Happy Purim!


Since Purim begins this Saturday night, I thought I’d feature a Purim-themed excerpt. Chapter 3, “Happy Purim,” of the book formerly known as The Very Next, takes place on 4 March 1939 (also a Saturday). It’s interspersed with public domain photos of illuminated Megillot (scrolls of the Book of Esther) and a few vintage photographs. Sadly, it’s very hard to find vintage greeting cards for any Jewish holiday except Rosh Hashanah.


That evening, Sparky reached into Cinni’s closet for her Purim costume, a Gypsy outfit she’d put together with Cinni’s help.  The dress was peacock-green, with long, flowing sleeves, a floor-length skirt, and a modest neckline.  To transform it from just an ordinary but fancy dress into a real costume, Sparky wrapped herself in a deep blue silk scarf, wrapped her hair in a dark orange velvet scarf, and exchanged her French hook ruby earrings for huge gold hoops she’d picked up at an indoor flea market last month.

“Now why are you perfectly okay with wearing a costume for this holiday, but you felt wrong for wearing a Halloween costume?” Cinni asked. “It’s exactly the same, just for a different holiday.”

“They’re completely different holidays,” Sparky said. “Purim is a Jewish holiday, and Halloween is a pagan holiday.  They’re celebrated for totally different reasons, and have completely different origins.  There are no Purim costumes with stuff like pumpkins, bats, spiders, and witches.  Even the treats we give out are different.”

“So you’re going trick-or-treating after you do your thing at synagogue?”

“We don’t trick-or-treat.  We exchange gift baskets with stuff like money and hamentaschen.  None of the gift baskets have stuff like chocolate bars, caramels, and whatever else you got on Halloween.”

“You get treats for doing nothing?”

“It ain’t nothing.  You wouldn’t get treats unless you were a member of the synagogue, or we knew you.  It ain’t a mitzvah to give Gentiles mishloach manot, but we’ll give you one ‘cause we love you so much.”


Sparky finished changing into her costume and headed downstairs to join her family.  Cinni sat at the top of the stairs and watched them heading off to synagogue.  Mr. and Mrs. Small were dressed rather boringly, as an Army officer and flapper.  Cinni wondered where Mr. Small had found the vintage military uniform with all the medals and insignia.  He’d been too young to serve in the Great War, and since it was an American uniform, it obviously hadn’t belonged to any of his ancestors or older relatives.  Gary, just turned fifteen, was dressed just as boringly, as a sailor.

Of all their costumes, Cinni liked best Sparky’s Gypsy costume and Barry’s toreador costume.  It reminded her of Rudolph Valentino’s suit of lights in Blood and Sand, in one of the vintage movie advertisements of her namesake which she’d collected over the years.  If Barry were this beautiful from a distance, she could only imagine how much more dashing he’d look when he came back later tonight and she’d be able to see him up-close and from the front.


Cinni spent the next few hours listening to the radio and reading movie magazines, ignoring her small pile of homework.  She almost always saved homework for the very last moment, as many times as her mother begged her to do it immediately instead of the night or morning before.  Only the Nobodies liked homework and did it right away.

Cinni didn’t have particularly hard homework, nothing more than a few worksheets with math problems or vocabulary lists in English, French, Italian, and Portuguese.  This was nothing that needed lots of time to complete, like a twenty-page research paper or complicated trigonometry problems.  Life should be about having fun, particularly now that the wolf had been chased away from the door.  She’d had enough hard times in the first few years of the decade, hardships enough to last for the rest of her life.


Near the time the Smalls were expected to come home, Cinni left her amusements and went downstairs to wait on the davenport.  Lucinda was on one of the other cushions, bent over the spring dresses she’d begun making for her nieces and daughter several weeks ago.  Every year, Lucinda made the girls special spring dresses from repurposed materials found around the house.  Last year, they’d been made from quilts, and this year, they were being fashioned from curtains.

The materials in prior years had included pillowcases, lightweight blankets, bedsheets, silk shawls from London, scarves from Los Angeles, pillow shams, satin bonnets from Amsterdam, and cloth shower curtains.  Before the Stock Market Crash, the family’s spring wardrobe had come from expensive catalogues and upscale department stores.  It amazed Cinni how Lucinda could be frugal and ingenious in this way, but otherwise waste so much money on fancy house embellishments and overpriced clothes for herself.


“You want a change of scenery from that boring little sewing room?” Cinni asked. “It musta been hard to lug that big old sewing machine here.”

