no warning whether one would be met by the demonic or the divine aspect of her personality. As the person closest to her, although physically distant from the age of seventeen, I was frequently the target of her demonic aspect throughout our lives. Yet, as I read the diaries, I was often filled with esteem and love for her. In addition to her emotional suffering, since I myself had experienced serious injuries from a devastating car accident in 1999, I was deeply empathetic with Shulamis’ determination not to be stopped from pursuing her insatiable delight in life and learning. My admiration for her intrepid sense of adventure and travel grew. She continually conquered her constant physical pain and psychological difficulties and kept going.