The ProsenPeople

Putting Myself on the Line

Monday, July 22, 2013 | Permalink

Peri Devaney’s new book, A Jewish Professor’s Political Punditry: Fifty-Plus Years of Published Commentary by Ron Rubin (Syracuse University Press), is now available. Peri and Ron, the prolific professor she anthologized, will be blogging here this week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

As a book editor, my work had always been behind the scenes. When Ron Rubin (an author I had previously edited for “behind the scenes”) asked me to come out from behind and have my name appear on the cover of an anthology of his works, I never considered the possibility I might wind up putting myself on the line.

As I understood it, my role as anthologist would be to cull through the anthologized’s published materials, decide which pieces fit the anthology’s theme, create “abridged” versions for some of the tangential works, organize the material in a sensible pattern, and write a preface and filler blurbs to provide a biographical background and help the reader move through the book.

All went as expected, the manuscript was submitted, and then …

Surprise!

A reviewer for the publisher’s acquisitions department gave the book a “thumbs up” but suggested adding a bridge between the last of Rubin’s published commentaries and the book’s production. Syracuse University Press’s editorial committee agreed, I discussed the idea of a “Postscript” with Dr. Rubin, and he informed me he would gladly help me write it.

Now it’s true I’ve been involved with three books written by political science professors—two of them on historical subjects and the third a more contemporary topic—but political science and history are just not my bailiwick. The research for those books was all done by the authors before I ever saw the manuscripts, and any fact-checking was done by the publishers’ editorial teams. My bachelor's degree in math, computer science and secondary education did not require much research … what little it did require was done more than forty years ago … and the only research I did as founding editor of an IT trade association’s magazine more than 20 years ago (when I was also the association’s Executive Director) involved brainstorming with the president to figure out what topics would interest our members and industry and which of our vendors, members and technical staff to approach to write the articles.

My bailiwick is the re-organization and re-writing of sentences, paragraphs and chapters originally written by others. I’ve taken a 600-page manuscript and without removing any content condensed it into the “maximum 400-pages” manuscript that publisher wanted by simply rearranging and rewording the material. I’ve printed out a 365-page manuscript in order to cut it up into sections—some as small as one sentence—so I could put the pieces together in a way that would grab the readers’ attention and keep them interested through to the end.

What writing I’ve done personally has been mostly for promotional, marketing or fundraising purposes; the few published articles I’ve written were based on personal experiences; and if I were to write a book myself, it would almost definitely be fiction, probably of the fantasy or mystery genre.

So the task of writing the Postscript to an anthology filled with fifty years of political commentary was daunting, to say the least.

Thank G-d for the internet … for the enormous amount of pro-Israel, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic “junk email” that came into my Outlook as then-administrator of a high-profile Jewish organization and gave me a good feel for the current atmosphere … for the emphasis the organization placed on critical thinking … and for Ron Rubin’s help. It was actually fun Yahoo!ing and Googling and sorting through the legit news sources and junk; linking to, reading, evaluating and quoting material from congressional and White House reports; delving into Knesset and IDF websites; and more. Once I finished writing the Postscript—“The Obama Years: On Whom Can We Rely?”—I realized I had enjoyed the accomplishment, but it was still quite nerve-racking to realize my personal political leanings, such as they are, would be in print for others to question, challenge or praise.

And then came the cuts! Both Ron and the publisher liked the piece, but what I considered one of my two most well-researched and creatively presented sections was taken out by the publisher completely. After a lot of explanation on their part, I sort of understand their concerns, but I think much of what they left in has an even greater potential to create a stir than what they took out. Sometimes it scares me to think about the exposure—I even thought about writing with a pseudonym—but for the good of the book…

I put myself on the line.

And now it’s on to the next project…

Check back all week for more from Peri Devaney and Ron Rubin.

