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Fania’s Heart

Your name is Sandy, but your mother prefers Sorale, a diminutive Yiddish version and you’ve just watched, unblinking, an episode of Father Knows Best, one in which the topic of adoption has been explored. Lately you have been troubled and wonder if you too are adopted so when your parents are busy, you carefully find your way into their bedroom, and you decide to go through their things where from your father’s drawer, you unearth some sepia photos and documents of family, but only a few. But when you rifle through her mother’s drawer all your fingers discern is this hard shape which turns out to be this little heart. You turn it over in your hands intrigued, but your mother finds you and admonishes you not to touch it. It’s obviously something very precious because it’s taken out of your hands and returned to its place in the dark drawer.

Years later you will told it has been donated it to the Holocaust Museum in Montréal and you will be upset because you believed the hard little heart was a family treasure that belonged to the family, kind of like their family jewels. By that time, however, you know about the Holocaust and the dark numbers incised on your parents’ wrists.

And so the story of Fania’s Heart begins to unfold.

I heard the story from Heidi, a fellow art student when she related her Yom Kippur break- fast this year, meeting her partner’s cousin Sandy for the second time. Her narrative focused on Sandy or Sorale as her mother affectionately called her, the daughter, and Fania the more than ninety- some year old mother who survived Auschwitz. Heidi is describing the backdrop for her telling, one we have known before, of young women- from Czechoslovakia ,France, Belgium, Germany,Poland , some as young as 15, who were able to remain alive because of their tiny hands.In Fania’s case, she too was put in the munitions section in the Weichsel-Union Metallwerke because her small digits could load tiny ball bearings and prepare weaponry for the Nazis.

Heidi explains that when the heart was donated, a Canadian filmmaker, Carl Leblanc, so interested in the tiny purple heart embroidered with an orange F, began to work on a documentary film entitled “ The Heart of Auschwitz” in 2010 ; more recently in 2018 a children’s book, “ Fania’s Heart” has been released showcasing Fania’s unbelievable story.

She was an adolescent, directed where she could help the war effort against her own people, a Jew imprisoned because she was a Jew. She had all ready been separated from her brother, Leybl, her sister, Moushka and her parents from Bialystok, Poland. In the film, Fania bitterly opines, “ We (the girls at the munitions plant) did not go to the gas chamber…we were ‘privileged’.” To aid the Nazis in the destruction of their own was particularly troubling to the girls who sat ten to a side so occasionally they would misassemble or spoil a part, adding a few pinches of earth, small but incredibly brave acts of defiance. At dusk they would be searched by guards for any smuggled items that could be used against them. It was an existence of lice-infested mattresses, often five to a bunk, lunches of nettles and weeds and shivering for hours in roll call. To survive, Fania imagined her mother’s fragrant chicken soup and attempted to take comfort in small things like the warmth of the sun, encouraging her workmates with smiles or even funny stories.

It was Fania’s 20 th birthday and the women who lined each side of her table knew and wanted to commemorate the day, even in the bleakest impossibility of the camps. Bronia and Zlatka ,also Polish, were Fania’s best friends, slightly older than Fania. It was Zlatka who originated the plan. Each of the twenty girls at her table contributed to an act that could have cost them their lives: paper, scissors, even a bit of torn cloth from Zlatka’s thin purple shirt hidden beneath her striped uniform. The heart they created underlines the bravery, posing the question “ Why would you risk your life for birthday wishes?” The inmates were forbidden to talk, or move from their benches for twelve hours, their elbows touching as they worked. Discovered, this collaborative act could have cost them their fragile lives. Yet somehow, they managed: rubbing bread and water together in their fingers to make glue, scavenging threads..

In a tunnel of fear and hunger, deprivation and worse, an unbelievable undertaking exemplified a form of resistance and strength of the human spirit. Much later, Zlatka wondrous at making a birthday “souvenir” for her friend queries ,” I do not know how could I have dreamed about freedom.”

Fania reflects that on December 12, her birthday, something was being slowly handed from one coworker to the next, making its way towards her. A guard observing bodies and heads brought too close together pulled the main instigator, the genius behind the amazing gift, away and beat her mercilessly, almost costing her her life. Returning to the table bruised and hurt, Zlatka takes her seat again with her friends, their eyes now holding back their tears.

When the uproar settles, Fania discovers “ a small birthday cake my friends had pieced together from their precious bread rations…[t]ucked inside the bread was the heart.”In order to avoid detection, Fania hides it in her armpit, but only in the evening, back in her bunk does she open the heart to realize it is actually a birthday card in the shape of a heart about the size of a butterfly or a daisy and inside, much like origami that folds in on itself, each woman has added a tiny page, each contributing best wishes in her own language. During the days, Fania presses her treasure between the boards where she sleeps at night.

In the pages that fold out from the heart, Giza inscribed,” A lot of luck and freedom.”Mazal scrawls, “May your life be long and sweet.”Irena writes,” I wish that all wishes should be fulfilled.” Others pencil, “ Be light when you dance” and, “When you get old, put on your glasses and read my name.” A little humour perhaps from those forcing themselves to forget that most of them will disappear into the gas chamber by age 20. The backdrop of beatings and hunger has been momentarily erased and each has cast themselves back to the world they once knew: where parties and pretty dresses and tasty dishes and family hugs accompanied all celebrations, but especially on birthdays.

From these sentiments we can imagine they revisited in their heads a relaxed clump of laughing, chattering ingenues, ready to set out on their discovery of the world, love interests and delicious endeavours. Love, food, family, smiles and the embrace of normal life. Like the recipes they recited to one another and aspirations to eventually eat to their heart’s content, the crafted gift was an object of moral resistance, a way to recapture their lost worlds and endure until their futures were resurrected.

The words carefully written by each friend and lasting even now, but especially the fourth petal of the heart held Fania’s favourite line ,” Freedom, Freedom, Freedom.” Fania later explains,” My friends wanted to prove that despite all that was inflicted upon us, we could still treat each other with humanity”, adding, “ Their words saved me…”

And even in 1945, when the Red Army approaches and the Nazis empty the concentration camps, putting 60,000 on the roads with only a bowl and a spoon, somehow Fania kept her illicit gift, again hiding it in her armpit as she walked the death marches.

Naysayers, in fact the Jewish supervisor of the girls sorting bullets at the factory who lived through Shoah and interviewed by the filmmaker is adamant that such an incredible subversive feat could not have taken place. Scornful, she underlines ,” Absolutely impossible…one woman in the camps wrote a letter to her husband, and she was hanged… if you deviated one centimetre in rollcall, you were beaten,” she pronounces, indignant. When Leblanc tells her that Fania had carried the heart in her armpit on the death march, she starts to laugh at how ridiculous that would’ve been. She states again, more enraged, that everyone was freezing and it would’ve been impossible to have a hidden an item in her armpit. Turning her head from the camera, even angrier, she maintains,” It’s not a reality.”

The interviewer points out that -in fact -the heart does exist.

Fixated on tracking down Fania’s tablemates, Le Blanc goes to Washington, Red Cross Head Quarters, ,International Tracing Services, Germany ,Cambridge, Washington,Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, Auschwitz Deportee Union, Paris even Buenos Aires. With only the first names of those who signed the heart , the search is complicated. The names Fela, Guta, Helena, Eva, Ruth, Hanka, Mania,Giza and others are discernible still. Even when the leads do not produce results, Leblanc pursues the quest. With the death of her father, Sandy sorting through his papers, unexpectedly comes upon a letter sent fifteen years previously from a Lidia Vago in Israel.

Heidi, continues, “Since everyone was aging, it was hard to know if anyone was still even alive, but this woman in Israel had kept a dossier of women survivors from Auschwitz.” Comparing signatures, they see names align. It is a moment of triumph for Leblanc and Vago. Helena now living in Cannes acknowledges the making of the heart by telephone, but refuses to participate, taking her memories to the grave with her, but Fela, now 86, her remembrances dimming recalls signing and Zlatka in South America contributes,” [we] felt like sisters.” Bronia has now passed away, but Fania is asked to represent her as a kind of grandmother in absentia at her granddaughter’s wedding. Sandy and Fania are welcomed as guests , the family feeling that it was as if their own mother was attending in spirit, reminiscent of one of the girl’s thoughts penned on the little heart back in the camps, “…not dying will be winning.”

And from this remarkable impossible story, a children’s book and the film, a film my friend Heidi had related was so emotional, so breathtaking , particularly as the surviving women met again.

How do we talk about the deep and haunting introspective looks that appear on Sandy’s face as she walks through Auschwitz with her daughter. Or the daughter of Bronia who almost whispers, “ She ( her mother) had the biggest heart for everyone but me,” but told me nothing about the years of imprisonment in Auschwitz. Vivian Rakoff and Helen Epstein have written of the devastating effects on the children of survivors, those who relived their parents’ horrors vicariously. We can observe in Sandy’s face the traumatizing pain as she confronts her mother’s life in Auschwitz and struggles to keep her emotions private, away from the camera that seeks to document and record the trajectory of her mother’s birthday gift so many years ago.

Words. The words in the little heart, incandescent perpetual flames that guide us back to the time of our forbearers, and the unknowable times of terror, when girls were torn from their homes and thrust into hell. We, the observers, can never know the complete narratives, but the words of the heart, the words of the school children in Montreal in Leblanc ‘s film attempt to establish a balance perhaps, providing hope, for the school children have listened and are the living words that will go forward with this terrible story from the past, remembering the little heart made for a birthday .Fania writes”,I read the messages my friends had written. Their words gave me strength and carried me through each day until the war ended , and I was free once again.”

