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Winter 2014/2015


Abbie Rosner

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features

MAGAZINE OF NA’AMAT USA

Winter 2014/2015

What I Learned..................................................................................... 4

Vol. 30 No. 1

Editor Judith A. Sokoloff

A resident of the Galilee discovers the ancient traditions of local farming, foraging and cooking from her Arab friends. By Abbie Rosner

Art Director Marilyn Rose

Facing History in Lithuania.................................................................. 10

Editorial Committee Harriet Green Sylvia Lewis Elizabeth Raider Edythe Rosenfield Lynn Wax Marcia J. Weiss

Kanot Revisited..................................................................................14

Is Lithuania destined to be a place where neo-Nazi voices grow louder or a land where people take Holocaust remembrance seriously? By Ellen Cassedy

At Na’amat’s renowned youth village, students are encouraged to play a part in their own destiny. By Judy Telman

NA’AMAT USA Officers

departments

PRESIDENT Elizabeth Raider VICE PRESIDENTS Jan Gurvitch Ivy Liebross Gail Simpson Marcia J. Weiss TREASURER/FINANCIAL SECRETARY Debbie Kohn

President’s Message By Elizabeth Raider..................................................3

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RECORDING SECRETARY Debby Firestone

Heart to Heart: Aliyah: in the genes?

By Barbara Trainin Blank..................18

On the Go: Two New York Exhibitions By Judith A. Sokoloff......................20 Take Action! Let’s End Bullying

By Marcia J. Weiss.................................24

CHAIR/NATIONAL FUNDS Harriet Green

Book Reviews..................................................25

Na’amat Woman (ISSN 0888-191X) is published quarterly (fall, winter, spring, summer) on the Internet, with winter and summer issues also in print, by Na’amat USA. Postmaster: Send address changes to NA’AMAT USA National Office, 21515 Vanowen St., Suite 102, Canoga Park, CA 91303.

Around the Country..........................................28

For change of address, contact naamat@naamat.org, phone 818-431-2200 or write to national office in California. Editorial and advertising, contact Judith@naamat.org, phone 212-563-5222 or write to Na’amat Woman, 505 Eighth Ave., #12A04, New York, NY 10018. Signed articles represent the opinions of the authors and not necessarily those of Na’amat USA or its editor. Websites: www.naamat.org and www.naamatwoman.com

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Our cover: Counselors and students at Na’amat’s Kanot Youth Village. See story on page 14. Photo by Rivka Finder.

Mission Statement The mission of Na’amat USA is to enhance the status of women and children in Israel and the United States as part of a worldwide progressive Jewish women’s organization. Its purpose is to help Na’amat Israel provide educational and social services, including day care, vocational training, legal aid for women, absorption of new

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immigrants, community centers, and centers for the prevention and treatment of domestic violence. Na’amat USA advocates on issues relating to women’s rights, the welfare of children, education and the United States-Israel relationship. Na’amat USA also helps strengthen Jewish and Zionist life in communities throughout the United States. Na’amat USA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

NA’AMAT USA AREA OFFICES Eastern Area 505 Eighth Ave., Suite 12A04 New York, NY 10018 212-563-4962 easternarea@naamat.org Southeast Area 4400 N. Federal Hwy., Suite 50 Boca Raton, FL 33431 561-368-8898 jacqueyoster@yahoo.com Midwest Area 10024 N. Skokie Blvd., Suite 226 Skokie, IL 60077 847-329-7172 naamatmdw@aol.com Western Area 16161 Ventura Blvd., #101 Encino, CA 91436 818-981-1298 wanaamat@sbcglobal.net


Dear Haverot,

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s we start the 2015 new year, I want to thank you for your support and patience during the last year as our national office was making the move from New York and adjusting to California. Change always brings challenges. We certainly have worked hard and done our best to make the transition as smooth as possible. With new systems in place, we are working more efficiently on all organizational levels. Na’amat USA continues to increase its visibility through a strong public relations approach utilizing our website, Facebook and YouTube as well as the more traditional press releases and e-blasts. Our updated membership software program paves the way for a more sophisticated method of staying in touch with members and non-member online donors With the help of the area offices and coordinators, we have started new clubs in several parts of the country. These clubs embrace a full range of interests and ages — college students, young professionals and retirees — all responsive to the unique message of Na’amat. We will be doing outreach in more communities during the coming year. A major 2015 event is the Na’amat International Conference in Israel. The 40-member United States delegation will participate in the intensive week-long conference with Na’amat leaders and activists from around the world. Events include meetings with Na’amat Israel department heads, tours of Na’amat facilities — including the groundbreaking ceremony of a new day care center in Beersheva — as well as meeting with Israel government officials. Watch for news on our website (www.naamat.org),

Facebook and in the next issue of Na’amat Woman. Na’amat Israel continues to make its mark on Israeli society as it stands up for women. On International Day for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, November 25, 2014, the organization held two important events. With the support of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team, Na’amat Israel launched a campaign against domestic violence with the slogan “A real man does not raise his hand.” At the Euroleague game with Alba Berlin in Tel Aviv, team members donned uniforms displaying the Na’amat logo and the campaign slogan. (Maccabi won.) The thrust of the campaign is to encourage abusive

Israeli men to seek professional help early on. “Most of the men come to Na’amat only after a complaint is made against them to the police or after a legal sanction is imposed on them,” said Na’amat Israel president Galia Wolloch. Na’amat has also made a brief film about domestic violence, which was televised and can be viewed on YouTube. Another significant event was a special screening of “Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem,” the Israeli feature film documenting the painful five-year process of a woman struggling against her husband and the rabbinical courts to obtain a divorce (“gett” in Hebrew). More than 500 women attended the Jerusalem event, which was co-sponsored by the Israel Bar Association. After the award-winning film was shown, Wolloch commented: “I often wonder how much gender equality is really worth in the working world continued on page 27

The victorious Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team supports Na’amat’s campaign against domestic violence. They are shown with Na’amat president Galia Wolloch, wearing jerseys displaying the Na’amat logo and the slogan, “A real man does not raise his hand.”

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What I Learned

About Ancient Traditions of Local Eating in the Galilee From my Arab Friends by ABBIE ROSNER

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Foraging With the Bedouins

It took time and no small amount of courage to ask one of the local foragers to show me what he was picking. The gentleman I encountered, holding a small bag bulging with leaves, was hesitant to respond, clearly unsure of my motives. “Wild spinach” he replied. Encouraged by my obvious interest, he went on to explain how his wife would prepare the greens as a filling for savory, triangular pastries. Emboldened by my experience, every time I met a Bedouin man or woman gathering edible wild plants, I would engage them in conversation. Their ini

Photos, pages 4-8 by Abbie Rosner.

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eing a locavore in a small country like Israel isn’t so hard. With the plethora of small organic farms, boutique cheese makers and artisanal bakers opening seemingly every week, sustaining oneself on locally grown and prepared foods has become, well, a piece of cake. But, Israel being what it is, even reducing one’s carbon footprint can have deep spiritual implications. When I left behind a large East Coast city to follow my heart and settle on a farm in the Galilee, the ease with which I took to country life was an unexpected bonus. I delighted in drinking milk from our village dairy and cooking up corn, tomatoes and broccoli I’d picked with my own hands from the surrounding fields. Slowly I came to appreciate an entirely different cycle of seasons, and how the Jewish year is deeply rooted in this site-specific agricultural landscape. The cooler days and gathering clouds around Rosh Hashanah herald the appearance of the first rains and the opening of a new agricultural year. By Hanukkah, the fields are knee high with wheat and the hills are verdant with a profusion of local greenery — a profound change from the snowy winters I always knew. During this lush winter season, I became aware of Bedouins from the nearby villages ranging through the fields and forest, foraging among the undergrowth for edible wild plants. These indigenous local foods, I was to discover, were an excellent medium through which to enter into dialogue with my Bedouin and Arab neighbors.

Preparing one of the many dishes for a Bedouin picnic, Bahiya Sabtan adds finely chopped mallow to the pot, along with onions and olive oil.

tial hesitation was almost inevitably followed by detailed and enthusiastic explanations — not only of the names and cooking methods for each plant, but also their medicinal qualities. Mallow, I was told, is full of iron and excellent for the blood; wild asparagus clean out the kidneys. But everyone seemed to have a special reverence for luf (Arum palaestinum). Luf is not only delicious, I was told, but is also powerful medicine, even believed to cure cancer. But, I was warned, care needs to be taken when preparing it, as the plant contains a mild toxin.

The Luf Challenge

There is plenty of luf growing in my own yard during the early winter months, but the sinister look of its waxy leaves had always been a serious deterrent to eating it. Now, aware of this local plant’s potential, I decided to prepare luf myself. One of my Bedouin friends explained to me how to cook it. After removing their thick spines, I should chop the leaves into thin shreds, then sauté them in olive oil with lots of lemon juice to neutralize the toxic effects. I gathered a respectable pile of leaves and followed the instructions WINTER 2014/2015

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as given, adding juice I squeezed from half a dozen lemons for good measure. When the concoction cooked down to a soft, dark green mass, I dipped into it with a fork to have a taste. Even before I could figure out what to make of the sour, earthy flavor, my mouth was filled with an intensely unpleasant tingling, and I grabbed a lemon and began to suck on it. Eventually, the pins and needles subsided, and I concluded that this would be my one and only experience with luf. Relating the experience to my friend Hal’a, she had a good laugh and then invited me to her home in one of the nearby Bedouin villages so she could show me how to properly cook luf. On the appointed day, I filled a large plastic bag with luf that I picked from my yard and drove to her village. We stripped the spine off each leaf and she expertly stacked and folded the leaves before slicing them into neat strips. I set to work squeezing lemons. Hal’a stirred the greens and juice together, adding a cup of water at a time, then letting it boil away. She repeated this process several times, assuring me that this would rid the leaves of their toxic effect. After almost an hour of cooking, she declared the luf ready to eat. We dipped pieces of fresh pita bread into the steaming dish. I ate mine with some trepidation. The earthy flavor was the same, but this time I was able to savor it with only the mildest of tingling on the insides of my cheeks. Luf, I realized, is clearly an acquired taste.