Love Stories for Tu B'Av

Monday, July 22, 2013 | Permalink

We've spent all day discussing them at work and now we're sharing them with you! Our Tu B'av 5773 JBC staff picks:


"Two intertwined love stories make up  Meir Shalev's novel A Pigeon and a Boy, one story set in modern Israel, the other in 1948,  during Israel's war of independence. The war-time tale of tender, doomed young love is particularly poignant and brings this period to life from an unusual perspective." —CK

"Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels is more about the love between a father and his adopted son than about romantic love, although there's certainly that, too. At times reading more like a poem than a novel, Fugitive Pieces is about how we grow to love the people dropped on our doorstep, the people who accidentally enter our lives." —EM

"The History of Love renewed my long-abandoned faith in magical realism and lifelong love stories. A young girl's search for the author of an obscure, discarded book and an old man's struggle with utter lonesomeness circle each other through reality and breathtaking distortion, only to end as you realize their stories could end no other way." —NB



"The Mind-Body Problem, Rebecca Goldstein's classic novel published thirty years ago, tells the story of  a young graduate student, Renee, navigating her marriage to a legendary mathematical genius at Princeton. As Reneee struggles with the tension between emotion and intelligence, she is forced to examine her marriage, love life, and Jewish identity." —NF-T 

"Peter Cole's exquisite translations prove that no one wrote love poetry like the great (and the obscure) Sepharadic lyricists. No one." —NB

"I've had If You Awaken Love on my shelf for years; I always have it around to share with anyone looking for a wonderful read." —CH



"The Golem and the Jinni: magical realism at its best. Helene Wecker's literary debut has born two of the most heartbreaking creatures ever written." —NB 

"Song of Songs: among the most beautiful and the most desperate expressions of love and longing in verse." —NB

The Teacher Has Plenty to Learn

Friday, July 19, 2013 | Permalink
Earlier this week, Melissa R. Klapper wrote about abortion and the complexity of halacha and 5 American Jewish women you've (probably) never heard of. She has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

At Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ, where I teach, all would-be history majors and minors are required to take (and pass–we’re sticklers that way) a course called Historical Methods. This class is a huge challenge for both students and teachers, as it is writing intensive and the students rarely come to it with much of an interest in historiography, theory, or best practices in terms of scholarship. To humanize the issues, I tell tales of historians behaving badly—those who have plagiarized, forged sources, cheated—who paid the price for their professional malfeasance. But as I learned while working on my most recent book, a history of American Jewish women in the suffrage, birth control and peace movements during the early 20th century, there are other kinds of cautionary tales that should also be part of my repertoire.

Before I even began this book, I was already aware of at least two 1916 Yiddish plays about birth control, both of which are housed at the Library of Congress. I knew about them because the images of their front pages have often been reproduced in accounts of American Jewry and because they have regularly been referred to by scholars in the context of general Jewish communal support for the birth control movement. As I dove into the research for my book, I discovered that apparently no one had actually ever translated these plays in full. My reading knowledge of Yiddish, though adequate for Yiddish periodicals and the like, could not cope with the hand-written manuscripts of the plays, so with the help of a grant, I commissioned Naomi Shoshana Cohen to do the translations. She and I discussed my overall project, and she set about the time-consuming task.

Imagine my surprise when, with each scene Naomi translated and sent to me, it became more and more apparent that neither of these plays contained expressions of Jewish support for birth control. On the contrary, both of the plays condemned contraception roundly, and one of them was viciously anti-feminist as well. While literally hundreds of other primary sources that I was finding did confirm the American Jewish community’s overall support of the birth control movement, the very existence of these two plays helped demonstrate that pockets of resistance and ambivalence retained cultural currency and that, as is often the case, the full story was a complex one. My analysis of these plays turned into a scholarly article and a major part of one of the book’s chapters on birth control, and I learned a valuable lesson. Making assumptions based on the assumptions of other people, even distinguished scholars, is hardly in the same category of the egregious historians’ sins I tell my Historical Methods students about. But it is a mistake nonetheless, and one that I am now more attuned to and try to teach my students to avoid. The historian’s mantra of going directly to the sources remains the best advice for students, enthusiasts, and professionals alike.

Melissa R. Klapper's new book, Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women's Activism, 1890-1940, is now available.

New Jewish Book Council Reviews

Friday, July 19, 2013 | Permalink
This week's new Jewish Book Council reviews:


Find more of the latest reviews here.
 

Interview: Howard Jacobson on "The Swag Man"

Friday, July 19, 2013 | Permalink

by Tahneer Oksman

Howard Jacobson is a Manchester-born author and the recent recipient of the Man Booker Prize, as well as two Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prizes for comic writing. His books often center around Jewish characters and themes, and he has referred to himself as “a Jewish Jane Austen.”

The Swag Man” is a story recently released as an Amazon Kindle Single, and published by Tablet MagazineBased on his life, Jacobson’s story follows Frankie Cohen, a young and impudent salesman who sells “swag” (or, basically, cheap trinkets) for Jacobson’s father in the rough-and-tumble marketplaces of Northern England. Cohen grows up to become an art dealer, brushing elbows with the elite but never fully letting go of his Yiddishkeit roots.

