Tag Archives: Jewish identity

Lorri M. Book Review: Doublelife: One Family Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope

Doublelife2 Doublelife: One Family Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope, by Harold Berman and Gayle Redlingshafer Berman, is a book that is inspiring and paints a vivid portrait of the religious journeys the authors took within their interfaith marriage.

From the moment they met, Harold and Gayle knew they were meant for each other despite their different religious outlooks. Harold was a secular Jew, Gayle was Christian. They did not let that deter them in their relationship. Once they decided to marry, their plans included a ceremony that would include aspects of both religions.

Their story is told through letters written to each other, letters that include the year leading up to their marriage. The letters written in that first year are filled with questions, hesitations, apprehensions regarding religion and religious life, and emotions that ebb and flow. Their letters are infused with their thoughts, blending logic and emotion, yet, always trying to come to a resolution that is shared.

For Gayle, Christmas was a big issue. For Harold it meant nothing in the realm of religion or Christmas trees. For Gayle, whose music career was important, church attendance was primary in her life. For Harold, renewing his Judaism and attending a synagogue was becoming a primary factor.

They had both decided that they would attend a local synagogue. Gayle did not want Harold to feel excluded from Judaism, and also wanted to learn more about the service and celebrations. From there, Jewish ideals took root in Harold, and the reader can see him change from one written correspondence to the next. He was beginning to ask questions, ponder issues, and he became involved in Jewish practice from baby steps to large strides. The building blocks were in force, and each step cemented his beliefs and caused him to seek more knowledge. He set a religious foundation for himself. Gayle followed along.

And, with that act of following, we see her grow and come into her own regarding Judaism. She fasts on the first Yom KIppur that they share. A small step for some, a large step for her. She becomes knowledgeable on various Jewish holidays, and the more she learns the more she wants to educate herself. She slowly evolves, and at one point even questions how she can be involved in a church music program when her Christianity beliefs are beginning to fade.

In the beginning of their marriage, they did not want children. That eventually changed, and it was Harold who initiated that change. Once they decided to have a child, they knew that an interfaith religious background would not suit them. Gayle was receptive and supportive of that concept.

I enjoyed Gayle’s transition over the years. And, more so, once she and Harold adopted their first child. They had decided that their son would be raised Jewish. They both felt that one religion should be a dominating factor, and that two religions might be confusing to him. From that moment on, the change in Gayle was dramatic. Her searches lead her to question more. They also bring her discomfort with herself, as she flounders within a religious realm, not realizing who she is or what she is.

Harold also transitions, and we see him evolve as, not only a person, but also as a man of religious depth. Orthodox Judaism becomes his choice, and within that choice, discussed with Gayle, their child will be raised as such.

Doublelife is a story that shows the determination of two people to accept each other’s religious backgrounds, and work towards an understanding that will blend their views together. And, through that acceptance, they remained in constant communication with each other regarding their fears. Communication was the cement that bound them together.

There is so much to glean from reading Doublelife: One Family Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope. It is a story whose journey has religious depth and meaning, and has multitudes of questioning on Judaism. The reader can learn a lot from this family, who began their married life as an interfaith couple. The trials of keeping a Jewish home, especially for Gayle, shows the religious force depicted in great detail. Her spiritual outlook became defined in ways she could not have imagined. The story unfolded, and this reader was swept away by the frankness, and the sense of love that sparked two individuals to change, not only for themselves, but for each other and those around them.

I highly recommend Doublelife: One Family Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope. There are lessons within the pages that everyone can find meaning in. It is not simply a story regarding Judaism. There are many more aspects to it that will appeal to everyone. From acceptance and understanding to hope and inspiration, the messages are ones we can all learn from and appreciate.

Mazal Tov to Harold Berman and Gayle Redlingshafer Berman for bringing their story to the forefront.

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

Lorri M. Book Review: And You Shall Tell Your Children

andyoushalltell And You Shall Tell Your Children: A Chronicle of Survival, by Dr. Ida Akerman-Tieder, is an inspirational book that sets the tone for living life positively.

