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My Father’s Coat and Hat

How the book became…

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Carol A. Shulter designed the cover for this book, which grew out of a class at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.

“Recording Jewish Lives,” an anthology just published by the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, grew out of a memoir-writing class there led from 2006 to 2009 by novelist, playwright, and biographer Susan Dworkin.

“People stayed in the class over time and worked very hard,” Dworkin said in a telephone interview last week. She said, for example, of Sarah Gottesman Lubin, who died in 2007 at 73 and to whom the book is dedicated, “she got closer and closer to the truth of her heart.” (Lubin lived in Englewood, and her family recently established a scholarship in her memory at Columbia University as well as the Sarah Gottesman Lubin Program for Arts & Crafts at the JCC.)

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Members of the first “Recording Jewish Lives” class are, back row from left, Dorothy Kershenblatt-Silverstein, Sarah Gottesman Lubin, Rochelle Lazarus, and teacher Susan Dworkin. Agnes Guttmann Dauerman, left, and Harriet Wallenstein are in the front row. Not pictured are Carol Carmel and Irene Ross, who joined the class in its second year.

Dworkin is the author, most recently, of “The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist’s Struggle to Preserve the World’s Harvest” (Walker-Bloomsbury) and of a play to be performed at New York’s Fringe Festival in August. She said of the class that she “could see the way people developed their own voices as they got more confidence. It’s really great to see a writer develop.”

She had some suggestions for people who want to write memoirs.

First, “don’t work alone but join either a class or a writer’s group — the chevra is very important. You learn from listening to what other people do and you develop a trust in yourself from sharing what you’ve written and rewritten and having them share [their work] with you.”

Second, “read a lot of autobiographies” — and works with autobiographical elements — “by Proust, Gorky, Amos Oz, and Kate Simon. Proust is very important even though he’s hard,” she said, “because he really had his finger on the way to tell your story.”

Finally, “always read the best stuff.” That gives you “a real shot at illuminating your own work. If you’re going to read show-biz biographies that were ghosted by three different people, that’s not going to get you anywhere. But if you read one page of Proust or one chapter of Kate Simon’s ‘Bronx Primitive,’ it’s sustenance for a year.”

For more information about the anthology, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

Southern roots run deep for 30-year New Jersey resident

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The 3- 4-year-old B’nai B’rith Jacob kindergarten class of 1951. Of the 28 kids in the class, 14 came to the 65th birthday party.

We came to Savannah, Ga., from near and far last month to celebrate our coming of age. No, we were not welcoming our entrance into adulthood at age 13 at b’nai mitzvah, or age 21 to drink legally —we were celebrating the arrival of our Medicare cards, at age 65.

We all grew up in a very small Savannah Jewish community, where we spent most of our time in JEA Canteens (Jewish Educational Alliance, the JCC of Savannah) and in our synagogue youth groups, YOU at B’nai B’rith Jacob Synagogue, USY at the Agudath Achim Synagogue, and TYG at Temple Mickve Israel (which holds the oldest Torah scrolls in the United States). We started in kindergarten together, moved on to first and second grade at the Hebrew day school, and then attended public school, high school and college. We went to all the bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, and celebrations. (There were no bat mitzvahs at the time we were growing up. I was allowed to do one or two prayers in front of the bimah, at a lower level, and that was it. It was the 1950s and women were relegated to a different role than we have now.)

We knew each other’s families — grandparents, mothers, dads, sisters, brothers. We lived in each other’s lives. It was a wonderful, nurturing environment, and while we may not always have gotten along, we loved each other. We became a family.

And so it was not surprising that so many of us traveled from New Jersey, New York, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Maryland, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina to see one another at this time in our lives. It was quite a reunion for everyone, who had last joined as a group for our 50th birthday and before that, our 40th birthday. But what is amazing is that everyone has kept in touch after all these years.

“There is definitely a bond with Savannah and all the kids we grew up with,” said Ellen Schneider Goodrich, who drove in from Milledgeville, Ga. The weekend events were planned by Savannah residents, who kindly shared their homes at Tybee, Savannah Beach, for the reunion. We ate hush puppies, boiled peanuts, grits, kosher Krispy Kremes, and fried chicken with Johnny Harris Barbeque sauce (which just recently received kosher certification).

“What better way to celebrate our return to Savannah than to spend it at the beach?,” said Sydney Solomon Ratnow, who flew in from Suffern, N.Y., with her husband, Steve. Sydney met Steve through her Savannah friends who were at Emory in 1962. There were at least five couples who grew up together in Savannah and are now married. But most people came from outside of Savannah. Texan attorney Arthur Geffen called his photos of the group “AKs from Savannah.”

