Reviewed by Marilyn Herbert
The newest collection of Liz Pearl’s stories — Living Legacies: A Collection of Narratives by Contemporary Canadian Jewish Women (Volume V) — is a welcome addition to the series. As Pearl assembles the thoughts of women in each volume, new ideas and connections emerge.
As Pearl herself admits, she is in her 50s — midway through her life’s journey. With each publication, more of Pearl is revealed to herself and to each of her readers. The usual familiar topics are present: food, tikkun olam, education, family, identity, love, and loyalty. They are bound up with the ribbons of tradition and community. They show a strong bond between the generations and promote one of Judaism’s most loved values — l’dor v’dor — the giving from one generation to the next.
Whether it is blintzes or knishes, everyone’s favourite time is sharing food with friends and family. There are traditional foods eaten at holiday times or for Shabbat, and there are traditional foods that come from a variety of geographical locations. After all, the Jews have been scattered over the globe for centuries and have picked up great culinary tips. These food ideas have been passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter and will hopefully continue.
Sara Aharon had an aversion to all of her mother’s home-cooked meals, but loved the blintzes that she helped make. These “thin, smooth, white and velvety flat cakes filled with sweet or savoury fillings” kick-started her interest in other foods. When she had children of her own, she enjoyed seeing their interest and love of food, and of course, the one thing she took from her own mother was the making of blintzes with her children as assistants. Blintzes have “become part of our family lore.”
Dorothy Rusoff’s mother and aunts made strudel and knishes for special family events. This was a multi-handed event that took most of the day. Circumstances interfered with the closeness of mother and daughter, but the one bond that existed was food, knishes in particular.
Food is not the only thing that binds Jewish generations. Traditions that circle weddings, birth, and death are also part of the rotating cycle of life.
Rhonda Spivak describes a Jewish communal wedding ring, “several inches high that was designed to resemble a three-storey synagogue.” Unbelievably, it contains a miniature bimah (the raised part of the synagogue where the Torah is read communally) with an open Torah scroll and the inscription of part of the traditional seven wedding blessings that have been continuously repeated for thousands of years.
Immersing oneself in the community mikvah (a ritual bath containing moving water) is a place a new bride goes prior to her wedding or a woman to cleanse herself after her menstrual cycle. Tirzah Tward was not convinced of its purpose or meaning until she finished the immersion. “Fully submerged, I felt at peace … It was a beautiful light place I had found and I wished to stay … I was ready in a way I had never imagined.” She considers her emotional reward to be her two “mikvah babies,” her sons who were conceived shortly after visits to the mikvah, where she was able to “wash away all that was dead, in preparation for new life.”
Handling death is an additional obligation for the living to carry out. Once the person has died and has had shiva for him or her, there is the anniversary of that death, called “yahrzeit” — an annual remembrance of the loved one who has passed away. Linda Rosenbaum decided after the 20th anniversary of her father’s passing, to go to synagogue in lieu of simply lighting a memorial candle.
She found this somewhat frightening, as she was not used to attending services in her adult years. It involved going up to the bimah and reciting an aliyah, a blessing before reading from the Torah. Thanks to modern technology, there is a site on YouTube called “Prayer-eoke” which teaches you the words and melody to this and any other blessing. Linda practised and was ready. On the bimah, she felt at one with her father, whom she knew would have been very proud. She had crossed an important bridge in pursuing her Jewish identity.
Much has been made of Jewish mothers in comedy, theatre, film, song, and literature, and most of the stories in Pearl’s collection are dedicated to mothers. After all, they are the ones to pass on the knowledge, emotion, and love of Jewish legacies to their children.
Liz Pearl is contemplative when thinking about the passage that her children have taken from early childhood into the abyss of university and coming adulthood. “We watch and wait as they navigate oncoming turbulence. It seems miraculous: they are launched into the universe, destined for all the awe, adventure, and heartache that life has to offer.” She concludes that the “joy is in the journey not the destination.” She has done her best and propelled her children with the best love and skills that she has been able to instill in the short years that they were all together.
If we can all feel lucky and have naches (simple pride and joy) at the end of the process, then we can share in Ruth Ladovsky’s moving tribute to her mother. Dora Ladovsky embodied the values of respect for tradition and love of family and transmitted those to her own children, who continued the legacy with their children. Much of her gift of life was her positive attitude: “Did I ever tell you how lucky I am?” And perhaps that is the central idea behind all of the love and legacies that Pearl’s writers offer in this current volume. Each edition, in turn, has led to this point.
Each time I have read a new publication of Living Legacies, I have thought deeply of my own parentage, history, and children. I am reinforced in my desire to carry on the traditions of my past and instill them into the next generation. My own mother, a Holocaust survivor, never really allowed me into the kitchen with her, but my observations were sharp. As we both grew older, she stood by me as I attempted some of the traditional foods that I enjoyed while growing up. As I took over the holidays, I made them all — chicken soup, challah, latkes, gefilte fish, charoseth, and even the chrain, horseradish for the Passover seder.
Now my daughter shares making the seder and other holidays with me. And I look forward to my very young grandchildren, who love observing Shabbat, becoming more involved in all the Jewish traditions and legacies. It is comforting to know that these will lovingly continue in all our families, despite the current insecure state of the world. These traditions and legacies are what make us strong.
To purchase any of the Living Legacy books, visit the publisher PK Press online. To arrange a reading or receive a copy of the submission guidelines to Volume VI, contact Liz Pearl directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.