As a psychoanalyst, Akerman-Tieder depicts the events in her life, especially those that took place during the Holocaust when her parents were murdered, with an attitude of hope for the future.

And You Shall Tell Your Children is filled with vivid word-imagery, paintings so strong that the reader’s senses are wrapped within them. Akerman-Tieder’s vivid thoughts and lessons on how to live life to its fullest is demonstrated by her own examples, both familial and personal.

Judaism played a major role in her family life as she was growing up. Traditions, holidays, celebrations, prayer, and everything that encompasses a strong Jewish life was of the utmost importance within the family unit.

I found the psychological aspects of the book to be very revealing. Guilt was often a predominant issue, especially when her parents were murdered. Her relationship with her father was a strong one. His opinions mattered and he reinforced the importance of Jewish education as being a tool for inner strength and avenues of escape from antisemitism and the injustices of persecution.

And You Shall Tell Your Children: A Chronicle of Survival is an incredible book on many levels. It is a compelling psychological study of human behavior at its worst. It is a study of behavior at its best and most positive, resulting from horrific wounds inflicted upon one family. The fact that she is able to relate her experiences with such a positive force is a testament to her family and how they raised her. It is a testament to her own undeniable, genuine attitude, an attitude that has inspired and helped others to overcome their fears and be able to move forward.

The lessons she evokes within the pages is powerful and offers guidance to others. I enjoyed reading some of Akerman-Tieder’s poetry throughout the book. It is forceful and filled with positivity.

And You Shall Tell Your Children: A Chronicle of Survival, by Dr. Ida Akerman-Tieder is a book I highly recommend.

March 21, 2013 – 10 Nisan, 5773

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

Lorri M. Review: Bread Givers

bread givers Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska is a compelling book, not only in its vivid descriptions of life in Manhattan during the 1910s-1920s, but also its look into an Orthodox Jewish family, and its standards. It is a coming of age story, of the youngest of three children.

The familial patriarch is Rabbi Smolinksy, and his wife is Shenah, who is in awe of him, despite her nagging manner. His interactions, decisions and doctrine influence his daughters, Fania, Bessie, Mashah, and Sara in ways that mold their lives, in a negative manner. The three older daughters go along with his dogmatic and fanatical whims and attitude. His manipulations, rants and raves eventually cause them to give in to his dictates. The youngest daughter, Sara, learns at the age of ten, about the family dynamics, and how each daughter was expected to turn over their entire income to support the family. She learns what she wants early in life, due to her father’s looming presence and demands. She is very strong-willed. Family life is seen through her eyes, and they are the eyes of a three-dimensional person, a person of substance and depth.

She begins to sell herring at the age of ten in order to help support the family. In the back of her mind she is determined to be independent, and not to be lead through life by her father’s decisions. His decisions are often determined due to the fact that he does not want to even partially try to assimilate into American life. Rabbi Smolinsky is ignorant in the area of business dealings, and the dealings of life in general. He is bound by Eastern European tradition, and religious tradition, which he enforces with his harsh vocalizations. No man is good enough for his older daughters, despite the fact that they want to marry particular individuals. He finds fault with all of them, and he ends up choosing who they marry, and they do not live happily ever after. His determinations and final edicts are not necessarily positive ones for his daughters, but somehow decisions that gain him some monetary dowry or enhancement.

Rabbi Smolinsky lives by the text of the Talmud, in every aspect (Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Talmud is an essential aspect of Judaism). In fact the Talmud is quoted through much of the book to justify why he acts the way he does. He uses religion to enhance his decisions, and is fanatical about vocalizing the teachings, to the extent that hourly and daily life is disrupted. He is a tyrant, a bully, a man of many words, words that are emotionally disgruntling. He hangs on tightly to every thread of his Eastern Europe culture and life style, unable and unwilling to adjust to change. While his wife and four daughters struggle to earn money to survive with the basics, he deals with his studies, unaware of the reality of life. They beg him to work, even part time, he refuses, and goes back to his studies, even if it means they go hungry. He is a pampered individual, and his every desire is what rules the family. He is not a responsible person, and his family suffers greatly. I found him to be pathetic, in the way he used and manipulated his daughters for his own benefit.