Training the Eye

Thanks to the patient guidance of numerous teachers, I can now identify a remarkable number of edible wild 6

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plants that grow in the vicinity of my Galilee home. With auspicious timing, most of these wild plants appear during the winter months, exactly at the time when other fresh and nutritious cultivated vegetables were once scarce. Now, every year I look forward to the winter months, when these wild delicacies are available to be gathered and cooked. There is no greater pleasure than to amble through the blossoming wooded hills, passing my gaze over the delicate wild cyclamen and crimson anemones, then sharpening the focus to distinguish the leaves and stalks of edible plants. With my hand on my heart, I can attest to preferring a plate of freshly picked wild asparagus, gently steamed and drizzled with olive oil and a little salt, over a five-star gourmet meal.

wheat is a specialty of Galilee Arab cuisine, prized as a delicacy and considered to be particularly healthy. My close friend Balkees, daughter of traditional farmers from a village outside Nazareth, has been my guide into the Arab agricultural world. Even after she married and moved into her husband’s home in Nazareth, she remains deeply connected to the land and to the seasonal foods that pass through her skilled hands and onto her family’s table. Balkees maintains ties with village friends who still farm the land around Nazareth in traditional ways, growing wheat in the winter and vegetables in the summer. One of these families, she explained to me, still produces farike every spring. If I wanted, she offered, when the time comes, we could go and join them in the work.

Roasted Green Wheat

Ruth the Moabite in the 21st Century

As spring, and Passover, approaches, the wheat in the surrounding fields enters into its final stage of ripening, when the kernels of grain within the ears are fully developed but still green and soft. Grain at this stage is referred to in the Bible as aviv (the season spring, in Hebrew) and is associated with the disastrous plague of hail from the Exodus story. In Leviticus 2:14, the newly ripe wheat, when roasted and ground, is sanctioned as an appropriate Temple offering. I first tasted roasted green wheat, or farike as it is called in Arabic, in the home of Arab friends. The greenish golden grain, sometimes spelled freekeh, was cooked with short strands of vermicelli noodles. It was served as a side dish accompanying roast chicken, and its distinct smoky flavor reminded me of Rice-A-Roni. Roasted green

I got the call from Balkees on the last day of Passover. I picked her up and she directed us off the main highway onto a bumpy dirt road that led to an isolated field of wheat. There we met two of the family’s sons — young men in their 20s — who were at work in the field. They handed each of us a sickle. Harvesting green wheat for farike, it turns out, must be done by hand. Balkees showed me how to bend over, wrap my left arm around a bunch of wheat and pull briskly with the sickle to slice off only the ears of grain at the top. It was hard work under the hot sun — slow but exhilarating. I was keenly aware that since the agricultural revolution people had been harvesting wheat in these Galilee fields using sickles not much different from what I was holding. I felt like


There are plenty of edibles growing in the Galilee — farike, luf and figs, to name a few — to make any locavore happy.

When I left behind a large East Coast city to follow my heart and settle on a farm in the Galilee, the ease with which I took to country life was an unexpected bonus. Ruth the Moabite in the 21st century. The brothers surged ahead through the green field and soon filled a large canvas bag, which they loaded onto a tractor and brought up to a large threshing field. Piles of shorn ears of wheat lay drying in the sun. One of the young men piled the drying wheat onto an old metal bed frame with a pitchfork, then lit it on fire with a lighter. The wheat smoldered and burned — turning black on the outside but only roasting the moist inner kernels, imbuing them with their distinctive smoky flavor. Balkees handed me one of the charred ears. She told me to rub it between my hands and then blow away the chaff. What remained were shiny green kernels, chewy and flavorful. The word farike comes from the verb — in both Arabic and Hebrew — to take apart or to separate, just as I had done when I separated the grain from its outer covering. In spite of its honorable mention in the Bible, roasted green wheat has only recently registered on the mainstream Israeli culinary radar. Much of the farike sold in stores is imported from Turkey. However, for true locavores, obtaining farike grown and processed in the nearby fields is the real thing. How fortunate I am to have developed the friendship and trust that provides me with access to these locally produced foods — more precious in my mind than gold — and an entry into the world of the very few people who still grow them.

Baal Agriculture

It was late July when Balkees brought me back to her friend’s fields. We hadn’t seen rain for several months and the summer heat had settled heavily on the land. We arrived at the remote spot in the early evening, when the setting sun had lost some of its power. The purpose of our visit was to help with the daily vegetable harvest. Tomatoes, okra, bottle squash, sesame, pale zucchini and a type of hairy cucumber called fakus were growing in long rows. The mother and sons had spread out, leaning over the crops and filling buckets they carried along with them. These crops, Balkees explained, grew without irrigation, depending entirely on their long roots that reached down to the water table and on the morning dew. Looking at the fat heirloom tomatoes, it seemed inconceivable that vegetables could grow in the harsh Israeli summer without protection or watering. Yet people have been raising vegetables here for thousands of years without a nearby faucet, depending on the region’s unique topology and varieties of plants that were attuned to these physical conditions. Surveying the flat, cultivated valley surrounded by rolling hills, it is easy to recognize the fertile land promised to the Israelites, “that soaks up its waters from the rains of heaven” (Deuteronomy 11:10). This type of waterless agriculture is known here as baal agriculture — referring to the ancient Canaanite god

of fertility and agriculture. Compared with modern agricultural methods, the yields it produces are miniscule and it is deeply cost-inefficient. Yet a small number of farmers still grow their baal produce, because their land does not have access to water and because they are carrying on a tried and true tradition. Yet it seems quite clear that the future of baal agriculture in the Galilee — after thousands of years of practice — will soon be coming to a close. I feel deeply privileged to be able to witness this ancient and perfectly balanced synergy between farmer, land and local crops. Later, when cooking the freshly picked, deeply flavorful okra and tomatoes, it occurred to me that they should somehow be memorialized — and how vastly superior they are to the pale versions on the supermarket shelves.

Sweet as Honey

In the Arab farming communities of the Galilee, even after the establishment of the state, families subsisted in large part on what they produced. Particularly in the more remote villages, electricity was only recently introduced, and foods were processed and stored to last through the year in ways that changed little over the millennia. Wheat was roasted when green to make farike or parboiled when ripe to produce fast-cooking bulgar. Goat milk was mixed with bulgar and dried to produce a dairy product that didn’t spoil or made into a soft cheese that WINTER 2014/2015

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had learned from his mother. When I visited their home one summer day, he showed me the drying figs on the roof of his house that he and his children had collected. They had already prepared their own dibbes, cooking down the liquid rendered from soaked dried figs into a thick brown syrup. Then he showed me a rectangular metal box with a screw that he used to press the dried figs into a solid cake. His mother had a wooden box that she used for this purpose — the fig cake was wrapped in cloth and would keep the entire year, eaten in thin slices. This fig cake, I imagined, was not so different from the fig cakes offered by Avigael among the provisions she supplied to King David.

Busy All the Time

Bright red kalaniot (wild anemones) blanket a field in the Galilee. The flowers appear after the winter rains, growing wild in many parts of Israel. The anemone was recently chosen as Israel’s national flower in a poll conducted by the Society for the Protection of Nature.

could be rolled into balls and submerged in olive oil. Fruits, which ripened en masse, were dried and even processed into syrup or “honey.” A friend reminisced with me about his childhood in the Arab village in the Western Galilee where he still lives. Every summer he would help his mother harvest figs from the plentiful trees around their home. They would dry the ripe fruit on the rooftop, then thread it onto strings that were hung in the storage space under their home. She would cook down some of the dried figs to prepare a syrup called dibbes. As a child, he explained, “We didn’t have 8

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candy. If we wanted something sweet, my mother gave us a piece of bread dipped in dibbes.” The Arabic word dibbes relates closely to the Hebrew dvash, which means honey. Biblical mentions of honey, particularly in the context of the seven species, are often considered as referring to a sweet syrup rendered from fruit — generally dates, but figs are certainly feasible as coming from another one of the seven traditional foods of the Promised Land. My friend decided to disengage his children from the television and computer and teach them the traditions he

The cycle of seasons and the traditional local crops of the Galilee are such that there is work for the locavore year round. Um Malek is a woman in her late 60s — a fellah, or traditional farmer, in her soul. Her husband, Abu Malek, a retired school principal, says of her with pride, “Um Malek is always busy — that’s what keeps her so healthy and fit.” Indeed, every time I visit, she is never still. Um Malek’s brother is a landowner and farmer. Every spring he allocates a small piece of land on which she raises crops — usually okra and black-eyed peas. All summer long she leaves the house early in the morning and is back by 10, bringing with her the day’s yield. When the winter rains begin, she gathers edible wild plants on her morning walks. On the sunny days that follow rain, she hunts wild mushrooms that sprout in the fields. In early spring, after the chickpeas are harvested, she gleans the fields and uses what she brings home to make her own hummus and falafel. She knows how to harvest sesame, dry it and collect the seeds. At times I have seen delicate white chamomile flowers that she gathered in the hills drying on a tray — or sprigs of local marjoram and savory — for the tea she prepares for stomach or headaches and for seasoning her dishes. I recently had the opportunity to observe a small part of the labor-intensive process Um Malek uses to prepare syrup from carob


There is no greater pleasure than to amble through the blossoming wooded hills, passing my gaze over the delicate wild cyclamen Photos on this page by Sam Holly.

and crimson anemones, then sharpening the focus to distinguish the leaves and stalks of edible plants. pods, which spreads over two full days. Even when she is sitting, Um Malek is either plucking the leaves off long stalks of jute — malukhiya — which form the base for a thick soup that is a standard Galilee Arab dish, or she is rolling grape leaves around thin lines of seasoned rice. She could be scooping out the insides of baby zucchinis to prepare them for stuffing or cutting out circles of dough to fill with wild spinach. The wealth of Um Malek’s wisdom and skills does not seem to have been embraced by any of her 10 children or their spouses. I observe this without judgment, understanding the inevitable historical processes that are characteristic of rural societies around the world. Yet I still hope that there is some way that these traditional foodways can somehow be preserved.

A Land of Milk and Honey

The Galilee is indeed a land of milk and honey, and the most respectful response to this bounty can be found in thoughtful consumption. Living as a locavore goes hand in hand with thriftiness and thoughtful use of resources. In Arabic, a woman who receives the compliment “mahdaleh” is being recognized for her ability to use resources thriftily. Having spent many hours at Balkees’ side — in the kitchen and out in the countryside — I have become extremely adverse to waste. I’ve watched her handily sift through bunches of parsley, arugula and spinach to pick out only the yellowed stems. She will turn piles of overripe tomatoes

into tomato sauce and leftover grapes into vinegar. When she heard that we weren’t planning to pick the olives ripening on the tree in our yard, Balkees corralled me into the branches and the two of us stripped the tree of its fruit, producing 20 liters of olive oil. And it was Balkees who instructed me to take a pail and sift through the leaves and collect each olive that rolled off the tarp. Chicken work she called it. This year, when we harvested the olives off that same tree, I happily took on the chicken work, patiently plucking each little olive from among the leaves and twigs. Surely if there is one thing I’ve learned about eating locally from my Arab friends, it is to hone my focus on the individual gift of each fruit, leaf or grain. And to value where it came from, how it comes to my hands, and how it nourishes my body and soul. But perhaps the most profound realization has been that engaging in a dialogue over food offers an extraordinary channel

Abbie Rosner shells the black-eyed peas she has just picked (below also). In local Arab cuisine, the peas inside are eaten fresh along with the more tender young pods.

to overcome the suspicion and animosity between Jews and Arabs — and to build friendship and trust in their place. Abbie Rosner is the author of Breaking Bread in Galilee: A Culinary Journey into the Promised Land (Hilayon Press). Part of this article first appeared in the book. Check out her blog: “Galilee Seasonality: Abbie Rosner’s Culinary Notebook From Northern Israel.”