Lucinda sighed. “How can I concentrate in there anymore, now that I have a roommate?  Samantha shows no signs of moving out, though I don’t know how she can bear to sleep on that little cot.  Your father told her she could share the attic with you and Sparky, but she likes my sewing room more.  Maybe she thinks she’s being some holy Christian martyr by depriving herself of a real bed.”

“Martyr, nothing!” Urma shouted from across the room. “My girl ain’t gonna share her sleeping quarters with some Yid!  Bad enough we have to share living quarters with five of ‘em indefinitely.  If she were younger, I’d insist she sleep in the bed Mortez and I got.  But a sewing room cot is still a bed, however pathetic.”


“I’m going to need my sewing room back eventually.  I can handle a few days of being displaced, but I can’t keep sewing in other rooms, without any privacy.  Perhaps you and your daughter don’t understand that room is my castle, my special place all my own in this house.  I’ve always been happy to live with my dear sister’s family, but it’s nice to have a small room all my own, where I can go to be alone with my thoughts and not be bothered or distracted by anyone or anything else.”

“It’s true,” Cinni says. “Aunt Lucinda is constantly holed up in that precious sewing room of hers.  It’s her special place, and not very nice to intrude upon it.  I hope Sam ain’t gonna steal nothing from it, though it ain’t like Aunt Lucinda generally sews with fancy stuff like golden thread and silk cloth.”

“Stealing is against the Bible!” Urma thundered “My girl would never steal anything!  And why do you have such awful grammar?  I don’t want words like ‘ain’t’ and double negatives to rub off on my girl.  That’s not how proper, civilized people speak.”


“It’s how my niece talks,” Lucinda said protectively, putting her arm around Cinni. “Most of the people in this neighborhood talk like that, even the rich people.  We live in a very strange neighborhood.  It’s hardly a crime to not speak the King’s English.  Cinni’s not hurting anyone by saying ‘ain’t’ or using double negatives most of the time.  She does use proper English sometimes, so it’s not like she’s ignorant of the existence of more refined grammar.  It’s the same way with how she speaks Russian with her father’s mother, and how my sister and I speak Polish with our parents.  You speak differently depending upon your audience.”

Urma screamed and made a hex sign. “You mean to say I’m not only sharing living space with five Yids, but also with sub-human Slavs?  I had no idea Mortez’s friend had a Pollack wife and was part Russian.”

“Yes, my sister and I are almost entirely of Polish blood, and damn proud of it.  Our maiden name is Radulski, and our birth names are Łucja and Katarzyna.  We’ve been in this country for a very long time, since the early days of Polish immigration.  H.G.’s mother is Russian, and he was born in St. Petersburg.  Since he came to America when he was only twelve, he doesn’t have a Russian accent anymore.”


Urma was weeping. “I don’t want to live in this house anymore.  This is such a nightmare Mortez sprung on me.  I want to go back to D.C.  My sister Ursula would take us in, even if she’s got seven kids.  There’d only be eleven people in her home, as compared to seventeen here.”

“Well, it’s too late to move now,” Mortez spoke up softly. “I’m already looking for jobs here, and I’ve gotten attached to this city in the last few days.  It’s much less crowded and fast-paced than Washington.  Don’t make me move when I’ve barely started to get settled into a new place.  I’m happy here so far, and I wasn’t very happy in Washington.  This is one issue you can’t push me around regarding.  We’re staying in Atlantic City.”

Urma growled and stalked out of the room.


“Why do you let your wife railroad over you so much?” Cinni asked after she was positive Urma was well out of earshot. “She’s even worse than the wives in Laurel and Hardy’s movies.  That’s just make-believe, and those wives ain’t really bullies or mean.  Your wife is a whole different type of henpecker.”

“She is who she is.  I can’t change that.  Sometimes we fall in love with a person with a really bad character flaw, and we have to ignore it because we love the person so much otherwise.”

“That’s more than just a character flaw like always being late or being a bad cook.  She’s outright mean, and a religious fanatic.”

“I agree, but I can’t do anything about it.  She wasn’t a fanatic when we were growing up.  That only happened after Samantha was born.  An intolerant fanatic wouldn’t have had a child out of wedlock, let alone gotten in the family way at just fifteen.”

