Category Archives: Jewish Immigrant

Book Review: The Free World

thefreeworld

The Free World, by David Bezmozgis, is a captivating novel that entails the emigration of Latvian and Soviet Jews, specifically during the late 1970s, when some were permitted to leave. In 1978 the Krasnansky family has decided to leave, and their journey takes them to Rome, where they must wait for visas to continue on to the United States, or possibly Canada.

The elder Samuil Krasnansky is a diehard communist, and decorated war hero for his service while in the Red Army. The Russian Revolution had a profound affect on him, and the effects of war continued to define his life until his death. Emma, his wife, is also there, as are their two sons, Alec and Karl. The two brothers, are as different as they can be in their political and social spheres.

Alec is a roamer, a womanizer, married to Polina. He seemingly cares little about the circumstances surrounding their journey. Karl, on the other hand is a staunch capitalist, ever involved within the circle of individuals he encounters in Rome. Life is not always as it seems for the two of them. Through some humorous twists of fate, Alec feels he is being pursued by female interests, when in fact it turns out to be otherwise.

There are other laugh-out-loud lines and scenarious within the pages, such as Samuil’s reaction to a rendering of Fiddler on the Roof. Yet, withing the comic relief, the story line is one wrought with varied ideals, and varied perspectives of freedom, and what it actually means. Bezmozgis is brilliant in depicting the mindsets of the characters.

I didn’t necessarily like the characters, and found them to be flawed in many aspects. But, I still enjoyed reading The Free World, for its historical factor, and for how the author depicted the lives of the individuals. We are all a part of the whole, no matter our choices, our mindsets and our differences. We are all flawed, and no one individual is perfect in the scheme of things.

Due to Samuil’s health, the family is forced to stay in Rome longer than expected. Their visas are on the line during this time period. Their freedom to journey forward, physically, is hindered by his health. Yes, they could have forged forward, and he could have emigrated at a later point in time, but the familial hold was a strong one, despite the disparities and lack of similarities within the family members. This aspect is strong throughout the pages.

The story line reflects back and forth, and there are back stories of each of the characters. The book spans decades of familial uprising and social standings. The decades infuse the dynamics of revolution and war quite vividly. This brings into focus why they act the way they do, and also gives the reader a sense of their lives before departing for Rome, and the choices they made beforehand.

The roller coaster ride the family finds themselves on only enhances their feelings of suffocation in a city that they were supposed to be temporarily involved in, waiting for the chance to leave. Freedom takes on new meanings, from emotional stifling to physical stand stills. Their wait for visa approval is filled with frustration and the unknown.

The book had me questioning the defining of freedom and the “the free world”. Is there such a place on the planet where a person can be truly free? Does “the free world” exist, or is it just a euphemism for the areas that were located outside of the realm of the communist states. One might live a life in a non-communist environment, but does that mean they are free? Freedom takes on many forms, not the least being emotional constraints.

Before reading this book, I had no idea that there was a “way station” so to speak, in Rome, where emigres had to wait for visas. The daily interactions and emotional aspects of the waiting period is highly illuminated within the pages. The emotional struggles are brought to the forefront.

The Free World, by David Bezmozgis, is a well-formed study and metaphor for freedom and autonomy, within familial dynamics. The visuals are strong, as are the insights into the emotions of the characters. The historical aspect is an important one, in my opinion.

I would rate The Free World a 4 with 5 being the highest.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Jewish Immigrant, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Novels, Uncategorized, World History

Lorri M. Review: The Rise of David Levinsky

theriseofdavidlev The rise of David Levinsky, by Abraham Cahan, is true-to-life in its depiction of the Jewish immigrant experience, leaving nothing to the imagination.

David Levinsky is a Hasidic Jew living a strict Torah-filled life in a Russian village. He comes from a family of poverty, and one that is stringent in Torah study. He is unhappy in his situation, and eventually sails to America, disembarking in New York City.