Fania’s Heart written by Anne Renaud, illustrations by Richard Rudnicki,Second StoryPress,2018

The Heart of Auschwitz Film by Carl Leblanc, 2010

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Reviewing Paul Auster’s 4321

There are those books and authors we tend to identify as “Jewish”: Bernard Malamud, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Irene Nemirovsky, Nicole Krause, Jonathan Safran Foer, Philip Roth, Nora Ephron, for example. We consider these books Jewish because the protagonists exhibit characteristics we are familiar with, they interact with other Jewish people or the set of cultural events reflect our religion or history. Often the authors use their own Jewish lives as reference points in the stories they are sharing.

Interestingly, Paul Auster, the author of 4321, is himself born in New York to Jewish parents, four grandparents Eastern European Jews. Facts regarding his own background are woven into his tome, such as being close to his mother, distant from his father, his work as a translator of French poetry, passion for writing and writers, and even a childhood friend being struck by lightning. Yet, I would not have believed that Auster nor his protagonist Archie is Jewish.

In fact, on reflecting on the catalyst of the unravelling of 4321, – only the opening vignette of the book appears to be a Jewish one- Reznikoff from Russia arrives at Ellis Island and is counselled to give the name Rockefeller to the border agents, a name more worthy of respect and able to provide a smooth transition into the new world.However unable to recall the name when questioned, the haggard immigrant mutters, “Ikh hob fargessen” and so he is renamed Ichabod Ferguson. Seemingly it is a cynical not so funny tale story we’ve heard before, and we let it go, shaking our heads, familiar that in our own lineage the family moniker “ Yskervotiz”had been rechristened “ Ash” as an insensitive or uncaring agent unable to understand a foreigner’s accent had altered the names of Jews coming to America.

So, anticipating more Jewish- ness to the book after this incident, I’m surprised to find none, deciding the author has merely decided to use the anecdote as a structural moment that will unravel the tale he will so expertly relate. There is no bris, bar mitzvah, no Jewish geography, except New York, no get togethers at Passover, no Yom Kippur atonement, yet the names of the people with whom Archie associates are all Jewish: Adler, Marx, Blumenthal.However, I no longer expect that this book will be Jewish.

Yet, eventually I realize the enormity of this single joke, for the theme of the book concerns the identity of Auster’s hero, grandson of Ichabad, that will unfold into four chronological parallel tellings , each similar but different, meaning four boys all named Archie with the same parents, dreams, aspirations and predilections, but each living in a different house in differing economical circumstances in Manhattan, Montclair, Millburn, and Maplewood. In the voice of Archie, Auster writes,

One of the odd things about being himself..that there seemed to be several of him…a collection of contradictory selves. And each time he was a different person, he himself was different as well.

Jewishness aside, if you were a baby boomer as Archie is, born March 1947, 4321 will recreate for you the terrible sixties which you may have mythologized as a Woodstock love fest complete with love beads. Rather, this socialist- realist novel reminds us of the Viet Nam war, the anti war protests, Rosenberg Trials, Kent State, Columbia sit- ins, Chicago brutality, murder of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys, all in precise, factual riveting detail. Archie’s involvement varies as reporter or witness, certainly aware of the trajectory , but except for a stance associated perhaps with a Jewish concern, philanthropy and belief in the democratic process, he is not in the trenches of these world altering events. Even Philip Roth in American Pastoral situates the daughter, Merry Levov, of his main protagonist, “ Swede” in the Newark riots, yet Auster’s protagonist although swept up in the tide of politics, repercussions and fallout, is not an instigator, more bystander to the history in the 60’s.

The stories of the four Archies resemble Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, although her protagonist Ursula seems to skirt around from country to country, her personality changing as she plays central roles in say, an attempt on Hitler’s life, etc. Our likeable Archie is less a risk taker, adoring his photographer mother, the beautiful Rose Adler, as Auster did. All Archies are fascinated by Amy Schneiderman, alternately love interest, step- sister or cousin. Archie immediately mesmerized states,”…there it was, a feeling, an intuition, a certainty that something important was happening and that he and Amy Schneiderman were about to set off on a long journey together.” In all four stories, he exudes deep love and affection for the politically- committed girl he first encounters as a toddler so they both grow up together, stories entwined, no matter which university each attends: Princeton, Columbia, Bryn Mawr or Brooklyn College.

Coming of age accompanied by a search for life’s meaning is a constant feature in 4321. From disabling car crashes, insurance fraud, involvement in sports, a father who is burnt alive in one section while simultaneously growing an empire of appliance stores in another to diverse sexual partners, an ongoing love for New York, a sojourn in Paris, the novel amplifies the twists and turns, the happenstance that results in paths and journeys to unanticipated destinations for the main character.

Other reviewers have commented on the initial confusion in sorting out which Archie is which, evoking Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, roads that are pursued, those ignored, this novel certainly providing multiple pathways. But again, nothing suggests anything particularly Jewish in the routes Archie explores. We do not conceive of him growing up as a Jew, for Jews alone do not hold a monopoly in developing moral consciousness as a liberal minded Archie does, his positive attitudes exemplified towards race and gender, for example when he is colourblind to a young prostitute, insulted when questioned if he would like another black girl for his teenage trysts.

There is much sweetness in Rose and Archie’s escape to the movies when his father dies, and his mother’s attempts to put their life back together, his raucous joy at watching the antics of Laurel and Hardy that wind up underpinning a first book. There is a charming first endeavour at writing a novella about the inseparable shoes “Hank and Frank” when Archie is only 14. There is a palpably intense scene as the older Archie awaits the Vietnam Nam draft lottery determined by birthdates, the sudden death of his doppelgänger friend Artie Federman and camp relationships that catalyze into lifelong friendships.

All of this is intriguing, recognizable and written in a way that in spite of 800 pages or more never bores. As Archie himself refers to his delight in studying a plethora of new authors and thinkers and translating French poetry to make it his own, we think of Jonathan Franzen, Borges, Dickens and Salinger, so many authors who have followed their heroes through the spirals, curves and initiations into adulthood.The following line,

The sun was stuck in the sky, a page had gone missing from a book and it would always be summer as long as they did not breath too hard or ask for too much, always the summer when they were 19, finally almost finally perhaps almost on the brink of saying goodbye to the moment when everything was still in front of them.

Conjuring F. Scott Fitzgerald as the great Gatsby gazes at the green light at the end of the pier, these nostalgic thoughts suggest an overlay of longing in this Bildungsroman that prepares us for the quests and follies our own lives will follow.Or ironically, we as Archie’s peers, have ourselves all ready experienced.

Perhaps Archie is a modern Jew, raised in a loving home with Jewish values of respect and responsibility post World War II, primed to be educated and fully assimilated in America, the home of freed immigrants and refugees like his grandfather, people who did not want to be differentiated by faith or religion at all, desirous to fit in, work hard and achieve the American Dream. I want to claim Archie as Jewish because in all of his manifestations, I really do like him. I can identify with his passions and pursuits, his fallibility and his attitudes towards life.

Yet unlike Jonathon Safan Foer in Here I Am, the very title from Abraham’s biblical response to G-d in the wild, triggering the novel of modern Jewish angst, his character, Jacob Bloch’s contemplation, strong connection to Israel, daily Jewish observances, the holocaust, all fictionally realistic, perplex and make me want to distance myself as his Canadian cousin, so I pine for something Jewish to connect me to Archie, but sadly , Archie’s thoughts about anything Jewish never figure in 4321, except as a structural stylistic note to bring the novel full circle, a tool, a device manipulated by a clever writer.

And although I too have assimilated, I carry with me Jewish connections- to family holiday celebrations, beyond Kafka to Jewish literature, an understanding of basic Jewish practices, a respect for the travel of my ancestors who brought us here, a link to Jewish worlds of repression and oppression, Jewish humour, even anxieties and neuroses because I am Jewish although many would scoff that I have created a stereotypical image rather than one that penetrates a Jewish sensibility. 4321 severs the ties with all of that, only leaving the names of his friends and some family as indicative of our origins, wisps of torn paper to be carried off in the wind.

In the end, we are left with the cumulative incident, the joke- Archie’s name “ Ferguson” or ” Ikh hob fargessen” which isn’t a joke because without your name, your identity has been banished and young Archie moves among his four identities, none that tackles, unriddles or comes to grips with his birthright. I cannot help but recall Eva Hoffman’s memoir, Lost in Translation, in which she searches to resurrect her past lived in her first language Polish. It is true that Archie grew up in English, however, the vestiges of a communal past have the power to reach out and shape who we become, an epilogical ghost from the past perhaps. So like the Jews of old, our Archie wanders among four deserts, searching. Without a past, we exist only in the present, no matter how charitable, how charming or charismatic we may be, twisting in that cold and bitter wind.

Maybe that is why I yearned for a speck of Jewish connection in a tale that is predicated on a Jewish joke so that Archie might come to know his roots and travel on to a secure future where he might confront and acknowledge his past, muttering, I did NOT forget.

Those Moments

When I lectured to groups, I’ld begin by asking my participants to close their eyes and attempt to recall a moment from their earlier lives. What always emerged, without any prompts, concerned a birthday, a family gathering, a funeral, an event detailed with sense experiences, a visual- perhaps of a glowing candlelit cake, the sound- of sweet laughter or the rub of a cheek against their own. I could see the faces of people transported, actually reliving those moments.We would discuss that it was impossible to remember every single day of a life lived, but those heightened by extreme happiness or sadness did in deed reside in our heads, available for easy recall.

