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Archive for the month “September, 2018”

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.

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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.

Stories of ordinary people

There is the factory girl, the immigrant, the son of the truck driver and the lonely lady who owns the bar. These are just ordinary people, people who come and go, grapple with life’s manipulations and tribulations. They are not self serving types. They do not blame their circumstances on others, rather they are merely dreamers searching for a way to improve or change the conditions of their days and weeks and years.

The factory girl is spunky, outspoken, denying but entranced by the fellow who works at the park. She keeps returning ,magnetized by his charisma, fascinated and like the moth to light drawn to danger.

The immigrant born in the Carribean knows he’s an outsider. Constantly his upbringing is the hand that smacks him and taunts him, causing him to talk too much but somehow his sense of self pushes him forward to excel beyond his caste in society.

The son of the truck driver also feels locked up by the closeness of his upbringing on a street where his cousins have inhabited forever. He spies a guitar, takes his mom’s pay check for lessons, but cannot commit to lessons. So he quits, bumbling around, disquieted by his circumscribed life.

And the woman who was once married is bored but resigned to her café in a hot and dreary place where nothing ever changes,she reminiscing about the romance of movie stars.

These human stories, these snippets of nondescript people we know personally, whom we pass on the street were the windows through which I peered last week, gleaning their tales, their thoughts in New York. The stuff of stories on Broadway, the quiet, unassuming, penetrating experiences of those quiet introspective types trying to figure out where home is and why they must stay or seek out alternatives to their present states yesterday, today or tomorrow.

The factory girl is Julie Jordan in Carousel, a mill worker who falls in love with the wrong guy. Standing toe to toe, able to meet him eye to eye but uninterested in committing to him, she does fall and falls hard for the man who is more interested in unlawful deeds than committing to a traditional life of responsibility.Complicated types both she and her guy Bill are torn up by emotions they cannot control, she rationalizing and standing by her man, acknowledging but unable to leave his abuse. In this retro piece, Julie at first is admirably strong but cannot move away from his flame.

Strangely for a modern day audience, we are shown Bill’s fate in which the playwrite produces on stage a surrealistic landscape of an in-between heaven populated by angels in ragged flounced gauze. Bill is allowed to return to earth for a final chance at redemption, but his strong “ man’s” inability to confess his weakness underlines his hubris.The strong man shown weak, the weak woman made strong by the difficulties of life, their voices made eloquent in songs that have persisted although the dramatization renders an anachronism, sweet but perhaps silly. The strains of “You’ll never walk” alone divorced from Jerry Lewis’s telethon now an ardent plea for the desire for help when the everyday storms threaten to topple you.

The Caribbean is Alexander Hamilton , Lin -Manuel Miranda’s brilliant creation of the driven outsider whose brain, wit and insight propel him upward in society to sit beside and guide George Washington. His writing , his thinking, his intelligence and charisma are the catalysts to upper class society, marriage and the builders of the emergent America of 1776. Still his jealous arch rivals, especially Aaron Burr, riddle his life with intrigue, opposition, betrayal and eventually death. There has been,as well, love by the upper class Schuyler girls, but instead of the tickle of fame, it is the power of a sexual liaison that undoes Hamilton’s rise in government. Hamilton cannot be praised enough, music, acting, words, the trajectory of events reaching out to grab, shake and mesmerize those present , privileged to share the hopes of the boy who comes to America and suffers by the hands of his jealous rivals who lack values that transcend petty personal gains.

It is Springsteen who is in a sense the American Dream as he stands before us, reciting poetry others have gleaned in his music. Not a fan, I am drawn in by the words that create indelible images of his mother’s high heels that clack along the floor that turn into slow dancing steps as she declines into Alzheimer’s; and the tension at the bar when as a boy he is sent to wrestle his father from his stool, a man with haunches like a rhinoceros: these words that hold fast in my mind .So much and so deep a Catholic he marvels how well his education has seated that religion in his soul. Yet desperate to leave the shelter of his small town, he flees as fast as he can in an open back truck under the canopy of night stars. His language of a young man’s pain piercing his own present day successful acceptance.

And the other lady, Dena, a typical Israeli in Betatikvah not Petatikvah who plays host to The Band’s Visit entertains an Egyptian musician from Alexandria for one night , he along with his fellow band members , witnessing the life of those out of work, aimless, who roller skate, cry out their fears, meet at cafes, listen to the baby’s cries, the belligerent racist, who go on existing, their own silent music also producing a rhythm.

As in the best books, we lose ourselves in the narratives of those who resemble, maybe a lot or a little, ourselves, reminding us of our own struggles, our boredoms, our helplessness or lack of control, of the bullies, the places and spaces that lock us in, but how passages can be opened even slightly by the temptation of love and human desires. We entrap ourselves in these stories, transfixed, forgetting our own personal anguishes, embracing those who say or sing it more loudly and more eloquently than in the silent thoughts that bang around in our own heads. These people speak and give voice for us, and like augers transform our thoughts into pictures that allow us to stand outside ourselves, creating potent catalysts to release us from ourselves. It is a release, a wonder to truly observe ourselves and as TS Eliot would suggest- knowing the place for the first time and although we view with awe and horror, we watch others involved , knowing the circumstance, the community but freed from the pain of the experiences. Schaudenfraude.

Broadway where every step is in pattern, where every note is perfectly on key, where life is larger than life and we sit in the audience, both watcher and participant, acknowledging , knowing in our heart of hearts that a writer has communicated what our fumbled words are unable to express, what our failed looks have failed to connect, what our pinched hearts are feeling. And it is magic. It is what Aristotle imagined in his unities- the pity and the terror of the stage that can trigger a catharsis. Or a moment’s epiphany.

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