From the minute he finds himself standing on American soil, Levinsky’s journey begins, taking him into the heart of socialization and cultural displacement, a displacement he avidly tries to overcome. Assimilation and secularism are part of his learning experiences.

He is a fast learner, as far as trying to fit into society’s demands. He is insightful as far as his exterior environment, and realizes that in order to succeed he must learn to speak English, not act as if he is a greenhorn, dress as if he is successful, and coordinate his mannerisms to an ideal that will let him succeed. He has programmed himself to not only fit in, but also to a mode of obtaining financial stability. All this, he manages to eventually accomplish, within the realm of his goals of being a proper, shrewd and prosperous businessman.

The streets of New York City are depicted with amazing clarity. Cahan knows from where those streets lead, as he, himself was a Jewish immigrant, arriving in Philadelphia in 1882, and then quickly traveling to New York City. He eventually worked his way up, through his social learnings, and eventually founded the Jewish Daily Forward.

His story could almost be Levinsky’s story. The learnings and social stigmas that Levinsky had to overcome in order to succeed in business, are portrayed with brutal clarity within the novel. I am sure Cahan’s own immigrant and assimilation experiences fill many of the pages.

The latter part of the 19th century is detailed in every aspect. I was amazed at the incredible details that exhaled from the pages. From there, through the early 20th century, the reader is taken back in time to every conceivable issue, from religion to education, sex to romantic, social to assimilation, business to materialism, and so much more. Each facet of society and its doings are examined, especially those involving the lower east side of New York City.

Levinsky’s desire for success and desire to become rich are documented through all of his dealings. From business banking to storefronts, cloak making and competititors, and eventual warehouses, each facet of his business dealings incorporate his very desire to build an empire, and build it he does.

Within those structures, he also involves himself with women, and the women that he finds most attractive are ones that he can not have. His wealth and empire can not buy him love. His sense of home and family is lacking. Levinsky rose in stature and success, yet his reputation and the respect he gained did not foster a sense of family or belonging within his environment. He gained financial success beyond his wildest dreams, only to fail in the romance department.

I read The Rise of David Levinsky always mindful of when it was written, always mindful of the language, grammar, and usage of slang, Yiddish and linguistics of the time period. I felt that to be extremely important in order to gain a sense of time and socialization.

Cahan has given this reader a sense of the late 19th century-early twentieth century New York City. My senses were filled with the streets of New York, the homes of New York, the business wheelings and dealings of New York. They were filled with the experience of immigrant life in all of its ugliness, hardships, demeaning attitudes, strivings to survive and so much more. I applaud Abraham Cahan for his accomplishment.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Jewish Immigrant, Lorri's Blog, Novels

Sunday Scenes – October 6, 2013

orangewithin green

Autumn/fall is in the air! I love the cooler weather, although in CA, it is not always cooler in the autumn/fall season. The mornings are cooler and so are the evenings, but the daytime hours can be warm.

That is why, when I walk, I do it in the morning. It gives me the opportunity to feel the coolness against my face, and to breath in fresher air.

barn in autumn

I enjoy reading Grace Paley’s poem, shown below. It brings to mind so many issues, including immigration, assimilation, ancestors, and family bonds. I hope you enjoy it too.

Autumn
By Grace Paley
1

What is sometimes called a
tongue of flame
or an arm extended burning
is only the long
red and orange branch of
a green maple
in early September reaching
into the greenest field
out of the green woods at the
edge of which the birch trees
appear a little tattered tired
of sustaining delicacy
all through the hot summer re-
minding everyone (in
our family) of a Russian
song a story
by Chekhov or my father

2

What is sometimes called a
tongue of flame
or an arm extended burning
is only the long
red and orange branch of
a green maple
in early September reaching
into the greenest field
out of the green woods at the
edge of which the birch trees
appear a little tattered tired
of sustaining delicacy
all through the hot summer re-
minding everyone (in
our family) of a Russian
song a story by
Chekhov or my father on
his own lawn standing
beside his own wood in
the United States of
America saying (in Russian)
this birch is a lovely
tree but among the others
somehow superficial

autumntrees

October 6, 2013 – 2 Cheshvan, 5774

Ⓒ All rights reserved © Copyright 2007 – 2013 – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.