Sara, meanwhile, has decided she will not succumb to her father’s domination, and his demands. She will not let him marry her off to someone she doesn’t love. She leaves home at the age of 17, finds a dark room to rent, works, saves money, and puts herself through college. She is a woman of strength and determination, which is what allows her to reach her goals. She has an identity, at a young age, and is discontent with the way the females of the family are treated. Yet, with her independence, she is often bound to her familial ties. Love hate relationships were strong within the pages.

Yezierska is brilliant in her writing, strong in her ability to depict tradition and assimilation into the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Tradition and modern America do not blend together in a positive fashion, in this novel. Sara is not the ideal of the Rabbi’s daughter.

Yezierska weaves a story that incorporates struggles, both emotional and mental, within the pages. Women are considered to be less than life, to be used, manipulated and abused for the gain of the family patriarch. Female identity and immigrant assimilation are major forces that Yezierska evokes within the pages. The conflicts are vividly written, and the reader feels the emotions behind the words. It is a gripping look into the early twentieth century, and Jewish life within the confines of immigration and steadfast ideals.

Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers is a masterpiece, and an inspiring one at that. Sara literally works her way through high school, and learns to speak correct English. Yezierska brings honor, determination and strength to Sara, and shows how through all of Sara’s sacrifices, she was able to reach her dream. She rose from poverty to a position of respect, and did it on her own. She was able to conquer her fears and accomplish her goals.

The masterful writing of Anzia Yezierska has given us an inspiring character to admire. The book has much historical value, giving the reader a perspective on the Jewish immigrant experience, and bringing the reader insight into the life of Jewish individuals trying to assimilate. The past is ever present, no matter how hard we try to leave it behind. One world was trying to compete with another, and not always successfully, as culture clashes were abundant.

I highly recommend Bread Givers. It is an extremely illuminating novel, on many levels.

February 21, 2013 – 11 Adar, 5773

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

Book Review: By Blood: A Novel

bybloodanovel By Blood: A Novel, by Ellen Ullman is a novel that is filled with a unique perspective, as far as the narrator, who is one of the main characters, is concerned.

The narrator is a voyeur of sorts, not in the sense of being a visual “peeping Tom” type, but in the aspect of listening to a patient and her therapist from behind the wall of his office. The wall is on the other side of the shared wall in the therapist’s office. The narrator came upon the fact that he could hear their conversations when the therapist turned off the sound machine, because the patient was distracted by it. Both patient and therapist have no idea he is listening.

He ends up becoming obsessed with the patient and her story. She is adopted and wants to learn about her birth parents. She feels disconnected from her adopted family, and disconnected from life, and she thinks this might help her to feel more grounded. Her desire to know the foundations of her birth is strong, and she hopes it will bring her some answers and also some resemblance to another person. She is feeling the fact that she doesn’t look like anyone she knows.

The story takes place during the 1970s, in San Francisco. It is a time of protests, government scorn, and lifestyle issues. The patient (the second main character) is going through an identity crisis, ancestral, genetically, and lifestyle based (she is a lesbian). She is aware that she was born in Germany, and aware that the war and postwar had their affects on her being given up for adoption. She was finally able to find out where she was born and that she was given up through questioning her adoptive mother. She was brought to a Catholic organization in America, and from there given over to her grandfather, who adopted her. From there, she eventually was adopted by his own son, and we learn the reasons why.

The narrator, hearing her story becomes intensely fascinated with it, and becomes obsessed with the urge to find her birth mother. He has his own set of issues, emotional and mental ones, therefore the obsession. Some of his issues also deal with genetics.. He ends up finding out the information, piece by piece, and with each new fact, he assumes an alias and sends the information to the patient.
The story takes many twists and turns, and the mystery is solved. The patient eventually meets her birth mother and is told the facts of her birth. She also meets another family member and notices the resemblance between the two of them immediately. She feels a connection, one that she has never felt before.

