September 9, 2012: Sunday 2-3:30pm
Wedding Song: Memoirs of an Iranian Jewish Woman by Farideh Goldin
Farideh Goldin was born to her fifteen-year-old mother in 1953 and into a Jewish community living in an increasingly hostile Islamic state--prerevolutionary Iran. This memoir is Goldin's passionate and painful account of her childhood in a poor Jewish household and her emigration to the United States in 1975.
Goldin's memoir conveys not just the personal trauma of growing up in a family fraught with discord but also the tragic human costs of religious dogmatism. In Goldin's experience, Jewish fundamentalism was intensified by an Islamic context. Although the Muslims were antagonistic to Jews, their views on women's roles and their treatment of women influenced the attitude and practices of some Iranian Jews.
In this brave and dispassionate portrayal of a little-known corner of Jewish life, Farideh Goldin confronts profound sadness yet captures the joys of a child's wonder as she savors the scenes and textures and scents of Jewish Iran. Readers share her youthful adventures and dangers, coming to understand how such experiences shape her choice.
Facilitated by Dr. Saba Soomekh, Asst. Professor of Theological Studies
January 22, 2012 2:00-3:30pm
Lost In Translation by Eva Hoffman
Daughter of Holocaust survivors, the author, a New York Times Book Review editor, lost her sense of place and belonging when she emigrated with her family from Poland to Vancouver in 1959 at the age of 13. Although she works within a familiar genre here, Hoffman's is a penetrating, lyrical memoir that casts a wide net as it joins vivid anecdotes and vigorous philosophical insights on Old World Cracow and Ivy League America; Polish anti-Semitism; the degradations suffered by immigrants; Hoffman's cultural nostalgia, self-analysis and intellectual passion; and the atrophy of her Polish from disuse and her own disabling inarticulateness in English as a newcomer. Linguistic dispossession, she explains, "is close to the dispossession of one's self." As Hoffman savors the cadences and nuances of her adopted language, she remains ever conscious of assimilation's perils: "But how does one bend toward another culture without falling over, how does one strike an elastic balance between rigidity and self-effacement?"
Elizabeth Drummond, Department of History, facilitator
February 12, 2012 2:00-3:30pm
Bernhard by Yoel Hoffmann
In Israeli avant-garde novelist Hoffmann's startling minimalist collage, 50-ish, grief-numbed widower Bernhard Stein, transplanted from Berlin to Palestine, ruminates on his wife's death, on history and on the universe against a background of Hitler's rampage across Europe. A postmodernist kaleidoscope unfolding in 172 loosely interconnected vignettes, most of them a page in length or shorter, this experimental novel echoes Hoffmann's more conventional double-novella American debut, The Book of Joseph and Katschen. Bernhard, whose feverish ruminations hop from Spinoza to El Greco to Trotsky, is a man unhinged. His best friend, a plumber named Gustav, and Elvira Neuwirth, the cultured Viennese widow with whom he flirts, seem almost as unreal as his fictive alter ego, Moscow-born dermatologist D.S. Gregory, whose father lost a leg fighting in the American Revolution. Within these flights of fancy lies a searing meditation on loss of faith, the tragedy of modern history and life's apparent meaninglessness. Hoffmann's semantic riffs, historical excursions and self-referential metaphysical noodlings can be wearying. Yet he adds ballast to this tale by loading it with dark parables and dreams; Jewish ritual and lore; German, Yiddish and Arabic phrases (translated in the margins); and snatches of songs, childhood memories and sexual fantasies. His hypnotic prose fuses everyday events and surreal imagery with the lyrical intensity of a Chagall painting.
