Tag : Jewish

The Lilith Blog

January 6, 2021 by

A Q&A with Jennifer Robson, Author of “Our Darkest Night”

It’s 1942, and Antonina, a young Jewish woman, is no longer safe in her native Venice. With help from a benevolent priest, her father finds her shelter with a family of farmers outside the city. Although she knows she should be grateful for the chance to escape, Antonina grieves the separation from her parents and is terrified of accidentally exposing the charade she is forced to perform — assuming the role of the young farmer’s wife. Novelist Jennifer Robson talks to fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about Our Darkest Night (William Morrow, $17.99), her newest novel that is devoted to Antonina’s brave and harrowing story. 

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October 23, 2020 by

Did Alzheimer’s Turn My Husband Into An anti-Semite?

Plenty of Jews who “marry out” ask their new partners to convert. I wasn’t one of them. Yet I’m deep-in-the-bone and dyed-in-the-wool Jewish. My parents were card carrying Zionists from the Midwest who’d met at Habonim, a Zionist youth group. My father dropped out of the University of Michigan in 1949 to go to the newly formed state of Israel.

“Israel?” said his mother, clearly not keen on the idea. “What’s in Israel? Sand, s—- and flies.”

My mother disagreed. Barely 17, and as starry-eyed with the dream as he was, she followed him there. They lived first in a kibbutz and later on a moshav; my brother was born in the first and I in the second, making me a sabra, with a Hebrew name and Israeli birth certificate. My parents left Israel when I was a year old, but the country loomed large, almost mythical, throughout my childhood, even though I didn’t return until I was 18. When I did, it felt like a homecoming.

But when I fell in love with my husband, it was his very non-Jewishness that made my Jewish girl’s heart flutter. Born and raised in Portsmouth, NH, he was a Yankee through and through, part of a big, extended Catholic family, most of them
still in the area.

The first Christmas we knew each other, he brought me to his boyhood home, a charming white house. He raved about how the backyard had been filled with lilacs in the spring; I could almost imagine their scent. We passed his Nana’s house on State Street, where he’d stop by; together, they did the Jumble in the newspaper while he ate a generous slice of the incomparable apple pie she’d baked. Then there was the Whipple Elementary School, the pond where he’d learned to skate, his father’s sporting goods store on Market Street, where it had been his job to string the tennis racquets and dust the stacked boxes of model airplanes. Molson’s, the drugstore/ luncheonette, was gone, but he wished I’d been able to taste the ice cream Mr. Molson churned in the basement—vanilla, chocolate, peach, and his favorite, coffee.

We drove along the coastline—all 18 miles of it—and he introduced me to his cousin Bobby, who had a lobstering business. As a teenager, he’d worked for Bobby during the summers, and in the years before sunscreen was as much a requisite as toothpaste, he told me his skin burnt as red as those poor lobsters when thrown into pots of boiling water. Further up the coast was where his family would rent a cottage for a few weeks in August; he and his siblings dug for clams along the shore and his mother cooked them in a pot right on the beach. A few years later, as a budding artist, he went there on his own, setting up shop on the boardwalk and drawing portraits of passers-by. We visited the cemetery where his relatives were laid to rest: grandparents, uncles and aunts—most memorably to me the one called Elspeth.

I came back from that visit in love with Portsmouth—and with him. His New England upbringing seemed to have been lifted straight from a Norman Rockwell illustration. Its wholesomeness and its divergence from my own spoke to me. I didn’t need or even want him to be Jewish—I wanted him to be just who and what he was.

The attraction of opposites was reciprocal. If there had been any Jews during the years he lived in Portsmouth, they must have stayed on the sidelines, for he didn’t know them. So, to him, I was an exotic creature—dark-haired, fast-talking, hands
always moving. If his R.P.M. was 16, mine was 78—on a slow day. He loved the Yiddish words I tossed lightly in his direction—gatkes was a particular favorite—and the world they conjured. He could listen to my grandmother’s endless (and endlessly
repeated) stories about the “old country” with true and rapt interest; basking in his attention, she dubbed him “a prince.”

We each fell in love with the way the other was not like us—vive la difference. And it was those differences that carried us happily through our life together. When we married, it was—by mutual agreement—in a civil ceremony, but we celebrated
Pesach and Rosh Hashana with my mother. When our son was born, it was he who urged the bris rather than the purely medical circumcision offered by the obstetrician. I took to his holidays, Easter and most especially Christmas, which I celebrated with all the suppressed longing that only a Jewish girl can have.

