Among the Living

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

In 1947, Holo­caust sur­vivor Yitzhak Goldah arrives in Savan­nah, Geor­gia to start a new life with his Amer­i­can cousin Abe Jesler and Abe’s wife, Pearl. The gen­er­ous South­ern Jew­ish cou­ple open their home to the exhaust­ed Goldah and pro­vide him with a job at their shoe store. The Jeslers’ friends are eager to meet Goldah, and he is struck by the con­trast between the gen­teel life in Savan­nah and the bru­tal deprav­i­ty he has just sur­vived in Europe. The Czech refugee is grate­ful but often stunned into silence. 

As Among the Liv­ing devel­ops, read­ers, along with the Jeslers, will hope that Goldah grabs the oppor­tu­ni­ty to set­tle into the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Savan­nah. But the sur­vivor must make his own way, and those around him togeth­er must also fig­ure out how to coex­ist. The Savan­nah char­ac­ters are still in the process of dis­cov­er­ing the details of hor­rors of World War II. For Goldah, the war is a sen­si­tive sub­ject that he does not wish to define him. Haunt­ing­ly descrip­tive scenes graph­i­cal­ly tell his expe­ri­ence. At times the char­ac­ter of Goldah comes across as qui­et and befud­dled, but at oth­er times it appears that he actu­al­ly sees the soci­ety of Savan­nah more clear­ly than the res­i­dents. The local rab­bi refers to him as the strongest among us.” Those around him and Goldah him­self are unsure about how to dis­cuss the abuse and shame of his grue­some past. 

This dis­com­fort increas­es as Goldah takes up with a wid­ow who is a mem­ber of the Reform Tem­ple; the Jeslers them­selves belong to the Con­ser­v­a­tive syn­a­gogue. Ten­sions rise when the two con­gre­ga­tions decide to hold Tash­lich ser­vices on the same beach. Goldah’s absorp­tion into soci­ety is fur­ther dis­rupt­ed by the appear­ance of his frag­ile fiancée, who he thought had per­ished. Crushed by her phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al humil­i­a­tions, she holds noth­ing but dis­dain for the Savan­nah Jews. 

The Jim Crow back­drop and the expe­ri­ences of the Jeslers’ black employ­ees add a fur­ther lay­er of com­plex­i­ty to Rabb’s pic­ture of the social dynam­ic of the time. A black employ­ee explains the sit­u­a­tion to Gol­da after his son is vicious­ly attacked: Here they kill us one at a time and that’s the dif­fer­ence.” Oth­er polit­i­cal issues are also addressed; it seems that some of Savannah’s Jews are qui­et­ly show­ing sup­port for the devel­op­ment of the nascent state of Israel, and the Jesler’s rab­bi calls the Haganah our own Min­ute­men.” Every­day inter­ac­tions also add moments of lev­i­ty, such as when a black maid admits she makes the food for a Jew­ish fam­i­ly taste so good by adding lard. 

In the end, Among The Liv­ing is a love sto­ry depict­ing how peo­ple so hurt can pos­si­bly heal and move on. Beneath the gen­til­i­ty, trou­ble boils. 

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