When I taught high school previously, I also posed questions to my students,”How are you similar or different to your ancestors.” It was a postcolonial literature class and I was teaching books from Africa, India and the South America: the point being to bridge worlds and diversity, reminding the classes that we all came from somewhere and our own progenitors were once immigrants too. Moving from themselves through personal anecdotes to first person narratives by authors to indigenous cultures and novels gently lead them into a process that erased the demarcations of me and them. But once again, it was asking them to search in their heads for that special shared time with a loved one.

Often I used Margaret Laurence’s personal essays in Africa, a middle class Canadian herself, moving on to Rohinton Mistry or China Achebe or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In deed, One Hundred Years of Solitude is so full of magic, surreal situations of exaggerations and fantasy to delight and confound even Harry Potter fans. There are people in the book who can fly, others who literally shrink in old age, suggestive of a fairytale but based in actual horrendous events, reminding the reader that truth is often stranger than fiction.

To my initial prompt, student Rebecca had written about a yearly visit to her grandma in Germany who had grown up in wartime, a grandma who penny pinched, reused, recycled. Rebecca was not enamoured of the summers because she felt her Oma stingy. In a moment of revelation, the granddaughter realized that in her own eco saving moments, she too had disparaged the waste of disposables and had emulated her grandma’s stance of thriftiness, even organizing recycling groups. There were other stories that connected personality traits and role models, shuffling bubies who had lived in Kensington and kept fish fresh in their bathtubs until it was time for dinner. And with a self conscious guffaw and some amazement, the students comprehended that they might have inherited more than their names from their progenitors.

But what interested me was the moment, the flash, the epiphany and why certain memories had been retrievable while others languished with the business of daily routines. Of course, I intuited the memorable event was flagged by the emotion surrounding it, but true enough, our lives are filled with so many experiences conceived in or surrounded with joy, delight, anger or distress, times we wish we could hold on to, renewing them when we need comfort, or resurrecting them to better understand ourselves. Why did certain moments rise to the surface of consciousness , while others were lost deep in our heads?

Last night while attempting to sleep , I combed through my own life, searching for those episodes that still continue to haunt me. For the most part, there were single flashes: a grade one teacher who wore shiny brown oxfords along with a look of disdain for me, and a class in which unable to cut out leaves for the construction of leaf people, the boy who sat in the seat ahead turned with a soft smile to surreptitiously perform the act. And I in present time, re- experienced the relief of not enduring my teacher’s scorn and my gratitude towards him. But why had this small event of maybe 2-3 minutes persists and, I, still able to feel the embarrassment and relief of maybe 60 years ago?

Rummaging through my head again, I recalled a Halloween, married with a three year old, me intent on creating a big bird mask for her, spending days with papier mache, the result looking a bit like big bird on crack for the features although were distorted. When she saw it, she loved it: the essence of Big Bird obvious to her. However on the walkabout that dark night, other children spying macabre eyes too big, an oversized mouth, a lolling tongue, festooned with shaggy ocher bits of floating feathers of their favourite character, she began to shriek and cry out. My poor daughter, not understanding that she herself was NOT the cause of alarm, fused momentarily with her mask and terrified, refused to go out on all subsequent Halloweens for years. I can relive this event in full as if it were occurring before my eyes even today.

But not just the moments of extreme emotion rise in my memory, pictures of festivities such as backyard parties with friends interacting at tables set with golden decorations, lavish drooping white flowers, glittering glasses of wine, soft music and the happiness of celebrations marking transitions. Were there other scenarios that have not lodged, found a niche, a dark corner in my brain, but not eclipsed or overcrowded by other similar moments? Surely so.

As I get older and want to piece together what has contributed to being me, I am frustrated at not being able to locate other small gems that might provide insight. Hardened like tiny crystals, so many other experiences do not come forward, even in whiffs of dreams. What I have is a broad outline perhaps that is composed of the basic person I am: the art, the books, the teacher, the mother, the planner of events that afforded me pleasure, the broad strokes of a life. It’s a bit like Sisyphus climbing the rock over and over again, except I wish I had a small awl or hammer to claw away at the rock in hope of dislodging some fragment forgotten.

Laura

Sometimes from nowhere, you are given an unexpected present. It’s not your birthday, you haven’t done anything special, there’s no reason and then something pops up.

Being a total computer Luddite, I’m often unsure about what buttons to push or what messages to retrieve. Okay, if someone from Nigeria has information that I ve been left a small fortune from my long lost cousin Hector, I know not to respond. But I saw the yellow “ 2” on my Facebook page and took a chance that the message might be all right and no bug would be imported to corrupt my entire system. And I so, I pushed the tab, held my breath and waited.

From this vast vast world, a young woman wrote saying she had been cleaning up old books from her family home and had come upon a card, I,her teacher, had written to her in the late 90’s and it had encouraged her to continue on writing. In my mind’s eye I envisioned her, a bandanna wrapped around her dark head, she bent over a desk in the corner of her once bedroom where perusing her life from high school, as documented in a pile of discarded mementos, she came upon a small note tucked in a book, perhaps an adjunct to a favoured novel we had taught at Northern so many years ago, or maybe a loose scrap festooned with doodles that had captured her daydreaming of a future beyond our narrow walls. And loosening the pages, the note had edged out, just enough to catch her attention.

It had been a hard week and so I appreciated her taking the time and trouble to reach out to me. It meant so much. Some weeks or even years are hard as they are filled with our frustrations, our failures or confusions. For me, fall is always a time of disruption, sadness. Maybe because I harbour in my bones the time my dear mother passed away, and my head is filled with the outset of my father’s polio, also on a Labour Day weekend. As you age, some events become stronger, clinging to you when you least expect them, ghosts that continue to haunt and knock at your mental door, dragging you back to days described or lived in pain. For us who live in the north climes, the bare ness of trees, the shrivel of flowers, the recession of the warming glaze of the summer sun can trigger further your sadness.

And yet in the midst of my gloom, an unexpected gift from a shadowy face, someone I might pass on the street and now not recognize. We never know how we impact( or not) on the lives of others, or when we have said the right thing at the right moment, connecting, brightening someone else’s day. On the other hand, we may alternatively never know when we have erred in our judgment, made thoughtless, distracted by our own issues, and too late wish we could go back and apologize.

My years at Northern were a gift in so many ways. I had a wonderful supportive principal, a forward thinking smart department head, insightful colleagues and outstanding classes, the brightest and the best in many ways. It was difficult work and after an awkward beginning where in a grade 12 class horrible Hamish lead the troops to scribble on my blackboards, overtalk and/ or ignore me, I won the confidence of that class because one boy, Daniel, who suddenly raised his head from a posture of sleep, actually listened and admonished his classmates to do likewise. Hamish sat in a funk, unable to provoke further chaos and more heads turned towards me because what I was saying about The Tempest was interesting and challenging.

I prepared and over prepared often having three times as much information as necessary for a class. I sought innovative ways to engage the students, encouraging their own search in their studies, finding an angle, an interview, a vignette, an image and area they might want to explore. In one class where we brainstormed and, I encouraging their finding their own avenues, the result was brilliant presentations and outcomes that demonstrated their knowledge. From time machine scenarios and the creation of children’s storybooks to connections between physics and the rise and fall of themes, imagination, delight and understanding soared. These are moments that continue to warm me.

Was it being part of group work that had triggered my unexpected writer last week, or the quiet words I had shared written to congratulate my student on a composition of a perfect sentence that revealed insight or something deeper?

Teachers today are often maligned, disrespected as in the line, those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. And true perhaps of some who muddy the waters or whose personal bias makes for uncomfortable classrooms and not great learning. But as in any profession, not every teacher’s pedagogy will meet the needs of every child. But so it is in every profession. Those who dazzle and those who limp along, trailing bodies of those disenchanted- doctors, plumbers, programmers all.

And that is not to suggest that every child in my classes soared., for you always recall the losses, the scowls, the complaints, harbouring the wish to return: try another tactic, face down a stare with a smile or make right what has continued to trouble you, a forever pebble in your shoe.

But I suppose I did have a few fans, quiet thoughtful types with mischievous grins whose sparking eyes or reflective assignment made me react and so because, I’m not a gregarious type although I have been known to be effusive unable to stop myself…, I must have written something significant that communicated heartfelt congratulations and encouragement to my student, urging her to stretch further.

And now , my note had come full circle, back to me, encouraging me to lift my head in the autumn doom of my thoughts, that to believe there is worthiness and in the tiny buds that will spring back to life.

Sad Days even a week later

Carol Shield’s final book Unless concerned a daughter who sat with a begging bowl at the corner of Bathurst and Bloor. She wore a placard with the word “Goodness”. The daughter appeared to be so overwrought with the state of the world that like an alms-begging monk ,she had retreated from polite society, her own cosy, loving home to the hard pavement, brought down by the numerous calamities of daily life.

I understand that image of the bereft woman so well these passed weeks. The world with Donald Trump and our mini-sized Trump here in Ontario delight in destruction. This past Tuesday morning after Thanksgiving began for us with The Star’s reporting the threat of destroying Bill148 that upholds workers’ rights. For the States, in last few weeks the Kavanaugh debacle that ended in his selection and confirmation to the Supreme Court made me want to weep. His behaviour perhaps uncorroborated in the past by a few select witnesses, still portrayed the man in the present in a toddler’s rage, marked by a level of tantrum, insults, egotistical, self- pitying, beer drinking embarrassment that does not, I believe, align with the coolheaded judgements he will be asked to make as a supreme jurist.