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Facing History in Lithuania Is Lithuania destined to be a place where neo-Nazi voices grow louder

or a land where people take Holocaust remembrance seriously and dedicate themselves to ensuring that such a tragedy cannot happen again? by ELLEN CASSEDY

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n a hot August afternoon in Vilnius, Lithuania, a dozen young people carrying brooms and flashlights made their way into a derelict building on narrow, curving Zemaitijos Street. They wore blue jeans and face masks to protect against the

dust and cobwebs. In the semi-darkness, they set to work clearing out broken furniture, trash and debris. During World War II, the building in the heart of the old Jewish quarter served as the Vilna ghetto library. It contained 45,000 volumes, and every day hundreds of imprisoned readers lined up to borrow them. Meanwhile, in the basement, members of the ghetto resistance gathered in a soundproof room to practice shooting off contraband weapons. The young people cleaning up the site

were members of a group called Vardai (Names), which aims to commemorate Lithuania’s Holocaust victims and “to help revive our collective memory.” After the war, during the Soviet era, the books were put into storage and a music school took over the building. After that, squatters moved in. Now the building has been turned over to the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, and members of Vardai have big dreams for its future. Once refurbished — they hope — it will become a place where Lithuanians can engage with their nation’s Jewish history. In their view, as this young country seeks to make its way as a European democracy, a serious encounter with the Jewish past — and with the painful truths of the Holocaust — is essential. For nearly seven centuries, Jews and non-Jews in Lithuania lived side


The effort to examine the truths of the past in Lithuania is not a Jewish project. It is very important equally for Jews and for other Lithuanians — because as long as you are hiding the truth, as long as you fail to come to terms with your past, you cannot build your future. by side in relative peace. Pogroms were rare. The city of Vilnius (Vilna in Yiddish) became known as the “Jerusalem of the North.” The city of Kaunas (Kovno), too, grew as a center of Jewish culture. By the 20th century, about one-third of the occupants of Lithuania’s cities and about one-half of the residents of its towns were Jewish. Despite all the years of multicultural tolerance, during World War II the annihilation of the Jews of Lithuania was swift and thorough. The country’s political and religious leaders either cooperated with the Nazi regime or at the very least failed to oppose it ef-

fectively. As for ordinary people, some defied Nazi orders by helping their Jewish neighbors, but most did not. Some played an active role in the killing of the Jews. By the end of the war, only six percent of Lithuania’s 240,000 Jews remained alive. During the nearly halfcentury of Soviet rule, most expressions of Jewish culture were banned, and the reality of the massacre of the Jews went underground. Lithuania’s postwar generation grew up largely ignorant of their country’s magnificent Jewish heritage

and of the facts about its destruction. But 25 years ago, when the Soviet Union was beginning to collapse, things started to change. Buried truths were unearthed. Denial began to give way to recognition. In the words of one leader of the effort to face the past, there came “an awakening from…a long slumber of mind, spirit and conscience.” Fania Brantsovskaja, 92, is a survivor of the Vilnius Ghetto.

Opposite page: Volunteers cleaned up the derelict Vilna Ghetto library this past August. Above: Posters discovered in the ruins of the Vilna Ghetto near the library are now displayed on its exterior walls. Photos by Ellen Cassedy.

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Activists, officials, educators, and artists recognize

Vilna G aon Sta te Jewis h Muse um

that only through continuing remembrance and reflection can Lithuania hope to move forward from a history of genocide. Hundreds of mass murder sites were clearly marked. New monuments made clear that the Jews had been killed by “Hitlerists and their local helpers.” Plaques commemorating events in Jewish history were installed on city streets. Jewish cemeteries were restored. A Jewish museum and a Jewish secondary school opened in Vilnius. Here and there, synagogues began to hold services. And numerous educational efforts brought Lithuanians face to face with the suppressed history of a nearly vanished culture. Today, Lithuania continues its encounter with the Jewish past. As many European countries are experiencing a resurgence of expressions of anti-Semitism, Lithuania, too, has seen an uptick in some worrisome indications of intolerance. The number of neo-Nazis participating in annual independence day marches, though small, is growing. Hate speech flares on the Internet and swastikas sometimes desecrate Jewish historical sites. And while the Lithuanian government recently allocated $50 million in restitution funds to the Jewish community, the government is also regularly criticized for insensitive actions and inactions. Still, an increasing number of officials, educators, artists and activists in this small Baltic land are devoting themselves to Jewish remembrance. Jews and non-Jews alike, they are seeking and finding ways to remember, to honor, to celebrate, to mourn, to ask tough moral questions. Only in so doing, they believe, will their country mature into an active civil society — a place where people choose to stand up and speak up, a place that values diversity, a place of tolerance. Cleaning up the old ghetto library is one way Lithuanians are connecting with the Jewish past. Another is to join a 12

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network of 96 tolerance centers located in high schools and community centers. Ingrida Vilkiene, a former teacher, coordinates the network, which is part of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Soviet and Nazi Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, established in 1998 by President Valdas Adamkus. Vilkiene takes groups of Lithuanian teachers on educational tours of Israel and also of the old Jewish quarter in Vilnius, where their guide is Fania Brantsovskaja, 92, a ghetto survivor and former anti-Nazi partisan. Brantsovskaja now works as the librarian at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University. She weaves in the story of her own family history as she points out traces of the vibrant prewar Jewish community. Before the war, she said, all the Jews of Vilnius spoke Yiddish, and Jewish theaters, newspapers, schools, publishing houses and libraries were thriving. Today, only 2,000 Jews live in Vilnius and another 2,000 elsewhere in Lithuania. As word spreads from teacher to teacher, the number of participants in the tolerance network is increasing. Though pleased with the steady growth, Vilkiene feels it’s not enough. “It’s no secret that some of our teachers are anti-Semitic,” she noted. “They know nothing about Jews and they don’t want to know. I’ve met people who say, ‘It’s not our history. It’s not my problem.’ ” Vilkiene disagrees strongly. “In fact, it is our problem. It’s our histo-

Above: Irena Veisaite (now 86) with her mother in Kovno. Left: her rescuers, the Ladigiene family.

ry.” With the annihilation of the Jewish community, “all of us in Lithuania lost our people, our local citizens.” Reclaiming the Jewish past, Vilkiene asserts, “is not only for the Jews, but for all of us.” History teachers in Lithuania are required to teach about the Holocaust in grades 5, 6, 9, 10 and 12, but teachers have leeway to decide for themselves how they teach about the subject and for how long. “There should be a national curriculum that requires more,” Vilkiene said. A few years ago, when she led a workshop in the western part of the country, “I was shocked to meet oldfashioned history teachers,” she recalled. “More than half were anti-Semitic. They were very aggressive. But a few years later, I got an e-mail from these same teachers. They wanted another seminar. They wanted to know more.” Vilkiene is hopeful that these teachers, with their evolving views, are evidence of a positive trend. “Maybe things are changing,” she said. Complicating the effort to face the Jewish past is Lithuania’s complex 20th-century history. In the year before the Nazi occupation and again after the war, Soviet authorities deported thousands of Lithuanians to Siberia. At the end of the war, when the three Baltic nations were incorporated into the Soviet Union, a bloody resis-


tance struggle raged for seven years. Between 1940 and 1952, historians say, hundreds of thousands of people — Jews and non-Jews — were lost to massacre, war casualties, deportations, executions and emigration. This massive disruption of society inflicted deep social scars. Today, some Lithuanians who seek to tell the once buried truths of the Soviet era are hostile to the project of facing the truths of the Nazi era.

Daiva Cepauskaite is the first Lithuanian to write a play about the Holocaust.

Critics of the International Commission worry that lumping the Nazi and Soviet eras together under one roof implies a false parity between the two eras, as if the suffering of Lithuanians under the Soviets was fully equivalent to the suffering of Jews under the Nazis. In response, others say that to shape their future, Lithuanians need to examine what happened in both eras. And unless people feel that their own grievances are being heard, they can find it difficult to attend to the grievances of others. Bringing non-Jewish suffering to the table, it is hoped, will help to open minds and hearts. It will help people say not “yes, and” instead of “yes, but.” Yes, you have grievances, you were wronged. And I have grievances, I suffered. And that, it is hoped, can create a compassionate, open frame of mind rather than a closed, competitive frame of mind. It’s a difficult balance. For several years, the Holocaust half of the Commission was shut down due to a conflict over actions by the Lithuanian prosecutor’s office. Recently, an agreement was reached. The Commission was reconstituted, and the proclamation reopen

It’s no secret that some of our teachers are anti-Semitic. They know nothing about Jews and they don’t want to know. I’ve met people who say, “It’s not our history. It’s not my problem.” ing the Commission explicitly emphasized the uniqueness of the Holocaust. Schoolchildren and their teachers are also encouraged to engage with the Jewish past at the multiple branches of the Jewish Museum. Jewish artifacts that were saved all through the Soviet years, hidden away in back rooms by Lithuanian curators, are proudly on display. Here, too, an exhibit called “Rescued Lithuanian Jewish Child Tells About the Shoah” presents the stories of some 50 children who survived with the help of their Lithuanian neighbors. Large blackand-white photographs bring visitors face to face with the rescued children and their rescuers. (The entire exhibit is available online at www.rescuedchild.lt.) Survivors now scattered around the world helped to create the exhibit, explained curator Danute Selcinskaya. “The idea is that through personal stories, people will understand much better.” Selcinskaya, who is not Jewish, has worked at the museum for 10 years. At first she was hesitant. “I thought it would be too difficult to work here,” she said. “But I felt a moral obligation. This is the medicine for the unhealing wounds of the Holocaust. These stories show that people had a choice.” Rescuers smuggled Jewish children out of ghettos, pulled them out of death marches, concealed them in barns and forest hiding places and passed them around from home to home in secret networks. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel, has honored 844 Lithuanians who risked their lives to save Jews from annihilation. Irena Veisaite, 86, is among the rescued Jews featured in the exhibit.

