One of the most striking exhibits in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is the three towers of photographs taken in Eishyshok, documenting that shtetl’s Jewish life before it was destroyed by the Nazis. Viewers are encircled by 1,600 photographs collected by Dr. Yaffa Eliach, a professor at Brooklyn College who was born in Eishyshok. Now, Eliach has published a book that links together the moments captured in the photographs, presenting a full and textured description of the once vital community: It is a work about one town, with clues to many pasts.
In 1920, the Jewish population of Union City, Tenn., increased by 100 percent. That was the year the Bronson family moved there from New York, becoming the only Jewish family among close to 6,000 inhabitants, and the proprietors of “Bronson’s Low-Priced Store.”
When Rabbi Naomi Levy became the rabbi of Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, Calif., in 1989, she was 26, recently graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary. A member of the first seminary class to admit women to study for the rabbinate, she became the first female Conservative rabbi to lead a congregation on the West Coast. At first, she was treated like something of a curiosity, but after a short time, after several marriages, births, burials in the community, she went from being their “new young woman rabbi to being their rabbi.”
When Florence Greenglass and Sol Dubner converted from Judaism to Catholicism during World War II, it was as though a gate banged shut; neither looked back. Embracing Catholicism zealously, they broke with their families as well as their religion; Dubner’s father sat shiva. The pair met and married after each had converted independently; they became Veronica and Paul Dubner. Decades later, their son Stephen, the youngest of their eight children, unlocked the gate, opening to a renewed Jewish future.
That Chana Landau and a group of gay teenagers appear in the same novel would have been unthinkable to the Orthodox Brooklyn woman before she started teaching at Harvey Milk High School in Manhattan. She’s not sure her religion allows her to be in the same room as these wild street urchins, child prostitutes and largely unloved kids who have been down and out for most of their young lives. The alternative school is “as close to Sodom” as the 28- year-old thought she’d ever be.
Next June, Anne Frank would be 70 years old. Public interest in the young Anne Frank and her diary — an account of her 25 months hiding from the Nazis in a secret annex in Amsterdam, which has now been translated into 55 languages, with more than 25 million copies sold — is unceasing, with new editions of the diary, a recent revival of the Broadway play, documentary films, children’s books, dissertations and critical articles, with frequent contention between the people and organizations who claim to represent her interests.
More than 50 years after Hitler’s death, there’s no consensus among the many Holocaust scholars about the nature of his evil, his motivations, his self-awareness, his hiddenness. As journalist Ron Rosenbaum points out in his new book Explaining Hitler (Random House), there are many competing visions and passionate, bitter disputes.
Alan Lew was getting ready to sew his raksu, the garment worn by Buddhists for lay ordination, but he kept procrastinating. Instead, he wrote poetry and a monologue in the voice of his Bubbe Ida. With every stitch, he was supposed to say “I take refuge in the Buddha,” and he soon realized why he couldn’t sew at all: He felt he was betraying his Jewish soul.
It’s not unusual for strangers to tell Helen Epstein that she changed their lives. They’re referring to her 1979 book, “Children of the Holocaust,” which identified and described an experience that many sons and daughters of survivors shared but few discussed in public. After 18 years, that book — her first — remains in print, still selling.