We raised our children with a sense of respect for each of our backgrounds; for them, there was no sense of “other” but a strong sense of “both.” I occasionally experienced flack from other Jews who criticized my decision to intermarry, and
especially for not giving our children a more tangible Jewish education. I brushed them off. We were happy. Case closed.

And then, in his seventies, my husband received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, a development that changed his life—and mine. As a spouse-turned-caretaker, I struggled with my new role, trying to frame it within the positive. He still knew me, and he still knew the kids. He was still moved—transported even—by the kind of art
he’d always loved. He still took photographs, his life’s work, although he no longer used the Leica that had practically been another limb, or spent hours in the darkroom developing them. He still loved coffee ice cream.

Between my reading and my discussion with his doctors, I knew what to expect: the repetition, the disorientation, the agitation, the sun-downing. I steeled myself against his occasional outbursts, the paranoia and delusions—I was having an affair with the contractor who redid our kitchen, I had tried to poison him, I was stealing his money, I was planning to leave him.

None of this was even remotely true, but reason didn’t have any purchase against the erosion taking place in his mind. I found I could either try to distract him—a phone call to one of our children might help—or wait it out. The moods always
passed, as did his memory of them. “I said that?” he’d ask incredulously. “I didn’t mean it. I’m so sorry.”

But then there was a night on which, in the middle of such an episode, he uttered these words: “You know what the problem is? It’s that you’re a Jew and Jews are a vile people—you’re from a vile race.”

It was the most shocking thing I’d ever heard him say, and for a moment, it seemed to upend everything I thought I knew about him. About us. It was also, in a strange, dark way, kind of…funny. After all, it was a little late to be bringing it up now; the Jewish card had been played early on—from the beginning, in fact.

He went on in this vein for a while and then something in his mood turned; his anger lifted, forgotten. But I couldn’t forget. The other insults, the accusations had been easier to disregard. These words were insidious, heat-seeking missiles aimed right at my heart. What if on some inchoate level, he’d always felt this way? Wasn’t that the old warning? He says he loves you now, but the first time you have a fight, it’ll be dirty Jew. That won’t be us, I had smugly thought. Well, now it seemed that it was.

And that wasn’t the last of it either. On several other occasions, he’d start in on those same accusations, using the same or similar language. Of course I knew that though it was his voice I was hearing, those weren’t his words. They were lines from
a script deeply embedded in our culture and written by the disease, the one that had taken up residence in his brain and was inexorably reshaping it.

But knowing that didn’t entirely diminish their power to wound. Instead, they dredged up every anti-Semitic taunt I’d ever heard: Christ-killer, big nosed, greasy, greedy, money-loving, money-grubbing. Their venom made me question my faith in who we’d been together, and the life we’d made. What if I’d been wrong about all of it, and that there was—and always had been—some deep and yawning chasm between us? What if, as Tom Lehrer had sung back in the 1960’s, “…the Catholics hate the Protestants/the Protestants hate the Catholics/the Hindus hate the Muslims/and everyone hates the Jews”?

Then, for reasons not readily understood, the attacks—at least the anti-Semitic ones—stopped. At the recommendation of his neurologist, his medication was increased, and his moods became less volatile. I learned to see some of the triggers—a touch of impatience in my voice, for instance—and to control them.

We are, for the moment, on safe ground. Or safe enough. He can still laugh at a Yiddish phrase; I’m still the Queen of Christmas. But as has been made clear to me, this disease has only one direction, and that direction is down. I can only hope I’m strong and resilient enough to be remain the loving wife I’ve always tried to be, and the loving caretaker I’ve had to become. Part of that will mean stopping my own ears to the hateful words that can threaten to undo it all.

 

Yona Zeldis McDonough’s most recent novel is Not Our Kind,
written under the pen name Kitty Zeldis. She’s been Lilith’s
Fiction Editor since 2000.

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October 23, 2020 by

Pictures & Primary Sources •

Excerpts from thousands of primary sources reflecting Jewish creativity, diversity, and culture world-wide are shared at the Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, which will, when all volumes are complete, span biblical times to the 21st century. Historian Deborah Dash Moore is the editor in chief of this growing collection, curated by leading Jewish Studies scholars and offering unprecedented selections from original sources, many translated into English for the first time. The sacred and secular are side by side here, for readers, researchers, educators, scholars, students, anyone interested in discovering Jewish history, religious and political writing, art, cultural artifacts and more. The print version, such as Volume 6: Confronting Modernity, 1750–1880, edited by Elisheva Carlebach, and Volume 10: Late Twentieth Century, 1973–2005, edited by Deborah Dash Moore and Nurith Gertz, is available for purchase, while the digital version offers free access to anyone who registers.