As a teenager, she spent more than two years in the Kovno ghetto, then escaped with the help of Lithuanians and moved into the home of a woman she came to consider her “second mother.” “To kill thousands of peoDainius Diksaitis monitors ple,” Veisaite obthe Internet for antiserved, “you need Semitic content. only several people with guns, and these people don’t risk anything except their souls. But to save one person, you need the tremendous courage of many people.” The museum does not sugarcoat the reality that the rescuers made up only a tiny part of the Lithuanian population. The exhibit “is not only about saving,” Selcinskaya explained. “In every panel, we tell about the family before the war and about the deaths of other members of the family of the rescued child. We talk about the killers and about the many Lithuanians who participated in the civil administration of the Nazi regime. The stories we tell are as complex as the reality.” Her goal, Selcinskaya explained, “is to emphasize that this topic is not an external topic. These were our neighbors. This was us.” And she is not waiting for the public to come to continued on page 30

Fania Kuklianksy, chair of the Jewish Community of Lithuania.

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Kanot Revisited

At Na’amat’s renowned youth village, students are encouraged to play a part in their own destiny. by JUDY TELMAN

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very time I visit Na’amat’s Kanot Youth Village, I am amazed and inspired by what I observe. I feel right at home walking around the expansive green fields, the comfortable dormitories, cow barn, hot houses and horse riding grounds.

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My first visit was in 1970 as a tourist, then later as a participant in a Na’amat USA leadership seminar. Since coming on aliyah in 1983, I have toured Kanot many times. It’s very easy to forget that these students could not, for a variety of reasons, succeed in regular public schools. Some come from dysfunctional families; some

suffer from Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); some have serious emotional problems. Many have low self-esteem. Knowing this, when one sees the youngsters playing soccer, engaged in the classroom, caring for the animals and warmly greeting classmates returning from a


Photos by Rivka Finder.

Opposite page: Entrance to Kanot Youth Village. Left: Principal Hezi Yoseph talks to a student. Above: Participants in Kanot’s special police training program.

weekend at home, the value of the program becomes obvious. Dr. Hezi Yosef has been the principal of Kanot for the past two years. He is so proud of the students and staff that one could almost see the buttons on his shirt popping with pride. There are 310 students living at Kanot, located near Gedera, about an hour or so southeast of Tel Aviv on Israel’s coastal plain. Enrollment is continually increasing. Last year, it rose 10 percent; this year 20 percent, and next year there will be a 30 percent increase. In addition to residential students, “externals” come daily from nearby towns, kibbutzim and moshavim. Two years ago, there were 50 day students, this year 70, and next year an anticipated 100. Expanding Kanot’s impact, plans are afoot to open a residential program for 7th and 8th graders, which will provide a positive learning experience for youngsters experiencing failure and disappointment. At Kanot (aka Beba Idelson Agricultural High School), they get a second chance. Hezi says that when new students are asked why they wanted to leave their neighborhood school and friends for Kanot, they answer: “First of all, when I came here it felt good and I felt good.” Then they’ll add, “I have a cousin, a friend, an uncle who told me that Kanot is the place for me, because here I can know what success is.” Each new student is interviewed,

meeting with the school’s social worker, psychologist and members of the staff to determine exactly what kind of program and support would be best. The staff has discovered that learning in a classroom with 18 students, about half the size of a normal class in Israel, is more productive. In smaller classes, teachers are able to identify those students in need of tutoring, those who have to catch up with the class, as well as those who have to strengthen their reading and writing skills. They are encouraged to go to the school’s learning center for additional one-on-one contact and support. “We often forget that more than 60 percent of the students come to us as non-achievers,” says Hezi. “When we look at the records of what they accomplish here, we find that 50 percent pass the full matriculation exams and 80 percent pass the technological/vocational matriculation tests, way above the national average.” It is important for the staff to understand where these youngsters are coming from, Hezi emphasizes. “On Friday night,” he says, “I went into the dining room and one of the girls was crying. I asked what was the matter. She sobbed, saying she just had a phone call from her mother who was angry with her. When the girl asked why, her mother said, ‘Because you’re not perfect.’ It took me and staff members

some time before we could convince her that none of us is perfect, probably including her mother — as we each have our good points and those that are not so good. The important thing is to know the difference and concentrate on the positives. She calmed down after a while and even began to laugh.” Hezi continues: “We had one student recently who refused to go home on the weekend that she was free to do so. When asked why, she said, “My father just got out of jail, and when I am home and it’s time to go to sleep, I find him in my bed. I cannot be at home with him.” Hezi observes: “She lost her faith in the world, in people, in her family. Here, she said, is where she feels secure and safe.” The staff, all with academic degrees and determined to help the students, are dedicated to that sense of security. They live at Kanot with their families, available to help students around the clock. “One of the benefits of the school,” says Hezi, “is that we’re aware that not every student will pass the full matriculation exams so we also offer a technological alternative.” One student has become a computer expert, working locally with computers one day a week. Academic courses include sociology, agriculture, life sciences, mathematics, English, Hebrew, literature, history, geography and civics. Hezi outlines the extracurricular WINTER 2014/2015

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Scenes of Kanot’s classrooms and outdoor areas.

activities: “Our two soccer teams are part of a league, and we have a wonderful choral group. Our dance group recently performed in Germany. This was an especially exciting adventure because they appeared before large audiences that included [Prime Minister] Angela Merkel and other government figures. Since we believe it’s important for students to take responsibility, the dancers had to cover one-third of the expenses themselves. They willingly worked on weekends and afternoons after classes to earn the money. The remainder of the expenses was covered by Na’amat and supporters of Kanot. Can you imagine how this trip affected their self-image?” Another important area of involvement and emotional growth is the mediation sessions. Here the teenagers discuss such issues as family values, relationships and violent behavior. “We try to determine what will best motivate a youngster to join in, to get involved,” Hezi explains. He describes a student who was very withdrawn when he first came to Kanot. He joined in soccer games and sang in the choir 16

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but avoided developing friendships. Gradually he became more motivated, encouraged by his peers and the staff, who knew not to push him. He became more involved with fellow students and in the academic fields, and he’s now a high achiever. One of the special perks at Kanot is the police training program. The program began in 2004 at Kanot and has since expanded to two other boarding high schools. Enrollees do not necessarily want to enter the police force but do want to become good citizens, know the law and learn police sciences. Some want to go on to study criminology. Students also have the opportunity to work with and train police dogs, housed on the grounds. Once trained, the dogs are able to track suspects, sniff out drugs and act in rescue operations. “And, of course, we have our horses,” says Hezi. “They are a truly special component of our curriculum.” Students who have difficulty communicating with not only adults, but also with their peers, find that grooming, feeding and riding horses build confi-

dence. Since many people, both old and young, come to Kanot to ride and take part in the therapeutic riding program, students working in this area grow into their first leadership roles. The teenagers also learn agricultural tasks — milking the cows, collecting fresh eggs from the chicken coops, taking care of the birds in the school’s aviary and working in the hothouses where they grow plants and flowers. Students are encouraged to do community service and go on field trips. Thirty teenagers recently visited universities around the country. Some had never seen a university before. Hezi says one of the Ethiopian students “met a professor who was Ethiopian and this was like a dream, opening up all possibilities for him.” From Kanot’s 60 Ethiopian students, Hezi selected six students for a pilots training course. “Needless to say, it was not something they had visualized themselves doing,” he says. “At the end of the course, one of the students asked if he could fly solo, which he did.” He was 10 years old when he came to Is-


From left, clockwise: Aviva checks the cow milking machine; Angelina trains a police dog; the soccer team practices; Kimberly cares for the horse she is learning to ride.

rael with his family. He didn’t know Hebrew and had few skills. At Kanot, he blossomed. He is now 19 years old, has a pilot’s license, has joined the air force, “and is a true success story for himself and for us.” Hezi asserts: “If we can convince youngsters to believe in themselves, they can move mountains.” In all areas, he says, students “are encouraged to play a part in their own destiny.” Hezi entrusts me to four students, dressed in their police uniforms, to guide me through the grounds. They proudly wear their uniforms, although they don’t necessarily plan to be police officers when they graduate. Kimberly is a self-assured senior whose family emigrated from India. She speaks English and Hebrew beautifully. She proudly declares that she wants to study criminology or become a private detective when she completes her army service. But first she is going to do a year of community service. When we reach the stables, she comes alive. Kimberly shows me a large horse housed in one of the stalls, where she gently strokes and

talks to him. Then she mounts one of the other horses and brings it to its stall, speaking quietly to it the entire time. She feels right at home with the horses. Angelina’s family came from Ukraine, moving first to Great Britain and then to Israel. Although slight of build, Angie is a judo expert, a three-time champion and proud of it. When we get to the dog pound, she quickly begins to strut her stuff as well as that of the dog that she takes out to the track. She races it up and down ladders, through tunnels and over hurdles, demonstrating both the dog’s skills and her own. She is unfazed by the more than 100 dogs housed in the pound, all vociferously letting us know we were trespassing. Mor voices his satisfaction with the course, and I get the feeling he is interested in doing police work. He says he wants to show people in his neighborhood that police officers care about the public and go out of their way to protect them. Mor indicates that his neighbors, both young and old, look on police officers with disdain. He is determined to change those attitudes, so when he goes

home for a weekend he always wears his police uniform. Nofar is in her first year. She is more reticent than her peers when it comes to talking about herself and her feelings. However, it’s obvious she is proud to have been chosen to accompany me. Nofar shows particular interest in the birds in the aviary, stopping in front of their cages, speaking to them and generating a lot of chirping. As the students walk me around the campus, people welcome us. We stop to speak to the soccer coach, who tells us that he has been at Kanot 30 years. In a classroom the students greet us loudly and happily. I wish them success in their studies and in their lives — but they surely don’t need my wishes to succeed. They’ve taken full advantage of their second chance. Judy Telman is a writer and translator living in Mevasseret Zion. She and her husband Stew moved to Israel in 1983. She is a former national vice president of Na’amat USA. WINTER 2014/2015

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Aliyah: in the genes? By BARBARA TRAININ BLANK

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requently since the age of 13, I’ve thought about making aliyah. It was pre-1967 when I first landed on the shores of Israel, as part of an intense Bar and Bat Mitzvah Pilgrimage sponsored by the Jewish Agency. In seven weeks we saw everything from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, the Lebanese border to Eilat. I fell in love with it all — the natural beauty, history, spirituality, diversity, archaeology and, of course, the goodlooking men. All that reinforced the Zionist, Hebrew-oriented education of my day school and my parents’ commitments. For a variety of reasons, though, despite many subsequent trips and a university year at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, moving to Israel has remained an unfulfilled dream. Now at least I can live vicariously and kvell about someone near and dear to me who did take the plunge — my younger daughter. Compared with many of the young people we know — from our native New York; recent residence in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and current one in Silver Spring, Maryland — who moved to Israel, Cynthia is atypical. Despite our Modern Orthodox affiliation and the preponderance of observant young men and women who go on these programs, she opted out of a “gap year.” With graduate school plans ahead, she didn’t want to add more time (and expense) to her college education. She didn’t go to Israel because of anti-Semitism (though it certainly has been on an alarming rise, even in America). She wasn’t emotionally lost, out of work or running away from anything. Cynthia hadn’t gone on Birthright or any formal program until her college semester abroad in fall 2012, which got cut short by that war in Gaza. Our two family trips to Israel engendered enthusiasm but not any conscious moving plans. Instead, Cynthia went out of love. When she was a college junior, the studious young lady who had repeatedly told us she wouldn’t become seriously “involved” until after all her schooling met one particular guy. He was an Israeli enrolled in a special program at NYU to foster Israeli-Palestinian understanding. The program wasn’t a great success. The romance has been. Cynthia has been living in Israel, studying for her M.F.A. degree at Bar-Ilan University and working part time since July 22, 2013. She made formal aliyah on March 27, 2014. Yet, despite the lack of a formal aliyah trajectory, maybe her move isn’t surprising. It's kind of in the blood. Or, as Jung might put it, “the collective unconscious.” 18