Leaving me aghast was Susan Collins who voted for him, a supposedly independent thinker who occasionally moves against her party.For her to affirm the nomination was treacherous, strange and pitiable as a woman. All who listened to Blasey Ford found her credible, 100% identification of her attacker and her demeanour impossible to criticize, yet now she is cast with all the other survivors of these acts indelibly etched in their souls, their testimonies ignored. And worse yet, society since the Anita Hill investigation, believing themselves more open, more caring, more listening and more supportive of women, have shown that is not the case at all. Perhaps only more two- faced. In fact, we cycle and recycle the same old terrible stories with the same sad terrible results, the victim tossed aside, the perpetrator, like his pussygrabbing boss, boasting false innocence, faces shining in triumph. Small heroes, but heroes in deed were Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota who voted against Kavanaugh, the later who will lose her seat but not her rational ability to see clearly and act appropriately.

And here too, the women one had once believed independent, clearheaded thinkers have sided with our Premier, all ready demonstrating their allegiance to outmoded ideas and the brutish shenanigans that accompany their party head. A colleague of my husband’s suggested Caroline Mulroney is ever too much a daddy’s girl, willing to please her father figure boss,Ford : ironic as her real father disagreed with commandeering the Notwithstanding clause that hangs over our heads for anything or anyone who disagrees with him. And Christine Elliot, another we had believed to be rational, perhaps still in her husband’s shadow, not finding her own legs, more confident to ride the coattails of the head man here. It certainly perplexes in these times when women are supposed to be more empowered, able to knock their heads against glass ceilings. But perhaps still unable or in this political situation unwilling to break through that ceiling. So much for the chatter around Sheryl Sandberg’s “ lean in”, be assertive mantra. Rather, smile sweetly and nod your pretty little heads, girls.

What begins to emerge are two worlds, the division in the States as promoted by Trump, a world where compromise, cooperation, empathy, research and thoughtfulness is tromped upon, and the yahoos prevail. The people who cheer Trump on no matter what he says or does. That the US economy rises must be self-satisfying, yet he takes credit where he deserves none, riding on Obama’s coattails. And one begins to wonder, incredulous that Barack Obama once was even elected and lived in the White House. How did that happen when such a reversal has occurred? I shaking my head at the inconsistencies. And still worse, the blockheads who buoy up the Trump era, agreeing that ‘ fake news’ or the dirty Democrats are responsible for all of society ills and complaints.

I begin to think that some of us do live in a totally different world. Yes, we see the protesters who not only storm the steps in Washington, but hold Jeff Flake’s elevator door, shouting their truth. We read the reports in credible papers such as The New York Times. We watch John Oliver’s weekly and Stephen Colbert’s nightly attacks , laughing at the incredulous, ludicrous behaviours perpetrated on immigrants, dreamers, women, all “the others”, and know these voices that speak out are in deed preaching to the choir because the voters who put these men in office PUT them in office. Even Lady Gaga and Robert Di Niros are mere whisperers among the raucous shouting of the mesmerized.

And what of these blind folk who follow, do not think, the populous who have endorsed with their votes, their shouting rage, their staunch feeling that Trump speaks for them? They recall for me the Peter Brueghel painting of The Blind Leading the Blind, one attached to the other, ready to topple over another, not just blind but unwilling to see. Who are they that they can persist in a notion of the future where climate change, isolationism, and greed will support and improve the lives of their own children? Even some of the supporters must be women or have daughters?

Where do we turn, transfixed , heartbroken by the shape of our society?

When I read Unless so many years ago, I was not particularly impressed, The Stone Diaries and certainly Larry’s Party exerting a stronger impact on my evaluation of Shield’s writing. However in these present times, the symbol, the depiction of the daughter Norah and Norah’s mother, Reta’s helplessness in the scourge of their times persisted and resurrected itself in my head.

Perplexed but understanding of the daughter’s action in Unless, Shields writes,

“Why is Norah acting, or not-acting, as she does? Tom thinks she’s suffering post-traumatic stress, but he… [l]acking answers, and under the influence of Danielle Westerman( therapist), Reta adopts a theory of female exclusion, which she expounds in a series of letters addressed (but not posted) to men guilty of failing to recognise women’s achievements. As Reta sees it, ‘The world is split in two between those who are handed power at birth, at gestation, encoded with a seemingly random chromosome determinate that says yes for ever and ever, and those like Norah, like Danielle Westerman, like my mother, like my mother-in-law, like me, like all of us who fall into the uncoded female otherness in which the power to assert ourselves and claim our lives has been displaced by a compulsion to shut down our bodies and seal our mouths and be as nothing against the fireworks and streaking stars and blinding light of the Big Bang.”

So sad moments. As we treat women, the disenfranchised so we treat ALL people. To be alive in the 21st Century and to be behaving thus is incomprehensible, shameful. So I weep.

Reposting of The Weight of Ink

I think we often look for Jewish connections and enquire of friends and family about “Jewish geography”: points from which to unravel our identity as people belonging to a particular religion with shared knowledge , ideologies, beliefs, customs and traditions.

A friend of mine remarked that a certain reviewer she knew was always looking for books with Jewish themes. Not surprisingly, that reviewer lectures mainly to bookgroups at synagogues so why wouldn’t her topic revolve around authors whose interests relate to Jews?And yes, I agree it’s important to empathize and stretch, expanding our perspectives beyond one’s own realm, but oftentimes when we peer deeper into ourselves, we begin to understand others better.

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish has been making the rounds, especially as a Jewish book award winner, it has attracted much attention. The story contains two entwined stories, one in 1660; the other in 2000. Documents secreted in a hidden cubbyhole of a house are the rallying point for a story that showcases the lives of two independent women, the main protagonist, orphaned penniless Ester Velasquez from Amsterdam and Helen Watt historian from London. Unlike Ester, Helen is not Jewish, but has had a meaningful relationship with Dror, a Holocaust survivor in Israel.As well, Helen, has lived on a kibitz around the time of the War of Independence. Life in Israel stimulates an interest and an enduring remembrance of a Jewish love. She has a sketch of Masada on her walls and is drawn to research that recalls her passion for the country.

Similar to A. S. Byatt’s construction of a historian’s unearthing important documents in the book, Possession, Helen is the taciturn seeker who initiates the search into Ester the young Sephardic woman, an anomaly for her times. There are many parallels between the women: their questing, intelligent minds, their unfulfilled love lovers, their strong sense of self, and disregard for authority, especially male imposition. Complimenting the story are other Jewish women, not side figures who are poorly written, but memorable women with their own personal ambitions, histories, desires and limitations due to the times into which they were born. For example, stoic Rivka, survivor of Polish pogrums; flirtatious wealthy Mary a confused teenager, abandoned by her father, whose adventures lead her to danger, Ester’s Portuguese mother whose discussions regarding love are perplexing confidences to the developing Ester. All women have deep connections to Judaism: of what is written, allowed and forbidden.

Particularly as the Inquisition has damned Jews in Europe and depending on the particular King who sits on the throne in England , Jewish lives are accepted, ruined or made miserable. In all cases, antisemitism is promoted . In one shocking scene in the novel, in order to save their lives, the “ Jewesses”, Ester, Rivka and Mary, must turn over Mary’s family house and its contents to the Church, rather than be put to death by a mob pelting windows with excrement and stones.

Even the Jewish men in the story are multidimensional from Aaron Levy, American doctoral candidate who works with Helen in the rare manuscripts department, to blinded Rabbi HaCoen Mendes who encourages Ester as his scribe and confesses that she is brightest of two pupils he has ever taught: the other being the excommunicated Spinoza. HaCoen Mendes regrets the role he has played in Ester’s life, accepting guilt on his deathbed that he encouraged her studies, allowing her to be his scribe when her brother could not – particularly in a time when women’s learning was not tolerated.Ester distressed by betraying Mendes’s trust through her dalliance in correspondences , tells herself she would not have changed a thing.

To confound the notion of love and loyalty is gay Alvaro HaLevy whose father signs him up for the life of a sailor and Mary’s lover, Thomas Farrow, ribald actor and disgraced son who refuses responsibility in regards to his deeds. Laced throughout are troubling writings considered heretical , some by the banned Spinoza who equates G-d and nature. For Jews in 1660, to even consider such thoughts, but even worse to put pen to paper to share these speculations, was reason for excommunication, treason and death.

But the protagonist, Ester is fascinated and troubled, pondering ideologies and ontologies while her female contemporaries plan marriages and provocative dresses. So too Helen is a serious scholar whose discovery of Ester as author is a breakthrough advance for feminist history.

In her 1988 book A Poetics of Postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon refers to books like this as “historiographic metafiction.” Such novels display a special awareness of the relationship between history and literature. They combine real events and lives from the past, unconcerned with accuracy. Kadish uses The Plague and the Great Fire of London along with real documented facts and attitudes held by the English towards Jews, even situating Ester and Mary at a play that resembles Sir George Etherege’s The Comical Revenge: or, Love in the Tub ( 1664).Her protagonist Ester is a creation, her relationships fictional, yet Ester is the readers’ gateway that brings insight and awareness into lives lived by Jews at the time, but especially of Jewish women.

Historiographic metafiction is an intrinsically postmodern form, by Hutcheon’s definition, and so it follows that these books have special pertinence to the moment of their writing. Interestingly, The Weight of Ink delves into seventeenth-century Jewish culture in Amsterdam. In Heretics, Leonardo Padura Fuentes also focuses on a Jewish assistant to Rembrandt, forbidden to make representative images by The Ten Commandments.

Both novels investigate the crisis caused by Sabbatai Zevi, the seventeenth-century rabbi who claimed to have fulfilled the role of the Messiah. Both novels also address the herem—or shunning—of Spinoza at the age of 23, as well as the significance of the return of Jews to England.

