Tag Archives: Jewish Life

Lorri M. Review: The King of Schnorrers

The King of Schnorrers, by Israel Zangwill, is quite comical. The bantering back and forth really cemented the schnorrer aspect, and gave it an in depth perspective on those who were schnorrers and how they defended and justified themselves, verbally. It also portrayed the territorial aspect of the schnorrer, and how strongly they had to discuss issues in order to gain money.

Attitudes are definitely illuminated. How one perceives themselves in regards to others is depicted vividly. One with airs is really no better than any other schnorrer. A schnorrer is a schnorrer, no matter what, although some tend to eke a better living than others.

De Costa, a schnorrer, was extremely confident, clever, sly, sharp-tongued, quick with responses. Yankel, was the same way, but had to struggle against the verbal strength of De Costa. And, so it went, on and on, almost nonstop, and the witticisms were brilliantly written by Zangwill.

Schnorrers used guilt in order to gain favors from those whose doors they knocked on, or those who they met on the street and managed to stop and corner. The wealthy Jews were hounded, and the poor were hounded, also, to “donate”.

Donations ranged from the monetary to clothes to household items. Usually the schnorrer sold whatever was donated, as far as material/tangible items went. This upped his financial ante for his household. Whether a family man or a bachelor, money was the link to survival.

The King of Schnorrers
is written with a large portion of it in broken English, or English written phonetically with an immigrant’s accent, as spoken by a Jewish man. Such words as “with” are pronounced “Vid”, or the word “will” is pronounced “vill”, for example. I am always mindful of the time period and the individuals speaking, so for me it was not an issue. This book was published in 1894, and I kept that in mind while reading it.

Also, euphemisms that are not used often in today’s world were used then. Some Yiddish is within the pages, but the reader is given an English translation. One must take the variables into consideration, when reading this masterful novel.

I found myself laughing out loud while reading this book. Yet, within the humor, there is a serious undertone regarding Jewish society and its financial diversities. Responsibility for others is a strong theme.

Another thought that came to mind was the fact that the schnorrers of long ago are not so different in interactions than those who we see begging, holding up signs, and/or entertaining on the street in order to gain a coin.

I enjoyed The King of Schnorrers immensely.

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

Hanukkah is Almost Upon Us

Menorah Artwork hanging on exterior wall at Skirball Cultural Center

Menorah Artwork hanging on exterior wall at Skirball Cultural Center

Hanukkah is almost upon us. The house has been decorated by my grandies, and looks festive with its blue and white illuminations, with a touch of silver thrown in, here and there. Hanukkah books related to their age are spread on various tables for them to look through, read, and/or have us read to them.

Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening’s forehead o’er the earth,
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.
~Emma Lazarus, “The Feast of Lights”

Menorot

Menorot


The miracle, of course, was not that the oil for the sacred light -
in a little cruse – lasted as long as they say;
but that the courage of the Maccabees lasted to this day:
let that nourish my flickering spirit.

~Charles Reznikoff, “Meditations on the Fall and Winter Holidays”

Menorah at Skirball Cultural Center

Menorah at Skirball Cultural Center

Books recently finished reading:

The Perfume Collector


The Paris Architect


The Book Thief

The Grandchildren of the Ghetto

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Filed under Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Photography

Easy Fast

This post was written two days ago. I hope everyone has an easy fast, today.

Remember those who came before us, and remember the breaching of the walls, and the destruction of the two Temples that followed. Remember Moses breaking the two stone tablets. Remember…

yarz

I miss and love you mom, more than words can say, not only today, on what would be your 94th birthday, but every day. May your memory be for a Loving Blessing. Zikhronah Livrakha.

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Filed under Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Uncategorized

Lorri M. Review: Who By Fire

whobyfire3 Who By Fire, by Diana Spechler, is a moving novel about a dysfunctional family, a secular Jewish family, a family trying to recover from the loss of Alena, the youngest child, who was kidnapped when she was six years old. They have not been able to move forward.

