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July 23, 2015 by

Remembrance (On Visiting the Jewish Museum Berlin)

This poem is one of three in Lilith’s “Tisha B’Av Poetry” series, marking the annual day of lamentation that commemorates the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Each poem evokes loss and mourning in its own way. (This year Tisha B’Av—the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av—begins Saturday evening, July 25.)  

Remember me.
My un-lived life,
lives un-lived after me.

All those.

Make my unmade journey.
Sing my unsung song.
Name the future after me.
Unsay the tongues of blood,
the hiss of zyklon B.

Write on walls of air
my testimony.
Say I was here.
I was the last.
Remember me.

Leaven me in the wilderness of loss.
Feed me on apples, cinnamon and wine.
See in the bowls of family spoons
my legacy,
the faces of my unborn line,
children unthought
before the thought was mine.
Sew me a Yellow Star to shine
on leaves, on butterflies on skin,
stitch it in the lining of the mind.

Remember me—
for all that I was not,
all that I might have been.

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July 22, 2015 by

Forgotten Things

This poem is one of three in Lilith’s “Tisha B’Av Poetry” series, marking the annual day of lamentation that commemorates the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Each poem evokes loss and mourning in its own way. (This year Tisha B’Av—the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av—begins Saturday evening, July 25.)  

Apples, small and cold, in the refrigerator for the family to eat on Saturday afternoons.

Books filling every corner of their apartment
the living room, the study and the balcony enclosed specifically to hold more
books that opened up every inch of me.

Cancer, his and hers.
Torn skin and coughed up breath.

Dears, never names, always an impatient tender dear
ringing out between the walls.

Elegance, snuffed out by dependency and the smell of age.

Fridays in New York City.
New books at Barnes & Noble with Saba and sneaking tastes of dinner behind her back. 

Dani and Dahlia, Helena and Cynthia, unknowable parts of us.

Husband covering her broken mind with his; her skin too.
Until it is too late.
He is gone and she is naked.

Inertia – moving with time, moving forward.

Jewelry – the pearls and small diamonds she used to adorn her body.
Clothes decorated with buttons and zippers
instead of those that went on and came off too easily.

Keys, hundreds of keys, my grandfather collected secretly
to doors she didn’t even know were locked
to doors she didn’t know existed.

Language, pieces of speech: English, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Hebrew.
All the lands, all the tongues, all the thoughts that were once hers.

Movies every Saturday night.
The whole family crowded into Saba’s study with
the red leather couch and black armchair, the footrest
and their favorite classic films passed from one generation to another.

Numbers for the years with my grandfather
for the years lived in that apartment
for all the happiness it had contained.

Orchids, bright yellow, their petals dropping on the coffee table.

Potato Kugel for Shabbat dinner.

Quarters on the bus and the ferry when she, me, and Saba went to see the Statue of Liberty. 

Rooms, pink bedrooms with white doors
that she would shut gently at night
so she could get undressed with no one watching.

Seashells in a little glass case in the bathroom
that I pretended were from when she was a young girl on Coney Island.

Toilets and privacy and independence – the most basic parts of herself.

Umbrellas in the rain, feeling the air on her skin
and knowing she is still part of something.

Va Bene, our favorite restaurant.
The pasta e fagioli and tartufo she loved.

Walking, just walking.

X-rays of her knee, torn ligaments and the pain.
All she could feel when she fell was the pain.

You, Savta, the way you were
the person I can almost no longer remember
only when I think hard enough, when I think like this –

Zigzagging through the darkest side of memory.

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July 22, 2015 by

The Call of Shattered Glass

This poem is one of three in Lilith’s “Tisha B’Av Poetry” series, marking the annual day of lamentation that commemorates the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Each poem evokes loss and mourning in its own way. (This year Tisha B’Av—the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av—begins Saturday evening, July 25.)  