In “The Swag Man,” using rich and elegant prose, Jacobson examines postwar Jewish assimilation through the triangulation of three characters—a father, a son, and Frankie—who react to a changing world in different ways. This intergenerational narrative is a thoughtful meditation on what it means to remain consciously connected to and haunted by the past.

Tahneer Oksman: What compelled you to write "The Swag Man?"

Howard Jacobson: The simple answer is that it was commissioned, or if you like suggested, by Tablet Magazine, an online publication I admire - the challenge being to write a shortish, stand-alone piece about a contemporary Jewish figure who interests me.

I also chose to tell this tale about my father the market man, and the art collector Frank Cohen who once worked for him, because I enormously relish remembering the world in which they met, in which I met Frank, the world we both left, and yet to which we still somehow belong. It is funny, and touching, in ways I cannot stop exploring. That I should have come out of it to be a novelist, and Frank to be an art collector, reflects on it fascinatingly to me.

TO: Your piece deals quite explicitly—and beautifully, I thought—with the melancholy of postwar Jewish assimilation. Do you see this as a common theme in contemporary British Jewish writing?

HJ: There hasn't been enough British writing of the sort you describe. We have been too quiet here. Too discreet. Maybe too frightened of drawing attention to ourselves. When I first began, several Jews told me to my face that they regretted my writing about being Jewish at all. They felt I was a nestbeschmutzer. Though when I won the Man Booker Prize with The Finkler Question, there was more pride than anything else that the British Jewish experience had finally been acknowledged by the literary establishment - which might be a touch optimistic.

TO: Are there others who have written on the Jewish experience who have inspired you? As I read your descriptions of the marketplace early on in "The Swag Man," for example, I kept thinking of Alfred Kazin's descriptions of Brownsville in A Walker in the City.

HJ: I haven't read the Kazin. And indeed I didn't read much literature about Jews as I was learning to write myself. I knew Louis Golding's Magnolia Street, but didn't want to go in that direction; it felt too provincial, and a fear of the parochial is another reason British Jews have avoided the subject of themselves - British Jewish life doesn't have the grand resonance of American Jewish life.

But I wasn't, early on, steeped in the American Jewish writers either. I had read some Bellow and Heller, but only began to read Roth and Singer later. I didn't learn how to write about Jews from them. My models, as a novelist, were Dickens, Jane Austen, Lawrence, Henry James, George Eliot - not a Jew among them. Jewishness I got from the Manchester I grew up in and which I celebrate in "The Swag Man." I only got going as a writer - I was only able to begin to write at all - when I saw that I needed to put the two together. How to combine my dad with Henry James, that was the problem I had to solve.

TO: I read the story as autobiographical. Did you intend it that way?

HJ: You're right that it's not strictly speaking fiction, though I'd say that everything I write is fiction really. I'm not sure I believe in autobiography: the minute one writes, one changes - I don't say falsifies but recolours, de-emphasises, exaggerates, pauses, gallops, overleaps, etc. This is inevitable, because the minute you choose a form, or a shape, you give to life an order that it never had.

But while I say there is no clear difference between fiction and autobiography as I write it, there is one, and it's important. In fiction which doesn't for a moment offer to be anything else, you have no obligation to be true to anyone real, because there is no real anyone behind the work. In a piece like this there is. So it is not quite as free. One cannot run as wild; on the other hand, it is a challenge to work within the inhibitions of the real. Fancy is on a rein, but how far can you go without slipping that rein?

TO: Did you have a particular audience in mind while you were writing? I read the piece as a kind of ode to your father's memory, and I wonder if that was how it felt to you.

HJ: Yes, you are right to see it as that. I do feel an obligation to my father's memory - I should say that my mother is still alive, which in a sense leaves me free, temporarily, to concentrate my sense of obligation on him. Over and above the obligation that any son owes his father, I feel a writer's obligation.

How to explain this? He was a vivid man, as I hope I have succeeded in evoking in the piece, a lover of life, but not educated and not articulate. Partly, I feel I owe him the words he didn't have. Partly, I am making recompense for valuing my words above his wordlessness, for wanting to put him, as a man who didn't read, behind me, for any shame I felt as the son of a market-man/taxi driver, for the time it took me to see how much of what I could do, and what I valued, I owed to him. It was always easier to feel a debt to my mother who was a reader. If my mother led me into literature, and so, in very direct ways, made me a writer, it was the intensity with which my father took life on - his love of laughter, his raucous relish of the world around him - that made me the kind of writer I am.