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October 23, 2020 by

Why My Hair Falls the Way it Does •

I will remember the outline of the Blue Mountains in the town where my father grew up in Jamaica. I will remember the old siddur books in my grandfather’s shul that had been held by generations before me. But I will also remember the harder times.

I remember the smell of the cream that would strip my curls, and make it easier for
me to attend my Jewish day school without feeling different. But that was then. Now I walk through the halls of my high school with my curls coiled and alive.

At the age of 17, it has become easier to let these two parts of my identity—Jamaican and Jewish—become one. Memories from my childhood, good and bad, have helped shape my understanding of who I am and why my hair falls the way it does.

MAKEDA ZABOT-HALL on the Lilith Blog

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October 23, 2020 by

Why Did the Funeral Procession Cross the Road? •

I brought my hand to my heart. The voicemail was from David, at Levine’s Chapel in Brookline, MA, one of the most thoughtful funeral home directors I have the somewhat unusual privilege to know. As a rabbi it is not unusual to get a call from a funeral home director; the rabbinate is a vocation where you make plans with friends with the caveat that you’ll show up as long as no one dies.

“Rabbi,” David said, “It’s a social call. I heard you have big doings coming up on Sunday and I wanted to wish you Mazel Tov!”

I breathed out and smiled. Loss and grief, joy and gladness: a Jewish sandwich that has somehow sustained us across the ages.

We never planned to get married in the Hebrew month of Av. My partner Matan and I were to be married at the end of May. It was a date specifically chosen because it was Rosh Chodesh, the first day of a new Hebrew month of Sivan, and represented my love for how our Judaism lives by the cycles of the moon. But perhaps more importantly, we chose this day because it wouldn’t conflict with my rabbinic duties. It would have arrived at a time where I had more chances to slow down and breathe.

We never planned to get married in the Hebrew month of Av, the month in our calendar that commemorates and collates our collective loss, historic and modern. From the tragic loss of the Temples in Jerusalem through centuries of expulsions, the nine days before Tisha b’Av are not days for joy or dancing the horah.

Nonetheless, thanks to Covid 19, our Ketubah wedding contract reads as such. “On the 5th day of the Month of Av…” It was on that day, July 26th, that we created our very own little Eden in the middle of Jamaica Plain, Boston. Some of our siblings and friends were present, masked and physically distanced. Our parents and all other guests joined via Zoom.

Rabbinic sages debated what to do when loss and grief and joy and gladness meet. The Talmud offers a scenario where a funeral procession and a wedding procession meet in the center of town.

Idiomatically explained best by 11th century Rashi, “When the bride comes out from her father’s home to the wedding hall at the same time [as] those accompanying a dead body for burial and both groups will be shouting—one group with joy and the other
in mourning and we don’t want to mix the two, we reroute those accompanying the deceased…”

So, when a funeral procession—or a pandemic taking a global toll on human life—and a wedding party meet in the narrow streets of Boston, who gets to go first? Jewish sages teach us that when the two meet, we reroute our grief, because joy and gladness get the right of way.

But why did the sages believe this? Were it up to me, I would rewrite the Talmudic text and do some construction work to widen the way so that when a wedding and a funeral meet on the streets, the two processionals could share the road. For when I stand with congregants at a funeral there is often laughter mixed with tears, a deep sense of gratitude and celebration of life. When I stand with congregants at a wedding, there is also often loss and grief. Grief for those whose absence is palpably felt, sorrow for letting go of children who have grown, and I can’t help but notice the smiles of those who witness with joy but long for a love of their own.

What the rabbis of the Talmud nudge us to imagine is this: the beloveds cross the road to their chuppah, and the mourners in the funeral procession look out from their sadness through the car window, for a split second they see one another and look each other in the eye. Because we must witness them both, equally, but then allow joy to lead the way.

So our Ketubah says Av. And honestly, it has felt like we’ve been in the month of Av for 5 months now, so why postpone joy any longer?

