Today is a special day: It’s the official “pub date” for my debut short-story collection, Quiet Americans, which is being released by Last Light Studio, a new, Boston-based micropress.
It is also a special day on an even more personal level: It is the 70th anniversary of the date on which my paternal grandparents, Ruth and Sam Dreifus, German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s and met here in Manhattan, were married.
In this wedding photograph, my grandparents are pictured front and center, cutting their cake. Although I can’t help being struck, as I always am when I look at this photo, by the many absences — of parents and siblings, aunts and uncles — and by the evidence that my grandmother had no money to spare for a traditional wedding dress (the fancy cake might have been a benefit of my grandfather’s job as a baker), I’m equally moved by the presence of family and friends celebrating with the bridal couple. For my grandparents were, indeed, surrounded by family and friends, including Rabbi Herbert Parzen, who officiated that January day in 1941 and performed my parents’ wedding ceremony 25 years later as well.
Rabbi Parzen (second from the left, standing next to the bride) was family andfriend: His wife, Sylvia (front row, second from the right, beside the groom), was a cousin of my grandmother’s. As an American, Aunt Sylvia, as my sister and I called her, helped facilitate my grandmother’s immigration to the United States in 1938, just months before the Kristallnacht. It was in New York that my grandmother found her groom, who had emigrated from Germany the previous year.
In fact, my grandparents met through another émigré present in this photograph: my great-uncle Berthold (“Bob,” seen in profile on the far left). My grandmother had become friends with Bob, and when she went to his boarding-house to pay him a get-well visit while he was recovering from pneumonia, my grandfather — Bob’s older brother — was there, too.
Without the people you see in this photograph, then, many lives would have been dramatically altered, and some (mine included) would not have come to be. Without them, there would be no book, either, because Quiet Americans is inspired so profoundly by the stories that have come to me from my father’s family, and by my preoccupations with the historical legacy I have inherited as a granddaughter of two Jews who were lucky enough to escape Europe in time, and marry in New York City seventy years ago today.
Erika Dreifus’s latest book, Birthright: Poems, was published by Kelsay Books in November 2019. Her short-story collection Quiet Americans was named an American Library Association/Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title for outstanding achievement in Jewish literature. An Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Baruch College of The City University of New York, Erika is deeply engaged with and conversant in contemporary literature, publishing, and Jewish writing. She is also the editor and publisher of The Practicing Writer, a free (and popular) e‑newsletter that features opportunities and resources for fictionists, poets, and writers of creative nonfiction.