As Rachel Kadish is a woman, she explores the life of a woman by her own reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Here the notion was contemplated: what if Shakespeare had a brillant sister, what would her fate have been( see questions with Rachel Kadish at the conclusion of the novel). Although Woolf speculates that “Judith” Shakespeare would have died young, unable to test her intelligence, Kadish gives us tough minded Ester in a narrative that imagines the possibilities of one young woman- a Jewish woman at that- provided by fate with the tools to drive a personal need for knowledge and enlightenment.

Labelling herself as” unnatural” and an” empty vessel”, Ester is more than a copyist or mere scribe to Rabbi HaCoen Mendes. In a recent interview with JewishBoston, Kadish noted that Ester “speaks the language of philosophy..her mind incandescent.” To engage the thinkers who are likewise ponder questions of existence, Ester uses male pseudonyms, spurring questions and replies on metaphysics and religion with some of the greatest thinkers of the 17th-century, such as Van den Enden, Thomas Hobbes and even, Spinoza.

Criticized for being over written in its 600 pages, The Weight of Ink does fully develop and extend a picture of a world inhospitable to Jews, made more difficult for some Jews themselves through their “crypto- conversion” from the Inquisition, pettiness, exclusionary tactics for self protection and their adherence to unflinching rules and traditions to safeguard remnants of faith that is constantly used against them .Yet in light of repressive and terrible consequences, anti Semitic attitudes that could result in death, the communities in Amsterdam and London endeavour to survive by any means possible. That Benjamin HaLevy and Rabbi HaCoen Mendes soften, display kindness and even provide opportunities to a young woman,Ester, demonstrates the glimmers of hope in the worst of times, for the most beleaguered in society.

In light of the few female names that have survived in the visual and written arts, one wonders how many women actually painted and wrote in attics , at dusk or dawn with forbidden brushes or pens, how many struggled to overcome the edicts of their days, and their birth – and how many allowed their desire to die or whither in fear of punishment or worse.

It is a fascinating story and truth of past lives.

The Weight Of Ink

I think we often look for Jewish connections and enquire of friends and family about “Jewish geography”: points from which to unravel our identity as people belonging to a particular religion with shared knowledge , ideologies, beliefs, customs and traditions.

A friend of mine remarked that a certain reviewer she knew was always looking for books with Jewish themes. Not surprisingly, that reviewer lectures mainly to bookgroups at synagogues so why wouldn’t her topic revolve around authors whose interests relate to Jews?And yes, I agree it’s important to empathize and stretch, expanding our perspectives beyond one’s own realm, but oftentimes when we peer deeper into ourselves, we begin to understand others better.

 

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish has been making the rounds, especially as a Jewish book award winner, it has attracted much attention. The story contains two entwined stories, one in 1660; the other in 2000. Documents secreted in a hidden cubbyhole of a house are the rallying point for a story that showcases the lives of two independent women, the main protagonist, orphaned penniless Ester Velasquez from Amsterdam and Helen Watt historian from London. Unlike Ester, Helen is not Jewish, but has had a meaningful relationship with Dror, a Holocaust survivor in Israel.As well, Helen, has lived on a kibitz around the time of the War of Independence. Life in Israel stimulates an interest and an enduring remembrance of a Jewish love. She has a sketch of Masada on her walls and is drawn to research that recalls her passion for the country.

Similar to A. S. Byatt’s construction of a historian’s unearthing important documents in the book, Possession, Helen is the taciturn seeker who initiates the search into Ester the young Sephardic woman, an anomaly for her times. There are many parallels between the women: their questing, intelligent minds, their unfulfilled love lovers, their strong sense of self, and disregard for authority, especially male imposition. Complimenting the story are other Jewish women, not side figures who are poorly written, but memorable women with their own personal ambitions, histories, desires and limitations due to the times into which they were born. For example, stoic Rivka, survivor of Polish pogrums; flirtatious wealthy Mary a confused teenager, abandoned by her father, whose adventures lead her into danger, Ester’s Portuguese mother whose discussions regarding love are perplexing confidences to the developing Ester. All women have deep connections to Judaism: of what is written, allowed and forbidden.

Particularly as the Inquisition has damned Jews in Europe and depending on the particular King who sits on the throne in England , Jewish lives are accepted, ruined or made miserable. In all cases, antisemitism is promoted . In one shocking scene in the novel, in order to save their lives, the “ Jewesses”, Ester, Rivka and Mary, must turn over Mary’s family house and its contents to the Church, rather than be put to death by a mob pelting windows with excrement and stones.

Even the Jewish men in the story are multidimensional from Aaron Levy, American doctoral candidate who works with Helen in the rare manuscripts department, to blinded Rabbi HaCoen Mendes who encourages Ester as his scribe and confesses that she is brightest of two pupils he has ever taught: the other being the excommunicated Spinoza. HaCoen Mendes regrets the role he has played in Ester’s life, accepting guilt on his deathbed that he encouraged her studies, allowing her to be his scribe when her brother could not – particularly in a time when women’s learning was not tolerated.Ester distressed by betraying Mendes’s trust through her dalliance in correspondences , tells herself she would not have changed a thing.

To confound the notion of love and loyalty is gay Alvaro HaLevy whose father signs him up for the life of a sailor and Mary’s lover, Thomas Farrow, ribald actor and disgraced son who refuses responsibility in regards to his deeds. Laced throughout are troubling writings considered heretical , some by the banned Spinoza who equates G-d and nature. For Jews in 1660, to even consider such thoughts, but even worse to put pen to paper to share these speculations, was reason for excommunication, treason and death.

But the protagonist, Ester is fascinated and troubled, pondering ideologies and ontologies while her female contemporaries plan marriages and provocative dresses. So too Helen is a serious scholar whose discovery of Ester as author is a breakthrough advance for feminist history.

In her 1988 book A Poetics of Postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon refers to books that present verifiable events, locations and situations as “historiographic metafiction.” Such novels display a special awareness of the relationship between history and literature. They combine real events and lives from the past, unconcerned with accuracy. I think we often look for Jewish connections and enquire of friends and family about “Jewish geography”: points from which to unravel our identity as people belonging to a particular religion with shared knowledge , ideologies, beliefs, customs and traditions.

A friend of mine remarked that a certain reviewer she knew was always looking for books with Jewish themes. Not surprisingly, that reviewer lectures mainly to bookgroups at synagogues so why wouldn’t her topic revolve around authors whose interests relate to Jews?And yes, I agree it’s important to empathize and stretch, expanding our perspectives beyond one’s own realm, but oftentimes when we peer deeper into ourselves, we begin to understand others better.

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish has been making the rounds, especially as a Jewish book award winner, it has attracted much attention. The story contains two entwined stories, one in 1660; the other in 2000. Documents secreted in a hidden cubbyhole of a house are the rallying point for a story that showcases the lives of two independent women, the main protagonist, orphaned penniless Ester Velasquez from Amsterdam and Helen Watt historian from London. Unlike Ester, Helen is not Jewish, but has had a meaningful relationship with Dror, a Holocaust survivor in Israel.As

well, Helen, has lived on a kibitz around the time of the War of Independence. Life in Israel stimulates an interest and an enduring remembrance of a Jewish love. She has a sketch of Masada on her walls and is drawn to research that recalls her passion for the country.

Similar to A. S. Byatt’s construction of a historian’s unearthing important documents in the book, Possession, Helen is the taciturn seeker who initiates the search into Ester the young Sephardic woman, an anomaly for her times. There are many parallels between the women: their questing, intelligent minds, their unfulfilled love lovers, their strong sense of self, and disregard for authority, especially male imposition. Complimenting the story are other Jewish women, not side figures who are poorly written, but memorable women with their own personal ambitions, histories, desires and limitations due to the times into which they were born. For example, stoic Rivka, survivor of Polish pogrums; flirtatious wealthy Mary a confused teenager, abandoned by her father, whose adventures lead her to danger, Ester’s Portuguese mother whose discussions regarding love are perplexing confidences to the developing Ester. All women have deep connections to Judaism: of what is written, allowed and forbidden.

Particularly as the Inquisition has damned Jews in Europe and depending on the particular King who sits on the throne in England , Jewish lives are accepted, ruined or made miserable. In all cases, antisemitism is promoted . In one shocking scene in the novel, in order to save their lives, the “ Jewesses”, Ester, Rivka and Mary, must turn over Mary’s family house and its contents to the Church, rather than be put to death by a mob pelting windows with excrement and stones.

Even the Jewish men in the story are multidimensional from Aaron Levy, American doctoral candidate who works with Helen in the rare manuscripts department, to blinded Rabbi HaCoen Mendes who encourages Ester as his scribe and confesses that she is brightest of two pupils he has ever taught: the other being the excommunicated Spinoza. HaCoen Mendes regrets the role he has played in Ester’s life, accepting guilt on his deathbed that he encouraged her studies, allowing her to be his scribe when her brother could not – particularly in a time when women’s learning was not tolerated.Ester distressed by betraying Mendes’s trust through her dalliance in correspondences , tells herself she would not have changed a thing.

To confound the notion of love and loyalty is gay Alvaro HaLevy whose father signs him up for the life of a sailor and Mary’s lover, Thomas Farrow, ribald actor and disgraced son who refuses responsibility in regards to his deeds. Laced throughout are troubling writings considered heretical , some by the banned Spinoza who equates G-d and nature. For Jews in 1660, to even consider such thoughts, but even worse to put pen to paper to share these speculations, was reason for excommunication, treason and death.

But the protagonist, Ester is fascinated and troubled, pondering ideologies and ontologies while her female contemporaries plan marriages and provocative dresses. So too Helen is a serious scholar whose discovery of Ester as author is a breakthrough advance for feminist history.