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My paternal grandmother used to put me to sleep with Hebrew, often Zionist, lullabies, some pre-State. Her father, Rabbi Meir Levien, was a rare (back then) religious Zionist who attended one of the conferences in Basel, Switzerland, organized by Herzl. Fittingly, a few of his seforim (religious works) are now in the National Library at Hebrew University. My grandmother never made it to Israel, although she lived for 19 years after the State was established. But her daughter — my aunt Sonia — and her son-in-law, Yechezkel, who was actually born in Palestine but left with his family in 1929, did make it — 40 years later in 1969. Their son Meir followed soon after; his younger brother, Nachman, had preceded him in 1962. All their descendants are still in Israel, living an ultraOrthodox, religious Zionist life in which everyone serves in the IDF. And then there’s my nephew Dani, who made aliyah several years ago and lives in the Old City of Jerusalem as a Breslover Hasid. My husband cares about Israel and has been there numerous times, but he hasn’t been a big proponent of moving, largely for professional reasons. Yet a number of his family members made aliyah, including his father’s nephew. When my late father-in-law and his nephew escaped Poland at the cusp of World War II, the former went to America, his nephew to Palestine. My husband’s maternal great-grandparents also went. So did, more recently, his maternal grandfather, Leo, who was in his 90s and a widower when he made the big life change and moved to an assisted living facility in Kfar Shemaryahu. Despite all these forebears, it hasn’t been easy for Cynthia or for us. The extreme political views that seem more common than they used to be, and the distance from her family and friends are among the challenges. The heat and the impatience and sometimes rudeness of the people (we ask her not to generalize, but…) add to the mix. So is learning idiomatic Hebrew. Recently, Cynthia wrote a paper for her master’s program about immigration and assimilation, blending her grandparents’ experiences, its impact on her parents, and her attempts to find a niche in Israel, an ongoing, difficult process. Cynthia would have commented for this article, if not for another one of these adjustments she had to make — shifting from classes starting in late August to late October because of the holidays. But she wrote in her paper: “I have never felt more American than since moving to Israel…. No one can pronounce the ‘th’ in my name.


Most of the time, to be honest, I worry more about the crazy Israeli drivers and whether my daughter uses sunscreen than I do about the security situation.

People I don’t know correct my pronunciation.” On the other hand, she wrote: “I always considered myself Jewish first, American second. I was raised on the belief of Israel as a homeland….” The time Cynthia has been in Israel has “created new tensions and presented new challenges…forced me to truly confront my American and Jewish identities…. The more time I am here…the more [I feel] pulled in two directions.” No one can think, of course, about having a child in Israel without worrying about the “matzav” (the situation). Ironically, during the 2012 Gaza war, we were actually relieved she was there (though NYU brought the students back early) rather than at her home base. That was during Hurricane Sandy, when she would have been deluged by the elements in Lower Manhattan. Most of the time, to be honest, I worry more about the crazy Israeli drivers and her using sunscreen regularly — we have melanoma in the family — than I do about the security situation. At least consciously, it probably helps that so many people we know are in the same boat — and we don’t have to explain parental fears. Those not in that category of parents of olim (immigrants) often ask if I’m frightened by her living in Israel, especially during the recent Gaza conflict. What worried me most was her flying to the States (and back) for a prescheduled visit during this period, when many airlines were curtailing flights. Maybe I’d be more afraid if I hadn’t lived through bombings during my junior year abroad. Maybe… The overwhelming feeling isn’t fear — though a number of my family members and friends were lost to terror. Primarily, it is just very difficult being so far away from her. Friends whose children live a distance away in the States

always groan about how tough it is. Then they look at me and say: But you know that and worse. Brief visits, Skyping, whatever, only made it harder in a way. They are like a tease: so close for a while, yet so far most of the time, only emphasizing the distance. Trips are expensive and not pleasant with current flying conditions, even if being there is delicious. Some friends of ours are financially able to own or rent an apartment in Israel or visit three times a year. That’s not our lot right now. But mostly my feeling is one of pride. Maybe one day my older daughter will join her sister in Israel, at which point I can jump on the aliyah bandwagon as well, without being torn between them. Then the distance between us might be much smaller. Like from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, maybe? Barbara Trainin Blank writes for this magazine and for many other Jewish and general publications about the arts and human interest. She published her first book, What to Do about Mama: A Guide to Caring for Aging Family Members (Sunbury Press), in 2013, and is a sometime playwright.

Avi Katz

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On the Go!

Dateline NEW YORK — For this issue, my personal favorites from the city’s many Jewish cultural offerings are two exciting exhibitions: “Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power” at the Jewish Museum and “Letters to Afar: Installation by Peter Forgács and The Klezmatics” at the Museum of the City of New York.

Two exhibitions: the vanished world of Polish Jewry and the life of one who left by JUDITH A. SOKOLOFF

Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power!

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here does one begin with Helena Rubinstein? She was an eclectic, unconventional collector of wonderful paintings and sculpture; a wearer of bold, exotic jewelry and clothing; an avant-garde decorator of her many magnificent homes and beauty salons; and a constant traveler of the world. And, oh, yes, she ruled a cosmetics empire. She was a self-made, innovative, continually successful entrepreneur and a feminist, sort of. She possessed incredible chutzpah, smarts, vision and endless energy until she was in her 90s. An icon for decades, people called her the Jewish Queen Victoria, the National Heroine of Australia, the Princess of the Beauty Business, the Richest Woman in the World, the Tiny Tireless TyVintage Helena Rubinstein compact.

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coon of Beauty. She was also referred to as tyrannical, ruthlessly competitive, demanding, impossible and paradoxical. At the time of her death in 1965 at age 92, the Helena Rubinstein brand was established in some 30 countries. She owned 14 factories and had a staff of 32,000 in salons, laboratories and factories in 15 countries. (And she managed her empire without e-mail and cell phones.) “Madame,” as she was called, got what she wanted. One of my favorite examples: In 1941, when the tony building at 625 Park Avenue in New York refused to sell her an apartment because she was Jewish, she bought the whole building. She came a long way from her humble beginnings (1872) in a Polish shtetl. In the captivating new exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York, one gets a delicious taste of a woman who immortalized herself. Two hundred works of art, photographs and ephemera show how Rubinstein pioneered the fields of inventing cosmetics, marketing and collecting — developing her own aesthetics as she influenced taste. “She cultivated eccentricity, refusing to obey the rules of the game or respect the usual boundaries, whether between distinct historical periods, between private and public space, between commerce and culture, or between Western and non-Western art,” notes the museum literature. Madame once explained:

“My seemingly unconventional taste has been frequently commented upon. The explanation is simple, really: I like different things and I’m not afraid to use them in unconventional ways.” She was the first to popularize cosmetics for the average woman at a time when makeup was considered appropriate only for actors and prostitutes. She felt that ordinary women should have the ability to transform themselves, to express their individuality, and that beauty is for all. “There are no ugly women, just lazy ones,” she declared. In the early 1900s, she built the modern beauty industry and was probably the first to define women as an independent market. Her innovative marketing strategies and use of scientific testing were far ahead of their time. Way before the “Mad Men” era, she knew how to grow her brand. She wooed journalists, giving them her time and schwag (the stuff we used to call freebies). She came to New York during an exciting period — during the confluence of the women’s suffrage movement and the appearance of modern art. She and her business absorbed and reflected both. Mason Klein, exhibition curator, acutely observes: “If latter-day feminist debates have focused on cosmetics as objectifying women, they were seen in the early 20th century as a means of asserting female autonomy. By encouraging women to define themselves as


©Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris.

A 1949 French ad for complexion powder and rouge, drawn by Bernard Villemot, was inspired by Surrealistic paintings.

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Helena Rubinstein Foundation Archives, Fashion Institute of Technology.

self-expressive individuals, Rubinstein contributed to their empowerment. Today we take that subjectivity for granted, but the sense of individuality Rubinstein fostered was new and profound. She advocated exceptionality in a world that discouraged nonconformity. She offered women the ideal of selfinvention — a fundamental principle of modernity. One’s identity, she asserted, is a matter of choice.” Madame, herself, was a model of self-invention and strict image control. She was no stranger to having her photos retouched to make her look younger, and she lied about certain aspects of her life. The exhibition brilliantly depicts how Rubinstein promoted modernism and democratized beauty. It reveals her fantastic eclectic taste in collecting art, clothing, furniture and jewelry. She was an early patron of European and Latin American modern art and one of the earliest leading collectors of African and Oceanic sculpture. Current culture critics write about the increasing fusion between commerce, art, fashion and beauty and design, but Rubinstein was smudging the boundaries long ago. She mixed styles and genres in her global beauty salons and her homes. Her iconic beauty salons were places where a woman could learn not only how to improve her appearance but also to develop a standard of taste and

She commissioned numerous portraits of herself from artists and photographers though she had to browbeat Picasso into drawing her. He never created the final paintings. Her extraordinary collection of African art includes sculptures from the Ivory Coast, female figures from Mali, a Puno face mask from Gabon, and a Luba Shankadi maternity divination figure Williams College Museum of Art. ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. from the Democratic ReAndy Warhol’s “Madame Rubinstein in Kyoto, public of the Congo. Japan,” 1957. We are treated to photos of Rubinstein wearing couture such as a Schiaparelli bolero jacket, thickly embroidered to understand design, color and art. Af- with elephants; and Dior’s deep purple ter opening salons in Paris and London, silk and wool ensemble with a neckamong other places, she launched her line and pendant embroidered in coral, first in New York in 1915. Her flagship pearls and silver. We get to see some of address on Fifth Avenue, which didn’t her actual garments, like the shimmery open until 1936, offered seven floors silk evening ensemble from the House with a library, auditorium, café and gal- of Balenciaga. And there’s Madame, in lery. In a promotional film, museum go- a photo, reclining elegantly on her cusers see what it was like to experience tom-made lucite bed, fluorescent lights a “Day of Beauty.” The women walk around balancing books on their heads to improve their posture, eat nutritional low calorie meals, get massages and light treatments, write with a pen between their toes, and push, push, push up the sagging skin on their faces. Her usual diagnosis for a woman’s skin problem: “too dry.” Rubinstein’s art collection was dismantled and sold right after her death, but the Jewish Museum has reunited many of the works. She collected Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Fernand Léger, Margherita Russo, Joan Miró, Raoul Dufy, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Willem de Kooning, Georges Braque, Elie Nadelman and Marc Madame holds one of her masks from the Ivory Coast, 1934. Chagall, among others. Photo by George Maillard Kesslere.