The whole world heard it—Kristallnacht’s
shattered cities, stores, lives. For most,
deafness and paralysis. Yet one petite
woman with dark eyes, her own Lalique
and Baccarat still untouched, gazed beyond

her beveled windows, imaged each
orphaned face, heard each small voice
calling. Paying any price to bring them
out of Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria—
each child a jewel added to the Rothschild

collections. Mme gathered them into her
own Chateau de la Guette until Paris fell,
buying a hotel in the south, moving them,
feeding and schooling them in La Bourboule.
Leaving money for them when she, herself,

had to flee for her life, enough to bring
them out over the Pyrenees to Spain,
to fishing boats that would take them
to America. Tiny charges implored to say
only oui or non and smile when questioned,

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July 16, 2015 by

Forgiveness Means Taking a Wrecking Ball to the Hard Crusts We Build Around Our Hearts

I’m knee-deep into what promises to be a fifty-plus gig book tour. After spending seven years writing, revising, and trying to publish my debut novel, Washing the Dead, I’m out of my house. Out of my office. Out of my pajamas. And, often, out of my comfort zone.

I’ve fretted about each reading. Will anyone show up? What if they do? What if I get a heckler? What if we don’t sell any books? What if we run out? The list goes on. Gratitude is the only thing that grounds me. Some bookseller, librarian or book-club host has believed in my novel enough to want to share it with his/her community. He or she has gone to the trouble of spreading the word via social media or flyers or Paperless Post evites. And if that’s not enough, they’ve researched my work in order to write introductory remarks, and in many cases put out a delicious spread. Dayenu!

Hiccups do occur during my readings. Sirens blare, children cry, audience members use their outdoor voices while guessing my height, and readers give away the ending to the mystery my character is trying to solve. I now carry a hankie because reading aloud makes me schvitz, Albert Brooks/Broadcast News style. Who knew?

A friend recently asked me if I was growing tired of the podium, and I answered “not yet,” because something amazing and exhilarating occurs at every event, big and small. I’m also still stunned that people would devote their time and brain space to my novel, a story about Barbara Pupnick Blumfield’s quest to find her way back home. After years of exile from her Milwaukee Orthodox Jewish community, Barbara’s former rebbetzin invites her to perform a tahara (the ritual of preparing the body for burial) on the mentor who nurtured her after Barbara’s mother abandoned the family. And so begins her long journey back to her religious community, her mother’s love, and the piece of herself she’s unwittingly withheld from her teenage daughter. In order to return home, Barbara must solve the mystery behind her mother’s disappearance from the family, and it’s for this reason the book has been called a spiritual page-turner.

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July 14, 2015 by

Susan Shapiro: “A Jewish Man Who’s Never Been Married is Schlepping a Different Kind of Luggage Around”

whatsneversaid_small2Just as the topic of professor/student relationships is heating up (Harvard and other universities are now banning such liaisons), novelist, essayist and humor writer Susan Shapiro offers her own take on the highly charged subject in her captivating new novel, What’s Never Said. Lila Penn, a naïve, fatherless young woman from Wisconsin, comes to the big city to study poetry and falls, head-first, for Daniel Wildman, her distinguished professor, who also happens to be twenty years her senior. Decades after their tangled involvement ends, she arranges a meeting in downtown Manhattan. But the shocking encounter blindsides Lila, causing her to question her memory—and her sanity. Moving back and forth between Greenwich Village, Vermont, and Tel Aviv, Shapiro slowly unravels the painful history that has haunted both Daniel and Lila for thirty years. In the excerpt below, Lila’s mother encounters her daughter’s new love interest for the first time. 

At the book table, Lila’s mother took ten dollars to buy Cormick’s Celtic Songs of the Heartland. Before Lila could stop her, she bumped into Daniel.
“Professor Wildman,” Lila said, hoping he didn’t see her mom  holding his enemy’s book.  “You killed tonight.”
Daniel thrust out his arm. “The infamous Hannah Lerner,” he said, his eyes catching Cormick’s book slipping into her purse.
“The infamous Daniel Wildman.” They shook robustly.
“Your daughter is very special.”
“I appreciate your kindness to her.  She loves it here.”
“We love her too,” he said. “I mean, the program. She’s one of our best students.”
A group of aspiring authors interrupted.
“Your public awaits you,” Lila said, hoping nobody could tell she was into him.