In her 1988 book A Poetics of Postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon refers to books like this as “historiographic metafiction.” Such novels display a special awareness of the relationship between history and literature. They combine real events and lives from the past, unconcerned with verisimilitude . Kadish uses The Plague and the Great Fire of London along with real documented facts and attitudes held by the English towards Jews, even situating Ester and Mary at a play that resembles Sir George Etherege’s The Comical Revenge: or, Love in the Tub ( 1664).Her protagonist Ester is a creation, her relationships fictional, yet Ester is the readers’ gateway that brings insight and awareness into lives lived by Jews at the time, but especially of Jewish women.

Historiographic metafiction is an intrinsically postmodern form, by Hutcheon’s definition, and so it follows that these books have special pertinence to the moment of their writing. Interestingly, The Weight of Ink delves into seventeenth-century Jewish culture in Amsterdam. In Heretics, Leonardo Padura Fuentes also focuses on a Jewish assistant to Rembrandt, forbidden to make representative images by The Ten Commandments.

Both novels investigate the crisis caused by Sabbatai Zevi, the seventeenth-century rabbi who claimed to have fulfilled the role of the Messiah. Both novels also address the herem—or shunning—of Spinoza at the age of 23, as well as the significance of the return of Jews to England.

As Rachel Kadish is a woman, her dwelling on the life of a woman by her own reading of Virginia Wolf’s A I think we often look for Jewish connections and enquire of friends and family about “Jewish geography”: points from which to unravel our identity as people belonging to a particular religion with shared knowledge , ideologies, beliefs, customs and traditions.

A friend of mine remarked that a certain reviewer she knew was always looking for books with Jewish themes. Not surprisingly, that reviewer lectures mainly to bookgroups at synagogues so why wouldn’t her topic revolve around authors whose interests relate to Jews?And yes, I agree it’s important to empathize and stretch, expanding our perspectives beyond one’s own realm, but oftentimes when we peer deeper into ourselves, we begin to understand others better.

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish has been making the rounds, especially as a Jewish book award winner, it has attracted much attention. The story contains two entwined stories, one in 1660; the other in 2000. Documents secreted in a hidden cubbyhole of a house are the rallying point for a story that showcases the lives of two independent women, the main protagonist, orphaned penniless Ester Velasquez from Amsterdam and Helen Watt historian from London. Unlike Ester, Helen is not Jewish, but has had a meaningful relationship with Dror, a Holocaust survivor in Israel.As

well, Helen, has lived on a kibitz around the time of the War of Independence. Life in Israel stimulates an interest and an enduring remembrance of a Jewish love. She has a sketch of Masada on her walls and is drawn to research that recalls her passion for the country.

Similar to A. S. Byatt’s construction of a historian’s unearthing important documents in the book, Possession, Helen is the taciturn seeker who initiates the search into Ester the young Sephardic woman, an anomaly for her times. There are many parallels between the women: their questing, intelligent minds, their unfulfilled love lovers, their strong sense of self, and disregard for authority, especially male imposition. Complimenting the story are other Jewish women, not side figures who are poorly written, but memorable women with their own personal ambitions, histories, desires and limitations due to the times into which they were born. For example, stoic Rivka, survivor of Polish pogrums; flirtatious wealthy Mary a confused teenager, abandoned by her father, whose adventures lead her to danger, Ester’s Portuguese mother whose discussions regarding love are perplexing confidences to the developing Ester. All women have deep connections to Judaism: of what is written, allowed and forbidden.

Particularly as the Inquisition has damned Jews in Europe and depending on the particular King who sits on the throne in England , Jewish lives are accepted, ruined or made miserable. In all cases, antisemitism is promoted . In one shocking scene in the novel, in order to save their lives, the “ Jewesses”, Ester, Rivka and Mary, must turn over Mary’s family house and its contents to the Church, rather than be put to death by a mob pelting windows with excrement and stones.

Even the Jewish men in the story are multidimensional from Aaron Levy, American doctoral candidate who works with Helen in the rare manuscripts department, to blinded Rabbi HaCoen Mendes who encourages Ester as his scribe and confesses that she is brightest of two pupils he has ever taught: the other being the excommunicated Spinoza. HaCoen Mendes regrets the role he has played in Ester’s life, accepting guilt on his deathbed that he encouraged her studies, allowing her to be his scribe when her brother could not – particularly in a time when women’s learning was not tolerated.Ester distressed by betraying Mendes’s trust through her dalliance in correspondences , tells herself she would not have changed a thing.

To confound the notion of love and loyalty is gay Alvaro HaLevy whose father signs him up for the life of a sailor and Mary’s lover, Thomas Farrow, ribald actor and disgraced son who refuses responsibility in regards to his deeds. Laced throughout are troubling writings considered heretical , some by the banned Spinoza who equates G-d and nature. For Jews in 1660, to even consider such thoughts, but even worse to put pen to paper to share these speculations, was reason for excommunication, treason and death.

But the protagonist, Ester is fascinated and troubled, pondering ideologies and ontologies while her female contemporaries plan marriages and provocative dresses. So too Helen is a serious scholar whose discovery of Ester as author is a breakthrough advance for feminist history.

In her 1988 book A Poetics of Postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon refers to books like this as “historiographic metafiction.” Such novels display a special awareness of the relationship between history and literature. They combine real events and lives from the past, unconcerned with accuracy. Kadish uses The Plague and the Great Fire of London along with real documented facts and attitudes held by the English towards Jews, even situating Ester and Mary at a play that resembles Sir George Etherege’s The Comical Revenge: or, Love in the Tub ( 1664).Her protagonist Ester is a creation, her relationships fictional, yet Ester is the readers’ gateway that brings insight and awareness into lives lived by Jews at the time, but especially of Jewish women.

Historiographic metafiction is an intrinsically postmodern form, by Hutcheon’s definition, and so it follows that these books have special pertinence to the moment of their writing. Interestingly, The Weight of Ink delves into seventeenth-century Jewish culture in Amsterdam. In Heretics, Leonardo Padura Fuentes also focuses on a Jewish assistant to Rembrandt, forbidden to make representative images by The Ten Commandments.

Both novels investigate the crisis caused by Sabbatai Zevi, the seventeenth-century rabbi who claimed to have fulfilled the role of the Messiah. Both novels also address the herem—or shunning—of Spinoza at the age of 23, as well as the significance of the return of Jews to England.

As Rachel Kadish is a woman, her dwelling on the life of a woman by her own reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own underlines her novel.Here the notion was contemplated: what if Shakespeare had a brillant sister, what would her fate have been( see questions with Rachel Kadish at the conclusion of the novel). Although Woolf speculates that “Judith” Shakespeare would have died young, unable to test her intelligence, Kadish gives us tough minded Ester in a narrative that imagines the possibilities of one young woman- a Jewish woman at that- provided by fate with the tools to drive a personal need for knowledge and enlightenment.

Labelling herself as” unnatural” and an” empty vessel”, Ester is more than a copyist or mere scribe to Rabbi HaCoen Mendes. In a recent interview with JewishBoston, Kadish noted that Ester “speaks the language of philosophy..her mind incandescent.” To engage the thinkers who are likewise ponder questions of existence, Ester uses male pseudonyms, spurring questions and replies on metaphysics and religion with some of the greatest thinkers of the 17th-century, such as Van den Enden, Thomas Hobbes and even, Spinoza.

Criticized for being over written in its 600 pages, The Weight of Ink does fully develop and extend a picture of a world inhospitable to Jews, made more difficult for some Jews themselves through their “crypto- conversion” from the Inquisition, pettiness, exclusionary tactics for self protection and their adherence to unflinching rules and traditions to safeguard remnants of faith that is constantly used against them .Yet in light of repressive and terrible consequences, anti Semitic attitudes that could result in death, the communities in Amsterdam and London endeavour to survive by any means possible. That Benjamin HaLevy and Rabbi HaCoen Mendes soften, display kindness and even provide opportunities to a young woman,Ester, demonstrates the glimmers of hope in the worst of times, for the most beleaguered in society.

In light of the few female names that have survived in the visual and written arts, one wonders how many women actually painted and wrote in attics , at dusk or dawn with forbidden brushes or pens, how many struggled to overcome the edicts of their days, and their birth – and how many allowed their desire to die or whither in fear of punishment or worse.

It is a fascinating story and truth of past lives.

Fasts or Not

Last night when Thandie Newton won an Emmy for her performance in Westworld, she said she wanted to thank G-d even though she did not believe in Him. And so we, like the radiant Thandie, want it both ways: believing and non- believing, hedging our bets – just in case, there is an afterlife, that there exists a power in the universe, a first principle, one that might seek us out or One we might fear could wreck havoc on us.

In our darkest times, we search for meaning, attempting to make sense of injustice, of evil: and we tend to come up with no reasonable answers: platitudes that we cannot understand, the knowledge is “ beyond” our limited comprehension, but no one, I assert, can accept the suffering of little children… In the best of times, we thank G-d for lives that shine, for the gifts we ponder we deserve or do not deserve. We like to think we have been blessed, that the records of our comings and goings have yielded our good fortune, and like the offspring of our proud mommies and daddies, we are being rewarded for our actions. On a walk last week, my grandson spotted tiny aphids all working in concert, tiny programmed insects, dancing to the dictates of nature. Reading The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, through her 1660 heroine, I observe Ester, who explores Spinoza’s “heretical ” theories that G-d is the impetus, the spark that illuminates all of us and Nature, not responsible for the good or bad,but that underlying force that motivates. Studies show that people with religious beliefs do in deed do better in illness as their strength to endure is fortified by their beliefs.