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Filed under Jewish Immigrant, Lorri's Blog, Photography, poetry

Lorri M. Review: Hanns and Rudolf

hannsandrudolf Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, by Thomas Harding, is a brilliantly written and well-researched book.

This non-fiction account of two men whose lives converge, told through the eyes of the author, Thomas Harding, whose Great-Uncle was Lieutenant Hanns Alexander. Hanns was a Jewish German, and also the son of an immigrant family who fled Germany for England, turning over all of their holdings in order to gain exit visas.

Rudolph Hoss (not to be confused with Rudolf Hess) was a farmer, a man who enjoyed the earth and farming. Farming eventually became far removed from his life, and it eluded him once he joined the “Schutz-Staffel” (SS), under the suggestion of Heinrich Himmler.

Harding refers to the two men by their given name, and I shall do the same. Their personal lives are depicted throughout the pages, regarding their childhoods, their families, their adult lives and their aspirations.

One thing that struck me was the dedication to Judaism within the Alexander family. And, cemented within that, is the family Torah, the “Alexander Torah”, which survived the war. So did correspondence between Hanns and his family, and between Hanns and his girlfriend, Ann, who eventually became his wife.

Within rotating chapters detailing the lives of both Hanns and Rudolf, the reader gains an intense perspective of their backgrounds, their personal lives, their goals and their individual quests in the name of country and war.

Hanns’ life takes dramatic turns once he is in England. He wants nothing more than to be viewed as “English as possible” and wants to gain citizenship. He joins the British Army hoping. This enlistment leads to more than he could ever imagine. At the end of his enlistment, he is given full British citizenship.

The pages are infused with compelling documentation, letters, forms, photographs, testimonies, and portions of Rudolf’s own journal entries. From all of the intense documentations, one is given perspectives that are unimaginable, concerning Rudolf’s rise to Kommandant, not only Kommandant, but Kommandant of Auschwitz.

Rudolf writes forthrightly concerning the atrocities he is involved with, and this reader could see how his initial attitude of concern for Jews eventually turns into one of pure evilness and lack of caring and concern for humanity. How he went from a man who was repulsed by witnessing camp murders (yet, stood there watching as if it was a normal fact of life, to save his reputation), to a man whose attitude changed dramatically is beyond the pale. He became a man possessed with death and destruction, and a man who had no remorse or concern for his implementation of the gas chambers. Yet, he had a wife and children who he came home to, acting as if nothing horrific had occurred.

He had a hand in the design and was witness to the first group of Jews that were gassed. He programmed the entire operation, employing not only his power, but whatever was available in order to incorporate construction, destruction and horrific atrocities. He oversaw over one million individuals exterminated at the hands of the Nazis. He was the master planner, and created the extermination program that existed, including the procedures, schedules, structures, and instructions. He was fearless, merciless and steadfast in his pursuit to please his superiors.

Hanns moved up through the ranks, and his Lieutenant status saw him eventually given the status of respect he desired. He took part in the Normandy Landing. In 1945 he was afforded a role on the newly formed War crimes Investigation Team for England, based in a Brussels suburb. This position took him to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where he saw the remains of unspeakable acts of genocide, after liberation.

His reputation fostered, he was given the job as an interpreter, taking notes from interviews and witness statements in German and then transcribing them into English. he interviewed several high-ranking individuals affiliated with Auschwitz, and other individuals from the SS. He untiring efforts garnered information that proved that certain SS members knew that gassed exterminations occurred at Auschwitz.

The war crimes trial began with the trial of Josef Kramer and forty four other people. Hanns could tell, after a few days of trial testimony, and knew in his heart of hearts that there were others who were conspirators or who headed the exterminations of the Jews.

