Highlights of a Life
Author and journalist Julie Salamon was born in Cincinnati in 1953 and raised in the southern Ohio town of Seaman. She didn’t fit the stereotypical image of a child growing up in Appalachia. Her parents were educated Jewish immigrants – Holocaust survivors who sought a safe community in which to start a new life. Her father, Dr. Alexander Salamon, lost his first wife and baby girl to the gas chambers. After the war, he returned to Prague, where he met Lilly, who had survived Auschwitz.
The married couple moved to the United States and, after a short time in New York, Salamon’s father learned that a town doctor was needed for an impoverished Appalachian community. The Salamons moved from the big city to the 700-resident town of Seaman, Ohio. Relieved that anti-Semitism wasn’t going to be an issue, the doctor was welcomed enthusiastically.
Julie Salamon’s father died in 1971 – a year after she graduated from North Adams High School. Long since moved from her native Ohio, Salamon recalls pleasant memories of her early experiences in Seaman. “It was a beautiful place and people were nice. It’s always been that dichotomy for me – between knowing that there was horrible evil in the world, that people could do unspeakable things, and having kind, generous parents and living in a community where people really did watch out for each other,” noted Salamon in a 2003 interview with Jewish Woman magazine.
In 1975 Salamon graduated from Tufts University in Boston, where she finished magna cum laude. She enrolled in law school at New York University, and received her JD degree in 1978. Salamon’s first job as a lawyer was working as a journalist. In 1978, she was hired on to report for The Wall Street Journal. Also that year, Salamon married TV executive Bill Abrams.
Salamon went on to become a movie critic and weekly columnist during her 20-year tenure with The Wall Street Journal. In 1987 she released her first book, White Lies, a novel. Her second fictional effort was The Christmas Tree (1996), a novella that was a New York Times best-seller. Compared to the Madeline series for children, The Christmas Tree is the tale of a lonely orphan girl and the beautiful fir tree that becomes her friend.
Salamon’s four other published titles are nonfiction. In 1991 she released The Devil’s Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood, a study of Hollywood film making gone awry. In this unflattering, behind-the-scenes portrait of the film based on Tom Wolfe’s book, Director Brian DePalma gave Salamon nearly unrestricted access to the set of the movie that starred Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, and Melanie Griffith.
After her book on the making of a movie, Salamon’s next project studied the making of a family. In The Net of Dreams: A Family’s Search for a Rightful Place (1996), Salamon recounts her life and that of her parents in a journey of discovery. With her mother and stepfather, Salamon traveled to Poland, to the movie set where Steven Spielberg was filming Schindler’s List. Salamon’s family memoir follows her parents’ journey from a Nazi concentration camp to a new life in southern Ohio.
Salamon’s reporting skills proved essential in yet another compelling work, Facing the Wind (2001). The nonfiction narrative relates the story of Robert Rowe’s deranged killing of his family in 1978, and the lives affected by it. The suspenseful account probes the case of the Brooklyn lawyer who murdered his wife and three children with a baseball bat, and escaped prison with the insanity plea.
Her most recent book, Rambam’s Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why it is Necessary to Give, was published in 2003. The idea for the book came to Salamon as she reflected on the aftermath of September 11. “Like many people, the tragedy forced me to look closely at my values,” she said in a 2003 interview.
Salamon grappled with such questions as: How can we best reach out to others? Are there rules of giving? In exploring these questions, Salamon found an unlikely mentor: the 12th-century physician and philosopher Maimonides, known to his followers as Rambam. The scholar’s legacy is still taught at Hebrew schools, and Salamon was familiar with his famous “eight levels of giving.” Growing up in Ohio, Salamon says her parents taught by example. “My parents were very generous. They felt a responsibility to a community and to people who had less than they did. That was a really powerful lesson,” she said.
Today, Julie Salamon lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children, ages 10 and 16. She is a culture writer for The New York Times and chair of the Bowery Residents’ Committee, a non-profit agency providing social services and housing to homeless people in New York City.