“You can say ‘pregnant’ around me, Mr. Smart.  I ain’t some little glass flower who’s never heard that word before.  No matter what my mom thinks, I don’t consider words like ‘pregnant’ and ‘uterus’ dirty.  There are some words I refuse to say or write, but I don’t mind the milder, more basic words for adult things.”


Mortez stared at her. “Aren’t you a young spitfire.  You remind me a bit of what Urma was like before that damned Minister Hodges corrupted her mind against reality and normalcy.  By the way, you don’t have to call me Mr. Smart.  My wife and I prefer to be called by our first names, even if it’s not considered proper etiquette.  It just feels so strange to go by titles when we’re not even thirty yet.  My father is Mr. Smart, but I’m just Mortez.”

“So, can I ask where your first name came from?  I’ve never heard that name before.  It sounds a little Spanish, but you can’t be Spanish with a last name like Smart.”

“My parents are of German descent, but not completely knowledgeable about the language.  They wanted to call me Moritz, but misremembered the name.  It was too late by the time they realized they’d made an embarrassing mistake.”

“That’s kinda like my name.  I know my name isn’t spelt properly, but I’m so used to the way my mom spelt it, the so-called real spelling looks odd to me.  The pronunciation is a lot more obvious with my so-called misspelling.  I’m glad my daddy’s mom didn’t get her way and name me Alexa, ‘cause that’d be too confusing in my circle of friends.  We already have an Alexandria Kate, and we couldn’t both have the same nicknames.” Cinni leapt up at the sound of the doorbell.


To Cinni’s great delight, Barry was the first person behind the door.  He looked just as beautiful in the suit of lights as she suspected he would.  Best of all, he had a big smile for her, and what she almost thought were a special look in his eyes.

“This is yours,” Barry said, extending a large basket. “I’ve never given mishloach manot to Gentiles before, but everyone in your family deserves one for being so good to us.  Without your father, we’d still be in Europe, with God knows what kind of future.”

Cinni returned the smile and eagerly took the basket.  She headed back to the davenport with it, and delightedly discovered oranges, hamentaschen, saltwater taffy, gumdrops, chocolate-covered peanuts, a bottle of grape pop, and five silver dollars.

“I packed that one just for you,” Barry said, smiling at her again. “I know what a sweet tooth you have.  You’d never be happy with the mishloach manot we made for your parents and siblings.”

“Thank you very much.  You’re really swell to be so nice to someone your kid sister’s age.  I still can’t believe you let me be a guest of honor at your bar mitzvah.”

“I don’t care how young you are.  You’re a nice girl, and that’s all that matters.”


Cinni looked through the contents of the basket over and over again, daydreaming about being old enough for a boyfriend in a few years and doing boy-girl things with Barry.  Forget about her fantasy crush on John.  Almost every girl in town had a crush on John, and at eighteen, he was far too old for her.  Even if Cinni were eighteen herself, she’d still think the age difference were too large, never mind that her belovèd father had been twenty-five to her mother’s eighteen at their wedding.  That was different and special, and had happened in another generation besides.  But Barry wasn’t that much older than she was.  Their age difference was large enough to be exciting, but not so large it would be inappropriate once their ages leveled out a bit more.  Only time could tell if her dream would come true someday.

“Happy Purim, Barry,” she said with a smile.

A primer on Yiddish names

To mark the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and acknowledging the fact that the Shoah made Yiddish an endangered language (killing 85% of its speakers), I decided to cover Yiddish names today. Regardless of my own feelings about the language (or, more accurately, what it represents), I really am sorry it’s become a dying language.

Yiddish is only one of many distinctive Jewish languages which arose in the Europe and Asia of yore. Others include the Spanish-influenced Ladino (my favorite!), Zapharatic (a.k.a. Judeo-French), Judeo-Italian, Judeo-Provençal, Judeo-Georgian, Yevanic (a.k.a. Judeo-Greek and Romaniyot), Judeo-Malayalam (spoken in India), Krymchak (a Turkic language spoken in the Crimea), and Lishanid Noshan (a.k.a. Neo-Aramaic).

Yiddish evolved from Middle High German, and indeed bears a strong resemblance to German. It also takes influence from the Slavic languages, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Conversely, some languages, like Hungarian, took a good number of loanwords from Yiddish (and Hebrew).

By the Shoah, most native speakers were from Eastern Europe. Apart from extremely religious communities, it was no longer the majority language in places like Hungary, Germany, France, and Austria. It’s no accident it fell into disfavor in the countries that granted emancipation!

