Jen­nifer Ros­ner is author of the pic­ture book, The Mit­ten String (Ran­dom House, 2014) and the mem­oir, If A Tree Falls: A Fam­i­ly’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard (Fem­i­nist Press, 2010). She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

In my mem­oir, If A Tree Falls, and more recent­ly in my pic­ture book, The Mit­ten String, there is a char­ac­ter mod­eled after my great-great aunt, Bay­la, who lived in an Aus­tri­an shtetl in the 1800s. Bay­la was deaf and when she had a baby – whom she could nei­ther see nor hear in the dark of night – she tied a string between them. When her baby cried, she felt the tug on her end of the string and woke to care for her child. 

Since first hear­ing of Bayla’s sto­ry, string imagery has wend­ed its way into my writ­ing: braid­ed strands of hair, vio­lin strings, umbil­i­cal cords, the cil­ia that are meant to send audi­to­ry sig­nals to the brain. Some of the imagery I’ve been drawn to is dis­tinc­tive­ly Jew­ish: the midwife’s string from a labor­ing mother’s bed to the synagogue’s ark door; the strings of the tzitz­it, the straps of the tefill­in wrapped around a wrist and the accom­pa­ny­ing verse from Hosea 2:20: You are betrothed to me in love and righteousness.” 

Per­haps my inter­est in Bayla’s string and oth­ers comes from my deep desire for moth­er­ly con­nec­tion. My own daugh­ters were born deaf as a result of Con­nex­in 26, a gene muta­tion preva­lent among Aske­nazi Jews. As a new moth­er, I feared a chasm between me and my girls because of the expe­ri­ences we would nev­er share. I was in search of ways to con­nect to them through the dif­fer­ence of my hear­ing and their deafness. 

Search­ing for path­ways of con­nec­tion with my daugh­ters – out­side and inside my writ­ing life – has led me to a deep­er under­stand­ing of myself and my his­to­ry, the ways I’ve expe­ri­enced hear­ing and being heard. As our fam­i­ly begins this new year togeth­er, the close­ness I have been able to forge with my daugh­ters feels like a gift passed down through the gen­er­a­tions, like a tug on the wrist that keeps us con­nect­ed, even in the dark of night. 

Jen­nifer Ros­ner’s writ­ings have appeared in The New York Times, Good House­keep­ing, The Jew­ish Dai­ly For­ward, The Mass­a­chu­setts Review, and else­where. Jen­nifer holds a Ph.D. in Phi­los­o­phy from Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, and is edi­tor of the anthol­o­gy, The Messy Self (Par­a­digm Pub­lish­ers, 2007). She lives in West­ern Mass­a­chu­setts with her family.

Relat­ed Content:

Jen­nifer Ros­ner is author of The Yel­low Bird Sings, a 2020 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award final­ist in Debut Fic­tion and Book Club. She also wrote the mem­oir If a Tree Falls: A Fam­i­ly’s Quest to Hear and be Heard, and the pic­ture book, The Mit­ten String, about deaf­ness in her fam­i­ly, which she has traced back to Gali­cia in the 1800s.