Of the six kids in my second-grade Hebrew day school class, four of us were at the party.

It is difficult to explain to my New Jersey friends what it was like growing up in Savannah being Jewish. Most people don’t understand. There is a special connection we feel. It’s a real homecoming, and even though we may not see one another for years, we reconnect as though it were yesterday. It is a tribute to the Jewish community of Savannah that we have bonded and stayed in touch in such an extraordinary way over all these years.

Plans for the 70th birthday celebration are already floating around Facebook.

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A group of former classmates gather at the June 11 reunion in Savannah. Simone Wilker is in the front row, far right.
 
 

Netanyahu hints at flexibility on Jerusalem

It was an otherwise wholly unremarkable stump speech before a friendly audience in New York.

On the evening of July 7 at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, the Israeli prime minister addressed a roomful of more than 300 Jews on the subjects of Iran, his government’s eagerness for direct peace talks with the Palestinians, and the swell meeting he had just had with President Obama at the White House.

News Analysis

But then, in an off-the-cuff remark to a question on Jerusalem from the audience, Benjamin Netanyahu dropped a hint that his government’s insistence on Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem might not be ironclad.

“Everybody knows that there are Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that under any peace plan will remain where they are,” Netanyahu said in response to the question read by the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein.

The implication of Netanyahu’s remark — that other neighborhoods of Jerusalem may not remain “where they are,” becoming part of an eventual Palestinian state — was the first hint that the Israeli leader may be flexible on the subject of Jerusalem. Until now, Netanyahu has insisted that Jerusalem is not up for negotiation.

While the prime minister surely did not intend the gathering under the aegis of the Presidents Conference to serve as his forum for opening up negotiations over Jerusalem, the impromptu remark before an audience of prominent New York Jews and a handful of elected officials cast a slim ray of light on what Netanyahu thinks might be the Israeli capital’s ultimate fate.

He reiterated the point on Sunday in an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Are you willing to put East Jerusalem as a possible capital of the Palestinian state on the table?” Wallace asked, according to a transcript provided by Fox News.

Netanyahu responded, “Well, we have differences of views with the Palestinians. We want a united city. They have their own views. We can — this is one of the issues that will have to be negotiated. But I think the main point is to get on with it.”

The remarks on Jerusalem were significant because Netanyahu’s true intentions regarding the peace process remain largely opaque, the subject of much debate from Washington to Ramallah. Netanyahu was a latecomer to the two-state position — endorsing the idea of an eventual Palestinian state only a year ago, after much prodding by the United States — and the governing coalition he has assembled is composed largely of right-wing parties that do not believe in the current Palestinian Authority as a partner for negotiations.

In public, President Obama declared last week that he believes Netanyahu is genuinely committed to seeking a two-state solution.

“I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace,” Obama told reporters following his Oval Office meeting with Netanyahu. “And during our conversation, he once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians around what I think should be the goal not just of the two principals involved but the entire world, and that is two states living side by side in peace and security.”

Privately, however, some U.S. administration officials have expressed doubts about Netanyahu’s ability to make good on that vision. Other Obama supporters have questioned Netanyahu’s commitment to that goal, and the Palestinian Authority leadership says Netanyahu’s interest in negotiations is not serious.

“Words, not deeds,” was the assessment of chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who dismissed Netanyahu’s lip service to the peace process in an interview with The New York Times following the Obama-Netanyahu meeting. “We need to see deeds.”

Netanyahu insists he is serious about peace talks, and that it is the Palestinians who are playing games.

“You either put up excuses or you lead,” the Israeli leader said in his New York speech. “I want to enter direct talks with the Palestinian leadership now,”

“I think we can defy the skeptics,” he said, recalling the doubters that abounded when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin began talking to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in the lead-up to the Camp David Accords, and when Richard Nixon visited China. “This is a challenge I’m up to.”

Was it hyperbole or a sign of the legacy Netanyahu hopes for himself?

If Netanyahu is interested in following Begin and Nixon’s model, leading a conservative government to a historic rapprochement with a longtime foe, eventually he will have to include Jerusalem in negotiations with the Palestinians; they won’t sign a peace deal without it. If not, Netanyahu is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the skeptics.

“This is going to be a very, very tough negotiation, but I’m prepared to negotiate,” Netanyahu insisted last week. “But I cannot engage between someone who won’t sit at the table.”

JTA

 
 

The Jewish view of homosexuality

 
 
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