Hel­lo America

Livia Bit­ton-Jack­son
  • Review
By – August 20, 2012
Those who have read Bitton-Jackson’s pre­vi­ous books will espe­cial­ly wel­come this con­clu­sion to her sto­ry. In Elli: Com­ing of Age in the Holo­caust and its YA ver­sion: I Have Lived a Thou­sand Years, we read about her child­hood and pre-teen years in Czecho­slo­va­kia, her incar­cer­a­tion with her moth­er in Auschwitz and in sev­er­al death camps, where they suf­fered unspeak­able cru­el­ties but prob­a­bly sur­vived through their mutu­al sup­port. Her sto­ry con­tin­ued in My Bridges of Hope, which is about the post­war peri­od in Europe and Israel, and her work in Bricha, the orga­ni­za­tion that aid­ed ille­gal emi­gra­tion of refugees to British-con­trolled Pales­tine. Elli evi­dent­ly knew Eng­lish well before com­ing to Amer­i­ca since she was able to serve as an inter­preter for the cap­tain of the ship that brought them to Amer­i­ca, where she tells the read­er she was invalu­able to the ship’s cap­tain. Unlike some oth­er émi­grés to the Unit­ed States, Elli and her moth­er were warm­ly wel­comed by her father’s broth­er and his fam­i­ly. Of course, all begin­nings are dif­fi­cult and Elli is sur­prised that her rel­a­tives do not live in the flashy sec­tion of the New York pic­tured in her mind, while her mother’s rel­a­tives live in Brook­lyn. But beyond the nor­mal accli­ma­tion peri­od and find­ing a suit­able job com­men­su­rate with her intel­li­gence, and at least three romances, one on the ship, the most dis­turb­ing aspect of Amer­i­ca to Elli is the unwill­ing­ness of Amer­i­cans to hear about what she and her moth­er and the oth­er Jews of Europe went through or to be remind­ed of lost rel­a­tives, even her father-her uncle’s broth­er. In one telling pas­sage, Bit­ton-Jack­son writes: I am over­come by a sense of the enor­mi­ty of my survival‑a val­i­da­tion. Ever since that fate­ful day when Dr. Joseph Men­gele… pulled me out of the line lead­ing to the gas cham­bers, I’ve been plagued by ago­niz­ing guilt: Why me?… Why was I spared from among all my friends?…” But as she stands before a class­room of chil­dren, her guilt is some­what assuaged. Her com­mit­ment to teach­ing Hebrew and oth­er Jew­ish sub­jects is some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for her being alive. Bit­ton-Jack­son mar­ried, con­tin­ued her edu­ca­tion with a Ph.D in Hebrew cul­ture and Jew­ish his­to­ry from New York Uni­ver­si­ty. She lives in Israel and New York with her hus­band. This is an inti­mate and on the whole, upbeat sto­ry. For ages 14 – 17.
Lin­da R. Sil­ver is a spe­cial­ist in Jew­ish children’s lit­er­a­ture. She is edi­tor of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries’ Jew­ish Val­ues­find­er, www​.ajl​jew​ish​val​ues​.org, and author of Best Jew­ish Books for Chil­dren and Teens: A JPS Guide (The Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Soci­ety, 2010) and The Jew­ish Val­ues Find­er: A Guide to Val­ues in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture (Neal-Schu­man, 2008).

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