© The Jewish Museum, NY. Photo by David Heald.

Exhibition wall of portraits of Helena Rubinstein at the Jewish Museum.

emanating from the headboard. On display are articles from Life, Vogue and other periodicals about Madame’s life (which meant her business) and her homes. She used her apartments in Paris and New York for publicity shoots and made a point of associating her face with her brand. There are attractive print advertisements for Helena Rubinstein products, such as Cupidsbow, a self-shaping lipstick; Bauhaus-, Surrealist- and Pop Art-influenced ads; ads warning about excessive exposure to the sun and promoting her beach-friendly products. Also on view are several of the beautifully furnished miniature rooms she collected. Decorated in period styles, they range from a Spanish baroque dining room to a mid-Victorian English chamber. And then there are the books and informational leaflets she wrote, including “How to wow the stag line.” The exhibition whetted my appetite for more Madame. I read the fabulous exhibition catalogue, Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power. (The 168-page hardcover volume is available through the museum.) I also read the engaging new biography Helena Rubinstein: The Woman Who Invented Beauty by Michele Fitoussi (Gallic Books). I got to know Madame much better and much of it I didn’t like. She emotionally tortured her sons and other loved ones (she brought some of her seven sisters and other relatives into the 22

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business). She could be stubbornly cruel to people close to her and to her employees and seemed to enjoy her power to divide and rule. Rubinstein was full of paradoxes. She could be wickedly stingy with some but giving to others (she paid for any relative who wanted to leave Europe). She said she hated money — hard to believe. She was not a practicing Jew but made the choice to create a brand with an overtly Jewish name. I adore Madame’s taste in everything (especially the artists’ images of women that she collected), admire her brilliance and wit, and would have liked to have met this formidable powerhouse. Madame was only four feet, 10 inches tall, but she was a giant. “Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power” is on view until March 22, 2015. It will then travel to the Boca Raton Museum of Art for display April 21 through July 12.

Letters to Afar

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ilm images float, suspended on nine screens that surround me while music descends from above. I’m in inter-war Poland, immersed in scenes of everyday life that were filmed in the 1920s and 1930s by American Jews visiting friends and family in their native land. The first image I focus on is a group of happy children delighted by

the camera. My eyes start to tear. Before entering, I had decided to view the images isolated in their own time. But it’s impossible not to impose layers of history and meaning on what I’m seeing. Actually, what the viewer brings to this video art exhibition counts. The artist makes it so. I’m in Kraków, then Nowogródek and Oszmiana. Now I’m in Lodz around 1930. An enormous crowd is exiting the Great Synagogue. The market is buzzing with workers and shoppers. Jews of all types mug for the camera. I can’t stop thinking: Where will they be 10 years from now? Will any survive? In the Kolbuszowa shtetl, a pretty young woman pulls petals from a bunch of daisies. He loves me, he loves me not? Or do the petals mark the end of her days? Now I’m on the streets of Warsaw. Some 350,000 Jews live here. It’s a difficult time in Poland for all, and hard for Jews to leave. “Is Palestine the only solution?” a voice asks. I learn that a Poale Zion center holds chess classes, has a 2,000-volume library, a coop provides unemployment insurance, there’s a Yiddish school for secular Jews. In the small town of Sokolow, I look for people who look like me (a Sokoloff) and am convinced I once had relatives here because our noses are similar — though my forebears left Russia/Poland long before the Holocaust. In all the towns I see people who look like people I know. They must be the few who es-


Stills from home movies of Poland, c.1920s1930s. From top: Children from Sokolow; man and child in Kamionka; men from Kolbuszowa.

From the Archives of the YIVO Institute of Research, New York.

caped. In Warsaw, Jews made up nearly one-third of Poland’s one million. In other places, like the Nowogródek shtetl (now located in Belarus) Jews comprised 50 percent of the population of some 10,000. Ninety percent of Poland’s 3.5 million Jews were killed by the Germans and their sympathizers. Here are some of them — brothers, mothers, sisters, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends of the home-movie makers — before the atrocities. Children in a close-up shot wave and smile at me. I can’t help but wave back. In Vilna (now Vilnius, Lithuania), a vibrant center of Jewish culture, I observe images of the Jewish academic elite. Here is where the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research opened in 1925. The vast collection at YIVO is where these 8mm and 16mm films have been unearthed. Amazingly, the institute survives in New York City. This brilliant synthesis of silent film and sound is the work of Péter Forgács, an international acclaimed

Hungarian filmmaker and video artist who specializes in working with archival film footage. He created this installation under commission by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and YIVO. Near each screen, sound descends from a speaker above a bench where viewers can sit. The narration, drawn from memoirs, letters and literature, is spare — as is the evocative, minimalist music composed and played by the Grammy-winning Klezmatics. The score is the perfect accompaniment for the films. I had talked with Frank London, Klezmatics founder (also trumpet, keyboard and vocals), a few days earlier about the sometimes paradoxical nature of Forgács’ installation. He pointed out that its success lies in not over processing the images to get the collage effect. Although the artist splits the screens into two, three or four images, repeats images, speeds them up and slows them down, London ob-

serves that he “didn’t mess with it — it feels like he didn’t alter the raw form… you get an inroad to real experiences, people and places. You get to inhabit a world that doesn’t exist now.” He adds: “The installation is a meeting of art and non-fiction, it’s weirdly powerful... and it has nothing and everything to do with the Holocaust.” On the way out I scream silently, despairingly at the group of children that greeted me on arrival: “Get out! Get out now!” But even if one could time-travel, as we learned from Superman in comics of old: You can’t change history. The point is to work on the future. “Postcards to Afar” will be shown until March 22, 2015, at the Museum of the City of New York and at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum from February 26 to May 24, 2015. Judith A. Sokoloff is the editor of Na’amat Woman. WINTER 2014/2015

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Take Action!

Let’s End Bullying by MARCIA J. WEISS

What is bullying?

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ullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior generally among school children. It is a distinct pattern of deliberate harm and humiliation. The behavior is often repeated and involves a power imbalance. Bullying involves making threats, spreading rumors and causing physical pain or mental stress through physical or verbal attack, harassment or ridicule. There are three types of bullying: verbal bullying involving teasing, taunting, name-calling, threats to cause harm or inappropriate sexual comments; social bullying involving social isolation/exclusion, spreading rumors or public embarrassment; and physical bullying involving kicking, hitting, pinching, spitting, pushing, tripping or inappropriate hand gestures. Bullying can happen in various places: the school building, the playground or the bus, during or after school hours. It can also occur on the Internet (cyberbullying) through nasty text messages and e-mails, rumors, embarrassing pictures and the like. Parents often become involved in efforts to help children stop cyberbullying. Bullying occurs in cities, towns and rural areas. Victims who are gay, lesbian, transsexual or even disabled are at increased risk of being victimized. People perceived as “different” are often victims: those who are socially isolated, those unwilling to defend themselves, those with low self-esteem, those who are overweight or underweight, and those wearing glasses or different clothes and seen as “uncool.” Bullies often have issues at home and reduced parental involvement, are aggressive and easily frustrated, have few friends and view violence in a positive manner.

Signs of bullying

Victims may experience unexplained injuries, sick feelings, difficulty sleeping and frequent nightmares, lack of appetite, declining grades, loss of friends, desire to inflict bodily harm on themselves, thoughts of suicide and actual suicide attempts. Bullying has been shown to lead to absences and poor performance

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in the classroom. Students who bully are increasingly aggressive — troublemakers who are often sent to the principal’s office or otherwise disciplined — and those who worry about their reputation or popularity. At the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in 2011, President Obama reported that one-third of middle school and high school students reported being bullied during the school year. Almost three million students said they were pushed, shoved, tripped and spit on. Bullying is not merely “a rite of passage.” Bullying victims do not generally seek help because they feel overwhelmed, humiliated, embarrassed and out of control. Feeling they can handle the problem on their own, victims fear appearing weak so do not seek help. They also fear backlash from their peers as well as their parents. Sometimes the occurrences of bullying become so severe that victims who feel they have nowhere to turn take their own lives. The following statistics are alarming. According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, about 4,400 per year. Other studies report: For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. More than 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it. Victims of bullying are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, and 10to 14-year-old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide. ABC News reported nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and some 160,000 stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying. Bullying does not occur solely among school-age children. It also can occur in the workplace due to power struggles and the need to get ahead without regard to others.

What about the law? While federal laws do not directly address bullying, a school or district may be charged with violation of the First Amendment, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and other laws aimed at protecting an individual’s right

to equal protection. For example, the Supreme Court ruled that parents may sue a school or district for failing to take action on a sexual harassment claim it knew about but failed to act on (Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 1998). While there is no federal law against bullying, most states have enacted laws to prevent bullying and to protect children. The aim of these laws is to address intimidation, harassment and bullying in schools. The laws are meant to promote school safety and reduce truancy and school violence. They specifically require schools to create certain policies for prevention, training and enforcement of certain behaviors. Students who violate anti-bullying provisions face suspension and expulsion. According to the think tank Education Commission of the States, bullying is handled differently around the country. New Hampshire’s law specifies that an act need occur only once to be bullying. Nebraska’s law requires local districts to create bullying policies. Several states recently added provisions to cover cyberbullying. Laws in Massachusetts and New Jersey detail how educators are to prevent, report and investigate bullying. The website stopbullying.gov provides information on how individual states refer to bullying in its laws and what is required on the part of schools and districts. Bullying, cyberbullying and related behaviors may be addressed in a single law or may be addressed in multiple laws. In some states, bullying appears in the criminal code that may apply to juveniles

Can we stop bullying?

Teachers, coaches, community groups and open forums that address bullying with parents, community leaders, businesses and religious groups can develop a shared strategy on how to handle bullying. Raising awareness is the first step in preventing bullying. Let children know they are not alone. Develop a dialogue. Take action!

Marcia J. Weiss, J.D., is Na’amat national vice president of program and education.


