Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What We Are Reading Now

The MJH Book Club met yesterday, and while attendance was sparse, those who were present had a vocal discussion of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander. There was a decidedly mixed reaction from the group, although there was consensus that the characters and dialogue that Englander creates are interesting and well-crafted. For some, though, there was no love for the arc of the stories. We all found “Camp Sundown,” about an elder hostel group recognizing a fellow camper as someone from their past, to be humorous and believable, given the people we know, and the final story, “Free Fruit for Young Widows,” was as powerful and poignant as a short story can be.

The placement of the final stories led to an interesting discussion. One of our members said she did not identify with the first two stories, but loved the last two, which seemed to leave indelible marks on all of us. Had the editor organized the book differently, would she have liked it more? Another colleague, who did not join the discussion, e-mailed her comment: "It is like O'Henry for Jews- oy Henry. Do Jews need more depressing stories and irony?"
Betsy and I say yes. She declared it the best book she has read all year (and let me tell you, Betsy reads A LOT of books), and I was distraught when I turned the last page and there was nothing more to read. He uses an economy of words to create beautifully and fully formed stories that transport you from a hillside in Israel to a summer camp for seniors. Betsy and I do not speak for the whole Book Club, but if the Pulitzer Prize Fiction Committee does not choose Nathan Englander as the recipient next year, they are meshuge*

*Yiddish translation for crazy.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yom HaShoah Reflections

As many of you know, today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Working at a Holocaust museum, we commemorate every day, but this week is always especially moving, and very busy as we get prepare to welcome hundreds of students and visitors who come to the Museum to hear Holocaust survivors and their children speak about their lives and their personal artifacts.

What you may not know, is that every year, the staff starts the day off with a very small, private ceremony where we can reflect together. As our director, Dr. David G. Marwell says, it is one of the most powerful commemorations for him, because it is a chance for us to come together as a family to mark something that is so personal to all of us.

Our tradition is that we welcome six Holocaust survivors to light candles with six young people, who are interns or new staff members. They read from a beautiful ceremony written by one of our first gallery educators, Norbert Friedman, who survived 11 camps. We then sing Eli, Eli, based on Hannah Senesh’s evocative poem. I think it is very fitting that we close the ceremony with a hopeful prayer for mankind, since “There is Hope for Your Future,” is one of the sentiments on the wall as you enter our Core Exhibition. The other is “Remember, Never Forget.”

We wish you all a meaningful day today.

Image: Education assistant Rookminie Behari and Ray Kaner, who survived the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz. Photo by Melanie Einzig.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Remembrance in Titanic Proportions

In case you haven’t heard, there is a big anniversary approaching involving a tragic sea voyage. Dozens, if not hundreds, of articles have appeared this week about the fate of chivalry, atmospheric factors, memorial cruises, class and ethnicity, and of course… the auction by RMS Titanic Inc. of more than 5,000 objects salvaged from the bottom of the ocean. Some of these items, which you might have seen exhibited around the world, include hats, boots, china, the personal objects one would take on a journey, whether on a vacation or as the first step in a new life in a new country.

I have been thinking a lot about the clothes, primarily because last month was the 101st anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (which was the subject of a blog last year). Like the folks traveling in less than glam quarters on the Titanic, those young women and girls were the working poor. Their tragic deaths became intertwined with labor rights and workplace safety and are rooted in Greenwich Village. Could they have made the clothes that were packed away for an Atlantic crossing? I do not know. What I do know is that remembering the lives of the deceased is too important to leave to big anniversaries that garner media attention.

According to Jewish tradition, the anniversary of a death is a day of reflection to remember what was lost. The observance of this day is called yahrzeit. As an institution dedicated to Holocaust memory, we remember those killed in the Holocaust each and every day.

For many of the millions who were murdered during the Holocaust, the anniversary of their deaths is unknown. To mourn them and to commemorate the loss of all who perished, a special day has been set aside – Yom HaShoah – a day when the entire community gathers to remember and reflect. We are preparing for Yom HaShoah next Thursday, April 19. Survivors and artifact donors will be in the galleries and admission is free with suggested donation. On Sunday, April 22, we will join together for a community-wide Holocaust observance, the Annual Gathering of Remembrance, at Temple Emanu-El. Tickets are required for this event and can be reserved here.

You can find out the yahrzeit date for important people in your life by going to this site.

If you are observing the titanic loss of 1,500 souls, there are many institutions providing opportunities for reflection, some in a more whimsical fashion than others. Here is a list from Time Out New York. Our friends at the New-York Historical Society have an exhibition. And of course the Titanic Memorial can be found at the corner of Pearl and Fulton, at the entrance to the South Street Seaport, which has its own exhibition, too.

May the memory of all who were lost be remembered today and always.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Just In time for the Seder, Passover Haiku

In the Communications Department, we are fans of haiku, the Japanese poem of three lines consisting of five, seven, and then five syllables with a reference to the seasons or nature, and a comparison or contrast between images. I think we are fans because one has to convey a great idea or image in 17 syllables. One is forced to be pithy and precise, and we like that. A lot.

The Washington Jewish Week and the Washington DC JCC managed to combine two of our favorite things: Passover and haiku. Apparently inspired by the cherry blossoms in bloom, the good folks in DC held their first Passover haiku contest in March and announced the winner s this week. The contest had an added twist: the poems had to reference one of the four children of Passover. I have written my share of Passover haiku over the years (really), but never thought anyone would appreciate them. I missed my chance.

I have to say that the winners wrote some pretty serious haiku, but I particularly like this one:

Though we're all grown up,
We snicker when our brother
Gets the wicked son.
- Amy Finkelstein

You can see them for yourself here.

In the spirit of the holiday and the contest, here are some from my personal archives, and I hope you will add your own in the comment section.

Matzoh , charoset
Some brisket and chicken soup
Let my people eat

Drink four cups of wine
Where did we hide that matzoh?
Make your Exodus

Wishing you and yours a zissen Pesach.

Photo courtesy the Washington, DC JCC.