The Kellermans are still in a state of limbo, thirteen years after Alena’s kidnapping. Their alternating stories are told in the first person narratives, and this works efficiently and nicely within the novel’s structure. The family is trying to deal with their impaired emotions. Bits (Beatrice) is the oldest daughter, while Ash/Asher is the son (middle child), and Ellie is their mother. Their lives still revolve around the loss of Alena, and Who By Fire demonstrates how each family member tries to find a connection to fill the void. Their resulting actions are fanatical, and often feel as if they are swimming against the current of life in the family tapestry. Their despair is a prevalent force behind their decisions, decisions that are not always good choices.

Bits exhibits damaging behavior with her promiscuity, sleeping with total strangers. She is aware of her behavior, and doesn’t seem to want or be able to control it. She is cognizant that her relationships are fleeting. Being the older sister, she also feels a responsibility to try to salvage and rescue her brother from the grips of a yeshiva in Israel, so he can return home and attend a funeral for Alena, whose remains have been discovered. How she manages to travel to Israel is another issue, and the dynamics and justification behind it are somewhat comical, yet not morally sound. She is self-absorbed and she is on the verge of emotional ruination, due to the guilt she feels.

Ash/Asher has decided to alienate himself from Bits and his mother, by fleeing (literally) to Israel, in order to try to escape the blame he feels for Alena’s kidnapping. He is seeking forgiveness within Orthodox Judaism, and tries to find release within a yeshiva compound, and within the walls of Jerusalem. He meets a quirky young woman, who seems to have a desire for him. His concentration is often diminished, and his mind wanders regarding women and sexuality. His obsessive religious behavior creates more friction and turmoil in his life, and most of it is unexpected and self-inflicted. His feelings of self-absorption and guilt are ever present, looming ominously and constantly surrounding him.

Ellie, the mother is a character in herself, and one in which Spechler doesn’t delve as deeply into as she does with Bits and Ash. She has become the paranoid mother, always wanting to know where her adult children are, and wanting them close by. She will do anything to protect her children. She meets up with a man who she hires to find Ash and bring him back home, because of her thoughts on yeshiva life, and how she feels it is a cultist environment. She immediately seeks comfort from the man, to replace the years she has spent isolated and alone.

Judaism and affiliation is a strong theme, and we see how a secular family reacts to one member becoming a Ba’al Teshuva (BT). Bits and Ellie are judgmental in their negative response to Ash’s lifestyle. Ash is just as judgmental regarding his sister and mother, and judgmental regarding other Jewish sects. He seemingly thrives in his new and rigid environment, and can’t see beyond the borders. We are given snippets of the yeshiva life, the mores, rules and regulations of the Orthodox culture.

Who By Fire
is a book with an excellent focus on familial dysfunction, love and loss, and manipulation. It brings to the forefront the lack of honesty each character has within the family unit…each one lying to the other for their own gratification, and each one acting deceitfully as a means to an end. They often delude themselves into thinking they are doing it to protect the other family members. The result isn’t always what they expect it to be. Bits seemingly is trying to rescue Ash, but is she really trying to rescue herself from her self-hate and guilt? Ash is trying to rescue and forgive himself through redemption from guilt, by escaping to the yeshiva, is it effective? Ellie is trying to rescue her children through her manipulations, does she lose herself in the process? From Boston to Israel, and back, the characters are in a state of continual flux, fanatically and unknowingly trying to seek their own identity, their own sense of self, their own resolution to their family history.

Spechler brings us a story of dysfunction and deliverance. She has weaved a story with more than one narrator, multiple characters and a story filled with multi-layers, each layer of the tapestry important to the whole. Bits, Ash/Asher and Ellie are controlled by the past, and time has stood still. In their quest to save each other from their bondage to the past, they have strained their familial relationships even further, through their lack of communication.

For a first book, I found Who By Fire to be extremely well-written, with amazingly vivid-word images, that hold the reader’s interest. The issues of family dynamics that Spechler delves into are not unique or new ones, but ones that are found in most families, although the Kellermans are an extreme example, due to the kidnapping. Diana Spechler’s use of narration is what held my interest, and I found the alternation of the characters to be extremely effective. She gives the reader much to ponder, within the pages. Who By Fire is a book I highly recommend, not only to the Jewish community (no matter the affiliation), but also to any person who is interested in the subject of family dynamics, and the threads that bind their familial tapestries together.

April 24, 2013 – 14 Iyyar, 5773

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

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