Book I Am Sophie Tucker: A Fictional Memoir

By Susan and Lloyd Ecker Westport, Connecticut: Prospectas Press 386 pages, $29.95

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’m pretty sure the word chutzpah was created to describe Sophie Tucker. I know for certain she alone claimed the title “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas.” She was big, sexy and tough. She sang her heart out and could tell a bawdy story or joke like a man. Actually, Tucker was larger than life. Told in the first person, this “fictional memoir” is the first in a trilogy by Tucker devotees Susan and Lloyd Ecker. The co-authors thoroughly researched Tucker’s life for eight years, which included reading hundreds of the entertainer’s personal scrapbooks and interviewing dozens of family, friends and fellow entertainers. They have also made a documentary about Tucker, and they plan to produce a Broadway musical, a film version of that musical and — ta da! — a TV drama, all based on Tucker’s amazing 60-year showbiz career (check out www.sophietucker.com). Born in 1886, Tucker was driven to succeed in showbiz from childhood. Her obsession reminds me of the Joan Rivers we see in the documentary “A Piece of Work.” Both entertainers were bold, bawdy, funny Jewish women who craved an audience and worked passionately and relentlessly to get a bigger and better one. Tucker, a master of publicity, manipulation and forming rewarding friendships, knew how to get what she wanted, and getting to the top of showbiz was, as she said, her “mission.” Tucker grew up in a hard-working, colorful family that owned the Abuza Family Restaurant in Hartford, Connecticut. By age nine, she was hooked on gambling, learning to play from her father and the gangsters she served beer to. According to Tucker, her father, who grew up under the brutality of the Cossacks, “was so unlucky he must have

been born under a ladder. Even when he won he lost.” She was referring not only to his card playing, but also his various business ventures. Fortunately, Tucker’s mother, Jennie, had a strong grip on the restaurant and the family. Jennie taught her to cook, work hard and land the perfect uppercut — a boxing skill that came in handy in later years. Everyone in the family worked endless hours in the Abuza Family Restaurant. Sophie waited on tables, washed dishes and (her idea) sang for tips. The family name was Kalish when they left the Ukraine in 1885, but switched it to Abuza during a stay in Italy before they traveled to America — an interesting story in itself. Tucker was just a year old when they emigrated. In a relatively short time, Tucker outgrew amateur shows, went on to sing in dives, had a brief run in the Ziegfeld Follies (where the young scene-stealing entertainer was resented by the female headliners), and became a globetrotting member of vaudeville royalty. She was pals with Al Capone. (She made him smile — and Capone didn’t smile). She had her friends Mark Twain and Thomas Edison (together) over for dinner at her parents’ house. Later in life she befriended Presidents Taft through Johnson (she kept President Kennedy’s phone number handy), British royalty and endless famous entertainers. Throughout the book there are fascinating mementos from her career, including the newspaper clip about being arrested for wiggling on stage in Portland, Oregon; a photo of Tucker recording in Edison’s studio in New Jersey; the sheet music cover for “My Yiddishe Momme”; photos of Tucker with Eleanor Roosevelt, Joe DiMaggio, Charlie and Oona Chaplin and Jimmy Durante; a telegram from Richard Burton with apologies for being rude. Did I tell you she appeared on

stage in a bubble bath and that she literally rode out of the Victorian era on a horse in a beige-colored bodysuit as a zaftig Lady Godiva? I won’t tell you what she said to Milton Berle in 1953 when he asked if she wanted to be the first woman to be roasted by the Friars Club. Do we get to know the real Sophie Tucker? There isn’t a lot of selfreflection or insights into her inner life. She does address her main fault, which is her bad choice of mates (“my shmendrick husbands”). She had three marriages that didn’t last long. Tucker’s veracity is often called into question because, as the authors admit, she told multiple versions of her stories over her lifetime and was prone to exaggeration. But we don’t really care once she’s got us hooked, as she did with her riveted audiences. We get the essence and there’s plenty of it: the racy comedy, the jazzy naughty songs, the outrageous escapades, the celebrity gazing. So much fun! I look forward to reading about the rest of the Red Hot Mamma’s life. — Judith A. Sokoloff Judith A. Sokoloff is the editor of Na’amat Woman.

The Acrobat: Selected Poems of Celia Dropkin

By Celia Dropkin Translated from the Yiddish by Faith Jones, Jennifer Kronovet and Samuel Solomon Huntington Beach, California: Tebot Bach 102 pages, $16

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orget any preconceptions of Yiddish poetry as the exclusive purview of mustachioed Jewish men in Eastern Europe. Celia Dropkin’s poetry, written in America, is truly free verse — very personal, very sexual, very female.

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BOOK REVIEWS

BOOK REVIEWS

Now, more than 50 years after her death, the first collection of her poems translated into English is out. The Acrobat is a slim volume that would be even slimmer if the poems didn’t appear in both English and Yiddish. Translation took place over more than a dozen years by Faith Jones, Jennifer Kronovet and Samuel Solomon, the budding triumvirate that stumbled across Dropkin’s poetry during a summer Yiddish course in 2000. Ration your reading to one poem a night — or, in the spirit of the poetry of insatiable lust, gorge yourself reading all 43 poems non-stop. They’re mostly short, intense and surprising. Poems of biting, sucking, life, death. The Yiddish modernist movement with its poetry of individuality was at its peak in New York in the 1920s and ’30s, when Dropkin was doing most of her writing. But even then, according to scholar Kathryn Hellerstein’s A Question of Tradition: Women Poets in Yiddish, 1586-1987, the body of male Yiddish critics herded women poets into a separate category, emotional and ultimately anonymous. Dropkin is hardly anonymous. These are very female poems, written with such directness it’s hard to imagine they’re not autobiographical. To give a sense of Dropkin’s subject matter: From the poem “My Mother” — widowed at

22, she “modestly resolved / to become No One’s wife. / … And now her holy, / latent lust, spurts frankly from me.” From the poem “I Fall to the Ground” — “Like juicy red apples / . … my heart is eaten up / by the worms, / and that fat worm — passion — / just won’t crawl out / of my juicy body.” And if not the first poem in Yiddish about pregnancy surely the most resentful: “O, Secretive Life” — “What reconstructed my limbs to be so ugly / and sucks my marrow and sucks my blood / and bores through my breasts? / Why do I dream so often of this / bed, the Inquisition bed….” Only a woman would dare write such a poem. Not just crafting desire, Dropkin also wrote sexually charged nature poems, but, for me, they’re not as stunning as the poetry of her body. In fact, the persona of Dropkin’s poems is one of her own creation. Her own life defies fictionalization. She was born in Belarus in 1887. She grew up speaking both Yiddish and Russian and by age 10 was writing poetry in Russian. In Kiev, Hebrew writer Uri Nissan Gnessin encouraged her to keep writing. When his illness limited their passionate friendship, at 22 she married Shmaye Dropkin, a Jewish Labor Bund organizer. After he was tortured by the czarist

NOTE: It's best to order The Acrobat from Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, California: www.spdbooks.org or phone (800) 869-7553. If this is the door that opens Yiddish women writers for you, you’ll want to know about: • The Exile Book of Yiddish Women Writers, An Anthology of Stories That Looks to the Past So We Might See the Future, edited by Frieda Johles Forman (Exile Editions, 2013) • Found Treasures, Stories by Yiddish Women Writers, edited by Frieda Forman, Ethel Raicus, Sarah Silberstein Swartz and Margie Wolfe, with a major introduction by Irena Klepfisz and a Celia Dropkin short story (Second Story Press, 1994) • A Question of Tradition, Women Poets in Yiddish, 1586-1987 by Kathryn Hellerstein, analysis and poems, including Dropkin (Stanford University Press, 2014)

— A.S.

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police, he fled to the United States in 1910. Wife and son followed two years later. They settled in New York City, where Celia Dropkin began writing in Yiddish. They raised five children. Above all a poet, her work appeared mostly in avant-garde Yiddish publications. During the Depression, when the family was strapped for cash, she wrote short stories and serialized novellas. She published a collection of her poems, In heysn vint​ (In the Hot Wind), in 1935 but stopped writing eight years later. She died in 1956. In a feat equal to The Acrobat — “I dance between daggers / erected in the ring / tips up” — Dropkin defied the Yiddish critics’ boundaries of women’s poetry. Her poems express uncontrolled passion with the greatest of skill. — Amy Stone Amy Stone is a founding mother and ongoing blogger for Lilith magazine at www.lilith.org.

Lucky Us

by Amy Bloom New York: Random House 240 pages, $26

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love Amy Bloom — every word she writes. Of course, some of her words are better than others, but I will always read anything by Amy Bloom, just as I will always read anything by Philip Roth or Isaac Bashevis Singer or Raymond Carver. It’s an interesting exercise to try to figure out why, to use Lucky Us as a reason to understand why Amy Bloom is a wonderful writer and why I love her books. Bloom has what every writer discusses, longs for and tries hard to develop over the course of a lifetime of writing sentences and telling stories. She has a voice that is only hers and hers alone. And it’s a voice the reader wants to hear. Her enticing opening lines are: “My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.” The narrator


is Eva Logan, a wise, bright, perceptive girl. The year is 1939. Her young single mother, Hazel, is a good-looking restaurant hostess. Her father, an older man, is a charming visitor named Edgar who comes to see them on weekends. What Eva quickly learns when she and her mother drive to Windsor, Ohio, to see her father is that he has an entirely different life. He’s a college teacher with a 15-year-old daughter named Iris who instantly becomes Eva’s older half sister and friend. Hazel leaves Eva with Edgar and drives away for some time close to forever. Not until the end of the novel, when Eva is grown up, does she see her mother again. (A telling aside about Bloom and her characters: They are always unpredictable. They don’t drive Volvos. They are not lawyers. They don’t sell real estate.) Eva’s mother is a beautiful church guru with her own odd congregation in Chicago. She’s awful and compelling but certainly not ordinary. Bloom writes episodically, in cinematic-like fragments. For her, life is full of activity, sex and sometimes love. Iris wants to be a famous movie star. She’s gorgeous. Early on in the novel she and Eva go to Hollywood to be discovered. There, Iris finds herself at a fantastic lesbian orgy of beautiful and adven-

President

continued from page 3 or in the public sphere if, at the same time, in issues related to marriage and divorce it is still possible to take away a woman’s independence and turn her into a captive of another person — her own husband…. Judaism is a way of life, and, consequently, the practice of halacha (Jewish law) cannot remain fossilized. With a little more courage and willingness, it will be possible to find solutions that correspond to the spirit of life today and are still within the framework of halacha. Many couples

turesome naked women. And in some way, her odd life begins. Eva earns her living sweeping the floor of a beauty shop owned by two sisters, Bea and Carnie. She starts reading fortunes at the shop and begins making real money. She tells her customers what they want to hear and they pay her well. Later, in another phase of their lives, Eva, Iris and Edgar find themselves in Great Neck, Long Island, with their friend Francisco. Edgar impersonates an English butler and is hired by a kind Italian family. The three live as servants in the family’s house. Francisco, a hair stylist, opens a barber shop nearby. They are all vaguely living a normal life. Then suddenly (the way it happens in all of Bloom’s work) life changes — magically, wonderfully and unpredictably. Iris falls in love with Reenie, the married household cook. And Reenie falls in love with Iris. Reenie wants a child but can’t have one with Gus, her husband. So Iris steals a young boy, Danny, from the Jewish orphanage she passes every day so Renee can start a family. Meanwhile, Edgar falls in love with beautiful Clara, a black cabaret singer, much younger than he. And she, too, is smitten. Iris runs away to England to pursue the life of theater.

