Category Archives: Jewish History

Review: The Marriage of Opposites

The Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffman, is a historical novel, rooted in the social and cultural mores and importance of the time period.

Those standards begin with Rachel Pomie Petit Pizzaro, the mother of Camille Pissarro (Pissarro was one of the forefathers of French Impressionism). She was born in 1795, on the island of St. Thomas.

Rachel’s ancestors fled France due to antisemitism.  They eventually emigrated to St. Thomas.  Jews were permitted to practice their religion in St. Thomas, without fear of repercussions, and they could become citizens.

The reader is given much insight into the social standards through the voices within the novel, including Rachel’s, Camille’s, and Rachel’s second husband, to name three.

The characters are realized. They are varied, as far as religion, lifestyle, superstitions, and ancestral traditions. Yet, within that structure, every facet of life is determined by the laws of the land, so to speak. Certain societal rules can never be crossed or expanded. This is where the ‘opposite’ definition comes into play.

Jews could not mingle with maids, servants, slaves, or mingle with Blacks. Even when slavery was outlawed, the rule applied. There was a tier, a standard of living within each culture, and the boundary could not be crossed.

Those boundaries were crossed, a few times, by characters within the story. There were secrets kept by individuals who, in essence, turned their noses up on others wishing to lead a happy life. Their admonishment caused hardship and chaos within familial and romantic frameworks.

I enjoyed reading about the childhood of Camille Pissarro. His passion, from the moment of his birth, was an innateness within him. He could not function without his painting tools being carried with him wherever he went. His mind was always on nature, on his surroundings, and he saw life through color, meaning each object had its own aura surrounding it. The same went for individuals, in his mind’s view, each person had a color which was a part of their being.

Sketching was as much a part of his hourly and daily life as breathing was. Sometimes more so. He knew his “calling”, and even when family members tried to stifle his artistic passion, he persevered in fulfilling his potential.

His paintings speak to me on many levels.

In my opinion, the story line illuminated existentialism, in the sense that we are individuals responsible for our own development, and responsible for achieving our authenticity. We are all human, and within that concept, we are responsible for each other in the end, no matter a person’s background, religious, cultural, or otherwise.

Alice Hoffman’s prose was often poetic and breathtaking. I highly recommend The Marriage of Opposites, to everyone.

I apologize for the update-I had to correct a misspelling.

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

Those wishing to read an amazing and historical story, one that is compelling from the first page to the last, then Code Name Zegota: Rescuing Jews in Occupied Poland, 1942-1945, by Irene Tomaszewski and Tecia Werbowski, is a must read for you.

In fact, it in my opinion, it is a must read for everyone, Jewish or otherwise, as the foundation of the book is based on factual events depicting both Christian and Jewish rescuers, and the rescued Jews in Poland during World War II.  From the moment I began it, I read straight through the pages, and then went back to absorb some more intense and dramatic pages and historical content.  The pages in the first half of the book deal primarily with the Zegota secret organization and its structure, including the Polish underground, the varied outsources, connections, political entities, well-known individuals, the cells, communications, etc., that composed the entirety of Zegota.  Zegota was the secret code name that was used for the Council for Aid to the Jews.  This was an organization with extremely courageous individuals that were included in the stronghold.

The primary founders were two women.  The well known writer, Zofia Kossak was a co-founder, along with Wanda Krahelska-Filopowicz.  Kossak was initially deemed antisemetic because of her negative reactions to Jewish organizations prewar, and was a conservative nationalist. Krahelska-Flipowicz was heavily involved in the Underground prewar and very influential in the art community, with the AK and the Delegatura. She helped hide Jews in her own home.  Kossak persuaded her own children to help save and rescue Jews, and emphasized the moral, ethical and humaneness of doing so.  She felt the Nazi atrocities and crimes were “an offense against man and God, and their policies an affront to the ideals she espused for an independent Poland”.  She used her published leaflet “Protest” to motivate the Polish people to come forward and help aid them.