My characters the Roblenskies, a family of twelve orphaned siblings and their surviving aunt Etke Berkowitz, are native Yiddish-speakers from Warsaw. The teen girl whom Etke meets in the camps and adopts after the war, Tekla (Tecia) Czernowicz, is also a native speaker. Some of my other characters understand the language, but it’s not their first language.


Yiddish is written in Hebrew letters, though transliteration varies, both upon personal preference and dialect. It doesn’t follow the pronunciation rules of modern Hebrew, which is based on Sephardic and not Ashkenazic pronunciation. For example, Yiddish-speakers pronounce the letter ת as an S where there’s no dot inside (which is total nails on a chalkboard for me!). Modern Hebrew pronounces it as a T, dot or not. They also often pronounce an A sound as an O. Some dialects render A as U.


Yiddish nicknames are frequently formed by adding -el, -l, -leh, or some variation of the -ie/y/i sound to the end of a name. There are also irregular exceptions, like getting Motl/Mottel from Mordechai.


We’re probably all familiar with Ashkenazic Jewish surnames. Many of them have origins in German words and names, while Russian Jewish surnames often end in -kin(a), as opposed to the more Russian Christian ending -in(a). Spellings vary by the conventions of their host culture. Examples include Weisz/Weiss, Katz, Kaganowitz, Davidovics, Karfinkel, Goldschmidt, Goldmark, Feinstein, Müller, Goldblatt, Greenblatt, Kurzweil, Rozental, Rosenberg, and Sterngold.

Sample names:


Aidel, Eidel (Delicate)
Alte (Old; traditionally given to babies not expected to live so the Angel of Death would be confused)
Avigal, Avigali (Abigail)

Baila, Bayla, Beila, Beile, Beyle, Beyla (White) (the fifth and last of Tevye’s seven daughters to get a story in the book Fiddler on the Roof was based on)
Basya, Basel, Batka, Basha (Bassie, Bassy) (Daughter of God)
Berte (Knoll)
Berura (Pure)
Bina (Bee)
Bluma, Blima (Flower)
Bobe (Grandmother) (traditionally given for the same reason as Alte)
Bodhana (Gracious God)
Brandel (Little flame)
Breindel, Breindl (Brunette)
Brocha (Blessing)

Charna, Charne, Cherne, Cherna (Black)
Derozha, Dreyze (My dear little one)
Devoyre, Devoire (Deborah)
Dine (Dina)
Dobe, Doba (Good)
Dova (Bear)
Dreisel, Dreisl (Drusilla)

Enye (Grace)
Etke (Esther)
Faiga, Feige, Feiga, Faigel, Feigel (Bird) (always hated this name!)
Feitel (Full of life)
Fraida, Freyde, Fraide, Freida, Frayda, Freyda (Joy)
Fruma, Frima, Frimet (Pious)

Gavrela (Gabriella)
Gitl, Gittel, Guta, Gute, Gite (Good)
Gluke, Glike (Good luck)
Golda (Gold)
Gruna, Grunnah, Grunah (Green)
Hena, Hene, Henye, Henda, Khana, Khane (Hannah)
Hinda (Deer)
Hode, Hadass (Hadassah)
Hudes (Judith)

Kayla, Kaila, Keila, Keyla (Crown of laurels) (a real name long before it was used on a soap opera character!)
Ketzel, Ketzeleh (Kitten) (usually used as a nickname, but sometimes as a legal name)
Kreine, Kroyne, Kreindel, Kreindl (Crown)
Kressel, Kresel, Kressia (Gracia)

Leiba (Lion)
Leya (Leah)
Liba, Liebe (Loved)
Maidel (Young girl)
Matel (Matilda)
Mazyl, Mazal, Mazel

Nesya, Nessia, Nisl, Nissel (Miracle of God)
Perle, Perele (Pearl)
Pesha, Pessie, Pesse (Passover)
Raisa, Raizel, Raisel, Rayzl, Royze (Rose)
Rayna, Raina, Reina (Pure, clean)
Rifke, Rifka, Riva (Rebecca)
Rikel (Rich)
Rochel, Ruchel
Ronna (Joy)

Shayna, Shaina, Shaine, Sheine (Beautiful)
Shoni (Beautiful)
Shprintze, Shprintza (Hope) (the fourth of Tevye’s daughters to get a story in the book)
Shterna (Star)
Sisel, Zisel, Zusa, Zisa (Sweet) (Cecilia)
Sura, Sora (Suri, Tzeitel, Tzeitl, Tzeril, Tzerl, Zirel)