Eva says, “I just wanted to begin my own life, one that didn’t include my relatives.” But she takes care of people who need her. When Edgar is dying from a brain tumor, she takes care of him. A funny complex Jew, Edgar starts speaking Yiddish, his native language, becoming who he was all along. She takes care of Danny and she looks after herself by learning as much as she can. In an odd turn, Eva and Danny end up living with Francisco. Eva saves his life when he suddently starts choking. She goes back to school, wanting to be a doctor. Meanwhile, Gus moves to Germany under circumstances too involved to divulge — circumstances with many punchlines. One of them is that Gus chooses to become Gersh Hoffman, a Jewish teacher, and discovers it’s not so easy being a Jew. This is a book with a lot of And Thens. That’s one of the reasons I love it. Bloom’s world is full of people and life, insights and humor and craziness. She isn’t afraid and she isn’t concerned about proper behavior. She’s funny, fearless and free. That’s another reason I’m a fan. —Esther Cohen

are already voting with their feet and staying away from the religious courts.” We are all aware that Israel continues to face difficult times, with threats from extremists in a volatile world. The situation makes our support all the more crucial in 2015. Our ongoing financial commitment provides assurance that Na’amat Israel will manage to meet the needs of Israeli citizens at every level of Israeli society. A major milestone at home during 2015 is the celebration of Na’amat USA’s 90th anniversary, starting in the fall. In honor of this exciting event, Na’amat USA has initiated a Research

Fellowship Program, which will showcase our strong connection and history in helping to create, build and sustain the State of Israel. As we welcome a new decade devoted to supporting our sister organization, Na’amat Israel, the national board is planning special events in cities across the country throughout the year. My very best wishes to you and your families for a happy, healthy and more peaceful new year.

Esther Cohen writes, teaches and sends a poem a day to her subscribers at www.esthercohen.com.

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AROUND THE COUNTRY

 Cleveland members enjoy their annual Spiritual Adoption dinner. The funds raised help support the Na’amat day care network in Israel.  Hatikvah chapter in Phoenix, Arizona, held a festive installation of its new board. National board member Susan Isaacs of California was a special guest. From left, front: Debbie Seplow and Gail Glazer current co-presidents; back row: Hope Weiss, Judy Searle, Sandy Jarred, Kathy Hoffman, Stacey Chulew, Susan Isaacs and Enid Schulman.

 Long Island/Queens Council Donor dinner honors Susan Sparago and Roberta Prosky for their 50 years of dedicated membership to Na’amat USA. Members brought items to donate to a domestic violence shelter. The event was held at the Milleridge Inn in Jericho, N.Y. and chaired by Doris Shinners. Tal Ourian was the journal chairperson. From left: honoree Susan Sparago, Council president Doris Shinners, honoree Roberta Prosky and Rhoda Orenstein, president of South Shore club.

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 Pittsburgh Council honors community leaders Janie and Edward Moravitz at its gala Spiritual Adoption/Scholarship dinner. Janie Moravitz has been a major supporter of The Pittsburgh Adele and Maurice Weiner Women’s Health and Education Center in Karmiel, Israel, and has been a dedicated member of Pittsburgh Council for many years. Janie and Edward Moravitz, seated, are shown with their family, from left: Ben and Tracey Moravitz, Jennifer Moravitz, Molly Tomasi, and Janie’s father, Seymour Farber.  At the official menorah lighting of Jackson Township, New Jersey, Debbie Troy-Stewart lights the hanukkiah in recognition of the extraordinary work of Na’amat USA. She is a national board member and former Eastern Area coordinator.


 Golana/Sabra club of Brooklyn held a brunch to raise funds for the Na’amat Emergency Fund. Rabbi Sperling, guest speaker, spoke about the importance of supporting Jewish organizations.

 Children at Temple Beth Sholom Religious School of Roslyn Heights, New York, attended a Mitzvah Fair to choose recipients for their bar/bat mitzvah projects. Na’amat USA was among the charitable organizations presenting materials about its work in Israel. Shown are Doris Shinners, left, and Deborah Weiner.

 Eastern Area holds “The Next Generation” event at the Pomegranate Gallery in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood. Everyone was honored to be the guests of the internationally acclaimed artist Oded Halahmy, owner of the gallery. His magnificent sculptures can be seen around the world, especially in Israel where he works part of the year. Event chair Leslie Berlin presented a lively video program about the recent Na’amat USA Israel Seminar in which she participated. Attendees who were new to Na’amat thoroughly enjoyed the event. Shown, from left: Leslie Berlin, Doris Katz, Ange Nadel, Oded Halahmy, Jan Gurvitch, Debbie Kohn, Judith Sokoloff and Tal Ourian.

 The “Out To Lunch” special interest group of Mitzvah chapter (San Fernando Valley) enjoys a meal at Paul Martin’s of Westlake Village. From left: Tobi Love, Joyce Edelson, Esther Pullan, Barbara Ungar, Helen Phillips, Lillian Garner, Gail Simpson Sandy Reuben, Bonnie Gold, Roslyn Schiff, Bev Miller. Not shown, Lynnette Schiffman.

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Lithuania

continued from page 13 her. With funding from the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture, she has launched a mobile exhibit that travels to towns and villages throughout the country. Slowly but surely, Selcinskaya said, the museum’s work is having an impact. “This history is just now beginning to become part of our collective memory.” Is Selcinskaya correct that the reality of the Holocaust is starting to make its way into mainstream consciousness in Lithuania? A groundbreaking new novel and an equally groundbreaking new play suggest that she may indeed be right. “Darkness & Company,” by the popular author Sigitas Parulskis, is the first Lithuanian novel about the Holocaust. It is the story of a young Lithuanian man who descends into madness after becoming involved in the massacre of the Jews. Writing about the Holocaust was a significant departure from past work by Parulskis, who was born in 1965, and very difficult, he said. For his readers, too, the work was deeply challenging — he received angry comments on the Internet. “A deep sense of shame is holding Lithuanians back from talking about the Holocaust,” Parulskis said, “but only talking about it will help us address the shame and move forward.” Daiva Cepauskaite’s “Day and Night” is the first play about the Holocaust by a Lithuanian. Growing up, recalls Cepauskaite, 47, she heard little about the Holocaust. When she began researching the subject, at first “I couldn’t even imagine how to tell about it. It seemed impossible. It crosses the limits of your imagination.” Reactions to the play run the gamut. Cepauskaite received extensive praise and a Person of Tolerance Award — and plenty of negative responses. “Some people say I’m a traitor to the country,” she noted. She does not agree. In fact, she said, “this play made me a patriot of my country. For me, being a patriot means you accept all pages of your country’s history, including the dark pages. If we don’t embrace this, history may repeat itself.” The play weaves together two parallel plots to emphasize that Holocaust history continues to reverberate in 30

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present day Lithuania. “This is a story not only about the past, but also about today,” Cepauskaite said. “Lithuanians have to mature, to look at this period as other societies have done.” Is Lithuania destined to be a place where neo-Nazi voices grow louder or a land where people take Holocaust remembrance seriously and dedicate themselves to ensuring that such a tragedy cannot happen again? Faina Kukliansky, the chair of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, takes a nuanced view of anti-Semitism in Lithuania today. “Things are getting better,” she pointed out. “That’s for sure. No one officially would speak out against Jews.” But “how much the officials are doing and how much their words are implemented is another question.” Kukliansky has launched a project called “Bagel Shop,” staffed by young non-Jews, including Dainius Diksaitis, 28, a former student leader. He monitors the Internet for expressions of anti-Semitism and works to attract non-Jews to Jewish community events. “We do see stereotypes of Jews,” Diksaitis said, “but not particularly negative ones. Jews are seen as rich, magically wise, great salespeople who can make money out of nothing, intelligent and well-connected around the world.” Lithuania has not finished coming to terms with its past, and, in fact, that process may never be finished. Activists, officials, educators and artists recognize that only through continuing remembrance and reflection can Lithuania hope to move forward from a history of genocide. As they seek to move their country toward tolerance, they employ a multipronged approach: Rather than simply condemning the genocide, they celebrate the glories of the Jewish past. They encourage their fellow citizens to treasure what was lost. Rather than compelling, they invite people to feel their way into the dark past. Rather than supplying answers, they pose questions. They present the facts, then call on Lithuanians to take matters into their own hearts and design their own vehicles of remorse. They ask people to join together, because all hands are needed in the vital project of repair. A few weeks after cleaning up the old ghetto library, the Vardai group

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planned its first event inside the building. The walls were hung with enlargements of family photos found in the ruins of the ghetto after the war. In commemoration of the anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto on September 23, 1943, they invited members of the public to attend a poetry reading. The poem “Green Aquarium” by Avrom Sutzkever set the tone for the gathering. Sutzkever (1913-2010) survived the ghetto and went on to become the acclaimed postwar Yiddish poet described by The New York Times as “the greatest poet of the Holocaust.” His “Green Aquarium” is a series of prose poems in which the poet peers into the past as if through glass, offering glimpses of the ghetto in its last throes. “I look in: people are swimming here like fish. Numberless phosphorescent faces…. they are all swimming in the green aquarium, in a kind of silky, airy music” (new English translation this year, 2014, by Zackary Sholem Berger). “Green Aquarium” had just been published in a Lithuanian translation by Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, the director of the Lithuanian Literature and Folklore Institute. Kvietkauskas was part of the cleanup crew in August, and he joined the group of distinguished tolerance leaders who lined up to read the poems aloud. With barely enough light to see by, the readers took turns reciting the poet’s words. Among the readers was Irena Veisaite, the Holocaust survivor whose story appears in the rescued child exhibit at the Jewish Museum. The effort to examine the truths of the past in Lithuania, she believes, “is not a Jewish project. It is a question for all of us in common. It is very important equally for Jews and for other Lithuanians — because as long as you are hiding the truth, as long as you fail to come to terms with your past, you cannot build your future.” Ellen Cassedy is the author of We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (2012), which interweaves the story of her journey to the land of her Jewish forebears with an account of how Lithuania is encountering the Jewish past. She lives in Maryland and can be reached at www.ellencassedy.com.


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