RABBI JEN GUBITZ

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October 23, 2020 by

Meet the Black Jewish Artists in Lilith’s Digital Spotlight

This season of quarantine and anti-racist uprising, Lilith has been highlighting Black Jewish feminist artists— visual artists, dancers, musicians—in an exciting and original Instagram campaign. With theaters, concert halls, galleries and other performance spaces shuttered, connecting these talented artists with Lilith’s readers has been a bright spot in a bleak time. Follow Lilith’s Instagram and the Lilith blog for more treats like these!

Rachel Harrison-Gordon is an MFA/MBA candidate at NYU Tisch/Stern and a Sundance 2020 Blackhouse Fellow.

“To the Black girls everywhere, to the mixed girls, to the Black-Jewish girls—your life is special and valid. People will try to put you into a box so their world-view isn’t shook. Don’t let them do that, don’t let that effort subdue or censor who you are. We are all here and have something to offer.”

Ayeola Omolara Kaplan is a queer, Black, multimedia artist creat- ing artworks that empower and educate the Black diaspora and those interested in supporting its liberation… Her artwork consists of paintings, drawings, and films that aim to energize people as well as challenge their current and past perceptions of reality.

“The movement for justice needs to not only include but also amplify the voices of incarcerated people, especially Black incarcerated people. We can never be free while our family members are in cages. There is no healing behind bars.”

Nirit Takele is an Israeli artist who illustrates the daily life of the Beta-Israel community and contemporary Israeli reality, and finds inspiration in old Ethiopian sagas and folk tales remembered from her youth.

“I say this to myself and to anyone who wants to achieve something—always strive towards the goal and take the small steps that will bring you closer to it.”

Jordana Daumec was born in New York City. She trained at Studio Maestro in New York City and Canada’s National Ballet School. Jordana joined The National Ballet of Canada as an RBC Apprentice in 2003 and was promoted to First Soloist in 2015.

“I make my husband and me a loaf [of challah] every week. Such a great way to spend a day. I love the smell of the baking bread, you can see the love that you put into it and it comes out so delicious.”

Jessica Valoris is a multidisciplinary installation artist who weaves together sound, collage, painting, sculpture and facilitated ritual to build installations and experiences that have been described as sacred, intentional, and activated.

“There will always be something important that needs to be addressed, mediated, serviced, facilitated. There is always more work to be done. Saying no is a practice of pausing, recalibrating, and saying yes to myself.”

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October 23, 2020 by

Informed Engagement •

Encounter, a nonprofit educational organization, seeks to grow the Jewish community’s capacity to contribute to a durable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which all parties live with respect, recognition, and rights. It invites Jewish leaders to expand their view of this conflict and to be a positive force for communal change. You can access a library of articles, videos, podcasts and other media by staff and past participants that encourage a deeper understanding of the conflict from a range of perspectives.

encounterprograms.org

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The Lilith Blog

October 15, 2020 by

Connecting Jewish Tradition with Black Fugitive Legacies

This autumn, the parking lot of the Halcyon Arts Lab in Washington DC hosted a special sukkah built by visual artist Jessica Valoris. Though its materials—recycled cardboard, paper, bamboo and plant materials—are all things you might expect to find in your average sukkah. this one is anything but; it’s a structure that confronts the past and present, invites us to engage with possibilities of the future. Lilith spoke with Valoris about creating, Black fugitivity, spirituality, and more. 

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September 17, 2020 by

Black Jewish Women Artists You Should Know… Tatiana Wechsler

Art–whether it be dancing, painting, drawing, film–creates a space for self-examination, helping us to envision possible futures, and better versions of ourselves. And the Jewish month of Elul is traditionally an opportunity for introspection before the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Recognizing the power of art to be transformative, Lilith is highlighting Black Jewish women artists in this time leading up to and through Elul. On Lilith’s platforms you’ll have a chance to experience, share, and celebrate their work.

You can also participate by letting us know (at info@Lilith.org) Black Jewish women creators we should include!

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September 8, 2020 by

Black Jewish Women Artists You Should Know… Nirit Takele

Art–whether it be dancing, painting, drawing, film–creates a space for self-examination, helping us to envision possible futures, and better versions of ourselves. And the Jewish month of Elul is traditionally an opportunity for introspection before the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Recognizing the power of art to be transformative, Lilith is highlighting Black Jewish women artists in this time leading up to and through Elul. On Lilith’s platforms you’ll have a chance to experience, share, and celebrate their work.

You can also participate by letting us know (at info@Lilith.org) Black Jewish women creators we should include!

(more…)

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