Ear­li­er this week, Joan­na Her­shon wrote about an insult and a memo­r­i­al ser­vice she attend­ed for a friend’s father. Her new nov­el, A Dual Inher­i­tance, was pub­lished ear­li­er this month by Bal­lan­tine Books. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

My pater­nal grand­par­ents lived across from a canal in Long Beach on Long Island. We went to their house every week­end and — at least in the con­fus­ing palace of mem­o­ry — I spent much of my child­hood sit­ting on their porch, rock­ing back and forth on a glid­er in the shade. I remem­ber my grandmother’s pli­ant arms, her strong opin­ions, my grandfather’s wor­ry, his strength, his pale blue eyes. I could have lis­tened to them telling sto­ries for hours, and often did. 

Because my grand­fa­ther was reli­gious, it’s him that I think of first when I think of being Jew­ish: his broad back in his gray suit and his qui­et sense of bear­ing the weight of the world. I often think that if he were a foul-tem­pered man instead of gen­tle and beloved, I might have had neg­a­tive asso­ci­a­tions with Judaism. But my grand­fa­ther trudg­ing off to tem­ple is linked for me to how he was a land­lord who could nev­er bring him­self to col­lect rent if the tenant’s child played a musi­cal instru­ment; it’s linked to the poet­ic sto­ries he told me about how the blue­bird became blue. His Jew­ish­ness is linked with his good­ness, and I see him in every tal­is, every yarmulke. 

We tend to roman­ti­cize the past, the old­er gen­er­a­tion. They sang Passover songs with so much more feel­ing, with more gus­to than my par­ents. Now my par­ents are the eldest and they sing with more gus­to than me. In that house by the canal, there were so many great aunts and uncles: dash­ing and trou­bled, sweet-tem­pered and odd­ly for­mal, fat and fun­ny and weary. We miss our elders, their less pol­ished style; their more (how, exact­ly?) obvi­ous­ly Jew­ish voic­es. We miss their more direct line to the old coun­try — whichev­er coun­try, the bor­ders were always chang­ing — some­where in East­ern Europe. We miss them but we are not like them. We are more like every­one else. 

Read more about Joan­na Her­shon here.

Joan­na Her­shon is the author of the nov­els Swim­ming, The Out­side of August, The Ger­man Bride, and A Dual Inher­i­tance. Her writ­ing has appeared in Gran­ta, The New York Times, One Sto­ry, Vir­ginia Quar­ter­ly Review, and two lit­er­ary antholo­gies, Brook­lyn Was Mine and Freud’s Blind Spot. She is an adjunct assis­tant pro­fes­sor in the Cre­ative Writ­ing Depart­ment at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty and lives in Brook­lyn with her hus­band, the painter Derek Buck­n­er, their twin sons, and their daughter.