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July 6, 2015 by

Communal Mourning: “Dylann Roof Acted Alone, But He Did Not Stand Alone”

In many Reform congregations, it is customary for the entire congregation and not just those who are halachic mourners to stand while saying Kaddish.  This deviation from traditional practice is designed to provide community for those who are actively mourning: no one who mourns should stand alone.  And this practice also acknowledges a communal responsibility to say Kaddish for those who have no one to do so. 

Such a communal approach to mourning might guide us as we continue to come to grips with the atrocity that was committed in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  All people of conscience, whether that conscience is derived from religious or secular traditions, need to stand with the family and friends of the victims of that terrorist attack.  We need to remember the names of those who met their death simply for praying while black : Depayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, The Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson. 

And part of our communal responsibility is to acknowledge that although officials believe that Dylann Roof “acted alone,” he did not stand alone.  Based on what we currently know, Roof did not have active collaborators in this terrorist plot.  But he communicated online  with white supremacists, his father bought him a gun, his roommate listened to him make plans to “start a civil war,” those who knew him in high school heard him make racist jokes and wrote them off as “Southern Pride” and “strong conservative beliefs.”  His home state of South Carolina flies a Confederate flag at its Statehouse and judging from his Facebook page, he was inspired by the apartheid history of South Africa and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia).   Vigils and services designed to promote solidarity across racial and religious lines were disrupted by bomb threats.  In the chilling manifesto that Roof likely wrote, he took aim at Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Jews; although his anti-Semitic complaint is that the Jews “network,” his ideology of hate is advanced by new technologies.  Dylann Roof did not and does not stand alone.  And thus those of us of conscience who did not personally know Depayne, Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, Clementa, Tywanza, Daniel, Sharonda, and Myra must be sure that their immediate mourners and communities are not standing alone. 

Helene Meyers is Professor of English and McManis University Chair at Southwestern University.  Most recently, she is the author of Identity Papers: Contemporary Narratives of American Jewishness , which includes a chapter on the color of white Jewry.  She is currently writing a book on Jewish American cinema.    

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July 1, 2015 by

Happy Canada Day!

In honor of Canada Day, here’s an assortment of Lilith articles with Canadian content. Hope you enjoy! 

Evolving from Bystander to Rescuer
by Susan Weidman Schneider
On Gail Asper and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which focuses on Jews, on women, on hunger and trafficking, and on oppressed minorities around the world.

“Never Tell Anyone”: A Comedienne Breaks Her Family Taboo 
by Frannie Sheridan
Her stand-up shtick blows her traumatized family’s “Catholic” cover. Fear and fury ensue. 

Earth Mamas
by Alisha Kaplan
The author on her mother’s Canadian farm and Jews who long for country life. 

Sorrel Summer 
by Marlene B. Samuels
Summering in the Laurentian Mountains, the author’s Holocaust survivor mother’s remembers sorrel soup in pre-War Romania.

Canada’s Parliament Fixes Jewish Divorces
by Elaine Kalman Naves
On the fight for the enactment in August 1990 of the only national law anywhere in the world reducing obstacles to Jewish divorce.

Golden Words: Q&A With Author, Editor, Activist Nora Gold
by Yona Zeldis McDonough
The Canadian author on her novel Fields of Exile, about anti-Israelism in academe.

Returning to the Garden
by Chana Widawski
Outside New York, Toronto, and Baltimore, Jews are farming in communities that merge ecology and social justice.

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June 30, 2015 by

A 20-Year-Old’s Queer Jewish Feminist Take on the SCOTUS Ruling

It was a slow Friday morning at the front desk of the museum I work at. With a lack of visitors to welcome, I alternated entertaining myself with reading, texting friends, playing Solitaire, and browsing the news.

And that’s when I saw it. The 5-4 Supreme Court decision recognizing marriage equality across the nation. I was flooded with unexpected emotion—and taken aback by an unfamiliar sense of American pride. Could it really be true? As a gay person, was I no longer a second-class citizen? 