The War Crimes Group was created, and those involved, including Hanns, were trying to locate SS high ranking officials through their intelligence experise. In 1946, he looked over the list of war criminals, and Rudolf’s name was next. He began investigating and searching for Rudolf. He was relentless in his investigation and searching. He left no stone unturned, every possible person involved, including family members, were interviewed and interviewed again. On March 10 1946, Rudolf was taken to prison.

From there, the rest is history, and Harding illuminates it immensely. Rudolf confessed to murdering over two million individuals. He was hanged at Auschwitz, in the same spot where Jews were hung. His memoir (which some excerpts are quoted from in Hanns and Rudolf) details his life, including his involvement in the SS.

Hanns and Rudolf
is an incredibly compelling book, reading like a spy story of sorts. It is intense, written brilliantly and with extreme accuracy, through the dedication of exhaustive research in all of its formats. Harding has done both Hanns and humanity an amazing tribute, in vividly detailing the tirelessness of Hanns and his efforts to right the wrongs through justice being done.

Harding has also shown the world a side of Rudolf that is invaluable for historical purposes. The reader is taken on a journey of a man who controlled his emotions, controlled the deaths of Jews, and who controlled Auschwitz with a firm hand.

I knew the book would be intense and filled with horrific situations and events. Yet, I read it, and within the pages of depictions of Auschwitz and the lack of humanity within the electrified fences, I was chilled to the bone reading about some of the circumstances, and more chilled and horrified at how Rudolf seemed to slough off the atrocities as if they were nothing of importance, as if Jewish humanity was irrelevant in the scheme of life.

Harding’s efforts are to be applauded. Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz is a work of extreme brilliance and Thomas Harding is masterful in the telling. From the opening page, describing Hanns’ funeral, to the last page, I was involved in reading the relaying of history, and inhaling the familial dynamics, especially of the Alexander family. Hanns and Rudolf belongs on every book shelf, personal or otherwise. It is books such as this that will keep history alive, and will keep it so, not only for this generation, but the generations that came before us, and generations to come. It is an invaluable historical resource.

I want to thank Leah Johanson, Publicist, Simon and Schuster for the Galley of Hanns and Rudolf. I am grateful to have received it, and to have read it. Thank you!

July 15, 2013 – 8 Av, 5773

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Filed under Book Reviews, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Jewish Immigrant, Lorri's Blog, Memoirs

Lorri M. Review: The First Lady of Fleet Street

thefirstlady of fleet street The First Lady of Fleet Street: The Life of Rachel Beer: Crusading Heiress and Newspaper Pioneer, by Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren, is a well-documented story of a woman of substance during the Victorian era.

What is might not be well-known about her are her pursuits in journalism and how she became the owner and editor of two newspapers in England: The Sunday Times and The Observer. Her connections to the newspapers and her responsibilities came about during a time period when woman were not viewed as worthy of overseeing a business, never mind newspapers. She was adamant in her goals to have her newspapers thriving, and to have them available for all to read.

The first third, or more, of the book dealt mainly with her parents, grand parents and other family members, dating back to India, where she was born into the Sassoon lineage. She was the daughter of wealthy Jewish immigrants, immigrants who were held in high esteem in the business world, and immigrants who fostered productivity and wealth distribution. Their backgrounds figure throughout the pages and the book delves into ancestral roots and business acumen of those family members. The story depicts the opium and cotton dealings involved in the Beer family gaining wealth and prominence in the trading world in India. It depicts how they emigrated and eventually became upstanding members of English society.

The book also depicts the background of her financier husband Frederick Beer, and his family members and ancestors. When the two families melded due to the marriage of Rachel and Frederick, a rift occurred, due to the fact that Frederick’s family had abandoned their Jewish roots, converted to Anglicanism, and led a Christian life. Rachel followed suit, and converted. Her family did not take kindly to this, and disowned her. This did not deter Rachel from following her feelings of love. Although a Anglican convert, her Orthodox Jewish upbringing and background never completely left her, and was displayed within her projects and business environment.