From boy scouts to girl scouts, priests and ordinary Catholic citizens, Jewish individuals, members of the Home Army (known as the AK), political liaisons, railway workers, garbage collectors, printers, shop owners, estate owners, children’s homes, professionals, etc., the connections were incredible.

Zegota had connections through the widely read Jewish underground newspapers such as the the Biuletyn Informacyjny (BI), whose editor was Aleksander Kaminski, and Henryk Wolinski who headed the Jewish section of the Underground Bureau of Information and Propaganda, which was the main contact between the AK and the Jewish liaison of The Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB.  These two men who were with the AKI were instrumental in spreading the news throughout the underground, by using their foreign correspondents within Poland (especially in the Warsaw Ghetto) and in other countries, and spreading it to those other organizations and individuals connected to Zegota.

The worst of mankind spewed their hatred during a tumultuous period in time.  Gentile Poles, themselves were treated as subhuman, and forced into hard labor in work camps, murdered, etc.  With the help of Zegota, and the organizations within the organization, many Poles stood up for what was ethical and moral, what was at the heart of goodness, what was the humane action to take.

Irene Sendler was one such Gentile Pole. Her network within the Warsaw Welfare Department was a strong asset to Zegota. She helped smuggle 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, and hid them within the confines of Polish homes, Austrian homes, and other homes of safety.

The inidividuals were tireless, self-sacrificing, and devoted to the cause of saving Jews. Facts show that between 40,000-50,000 Jews were saved by the Zegota network which issued over 50,000 false documents.

Code Name Zegota is an extremely intense book, dedicated to the telling of the little known facts regarding Zegota. The educational aspect is invaluable, and the research that the authors, Tomaszewski and Werbowski dedicated themselves to, and endeavored to contain within the pages is strongly apparent. They forcefully and strongly illuminate Zegota and what it stood for in its structural capacity, and the willingness of Gentiles/Christians and Jews alike, to forge ahead and work together, at risk of not only their own lives, but the lives of their family members.

Code Name Zegota holds a wealth of statistics and facts. But, primarily, it radiates the hearts and souls of the individuals who helped rescue Jews. Their unwavering commitment is poignant, heart-wrenching, uplifting and inspiring, and Irene Tomaszewski and Tecia Werbowski should be applauded for their accomplishment in bringing Code Name Zegota: Rescuing Jews in Occupied Poland, 1942-1945 to light, for the world to read, for the world to become educated, for the world to carry forth the teachings of the authors. I am stunned after reading Code Name Zegota. The story will linger with me for quite some time. This English edition brings knowledge and inspiration to those who read it, and keeps the candle of the past eternally lit, bearing witness to those who died, those who survived and were saved.

This is my second reading of it, as I recently read it for a book club.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized, World War II

Review: The Heavens Are Empty

Avrom Bendavid-Val has written a concise, compelling and historically relevant book, regarding the town of Trochenbrod, Ukraine, with his compelling book, The Heavens Are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod.

It is a work of non-fiction, written with fantastic prose that evoked vivid word-imagery in this reader’s eyes.  The initial description of the street was filled with in depth details that fascinated me.

The town/village had one street about two miles long.  It was an agricultural town, and, so, behind the houses and/or shop fronts, were acres of land, owned by Jews.  Those Jews had managed to carve out a living for themselves, and live totally unburdened by “gentiles”.  From leather goods and tanning, to produce and milk, the Jewish community fended for themselves, and managed to live decently.

The entire town was made up of Jewish individuals, except for one or two adults.  This was amazing, in and of itself.  Those adults were the ones who lit the lights during Shabbat, took care of the ovens, did the things that the Jews, due to religious traditions and beliefs, were not permitted to do on Shabbat and on the Sabbath.