During these days of awe, our High Holidays, Jews are supposed to behave better, atone, ask for forgiveness, demonstrate their potential for positive behaviour. And then tomorrow, Yom Kippur, we fast, symbolically draining our bodies of the bad, purifying our souls. We wish one another “ a good fast.” My parents who were perhaps most exemplary good and moral people you could ever encounter did not fast. My mother prone to migraines, as I am, was all ready so lean she did not want to lose an ounce. My father, I may recall, perhaps fasted to noon, having disparaged religion when polio took his legs. Yet they still counted themselves as Jews, my mother particularly, possessing a mystical belief in a Creator. Bound up, yet having loosened the holds religion places and expects of its followers.

In synagogue Elyse Goldstein, rabbi at City Shul provoked her congregants to think about what it means to be Jewish, providing all the arguments the Millennials sprout regarding Anti-Semitism, the holocaust, nostalgia, doing good deeds, notions of religion, fidelity to Israel. etc. She explained that Israel is such a contentious topic, that even she, rabbi of a Reform pulpit, hasn’t lectured on it for many many years. She challenged us to consider, What does the “am” signify in “I am Jewish” for each congregant. She cited a study in New York that enquired of people what religion they belonged to, the surprising response of several claimed Judaism as their own in spite of the fact they were not born or converted to Judaism.

I’m finding that certain memories have been hammered in my head, the holiday dinners at my grandparents and later at my parents’ home , yet as I attempt to ferret out the break- fast dinners, I come up empty. I do recall my parents would drive north, depart the city for Mackinaw Island or Agawa Canyon, taking in its autumn beauty, but I am unclear exactly when these drives occurred, and did they arrive back home for my mother to put dinner on our table, or did they stop for a grilled cheese sandwich at a diner, for they did follow kosher dictums on food.

Except, we as children, Wendy and I, were allowed bacon because our Jewish paediatrician extolled the virtues of it, years before the tasty meat was discovered to harbour dangerous carcinogens. My father, guffawed and did not accept that medical opinion. To weeks before she passed away, my mother’s favourite lunch was a bacon and tomato sandwich toasted.

From my youth, I do recall attempts at fasting and one particular Yom Kippur when a friend and I succumbed to bags of potato chips in the early afternoon, we received the scorn of her neighbours, the Fishbeins, who discovered us chomping, giggling and our adolescent mouths covered in crispy crumbs. But I hold no memories of a formal family get together in which we “ broke the fast”.

For years, fasts have reached a vogue position from the Atkinson to the Mediterranean to the present day Keto in which some uphold that if you starve yourself of carbs, your body will find them in your body and devour them, rendering you slimmer.

Having fasted yesterday, I do wonder at the benefits, for I received my persistent headache that even prevented my sleeping. My Pilates instructor informing me that our Yom Kippur fast does not help the body for the right way is a three day cleanse wherein one gradually reduces foods and sugars, and then day by day reintroduces them to the body. So our fast may be symbolic, but I have yet to attend a Yom Kippur service where someone, either man or woman, usually “older” has not passed out. So the ritual does not make a lot of sense except if the comatose person is able to connect directly with G-d.

Rather, reciting prayers together, revisiting those departed in a liturgy, retiring from the demands of daily life and the cell phone, dreaming of a new and improved year are worthy objectives. So cynical and as unknowing as I am, I cannot complain about a day at shul, especially with a rabbi who makes me think, ponder and consider .And even a symbolic fast isn’t so bad, but more than just once a year.

Big things, little men( and women)

Yesterday I asked my grandson what his homework was and he replied, “ democracy.”

With everything going on in the world, I wondered if civics class is part of the grade 5 curriculum or was his teacher following the papers, and like the rest of us, jaw dropped at the bullies in the world who use the word democracy but truly mean their own brand of personal democracy.

With Premier Ford overturning Justice Balobaba’s ruling that attempted to stop the reduction of 47 municipalities to 25, people like angry children screamed,” You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. It’s not fair.” And so our Premier asserted, “Oh yes I can”, and he did, ignoring and trampling on our legal system by calling out the “ not withstanding clause “ from our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Much like the Republicans in the States who give lip service to their president, our government demonstrates no backbone, knowing that unless they support the direction of their leader, they will suffer personal loss of their positions. In deed, some pundits say Ford’s decision to decrease 47 to 25 is a move based on petty grievances and previous lack of support at council.How incredibly disillusioning: that rather than stand up and assert what is right, greedy souls pander to their party leader: for personal gain . A panoply of articles from Marcus Gee and Martin Regg Cohn to private citizens on editorial pages in our national papers and even The New York Times are discussing our constitutional crisis. Writes Stephen Marche in nytimes.com,

And from Italy to the Philippines to Canada, this cannibalizing populism is swallowing traditional Conservatism whole. Mr. Ford snuck through to the leadership on a voting system that ranked ballots. He won neither the popular vote nor the greatest number of constituencies. But the Progressive Conservative machine is behind him already. It operates on inherited loyalties, antipathy against scandal-plagued opponents, time-for-a-change sentiments and basic self-interest.

Others rightfully are attacking Caroline Mulroney, Ford’s attorney general, for her gutless consent, even her father acknowledging the travesty of Ford’s actions that undermines our Charter. Can anyone who believes in rights and freedoms, the breadth and wisdom of our Charter, honestly believe that a premier’s petulant wishes should commandeer the Illustrious notions that underpin a free democracy. Instrumental in the development of the Charter’s “ not withstanding clause”, former Prime Minister of all of Canada Jean Chrétien, Premier Roy Romano’s, 12 th Premier of Saskatchewan and jurist Roy McMurtry declared that Ford is violating the spirit of our Charter in using the clause because its intent resides in exceptional situations, “ only as a last resort and careful consideration.” These contributors assert, “ We condemn his( Ford’s) actions and call on those in his cabinet and caucus to stand up to him.” Sadly, they will not. I think of Mickey Mouse swatting flies with a hammer. And I think how history will judge these spineless ones, their silence, their tacit approval of wrong, for self- serving benefits.

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Ford says he embodies democracy in spite of an election ballot of only 58% of the population. And some suggest, the people in the burbs who elected him really don’t care about these big issues , happy that big daddy is loud, boisterous and returns us to the era of Father Knows Best. But in these worst of times, especially as we shriek at Trump’s behaviour in overriding justice to our south, we should be holding our democracy closer, ensuring our little men don’t personally rewrite through their own perspective what pertains to our overarching, hard won freedoms. After Ford’s decision to override Balobaba’s ruling, people symbolized their opposition; papers reported “protests rock house” detailing a 70 year old woman, daughter of holocaust survivors, taken away in handcuffs. Bill Davis, former 18 th Premier of Ontario , a key architect of the 1982 repatriation of the Constitution was infuriated, adding his name to the mounting list of people opposed to Ford’s manoeuvres to get his own way. Amnesty International and hundreds of other Ontarians were/ are enraged. Yet the Colossus strides, upturning buildings, destroying order, simply because he can.

Canadians who pride themselves on being more civil, perhaps more intelligent and thoughtful than those in the States are in the same boat with having elected a leader with no scruples, values or awareness of the true meaning of democracy. Where money and business stand in for culture, caring and cooperation, these men did not hide their hearts’ desire of smashing all that they cannot understand or value. The lack of empathy, compassion and awareness of diversity in society does not mean anything to their personal drive for success, and rename their boastful slogans “ democracy.” How do you explain this to a fifth grader? In deed, why would you?

In trying to approach the notion to my grandson, I enumerated the multiple levels of society, federal, provincial, local, explaining each had a person who responds to the voices of the peoples they represent. I gave examples, contrasting “ our democracy” with autocracies, oligarchies and monarchies. My husband said it best and most simply, that the word comes from the Greek that means “ people”.

I thought of the Shakespearian line from Measure for Measure,

…So you must be the first that gives this sentence…. O! it is excellent To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous/ To use it like a giant.

And too, the music and lyrics of Hamilton pounding in my head: the story of man with such strong values and belief in government that he supported Thomas Jefferson against Aaron Burr because Hamilton demurred,” The former had principles; the latter none.”Hamilton in his Federalist Papers, Hamilton’s deep reflection, Hamilton’s belief in government, Hamilton a giant, Ford a fly.

To the innocents of our days, with their first study of democracy, I refuse to profer examples of our present day abrogation of what small men do in the political arena, rather returning to Hamilton, Kennedy, RBG, Hannah Arendt whose stood for more than just themselves. Marche from The New York Times,

Conservatism is no longer a political ideology in the recognized sense, but a repository of loathing and despair. It’s where people thrust their hatred of modernity — of globalism and multiculturalism and technocratic expertise, but also of the democracy that fostered those systems in the first place. By giving high office to buffoons, by choosing thugs as their representatives and by revelling in nastiness for its own sake, the Conservative brand now is principally a marker of contempt for political order itself.

Rosh Hashanah Reflections

On Passover, we ask, “ Why is this night different from all others.” Yet it holds the sameness of all other holidays: our religious gatherings at nightfall when all of the precious people of our family come together around the festive table to celebrate our history, our faith. So here we are again at Rosh Hashanah. All of us dressed better, in a happier mood, relishing the food, the time, the love that binds us at the beginning of the new year and the demise of the old one. Here we all are again, anticipating a clean slate, forgiveness, expectation as gleaming as our grandchildren’s shining faces. I’d often heard of family “ brogus” being set aside at holiday time so that bad feelings could be relinquished as the new year arrived.