Rachel was a strong woman, and one who held humble ideals within her environment. She was dedicated to overseeing food distributions to the poor, and personally involved herself in handing out the food. She also was involved in a school for the poor Jewish children in the East End of London. In her writings in her newspapers she was sympathetic towards the Jewish population, the aged and towards any segment of individuals down on their luck. She was an advocate of the Zionist movement.

Women’s Suffrage was a movement she often wrote about, and was clearly dedicated to. Voting rights for women was a primary concern of hers. She also believed in equality for women, during a time of angst against women being considered equal to men.
<a href="The First Lady of Fleet Street: The Life of Rachel Beer: Crusading Heiress and Newspaper Pioneer“>
Rachel never forgot her birth roots, and at social gatherings and parties held in her home, she would dress the part, infusing herself in Indian and Oriental styled garb. She thrived on these events, and enjoyed showing the side of her formed from birth in Baghdad.

Rachel’s story is one that seems to run the course of social standards and mores in Victorian England. She was a woman of dedication and power during a time when it was frowned upon for English women to be involved in business and/or politics. Women were not allowed to vote at that time, never mind be regarded and respected in the business world. From high society to helping the poor, charity and giving to others was a staple and one of the foundations of her life. She thrived on selfless giving. Her life’s passions ended abruptly.

After Frederick’s death from tuberculosis, Rachel was left to carry on alone. She was exhausted mentally and physically from caring for him while he was ill, along with running the two newspapers. She grieved endlessly, and found no joy in life. She had no children, and her familial connections were basically nil. Her brother, Joseph, had her declared unsound and unable to care for herself or her properties and businesses. This caused the courts to order Joseph to oversee her finances and health. She spent the last twenty five years of her life living in the English countryside, along with a nurse and other staff members in a very comfortable style. She eventually began to involve herself in charitable movements, and helping the poor was a prime concern of hers.

The First Lady of Fleet Street: The Life of Rachel Beer: Crusading Heiress and Newspaper Pioneer, is the story of a woman consumed with helping the Jewish poor (adults and children alike), a woman consumed with journalism and the plight of those in need, and a woman who was consumed with grief over the loss of her husband, until the day she died.

I found the book, as a whole, to relay more of Rachel’s family’s background and Frederick’s family’s background, than I had wished to read. I wanted to read more about Rachel. The portions that did detail Rachel and her pursuits were quite interesting, and I read through those pages fascinated by all the details.

July 9, 2013 – 2 Av, 5773

© Copyright 2007 – 2013 – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Jewish History, Jewish Immigrant, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction

Friday News-Book Review: Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People

childrenoftheghetto The Anglo-Jewish situation is depicted with extreme precision and accuracy in the novel, Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People, by Israel Zangwill. Being a second-generation Jew of Polish and Latvian heritage, he grew up the midst of the Anglo-Jewish economic and social scene in Victorian England. As both a child and an adult he lived in the Whitechapel Ghetto of London. Through life experiences, he was involved in the social situations portrayed in Children of the Ghetto, first published in 1892.

Petticoat Lane and surrounding streets in the area known as the Whitechapel Ghetto are given illumination that fills the reader’s senses. From the food stalls and carts, to the shops, clothes, and daily goings-on, Jewish life and its hardships take on new meaning through Zangwill’s exacting descriptions and vivid word-paintings. He leaves nothing unturned, and his descriptions resound with vivid clarity.

Food takes on new meaning, as the majority of the immigrant Jews live day to day in a hand to mouth situation. They have “fast days”, not associated with Jewish holidays. These are the days that they don’t have food to eat. They get free food three times a week, and try to make it through to the next handout by fasting. Life is harsh and difficult, and within the social stratum of it, the Jewish factors illuminate.