The street was constantly filled with “mud”, as the reader is informed throughout the pages of witness statements.  It was almost comical how often “mud” is mentioned.  It left a deep impression, decades later, on those who had lived there, in more ways than one.  It also left an impression on me.

From documents and data, to witness statements, the foundation of Trochenbrod is detailed with information that needed to be told.  It is a poignant story, often heart-wrenching, yet one that is an important story in the realm of history.

For those of you that wish to understand the history of what once was, and no longer is, The Heavens Are Empty is the perfect book to educate yourself regarding the events that unfolded.  Not only were the events horrific and filled with contempt and the murderous rage of thousands of Jews, but they led to the obliteration of Trochenbrod off of the face of the planet, literally.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction, World War II

Sunday Scenes: October 4, 2015

dairy and vegg

In all actuality, this ‘Sunday Scene’ occurred on Friday evening the Synagogue. The first part of the evening saw a lovely ‘Shab-BQ’ dinner, as I stated in my previous post. Yes, our congregation had the dinner beforehand, unlike some synagogues where the dinner is held afterwards.

The above photo shows a small portion of the vegetarian and dairy dinner items. The beet salad was scrumptious, as were the barbecued potatoes, the latkes and applesauce, the dates and figs (not shown), the egg salad and other items not shown.

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Once the dinner items were entirely cleared and cleaned, the tables were folded up and put away.

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Then chairs were arranged in the Succah, for our Shabbat Service. During the service the addition of the Yaaleh Veyavo was sung by the congregants, as were other prayers related to Sukkot.

succah

All in all, it was a meaningful and lovely evening.

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Filed under Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Photography

Sukkot Dinner Pre Shabbat

sukkahnby rochelle blumenfeld copy

I love the painting, above, Succah, by Rochelle Blumenfeld.

Tonight will be spent at the synagogue celebrating Sukkot with a dinner in the synagogue’s Succah.  The Brotherhood is preparing the entire dinner, and doing all of the cleanup before Shabbat service begins.  How nice of them!

The women can sit back and enjoy the fare, without having to lift a finger, except to eat the food.  It is a rare occasion!  But, we are extremely grateful for this moment in time.

honey pot

plate

The honey pot and the plate above were mine.  I treasured them for years.  I lovingly let them go to the next generation before moving back to CA, by handing them over to my daughter.  I know she will treasure them, as I did, with love.

For those who celebrate-Shabbat Shalom! To everyone, enjoy your weekend.

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Sunday Scenes: Synagogue Simplicity

mickve israel

I have attended many Shabbat and holiday services in synagogues, some have been architectural wonders, like the synagogue in Savannah, Georgia, Mickve Israel, pictured above (photo taken by me a few years ago).

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The exterior is grand in appearance, much like the interior, which houses an old Torah brought over on a ship, and other antiquities from the 18th century. Do not get me wrong, I loved the interior, with all of its flourishes, opulence, columns, vaulted ceilings, etc. To be able to pray within the walls of magnificent architecture holds its own place in my heart.

interior syna

But, my heart feels at home, in simplistic surroundings, like in the photograph above, which I took, recently. The exterior and the interior speak to me, and illuminate my experiences while praying and mingling with the congregation. The euphemism, “Home is where the heart is”, holds true for me, while within the simple architectural environment with its basic chairs, understated Bema/Sanctuary around the Torah Ark, etc. (The screen is not a normal part of the interior, and is only used for special screenings.)

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My sense of being a part of the Jewish community, a community that has endured so much struggle and hardship, horrific moments and perseverance, through the millennia, is heightened by the subtle and toned-down architectural interior, and the simple Judaica accessories, paintings, etc.

Prayers are elevated within the context of the interior, and resound through me immensely. I am home, each time I attend service or events. My heart fills with the many emotions that prayer reflects, such as sadness, strength, candor, joy, and so much more. I treasure my moments spent within the walls of synagogue simplicity.

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“(Proverb) People long to be at home.; Your home is whatever place you long to be.”

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Filed under Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Photography