The patient relays everything to the therapist through their sessions, and the narrator hears everything said in each session. Suffice it to say, that the sessions are therapeutic for the three of them: the narrator, the patient and the therapist.
I will not detail any more of the story line because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. The premise is an interesting one, and the details within the pages are extremely vivid, with strong imagery. There is much to ponder, such as nature versus nurture. Where does our foundation actually come from? Does our DNA, our genetic composition, play a significant part in our personality? Does our family environment count for the person we become?

Ullman writes with a unique voice, and one that generates masterful prose, prose often sounding a bit out of sync with today’s expressions and writings. For me, that was due to the time period, and the fact that it was post World War II. I didn’t find it unusual to hear some antiquated sounding prose, or prose that sounded a bit too cultured at times.

I do recommend By Blood: A Novel, written by Ellen Ullman, and feel the uniqueness of the story is important in the context of Jewish identity, World War II, familial connections, nature versus nurture, and self-identity.

On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest, I rate it 3.5.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Novels, World War II

Lorri’s Review: Until the Dawn’s Light

until the dawns light Until the Dawn’s Light, by Aharon Appelfeld is a book that takes place before World War II. As always, his books elicit emotions within me, due to his defining word-imagery.

Of course, as a reader, I know the Holocaust will occur, but within the pages of the book, there is an underlying feeling, a foreshadowing, that something extremely horrendous is going to set itself against humanity, something brutal.

Speaking of brutal, this is the first book of Appelfeld’s I have read that encapsulates spousal abuse. And, he not only encapsulates it, but describes it with vivid and painful portraits.

The book begins on a train ride with protagonist Blanca taking flight with her four-year old son. Her fleeing holds more than just wanting to escape her husband, she is fleeing for her son’s safety, and hopes to make it safely to a northern town in Austria which she feels holds the morals, ideals and convictions of her ancestral past. She is wanting to return to the foundations of Judaism that her parents avoided.

Blanca was brought up in an environment of non-practicing Jews. She is a young Jewish woman, and a convert to Christianity. She has converted in order to marry a man named Adolph, who, despite is initial appearance is antisemitic (after reading several pages, I did not find it coincidental that Appelfeld named him Adolph). Her family sees this as a positive step, and one that will yield acceptance within the Christian community. Things are not always what we expect, though, as the book details.

Adolph despises the Jews, and never lets Blanca forget it. He blames everything on his life situation on the Jews, but worse than that, he constantly abuses her, physically, mentally and emotionally. The abuse is horrific.

Blanca is meek, and gives in to every brutal beating. She is essentially a slave to his every whim, every abusive word and every abusive act forced upon her, until the day she leaves with her son.

On the train ride she thinks back to the past, the days of happiness, the days of horror, and writes of issues that have caused her to run. She verbalizes to her son the fact that she wants him to save the pages, save them and read them at a later time, when he is old enough to read and understand. That is another foreshadowing of the ending, which this reader grasped upon immediately beginning the book. That played no part in my continuing to read the book.

Until the Dawn’s Light is not a happy read, but one that is depressing due to the content. There is much to ponder within the compelling pages, such as the primary issue of spousal abuse and how it causes fear in the abused, fear so strong they don’t fight back or cry out for help. Fear that keeps the victim oppressed and in internal prisons that are difficult to fathom.

Other relevant issues such as conversion and acceptance are a constant within the pages. The community of Christians was not the safe hold Blanca thought it would be, and the hatred and resentment of the Jews was quite clearly stated. Antisemitism was a major factor within the citizens.

Blanca had so much going for her, she was extremely intelligent and headed for university. She was a math wizard and had hopes of becoming a mathematician. The day she meets Adolph and begins tutoring him, was the beginning of the end for her. She fell for him, which is no surprise due to his superficial presentation of himself to her in order to gain favor.

Aharon Appelfeld’s Until the Dawn’s Light, is aptly titled. His writing is brilliant within the darkness of the story line. He illuminates the past and how it can lead to the decisions of the present. He vividly relays how dismissal of Jewish identity, and the resulting experiences of assimilation can lead one back to the religion they left behind. I recommend Until the Dawn’s Light to everyone. It is thought=provoking and compelling, and offers a lot to consider in the realm of events preceding World War II.

January 14, 2013 – 3 Sh’vat, 5773

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 Book Reviews, Fiction, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Novels