Esther Ansell is a young girl whose mother died. She is left to be a surrogate mother to her siblings, and is still a child, herself. She is confronted with all of the challenges of raising children, including feeding them and clothing them. She is an avid reader, loves books, and has goals of becoming a writer. Her father is constantly studying Torah, and when he isn’t doing that he is praying. He does try to earn an income, but never seems to entirely succeed. This reinforces the family’s strife and keeps them in a constant state of poverty.

Raphael Leon is a man torn between two worlds, the ever-changing societal politics and economics, and the traditions of old. Character after character take on the burdens of the past in their attempt to move forward. Some characters manage to unload the baggage, others are caught in the folds of tradition, and can not let go. Retaining strong traditions within a modern environment is difficult for some, less difficult for others. Within the movement of secularism, many Jews practiced their traditions behind closed doors, illuminating a sign of the times externally.

The younger generation, born inside the Ghetto, find themselves in a disparate situation. They go to school, the Jews Free School, established for children of penniless Jewish immigrants. Their primary language is English, and they have adapted to secular standards. This generation of Jews is in transition between the traditions and mores of their Ashkenazi and Sephardi parents and grandparents, and between the modern society of their time period. They are in a quandary of sorts.

The forces of the old homeland and its traditions versus the modern day society are sharp and concise, and the reader is taken back to an era in transition. It is a time when the Orthodox Jews of the “old country” find it difficult to assimilate into modern English society. Yiddish is the language they speak, and their children speak English outside the house, but speak Yiddish inside. Even at that, some of the children are reluctant to continue speaking it, even inside the house. They are Anglo-Jews, and they are the individuals who will mold future generations of English Jews.

Many of the characters portrayed are in double-bind between the past and here and now. Hannah Jacobs, for instance, has a chance at love and marriage. Due to a legality that dates back to the existence of the Jerusalem Temple, she is not able to marry the man of her choice, David Brandon. Her father, Rabbi Shemuel, is insistent on that factor. Hannah and David dismiss that theory and plan to meet, run off, elope and marry in a civil ceremony.

Sam Levine believes in “muscular Judaism,” a movement that encourages both mental and physical strength in order to foster efforts to achieve a Zionist national state. Within his beliefs lies his parental roots, that never let him forget where he came from. Jewish transition and the Jewish homeland, although his goal, is restricted at times due to his ancestry.

Within the streets live a varied blend of Jews, and some with differing traditions and life styles. Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews and their customs and religious practices differed. Along with that, their common denominator, Judaism, did not necessarily bring them together in a harmonious way. The Orthodoxy and the Heterodoxy are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Some Jews felt superior to others, and some exhibited charitable tendencies to the less fortunate Jews in order to gain status within the Jewish community and within English society.

Zangwill’s historical novel is an intense read, yet one that exhibits humor within the pages. Jewish humor is like no other, and through euphemisms filled with humor, and through humorous moments during gatherings, the Jews often get through their days, days of a life of hardship. Zangwill is forthright in his descriptions, describing every minute particle of Jewish life. His portrayal of the Ghetto streets, Ghetto homes, Ghetto life, Ghetto amusements, Ghetto Jews, and Jewish traditions is masterful. His own upbringing gave him the foundation to write the novel, and he filled the pages with brilliant scenarios, taken straight from his own background.

Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People is an incredible read. I felt the characters were realized, and found them to be credible. The novel is filled with societal, economic and political mutation. The comparison of “then and now” is astounding. The reader is taken to the heights of a changing Jewish England, a changing London, and a society fluctuating in constant transformation and metamorphosis. I gained so much from this historical novel, from the social journeys and searches, to the scenarios of the time period, it was as if I was physically there. I was infused with Victorian London in every aspect, due to Israel Zangwill’s mastery with his stunning prose.

June 14, 2013 – 6 Tamuz, 5773

© Copyright 2007 – 2013 – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Jewish History, Jewish Immigrant, Judaism, Lorri's Blog