But you ask if I have a particular audience. I don't. I don't, for example, write to my father. He wouldn't have been able to read me. But I write for him.

Tahneer Oksman recently received her PhD in English Literature at the Graduate Center at CUNY. She is currently at work on a manuscript on Jewish women’s identity in contemporary graphic memoirs.

From Intermarried Couple to Observant Jewish Family

Thursday, July 18, 2013 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Gayle Redlingshafer Berman wrote about mourning the loss of a non-Jewish parent. Today we hear from Gayle's co-author, her husband Harold Berman, the former Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. Gayle and Harold are the co-authors of Doublelife: One Family, TwoFaiths and a Journey of Hope, the first true-life account of "an intermarriage gone Jewish." They have been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

When my wife and I speak to groups about our family's journey to Judaism, inevitably we are asked about our parents. How did Gayle's parents, devout Christians that they were, feel about Gayle becoming an observant Jew? How did my parents feel about me leaving my Reform upbringing to embrace an Orthodox life?

The questions are hardly academic. We have heard from numerous converts about parents who didn't understand their decision, who felt betrayed, who now worried for their souls, who sometimes even actively tried to undermine their choices. For Ba'alei Teshuva – those Jews who were not raised observant but became so as adults – the reaction of their Jewish parents often is hardly more positive.

When we are asked about how our parents reacted and if we had any difficulties, we respond honestly that we are blessed. Gayle wrote in the previous blog post about her father. His support of Israel was rock solid. He was a true Christian Zionist and "got it" far more than many Jews I know. He was not only supportive of our move to Israel, but proudly wore his Israel Defense Forces cap in the midst of the cornfields of Farmington, Illinois.

My parents, too, have been unreservedly supportive, in stark contrast to the parents of so many Ba'alei Teshuva I have met. When I started to become observant and Gayle started to explore the possibility of becoming Jewish, I secretly feared my parents' reaction. I had heard of parents who, upon learning that their adult children now kept kosher, angrily demanded, "What do you mean you won't eat in my house? My food's not good enough for you anymore?" Instead, my parents called one day to tell me that they were kashering their kitchen, down to every last plate, bowl and fork. "After all," my mother said, "my grandchildren should be able to eat in my kitchen."

A couple of years later, my parents were standing in line at the supermarket next to a man whose son had gone to Hebrew school with me. His son also had become observant as an adult. The father was beside himself, speaking with frustration about his son's new dietary habits and Shabbat observance. Thinking his words were falling on sympathetic ears, he turned to my parents and sighed, "Oh, where did we go wrong?" To which my mother, without dropping a beat, fired back, "No – where did we go right?"

When we wrote Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope, about our unanticipated journey from intermarried couple to observant Jewish family, we were surprised to receive so many enthusiastic e-mails not only from the intermarried families for whom the book was originally intended, but from Jews across the religious spectrum as well as religious Christians. The theme in Doublelife that resonates most often, even for those on very different religious paths, is the theme of relationship.

As our journey shows, husband and wife each grow and change over time and are often not the same people years down the road as they were when they married. As husband and wife change, they can just as easily grow apart as together, largely depending on their outlook and how hard they decide to work at it.

Parents and children represent a different kind of relationship, but the same dynamics of constant change apply. There is the same tendency to grow apart or together, depending on outlook and effort. And there is the same imperative to keep the relationship strong, whatever obstacles may fall along the path.

For what we have learned above all – with each other and with our parents – is that obstacles need not remain obstacles. They can be turned into blessings.

Find out more about Gayle and Harold here

Book Cover of the Week: Elie Wiesel

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Elie Wiesel: Jewish, Literary, and Moral Perspectives (Steven T. Katz and Alan Rosen, eds.), published by Indiana University Press in May, explores the various aspects of Wiesel's multifacted career, including his texts on "the Bible, the Talmud, and Hasidism as well as his literary works, his teaching, and his testimony." We asked Janet Rabinowitch, former director of IU Press, to share the backstory behind the painting on the book's cover: 

Artist Mark Podwal’s jacket painting depicts works by Elie Wiesel. The works illustrated, as described by Podwal, are, from left to right and row by row: One Generation After (a story about a watch belonging to EW that was buried in Sighet); The Oath (about a burned shtetl); The Jews of Silence (Russian Jewry); Souls on Fire (Rabbi Nachman’s chair); King Solomon and His Magic Ring (a pomegranate, based on one of Podwal’s illustrations for an edition of this work); Ani Maamin (a shofar, since one of the 10 reasons the shofar is sounded is that one day it will sound when the Messiah comes); A Beggar in Jerusalem; Night; Messengers of God (a Torah); The Golem (Prague’s Altneuschul); and A Passover Haggadah.. The original painting was commissioned by Chapman University as a gift to Elie Wiesel. It hangs framed in his home.


