“No matter how it might seem,” writes B. A. Van Sise, “this is not a book about the Holocaust.” Rather, it is about a number of survivors who emerged from the deepest depths of the Shoah and accepted their invitation to life. In ninety handsome and sensitive portraits, all set against a black background, Van Sise, an award-winning photojournalist, captures the glow in his subjects’ faces. They are vibrant women and men whose ambition and gratitude take center stage in the interviews that accompany each photograph.
The ninety people Van Sise presents are engaged in almost every aspect of American life. Some are familiar names who have made notable careers, while others followed the trades of their European families as bakers or tailors. There are rabbis and nonbelievers, social workers and doctors, accountants and workers who fell into bad times; there are activists, teachers, and engineers. Several have turned to the arts, some professionally and others for pure pleasure. Almost all tell their story matter-of-factly, even as they recall their devastating beginnings, the distances they have traveled, and the lives they have remade.
What began five years ago as an article for a local newspaper became, once the newspaper had folded, a year-long exhibit of thirty photos at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. But during the pandemic, Van Sise was restless, and he remembered the resilience of the men and women he had met. He returned to the project, seeking out more survivors, and identifying in their stories lessons for our unsettled time.
With brief contributions by Dr. Mayim Bialik, Neil Gaiman, and Sabrina Orah Mark, Invited toLife is a compelling and memorable portrait that testifies to the strength and endurance of the human spirit.
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.