After work, I did what any impulsive 20-something year old living in New York City would do—walked straight to St. Mark’s Place to get an equality symbol inked on the back of my neck. Good lesbian, bad Jew—I know, I know. But I’ve been inked before, and I stand by self-expression and celebration through body art. And on this particular day, with this incredibly close yet favorable ruling, marriage equality was certainly something worth celebrating.

I was raised by secular Jewish parents who left the anti-semitic former Soviet Union, which today, as the Russian Federation, continues to discriminate against minorities, still including Jews, but now especially queer-identified people. Extreme violence toward queer people in Russia seems to be the cultural norm. I’ve never visited where my parents grew up, and can’t say I’m in the works of planning a trip—at least in the near future, because of the realities of Putin’s Russia. 

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June 29, 2015 by

What Motivates an Activist?

As a five-year-old girl, activist/journalist/playwright/lawyer Cynthia L. Cooper was unfamiliar with the word feminist and, like most of her peers, knew nothing about human rights or social justice. But she knew what was fair, which is why she took umbrage over privileges that were extended to her brothers, but not to her.

“I remember it as a moment of outrage when my brothers got to play baseball and I didn’t,” Cooper told Lilith. “I was also as good as or better than the boy down the street. It made no sense to me that he was able to join Little League and I wasn’t.”

It’s been many decades since this affront, but Cooper’s affinity for the excluded remains ironclad, and whether she is writing articles about the current spate of sexual attacks on college campuses, books—on themes as disparate as wrongful criminal convictions, the abuses of the Bush/Cheney administration, or tenants’ rights—or plays about sexual violence, reproductive justice, the Holocaust, or women in sports, her passion for equity is evident.

Cooper grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and learned her family’s history through stories that were told by the adults. There was her dad’s chronicle of moving from Lithuania to Reading, Pennsylvania, and her mom’s coming-of-age in tiny Dawson, Minnesota, where hers was the only Jewish family for many miles.  “My grandfather, my mom’s dad, owned a general store,” Cooper begins. “Their family was isolated in terms of Judaism but they were nonetheless central to the community. I heard many accounts of how, during the Depression, my grandfather gave people food if they needed it.” His generosity, she continues, was near-legendary, in one instance prodding him to buy a farm that was being foreclosed in order to protect the destitute people living on this land from being evicted. “I absorbed the message that you should do things for other people,” Cooper says. “That was Judaism for me; you do something bigger than yourself.”

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June 25, 2015 by

Young Love…and Its Aftermath

cover louisa meets bearGirl meets boy. Girl gets boy. Girl loses boy. But girl and boy do not forget each other. It is the elusive and often surprising nature of their ongoing connection that forms the backbone of Lisa Gornick’s highly acclaimed new collection of interrelated stories, Louisa Meets Bear (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, $26). Gornick, who is also a psychotherapist, is interested not only in the way things seem on the surface, but also with unseen forces that exert such powerful control over the lives of her characters. Here she chats via e-mail with Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the assault on the novel, and why the categories for fiction matter so much less than their content.

YZM: Let’s talk about the origin and structure of these stories. Did you know from the outset that they would be linked? Or did the connections reveal themselves more slowly, as you were writing?

LG: These stories were written over the past twenty-five years, all as individual pieces intended to stand alone. Originally, there were two sets, each made up of two stories that shared characters. When I first reread the stories with the thought of putting them together into a collection, it seemed, however, that they were all connected on a deeper level—as though the characters could or should have known one another. I went back and rewrote the stories, changing what might have been five degrees of separation between characters to one degree, making timelines to map the events into a single chronology and a larger narrative. With the stories connected now, we follow characters over nearly five decades. The opening story begins in 1961 with a woman’s yearning to have work of her own, and the final story, set in 2009, while about an incident between a mother—the niece of the woman in the opening story—and a son, has as its backdrop the accommodations this mother has made to have work and love in her life.

YZM: You depict a number of absent/dead/damaged mothers here; comments?

LG: It is not an easy road for a woman who wants mature romantic love, a deep hands-on relationship with her children, and meaningful work. There are difficult choices and often irresolvable conflicts between these domains. In Louisa Meets Bear, there are mothers whose lives are marked by tragedy and then, in the next generation, daughters who have begun to find a way.

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