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Of Torahs, love, loss and rebirth

Eighty-four-year-old Herman Edel began his first novel in his early 70s in Los Angeles. An agent read an early draft.

"Herman," she said. "I really love it."

They were going to conquer the publishing world. Edel never heard from her again.

"I figured she thought it was a piece of junk," he says.

A couple years ago a friend in Ashland read it and told Edel he had to finish it.

"I jumped right on it," he says. "I got more joy than any other creative venture I've ever tried."

Edel will read from "The Pavlac Legacy" at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in Medford and at 1 p.m. Oct. 24 at Barnes and Noble Books in Ashland.

"The Pavlac Legacy" is a sweeping adventure that traces the path of a Torah created by a poor scribe and his son in Prague in 1865 to the mountains of Aspen, Colo. It binds together two families at first, then an expanding circle of people. The Torah is the holiest text in Judaism. A Sefer Torah is a copy written on parchment by a trained scribe according to strict traditions.

"It's the thread going through the book," Edel says, "but it's the offshoots that make it."

Edel lives in Ashland, where he hosts Jefferson Public Radio's "On With the Show," a roundup of Broadway tunes and standards. He and radio go back. He did his first broadcast at 17. He was a student at Brooklyn Technical High School in New York when he landed a small part in a radio drama in 1943.

He produced music tracks for radio, television and films in New York, Los Angeles and London. He did publicity for the DuMont Television Network and was a junior executive for Paramount.

"I was so low down on the totem pole," he says, laughing.

He worked with Walter Huston and Barbara Stanwyck, produced the music for "Raw Deal," an Arnold Schwarzenegger picture, and worked with Kenny Rogers, Quincy Jones, Sir George Martin.

He also drew unemployment and told myself he was not a loser.

By the early 1970s he and his family were living in Aspen as the rush to build it up and boutique-ize it was gathering steam.

"You never knew who was a ski bum or a student or a wealthy man," he says.

He wanted the town to keep its character. A friend talked him into running for mayor on a platform of limiting growth. The other side had the backing of the construction, real estate, banking and utilities industries. Edel won, and was re-elected.

"We fought like hell," he says. "We won some battles, but we lost the war."

In 1964, 1,564 Moravian and Bohemian Torahs that survived the Nazis were bought by a philanthropist and sent to the Westminster Synagogue in London to be preserved by the newly created Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust (see czechtorah.org/celebration.php). Edel, who had a nearby office, visited and was devastated.

"It was like a blast of hot air hitting me in the face," he says. "Lying prone on all four walls, dead Torahs. I'm not a religious man, but I practice my faith in my own way."

He wrote a check in June, and a Torah arrived in Aspen the day before Yom Kippur in 1975.

Some of this history is mixed in with the story in the book.

"There's stuff that really happened," he says. "It's true, and I blended it with fiction."

The Holocaust is there, although this is not a Holocaust book. It ranges over centuries and continents and love and loss, and in the end a mother showing her child the fact of rebirth out of ashes. Edel didn't try to sell it to a commercial publisher, putting it on iUniverse instead.

"It's tough out there," he says. "Anyway, it's available in England and Czechoslovakia and Amazon, it's all over."

For more, check out www.thepavlaclegacy.com.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.