Taube, Tauba, Tobe, Toba (Teibel) (Dove)
Tema (Tamar)
Tilla (Tehilla) (Psalm)
Tirze (Favorable)
Toltsa, Toltse, Teltse, Telze (Sweet)
Treindl, Treindel (Katherine)
Tzitte (Energetic)
Tzurtel, Zortel (Gentle, tender)

Vardiya, Vardit (Rose)
Velvela (Wolf) (Wilhelmina)
Yache, Yachet (Yocheved or Jacinta)
Yente (Gossip)
Yentl (Noble, aristocratic)
Yetta, Yitty (Esther, Judith, or Etta)

Zelda, Zelde (Happy, blessed)
Zemira (Song, melody)
Zerlina, Zerline
Zlate (Gold)


Alter (Old)
Amshel, Amschel (Thrush)
Anshel, Anschel (Angel)
Avrum (Abraham)

Bailem (He who watches over his siblings) (traditionally given to a firstborn son)
Benesh, Bendit (Benedict)
Ber (Beryl, Berel) (Bear)
Bunem (Good man)

Chatzkel, Haskel, Khaskl, Khatskel (Ezekiel)
Chayim, Chaim, Haym, Haim (Life)
Dovid, Duvid
Eisik (Isaac)
Elye (Elijah)
Evron (Ephraim)

Faitel (Full of life)
Fayvish, Faivish, Feibush (Pure, bright) (also used as a translation of Samson)
Fishel (Little fish)
Gavrel (Gabriel)
Herschel, Hershel, Hersh, Hersch, Hirsh, Hirsch, Hirshel, Heshel (Deer)
Herz, Herzl (Heart) (Naftali)
Heynoch (Enoch)
Hyman (Man)

Iser, Issur, Sruel, Srul, Sroel, Sruli, Yisroel (Israel)
Kalman, Kalmen (Beautiful name) (not to be confused with the Hungarian name Kálmán)
Lazar, Lazer (Eliezer)
Leib, Liev (Lion)
Lieber (Belovèd)
Lipa, Lipman (Belovèd man)

Manis, Manes
Maylech, Mailech, Meilech (Elimelech)
Mendel (Frequently used as a middle name for Menachem, of which Mendel is itself a nickname. Many Menachem Mendels simply go by Mendel or Mendy.)
Moishe, Movcha (Moses)
Motel, Motl, Mottel, Moti, Motti (Mordechai)

Noson, Nosson (Nathan)
Nussim, Nusim (Miracles)
Pinkus (Pinchas, Phineas)
Refoel, Rifoel (Raphael)

Schneur (Master)
Shlomo, Scholem (Solomon)
Selig, Zelig (Happy, blessed)
Sender (Alexander)
Shimmel (Simon)
Shmiel, Shmuely, Shmil, Shmul (Samuel)
Sholom (Shalom) (Peace)

Tevye (Tobias)
Todrus (Theodore)
Velvel (Wolf) (William)
Yankel, Kapel, Koppel (Jakob)
Yidel, Yidl, Yudel, Yudl (Judah)
Yusl, Yussel (Joseph)
Zalman (Solomon)
Zeyde, Zaide (Grandfather) (traditionally used for the same reason as Alte/Alter)
Zusman (Sweet man)

WeWriWa—Csilla’s surprise

Happy heavenly 98th birthday to my favorite writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn!


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a few lines after last week’s, when Imre asked Csilla if she’d like to light a chanukiyah too. Csilla thinks he’s bought her one as a present, but her guess is only half-right.


Chanukah 1945, DP camp in Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany (Source)

The chanukiyah she withdrew from the bag was none other than her family’s old chanukiyah, which her mother had bought from an upscale shop when she was away at university in Budapest in 1911.  It was made of fused glass of a rainbow of colors resembling a patchwork quilt, with sterling silver candle holders.  Some wax from Chanukah 1943 was still on it, an eternal reminder of what once had been.

Csilla couldn’t help but wonder if Hungarian Jewry would’ve made it to the end of the war still as intact as possible had Horthy not decided to break his alliance with Germany.  It would probably be a forever unanswered question, just as she sometimes wondered what might’ve happened had the Allies bombed the train tracks and the camps.

“Now I like you more than before.” Csilla put her free arm around him. “I’d prefer if you hadn’t risked your life and liberty to break into the house and dig up those valuables, but I’m so happy you were able to recover some of my things.  There’s less of a hole in my heart now.”