Heralding the brightness of new beginnings along side the darker desire for atonement and reflection, we will watch as Poppa points to those Rosh Hashannah symbols represented by rosy apples, dripping honey, warm challah and sparkling wine, his prayers sanctifying them, the children’s unblinking eyes glued tightly on him.In unison, we will yell, “ Oi- men”, and laugh, delighted to pass the fruits of the earth to one another, the work of our hands, the blessings of G-d. These repetitions provide the hallmarks of enduring memories throughout our lives.

For me, the days of preparation for dinner is a combination of old favourites of the perfectly stuffed turkey, but also another attempt to emulate my mother-in- law’s excellent gefelte fish . Mine either lacks correct spicing or too watery even after my yearly attempts to follow her loose descriptions of “ pinch of this…handful of that..you’ll know when…” Usually the food receives compliments but I believe the fish is consumed as part of the New Year pattern :that fish precedes soup which proceeds kugels en route to multiple deserts. Still I wonder if some special ingredient has been omitted from my fish.

My buby Molly was legend in her realm of cookery, but my Aunt Goldi confided that the” family” cabbage rolls were transmitted to others without the squeeze of lemon so that the original recipe could go to the grave with the original chef who no doubt thought it a family secret to forgo one ingredient in the recitation of ingredients. So like a story whose sections are embellished or deleted in the telling, some element is omitted – even between relatives- so the result cannot be served completely in tact.This troubles me greatly.

And because my mind always leap to other places, it flies to the whispered repetitions of coveted foods in women’s sections in concentration camps during the Holocaust where a scrap of paper or smidgeon of shoe leather was the repository for a special recipe. These lost moments of a tangy smell, a sweetened taste, a loving glance around the table stimulated familial celebrations of beloved faces and cherished voices, and a necessary hope that life would be restored, the madness disappeared and rituals restored; that the food, the preparation, the coming togethers were only just stalled until the entire mishpucha would once again reunite, safely around the burning candles that dripped streams of wax on a fine linen table cloth passed down throughout the generations.

At this time of year, I, too, hold close the memories of my parents and the Rosh Hashanah dinners at their house. Never a thought was given to the work that necessitated my mother to rise even earlier than usual or fall into her bed, energy depleted, after the last plate dried. There were squabbles over who would sit next to my father who always commanded the head of the table. He quietly beamed at us, taking in our families, while chanting the prayers, his pronunciation of certain vowels differing from our Hebrew School learning, we noted, wondering why.

My mother darted back and forth, serving and occasionally perching, her legs aching from the last days of cooking, cleaning and now placing her dishes before us . Her mother, I recalled, disappeared into the kitchen to eat by herself, no doubt also collapsing into whatever chair available: to suck chicken feet – if I glimpsed her behind the swinging door to the dining room where uncles sported dark fedora hats and aunts like preening peacocks were festooned in special navy dresses, and we, cousins, waited expectantly for the moment when we might depart the table heaped with food, bound into the rec room below to hoot, shout and play games without adult supervision.

We were not religious people but we came together as a family at these holiday suppers, reminding me of Bella Chagall’s memoir Burning Lights as she narrated the annual arrivals of her far flung family in the shetl, Vitebsk, at the end or commencements of the harvests, family on horseback, in carts, the women bearing heavy pots, depicted in her narration of unending dinners that continued late into the velvety nights under Russian skies.

Many years ago my son invited his university friends to Rosh Hashanah dinner and I set myself the task of making as many different kugels as I could find ; fortunately all but the potato could be frozen. From zucchini to eggplant to sweet potato with raisins, I scoured cookbooks that offered an impetus to create the puddings. Finally at table, we chortled, attempting to identify the vegetables that all began and ended with eggs, onions and matzoh meal, even foods resembling that cycle of creation and endings of our rituals. Since then, though, the meal has been pared down to only two potato kugels, one sweet , one plain, three or four fruit pies, of course, a honey cake and at least one other completing desert, usually chocolate, contributing to eating ecstasy. The laughter, the camaraderie, the delight of being together, sharing a meal whose very basis is the reason we gather at dusk.

Although the table heaped with offerings is the centre of focus, one year, post -dinner wrestled for attention as we received a midnight call, requiring immediate babysitting. Perhaps unable to battle all the kugels, soup, side dishes, meats and deserts crowding his space, grandson number two decided to exit six weeks early. He was named Aaron, the high priest.

But, as well, this time of year holds unforgettable events- sad events that marked our life. My father succumbed to polio one Labour Day weekend when I was 18 months old. Interestingly, no one ever mentioned Rosh Hashanah that year, arguing whether it had been “early” or “ late.” I imagine in my mind’s eye, the family dinner, quieter than usual, especially my buby Molly at the edge of tears, and my mother clutching me as I, more than a year, squirmed in her arms.

And my mother again- close to 92, so many years later, shortly after hearing the shofar blown in her hospital room, passed from this world of beginnings to another.

Perhaps because this is season of my father’s polio, she was always anxious around Rosh Hashanah as a period of transition, likely focusing on holiday preparations to banish frightening thoughts from her mind. She is, not surprisingly, is at the periphery of my thoughts during these days. Now as I age , there is so much I would share with her: questions I would ask ( about knitting, for sure), so many fears or doubts I would look to her for assurance : that all would be well and turnout fine. She was so fearful herself, often struggling tenuously to hold our world together like a jigsaw whose pieces might suddenly fall asunder and require reassembling by her able practical hands, handling and rearranging our lives, a task she completed as in the child’s story of The Little Red Hen that she never ceased to cite in deference to the lack of assistance by her family: “ALL by her self”, she would loudly affirm, moving between the real and the storytale, endowing herself with magic to erase our troubles and difficulties she had encountered but overcome in our lives. She, our mother, always silently praying, that this New Year would be better than the last.

If she were still on this earth and we were meeting for Saturday lunches, I might behave slightly differently, not avoiding difficult conversations, attempting to banish them into non- existence, probing more deeply and certainly, more sensitively. Not merely scoffing at her refrain that she wished she had become a nurse or an interior decorator. With greater compassion and kindness, I would NOT counter now, to change the subject,”Well, an orange cannot be an apple”. Truthfully, as she pondered her life, combing through lost opportunities, I was afraid to listen, not wanting to be hurt by some detail I had not all ready heard.

My parents had a wonderful way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah beyond our family gatherings. Yearly they would travel to the North where in Ontario at this time of year, the air is crisp, the autumnal leaves ripe on the trees, a kaleidoscope of colours. They might spend a day or several, driving through the beauty of nature, their thoughts far from the city. I stayed behind, but one year, cracked open the bottom drawer of a dresser in their bedroom. Heaped inside were the remnants of their life before and during my father’s polio. I poured over the barely readable postcards sent from the hospital where he had spent nine months when he was only 28 years old, robbed of the muscular power of his limbs.

In their exchanges, they write my name as “Paddy”, as an Irish person would. Or maybe the crosses on the “t’s” are sloppy and resemble “d’s”, but the fragments break my heart as I glimpse the broken communication between my parents. Tears overrun my eyes as I sense the immense difficulty even a few words has taken to produce their daily interchanges, but I sense in the scribbled half formed letters the depth of my father’s love for my mother.In my talks to her, I do not want to re- awaken these knives of pain and so we did not unshovel the past. Perhaps this why she does not speak of the missed holiday dinner that separated them.

So I approach the New Year with a mixture of emotions, grateful but longing for my mother’s company, pondering my relationship with my father, but also anticipating a supper with most of my children and grandchildren present, observing their fingers coated with honey , and their chomping Honey Crisp apples carefully chosen by my husband.

I enjoy the look of the table with my grandmother’s silver and her fine dishes: ones I refused, but finally belligerently accepted, because they are heavily ornate, not my style at all. Now I am happy for their place at my holiday table, a silver treasure, their quality beyond cost and symbolizing that I am a thread in my family that has unwound, as evidence of immigrant migration from Poland. I gaze too at the fine porcelain tableware, wishing I had investigated the stories the plates must withhold, although remembering my mother had related: that a peddler would come to the door weekly, selling one precious spoon or dish – and my grandmother would save and save until she could afford to purchase one here, one there , until she had put aside enough dollars to complete a full set.No wonder that even at 90 my mother precariously stoops to pick up a penny!

I wonder what my grandchildren will take from my suppers. Will they joke about the kugels, the unending offering of deserts, some strange detail that I imparted such as my grandmother’s delicious dun- coloured handmade wine from purple plums, or the reminisces of rollicking fun I shared with my cousins. Or the disgusting slurp of sucking chicken feet?

This year, the first ever, my family from Philadelphia will arrive for the family dinner completing the circle . How excited am I ,covering their beds with toys and new clothes.Usually we fill that absence at Thanksgiving at there house, but it happiness of happiness, joy of joys, on Sunday night -in person – they will be here, participating in traditions that are saturated with love: from the planning of foods to the folding of napkins to covering the them” with uninvited hugs and sloppy kisses, steeping them in Rosh Hashannah adoration.

The traditions etched in my mind and body have indeed shaped me as a person, a Jewish person acculturated by my laxity of making the traditions fit my life, weighing the precepts of giving anonymously, living a honest life, not fasting when sick, sadacka, for example, scoffing at burying dishes in the earth, or not eating shrimp, etc: the strange bits I discover when reading the translation of Torah portions written in another age…

Rather, it is the meaning of passing down a closeness, a memory of what it means to belong to a religious ritual- even briefly -that is initiated by an old and sacred story, a story that interrupts the workday to stress what is the most significant and meaningful in my life, that “time out of time”: as T.S. Eliot might conjecture, ” the still point of the turning wheel”. The family at the core of one’s life, the family that even when we’re gone will continue to interrupt the stream of their lives to sit down at dusk to reinvent and participate in a that yearly event that reaffirms difference but continuity in Jewish lives.

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