Gil Klein, Department of Theological Studies, facilitator
November 11, 2012: Sunday 2-3:30pm
Drawing in the Dust, by Rabbi Zoe Klein
Brilliant archaeologist Page Brookstone has toiled at Israel’s storied battlegrounds of Megiddo for twelve years, yet none of the ancient remnants she has unearthed deliver the life-altering message she craves. Which is why she risks her professional reputation when a young Arab couple begs her to excavate beneath their home. Ibrahim and Naima Barakat claim the spirits of two lovers overwhelm everyone who enters with love and desire. As Page digs, she makes a miraculous discovery—the bones of the deeply troubled prophet Jeremiah locked in an eternal embrace with a mysterious woman. Buried with the entwined skeletons is a collection of scrolls that challenge centuries-old interpretations of the prophet’s story and create a worldwide fervor. Caught in a forbidden romance of her own, and under siege from religious zealots and relentless critics, Page endangers her life to share the lovers’ story with the world. But in doing so, she discovers she must let go of her own painful past. Called a “zesty debut” by Kirkus Reviews, Zoë Klein’s historically rich novel is a lyrical and unexpected journey as poignant and thought-provoking as the beloved bestsellers The Red Tent and People of the Book.
December 2, 2012: Sunday 2-3:30pm (in Faculty Commons, not Von Der Ahe Suite)
The One Facing Us by Ronit Matalon
Matalon, through photographs and storytelling, conveys the story of a Jewish family in Africa, which has interesting roots in Egypt. Esther, seventeen years old, wild and rebellious, is sent from Israel to Cameroon to stay with her hardheaded uncle Sicourelle, who is charged with straightening her out. But Esther resists her uncle's plans for her future--which include marriage to a cousin--and in the privileged indolence of postcolonial Africa, she looks to the past instead. Using sepia portraits and scraps of letters, Esther pieces together the history of her family, a once-grand Egyptian-Jewish clan, and its displacement from Cairo in the 1950s to Israel, West Africa, and New York.
As the worn photographs yield their secrets, Esther uncovers a rich tale of wives and ex-wives; revolving mistresses and crushing marriages; intrigues and disappointments; poignant contrasts between the living past and the dead present. In sensuous, inventive prose, Matalon penetrates the mysteries of cultural exile and family life to produce a first novel that is mature, authentic, and deeply moving. Facilitated by Dr. Gil Klein, by Asst. Professor of Theological Studies
October 7, 2012: Sunday 2-3:30pm
Golems of Gotham by Thane Rosenbaum
At the beginning of Thane Rosenbaum's imaginative comedy The Golems of Gotham, an elderly pair of Holocaust survivors, Lothar and Rose Levin, commit suicide. Their son, Oliver, a successful New York mystery writer already suffering from his wife's desertion and a crippling case of writer's block, is devastated by the news. Oliver's 14-year-old daughter, Ariel, comes to the rescue, conjuring not only her grandparents from the grave but also a remarkable group of Jewish literary golems (ghosts, in this case) who also killed themselves after a lifetime of Holocaust memories. Among the visitors here to inspire Oliver toward writing a serious second novel are Primo Levi, Jerzy Kosinski, and Paul Celan. While Oliver writes feverishly, the ghosts cleanse New York City of any reminders of oppression toward Jews: tattoos, crew cuts, overcrowded trains, striped uniforms, and smoke belching from tall stacks.
Facilitated by Dr. Holli Levitsky, Director, Jewish Studies Program and Associate Professor of English
April 22, 2012 2:00-3:30pm
Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz
Moving from the Allied zones of postwar Germany to New York City, an astonishing novel of grief and anger, memory and survival witnessed through the experiences of "displaced persons" struggling to remake their lives in the decades after World War II.
Holli Levitsky, Director, Jewish Studies Program facilitator
March 18, 2012 2:00-3:30pm
The Lemon Tree : An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan
"In the summer of 1967, not long after the Six Day War, three young Arab men ventured into the town of Ramla, in what is now Jewish Israel. They were cousins, on a pilgrimage to see their childhood homes; their families had been driven out of Palestine nearly twenty years earlier. One cousin had a door slammed in his face, and another found his old house had been converted into a school. But the third, Bashir, was met at the door by a young woman called Dalia, who invited him in." "This poignant encounter is the starting point for a true story of two families, one Arab, one Jewish, amid the fraught modern history of the region. In Bashir's childhood home, in the lemon tree his father planted in the backyard, he sees dispossession and occupation; Dalia, who arrived as an infant in 1948 with her family from Bulgaria, sees hope for a people devastated by the Holocaust. Both are swept up in the fates of their people, and their lives form a personal microcosm of more than half a century of Israeli-Palestinian history."
Saba Soomekh, Department of Theological Studies, facilitator
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