Csilla set the chanukiyah on the table and filled the holders with orange candles.


One of many fused glass chanukiyot made by legendary Judaica artist Tamara Baskin

Imre and his sister Júlia weren’t smuggled out of Soviet-controlled Hungary with the others because Imre was determined to dig up Csilla’s valuables and take revenge on the gendarme who tortured her and moved into her house after her family were deported.

Imre found the valuables, along with a sled in a dark corner, but he also ran into a lot of trouble with the gendarme. Though Imre has always been a lover instead of a fighter, he couldn’t control himself for long, and began violently beating the gendarme in a white-hot rage. During the altercation, he accidentally punched a brick wall with his left hand (his dominant hand), and broke every bone in that hand and wrist.

Imre has been giving her back her recovered valuables one at a time, so Csilla will have many more surprises to look forward to. She doesn’t yet know he indeed found everything on the list she gave him.

WeWriWa—Candles and food


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a few lines after last week’s, when a most exquisite Italian Chanukah feast was being prepared. Enough food was made to last the entire holiday.

A few of my characters were able to recover possessions after the war, and so have chanukiyot to light.


Chanukah during the Yom Kippur War, 1973, Copyright Matanya (Flickr), Source

Once the table was set with chicken, stuffed mushrooms, kugel, fried eggplant, deep-fried artichokes, eggplant salad, and both kinds of latkes, Caterina filled the little bowls of her chanukiyah with olive oil, Eszter set red candles in hers, Jákob set green candles in Rebeka’s chanukiyah, Klaudia set white candles in Lea’s chanukiyah, and Aranka set purple candles in her chanukiyah.

There was melted, hardened wax on Lea and Rebeka’s chanukiyot, a wordless reminder of how their owners had been alive last Chanukah.  So much had changed in that one year.  Last year at this time, many more of their friends had still been alive too, no matter under which kind of bestial circumstances.  A life of suffering was still a life.

Imre disappeared into his room and came back with the orange gift bag. “Would you like to light too, Csicsi?” He smiled at her, his puppy dog eyes soft and warm.

“With what chanukiyah, something you bought me as a present?” Csilla took the bag and pulled out the object that felt like a chanukiyah.

Deep-fried artichoke, Copyright Signor DeFazio, Source Flickr

WeWriWa—A new kind of atonement


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes from my WIP, The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, and is the conclusion of the first section of Chapter 29, “A New Kind of Atonement.”

It’s September 1945, and my characters have recently moved to Budapest from Abony so they can be in a much larger Jewish community. They’re attending services at the Great Synagogue of Budapest on Dohány Utca (Street), in the uniquely Hungarian Neolog denomination. It’s sort of like liberal Modern Orthodoxy or very, very old-school Conservative Judaism.

Parts of the synagogue are in ruins (along with 80% of the entire city), and about 2,000 people who died in the Budapest Ghetto are buried in the courtyard. There’s also the chilling knowledge that during the occupation, Eichmann had his office in the women’s gallery. Needless to say, the autumn holidays haven’t been very happy so far.


Dohány Utca Synagogue, Copyright Gabor Dvornik

The sounds of Kol Nidre commingled and competed with the sobs and shrieks they’d come to expect here.  Beyond remembering all the people who’d been with them last year at this time, surely many people were thinking of the promises, vows, and oaths they’d made in the best of faith but been unable to keep because of the forces of evil.

Eszter thought back to one of the film festivals she’d gone to with Mirjam, before the war, when foreign films were still allowed.  The climactic Yom Kippur scene from The Jazz Singer came into her head, as Al Jolson’s character chose his faith over his career, at least for that one night.  He sang with a tear in his voice, his soul and identity laid bare, in spite of his attempts to hide behind blackface and a de-Judaized name.

Perhaps Kálmán was right, and they’d be better-off in their own homeland, without having to resort to similar hiding measures and make the Gentiles think they were better, different, more modern than those people who lived in self-imposed ghettos.  The cataclysm they’d just lived through had struck everyone, the insular as well as assimilated.  Now it was up to them to rebuild the remnants and replant the uprooted trees.

Next autumn, I’ll be doing a series on The Jazz Singer at 90, exploring a lot of different topics related to the film, the transition from silent to sound film, and so much more. I’m really looking forward to researching and writing this series.

Halloween-themed posts begin next week!