Most stories involving American Jews involve some aspect of the Holocaust, whether it is escape from Hitler's Germany, the recounting of its horrors, or of post-war angst and guilt. Few books address pre-World War II Jewish life, and even fewer the life of Romanian Jews in early 20th century Florida. Juliene Berk's new book, Call Her Blessed, chronicles the life of Romanian Jewish immigrants. Centering on the author's mother Lara, and based on her diary written in what must be heavily accented English, the book, although a bit slow at first to hold your attention, develops into a gripping saga of life in the developing South in the early 20th century. Beginning with Iasi, Romania, the author gradually and painstakingly develops the story of Lara, starting with her childhood a rearing by relatives, her courtship by Bercu Bercovici, the author's father, their emigration to the US, and their life in Jacksonville, Florida. Although religious and ethnic persecution forms an understandable and important subtext in stories of Jewish life, the author, although describing several incidents, most which do not directly involve her family, keeps them peripheral to the fundamental theme. The story centers around the author's mother, whose courage, beauty, grace, strength, stamina, wisdom, patience, and big heart makes me wonder how so much goodness could be found in one person. Through this portrait, Ms. Berk provides a backdrop of the urbanizing South which is surprising in its seeming ethnic tolerance, progressive outlook, and prominence, now only recently being regained. Woven into the tale are two world wars, both of which directly affected the family, the deadly 1918 flu epidemic, the tragic lynching of Leo Frank in Atlanta, and the deadly, barbaric pogrom in Kishinev. Embellished with snippets from Lara's diary, photographs, and extrapolations based on the recollections of relatives and friends, Ms. Berk spins a compelling tale of cultural assimilation, idiosyncrasies, hardship, and success. Her family, despite numerous business successes and failures, and personal triumphs and tragedies, perseveres, multiplies, and prospers. Indeed, the book, for the atmosphere it conveys, is in essence a paean to Lara, whose love for her family and her family's love for her suffuses the book with a warm glow. For anyone who shares my Jewish Romanian/Florida background, this book is an absolute must. For those curious about lesser-known aspects of the early 20th century south, or for those interested in pre-World War II southern Jewish life, or about Jewish immigrant culture, it is highly recommended.
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Hugo von Hofmannsthal is credited with creating the greatest female character ever to tread the operatic boards--Marie Therese (Die Marschallin in the opera DER ROSENKAVALIER). She was his Muse, his Goddess, his ideal woman.
He created his GALATEA according to patriarchal culture which not only put a female Muse at the beck and call of the artist, but also dictated that ALL incarnations of Aphrodite--all females --be innately subservient to males.
In this play the artist's creation comes to life as a vibrant, seeking, uncertain, loving human being who is now free to be her SELF and to love whomever and however she chooses. This famous myth is stood on its heels breaking tradition by regarding it from the matriarchal point of view.