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My Current Writing Project

I have begun a long biographical essay on Mary Todd (1941-2016), a high school classmate. After briefly attending Radcliffe College, Mary transferred to Knoxville College, a previously all-black college in Tennessee, where she became active in the early civil rights movement. She moved to Cuba in 1964 and quickly learned Spanish while working in the fields and on construction crews. She then became an interpreter for official envoys, a translator of some twenty important books by Cuban historians and political scientists, and a teacher of English as a second language.


Both in the U.S. and in Cuba, Mary's life was shaped by her strong idealism, even as she lived in the shadow of the Cold War. Her father, Laurence Todd, was Washington Bureau Chief for TASS, the Soviet News agency; regularly followed by the FBI, he was called to testify before the Senate. Mary was nine years old when a scurrilous article about Tass and her father appeared in The Saturday Evening Post; Mary was kicked out of the Girl Scouts and ostracized by her classmates. 


As a Cuban, Mary remained a dedicated revolutionary throughout most of her life, even as she suffered America's intolerance of a "Communist regime" 60 miles from Miami, and its ongoing attempts to break the back of the Cuban revolution through flyovers and blockades. Despite being insulated from these blockades by her access to American currency through her translation work, she doggedly accepted the scarcities for herself and her son.


Though I have been richly blessed by people who knew Mary Todd, I am compelled to learn more and more history in order to tell her story in all its complexity.  Will I be done in a year? Two years?  I don't know.  


A CHANCE FOR LAND AND FRESH AIR: Russian Jewish Immigrants in Sharon and Amenia, 1907-1940

BOOK cover for A Chance For Land and Fresh Air

A Chance for Land and Fresh Air is based on and expands an exhibit that Ascher curated for the Sharon Historical Society. The exhibit was on display at the Historical Society between October 2016 and April 2017. It is now permanently installed in Amenia’s Congregation Beth David,Congregation Beth David 3344 East Main Street, Route 343, Amenia, NY 12501


"These are my roots. This book put me in touch with the resilience and determination of people like my grandparents, Harry and Anna Marcus. Their hard work and resourcefulness made it possible for those of us who came behind them to do well. As a historian, it helped me understand better how ordinary immigrants enriched American life, sometimes overcoming discrimination and other barriers in doing so."  

~ Martin Klein, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto


See more about the book, including images and excerpts at