View past "Book Cover of the Week" posts here.

Abortion, Birth Control, and the Complexity of Halacha (Jewish Law)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Melissa R. Klapper wrote about 5 American Jewish women you've (probably) never heard of. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I recently came across a copy of the June 28 issue of The Jewish Press. The Jewish Press is an Orthodox Jewish weekly periodical out of Brooklyn that has a political agenda with which I could not disagree more. When I saw the headline “Time for the Halachic View on Abortion to Be Heard,” I groaned inwardly and prepared to be outraged. Imagine my surprise when the article, by Yori Yanover, the senior internet editor of the publication, turned out to be a call to traditional halachic voices to distance themselves from Christian anti-abortion activism and to express more forcefully in the public arena the nuanced rabbinical approach to the difficult topic of abortion. While I do not at all appreciate Yanover’s description of both liberal Jewish groups and evangelical Christians as “the crazies,” I think it is extremely important that a publication like The Jewish Press is reminding its audience that even the strictest interpreters of Jewish law consistently approached abortion from the perspective of protecting the viable life of the mother over the potential life of the fetus. The rabbis, Yanover points out, historically did not consider abortion to be murder.

Just to be clear, traditional rabbinic rulings neither condone nor promote abortion. Yanover cites the 1990 Rabbinical Council of America statement that abortion should not be an option except in “extreme circumstances and in consultation with proper Halachic authority,” but he gives equal space to the part of the same statement that rejects endorsement of legislation that would prevent abortion in those cases. Given the greater rights of the living human being–the mother–Jewish law would even allow late term abortions if the fetus poses a mortal danger to her.

This article caught my eye not only because of its source but also because of the questions that persistently came my way when I was writing my recently published book Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women’s Activism, 1890-1940 (NYU Press, 2013). The book includes two chapters on the history of American Jewish women’s involvement in the early birth control movement. I have repeatedly been asked what the “Jewish position” on contraception was during the early 20th century. Naturally, there was no single position. All of the denominations struggled to formulate a response. The Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis turned down an invitation by the Catholic church to issue a joint statement of blanket condemnation but did not officially endorse birth control for some years after beginning to discuss the issue. The Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly followed suit shortly thereafter. And the Orthodox Union preserved a telling silence, officially neither approving or disapproving of contraceptive practices that the organization saw as best left to individuals making decisions in consultation with rabbinic authorities. There is plenty of latitude within halacha for birth control, which apparently comes as a surprise to those who want to see all religious people of all faiths as equally fundamentalist. I find myself agreeing with Yanover that extremists on both the right and the left could learn something from the history of Jewish institutional and legal responses to the complexities of the intersections of reproductive rights and religion.

Check back all week for more from Melissa R. Klapper.

The Difficulty of Naming Cats...and Characters

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 | Permalink
This week, Anne Cherian, the author of The Invitation blogs for The Postscript on how to find the right names for her characters. The Postscript series is a special peek "behind the scenes" of a book. It's a juicy little extra something to add to a book club's discussion and a reader's understanding of how the book came together. 

To "host" Anne at your next book club meeting, request her through JBC Live Chat

TS Eliot famously wrote, “The naming of cats is a difficult matter,” and where once I had thought it was charming doggerel, I discovered its general truth when I was writing my novel, The Invitation. I had the entire plot in my head, and knew my four characters, but had no idea what names to give them. I was so desperate that I even Googled common Indian names, only to stare at hundreds and hundreds of names – in a country of billion, what did I expect?   

