By Emily Williams
After graduating college, a semester early at that, Debra Goldstein decided to take a leap of faith and move to New York City with two goals: to get a job in publishing and a spot on “Jeopardy.”
“I thought I knew everything, when really I didn’t know anything,” Goldstein said. Yet, she accomplished both goals, although the publishing world wasn’t all she had hoped it would be.
She found that publishing was a challenging vocation to advance in, so she went to her back-up plan. Before moving, Goldstein had sent applications to several law schools, and just as she became burnt out on publishing, she began to see acceptance letters roll in.
She advanced through law school at Emory, passed the bar, moved on to become a litigator for the Department of Labor and later served as an administrative law judge before stepping off of the bench two years ago.
“In all of that time, I never gave up liking to write,” Goldstein said.
Though her law career was filled with legal articles, “boring” chapters in books and the like, she had a creative side that consistently surfaced.
An avid community volunteer, Goldstein became a member of Leadership Birmingham. During her preliminary year, she was placed in a small group with the objective to plan a community service project and then write and perform a skit about it at the end of the year. The problem was, the group could not agree on a project.
“So, what we ended up doing was, I wrote a skit that was us trying to decide on a project and I put the words in our mouths that were our own,” Goldstein said. “We were running through it one night at a teammate’s house while her husband watched.” The husband, Leo Pecher, who grew to be a good friend of Goldstein’s, was one of the first people to encourage her to take up creative writing once more.
“Sometimes somebody will say the right word to you and that flips it,” Goldstein said. Years later, a friend invited Goldstein to leave the kids at home, stay at her condo at the beach for a weekend and just write.
Goldstein left the trip with 85 handwritten pages of her first book, “Maze in Blue.” She has since written many short stories and three books. The newest novel, “Should Have Played Poker,” will be released April 20 and, as with her first book, she is marrying her passion for writing with her passion for service.
For every book and e-book Goldstein sells by May 30, proceeds will be donated to two local charities that are close to her heart: the YWCA and the Collat Jewish Family Services.
“My mother was a Holocaust survivor and she basically taught me to – I won’t say give back – but to be generous,” Goldstein said.
“Since I’ve been in Birmingham, I’ve been involved with volunteering. I’ve learned it takes two things. It takes some money to make things work and it takes being a busy bee.”
When she began practicing law in Birmingham, Goldstein joined a group called Zonta, an international organization made up of executive women with the goal of advancing the lives of women.
“These were women who made history in this town and one of their projects was the YW,” she said. “So, I was introduced to the programs and when I looked at what it served – whether it was domestic violence, women in general or women and children. It was a charity that fit my interests and I was hooked.”
Her interactions with the organization bled into other aspects of her life, including her writing. “Maze in Blue,” includes themes of domestic violence. She also passed on the influence to her Girl Scout troop.
She led the 10 members of her Troop Beverly Hills of Alabama, including her daughter, on a tongue-in-cheek mission to “sleep around,” whether it be on the U.S.S. Alabama or her own family room floor. To receive their Gold Awards, members of the troop led a domestic violence project.
Adding to her busy schedule of volunteer work, Goldstein joined the board for Collat Jewish Family Services this year and will use money raised by her book to help fund the organization’s newest program, Cares. In its second year of operation, Cares provides adult day care for senior citizens.
The program already has grown from two days a week to four days.
“Looking back, we didn’t have a lot of the safe places for women and children and the elderly to be protected,” Goldstein said. “Both of these to me make a difference.”
She hopes to help them make a difference in any way she can.
“I’m fortunate in that I’m comfortable, but I don’t have the ability to write a million dollar check to these organizations,” Goldstein said. “I’ve found a way to help and it doesn’t ever hurt to give back.”
Goldstein will host a book signing event for “Should Have Played Poker” at the Little Professor from 5-7 p.m. May 3. For more information, visit www.debrahgoldstein.com.