So I sat down and thought about the characters, hoping they would name themselves. One male character, I knew, would come from a rich family, and would have gone to all the right schools. In the novel he is described as a “colossus, able to prosper anywhere in the world, east or west.”  So I suddenly thought, Jayant, which means victorious in Hindi, and which, handily, can be shortened to Jay, a western name that is easy for my readers. The question the novel raises? Is Jay, indeed, victorious? The other male character is his foil, born to a poor family in a village, who pulls himself up via his brains. He would have to be very tough to withstand the discrimination he would encounter in India, which, like England, is class-based. Vikram means strength, and again, can become Vic, and in this case, also provided me with the name of his computer company, VikRAM Computers. I confess that I know nothing about computers; I am aware, however, that ram isn't just a male sheep.

All that remained were the two girls. One, I had always known, would be from Kerala, my father’s homeland. Most people from there have a baptismal name reserved for school, and a ‘pet’ name used by family and close friends. Lali goes against tradition by using her pet name alone; indeed, her baptismal name never appears in the novel. Such a character, I thought, would continue to be rebellious, and so it makes sense that Lali marries Jonathan, a Jewish doctor. The last character is based on girls I knew who came from Goa, all Catholics, of Portuguese descent--except that my character isn’t rich. Some people, like her, try to off-set poverty by using anything to make themselves look good, and she even uses how she was named. When her mother was pregnant with her, her father kept telling everyone that this time, after four girls, he was finally going to have a son and had already picked out Francis, the name of some forefather who may or may not exist, since the family likes to show off their Portuguese ancestry. When she turns out to be another girl, he simply changes the ‘i’ to ‘e’ and so Frances, from her very beginnings, has a story about herself, and as the novel shows, also starts her life being a disappointment and is constantly trying to appear better than she is. 

Mourning the Loss of a Non-Jewish Parent

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 | Permalink

Gayle Redlingshafer Berman is co-author, with her husband Harold, of Doublelife: One Family,Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope, the first true-life account of "an intermarriage gone Jewish." She is also an internationally acclaimed singer, and has performed and conducted throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East. Gayle and Harold will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

"Ima, Aunt Angela is trying to reach you. I know it's grandma! I want to go to her funeral!" My 13-year-old son was home manning the phone in Efrat while I was busy teaching piano to American girls at a school in Jerusalem. My mother had been ill for many years with dementia, that terrifying disease that steals the memory and dignity of its victims. Long before we had made Israel our home 3 1/2 years earlier, each day we had expected the call from Illinois telling us that her body had given up the fight. That moment had apparently arrived. Not having my sister's U.S. number in my Israeli cell phone, I simply continued teaching my piano student.

Soon my cell phone rang. I was sure my sister was indeed calling to tell me that what my son had suspected was true. I told my student, "I'll be right back," knowing I could handle what I had been anticipating for years. "Dad died this morning!" I couldn't believe my ears! No, she meant "Mom," my head screamed! "Dad?" I yelled! "Yes, Dad."

As people at the school heard my screaming, they gathered around me, offering tea, love and support. The memories flooded my mind – those late nights I fell asleep in the car and Dad carried me into the house; those years Dad let me keep horses on precious farmland which could have yielded thousands of dollars; the day I told Dad with trepidation that we were moving to Israel, to which he said simply, "You're free to live wherever you want," and then launched into a diatribe for the next 30 minutes about how the world is so cruel to Israel and doesn't understand that she needs to defend herself! He wept when he told me he just couldn't leave Mom to attend my son's, his grandson's, bar mitzvah, just two months before my sister's phone call. Even though Mom had already been in a nursing home for four years, he would not travel, feeling she needed him and I also think fearing the inevitable would happen while he was gone.

How does a Jew mourn the loss of a parent when that parent was not Jewish? After I finished the phone call with my sister, I asked a rabbi where I teach, and my husband (who was attending an unveiling the moment I called him) asked a rabbi where he works. Both felt that, even though I would not actually sit shiva, I still needed the catharsis that sitting shiva provides. Maybe, they each suggested independently, I could announce an opportunity for friends to visit me at my home, even if just for a few hours.

We chose Friday morning, two days later. After that morning, I understood fully why Jews sit shiva. The cleansing that immersed my soul that morning was the beginning of my healing process. Over 40 people, friends and neighbors in Israel who had never met my father, came to show their support. They sat and listened intently as I told stories about my parents. They blessed me, that I should be comforted with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Some invited my family for Shabbat meals while I traveled the following week for my dad's funeral. After they had all left, I was exhausted, but I felt renewed. I felt closer to my dad. I felt 100% certain that I had made the right decision several years earlier when I decided to become a part of the Jewish people.

Find out more about Gayle and Harold here