Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Jewish’

For All To See

Eating From The Cherry Tree: A Memoir of Sexual Epiphany by Vivien Ella Walden. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

513GeUVKRDLVivien Walden has been inundated with sex throughout her life – both for business and pleasure. It is her curiosity, experience, understanding and insight of such, that make this memoir come to life. Eating From The Cherry Tree delves deeply into sexuality, and looks closely at Ms. Walden’s family history, childhood, the times she has lived in (late fifties through the present), and the legal, cultural and environmental circles within which she has moved and been influenced by.

Yes, there are many descriptions of all kinds of sex imaginable (or not) within these pages, and… it is accompanied by astute psychological, and emotional awareness. There is a big difference between labeling someone by their profession, and getting to know them as a human being.

“Being a stripper, call girl, hooker, or madam, you have to know how to dance to the music, be a good actress, stand up to the toughest deal with the law, and paint your own picture for all to see.” Thus, a young Jewish girl from Salford, England learns from mentors, friends, and colleagues, how to get what she desires, make a living doing so, and travels far and wide to both entertain and find self-fulfillment. Though I’ve never experienced most of what the author speaks of, her descriptions are presented so realistically, that readers’ may feel as if they are in the room (or wherever the event is occurring), taking notes or personally involved. It can be quite visceral.

What surprised me most about this well-written memoir is the depth of emotion, caring, and connection that the author has, not only for friends, partners, and colleagues, but also for her clients. She has worked as an actress, stripper, hostess, call girl, and madam. In all her endeavors, she strives to do her best to provide release and comfort for those she serves, and support those that work with her. In the process, she also attained a sense of control and security. “I always regarded myself as more of a burlesque dancer than a stripper, although the element of ‘tease’ is key. It is the act of combining direct eye contact and body language to convey sexiness to the audience. In any event, taking my clothes off didn’t give me a feeling of power, charming the audience did.”

Eating From The Cherry Tree explores our needs, fantasies, and desires. What Ms. Walden has come to understand, and conveys so beautifully, is that most everyone wishes to be loved, touched, wanted, and affirmed for who they are. This is most evident in her personal relationships (with husband Billy, and other boyfriends, girlfriends, and co-workers), and when she experiences a life-threatening medical emergency and a car accident. There are times when she describes sex as purely a physical transaction; other times that are for her own pleasure, and many occasions when the two have coincided. Thus, this book (and the author) not only have an abundance of sex, but also an abundance of heart. Her profession is undoubtably one of entertainment and acting, but there is also a big dose of kindness and insight for good measure.


I Like Writing About Sex

Donna Minkowitz: Growing Up and Writing It All Down
Posted on 15. Dec, 2013 by Sarah Burghauser
From Lambda Literary

Donna-MinkowitzThis past October, former Village Voice contributor and activist journalist Donna Minkowitz released her hot-blooded new memoir, Growing Up Golem (Magnus), about her struggle with the inhibitive physical condition RSI, her injurious family history, and the intimacy of abuse.

In an email exchange with the Lambda Literary award winner, Donna discussed the roles of fantasy, identity, and writing sex in Growing Up Golem.

I’d like to start with a quote from your book: “I have never felt particularly Jewish or lesbian. I identify much more, I say, as a sort of sexy, holy kid on a motorcycle. The kid may be male. He’s an effeminate boy with long hair. I think he has pork remnants on his fingers.”

When I read these lines I began to wonder if you consider your book to be more of a queer memoir? A Jewish memoir? A disability memoir? Or something else entirely? In other words, is there a particular part of your story that you see as the northern star? A theme more naturally fertile or interesting to you as a writer?

The reader should bear in mind that I’m saying these words at a very particular moment in the book; this is not always how I feel. (In the book, I’m saying those words as a member of a panel on “Jewish Lesbian Writers,” and of course I immediately feel the ways I don’t fit in that box.) Actually, I find I’m feeling both more “Jewish” (in terms of culture, not religion) and more “lesbian” as I get older. As to the rest of your question, the book is all of them and more! It’s also a memoir mixed with Tolkien-style fantasy. It’s impossible to separate the different aspects of it, just as it would be impossible to separate me into the queer Donna, the working-class Donna, the fantasy geek Donna and so on. Which is appropriate, because it’s a book about becoming whole.

When you read your book now, do you still see the Donna Minkowitz in the book as yourself or as a character? How much distance do you have now, or did you have during the writing process, from the “protagonist”?

Someone said about memoir, the writer must know more than the narrator, and the narrator must know more than the character. So there are really three Donnas here, the writer, the narrator (the voice telling the story), and the character (the person described as going through the events in the story).

I needed to have a great deal of distance during the writing process, because I think the whole point of doing a memoir is to really observe yourself and attempt to write about yourself with some insight. That’s only possible if you try to step away and really look at the things you do.

But of course, it’s also me. The Donna in the book does all the things I did, and goes through the same travails.

The sex scenes in the book are very powerful–the writing really stands out in these scenes. Can you talk a little bit about the experience of writing sex, specifically with this character?

I like writing about sex, and in particular, writing about real sexual and sensual experiences. Partly because I think the reality of sexual experiences is often elided in writing into something less ambiguous or ambivalent than sexual experiences often feel. All of the emotions and sensations you may feel at a particular time of having sex – fear, discomfort, and annoyance or anger, as well as excitement, ecstasy, connection and fullness – need to be written about. The other piece of it for me is that I just really like to convey sensual experiences of all kinds through words. I think descriptions of touch and smell can be some of the most lyrical writing there is, and I think they can give memoir more of a concrete base; a base in the physical world.

In reading, it seemed as though a lot of your healing and processing through your abuse happened during the actual writing process. As a reader I felt like I was watching your thoughts unfold before me. In the moment. Did it feel raw writing it? Does it still feel raw now? Or was this the effect of a highly calculated and arranged tone/approach to give readers that illusion?

I would say it’s almost entirely an illusion. I’m glad you felt like you were watching my thoughts unfold before you in real time, but that was definitely an illusion! I worked on the book for eight years, and almost all the events in the book had been over for a long time before I wrote about them. I mean for the book to feel raw – that was my goal. It is almost a book about feeling raw, as though you don’t have a protective outer layer. The main character doesn’t, or at least she starts out that way. One of the many meanings for “golem” in Hebrew is embryo… one of the newest, rawest and most vulnerable things there is. “Golem” also means fool, and it is partly a book about starting out not knowing how to run your own life, and then perhaps gradually learning how.

Read entire interview and much more at Lambda Literary.

The Plum Tree

The Plum Tree
by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
New York Journal of Books
24 December, 2012

“. . . deserves a bright spotlight on the literary stage . . .”

0758278438.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_Seventeen-year-old Christine Bolz works as a domestic for the Bauermans in a small German Village.

Christine and the Bauerman’s son, Isaac, have just revealed their love for one another when the world is turned upside down. It is 1938. Christine and her mother are banned from working for the Jewish family. Everyone is threatened, suspected or arrested by the Nazi regime. How do Christine, Isaac and their families fare when the worst that can happen happens?

Author Ellen Marie Wiseman’s provocative and realistic images of a small German village are exquisite. One can almost taste, smell, and see the surroundings and hear the voices of the characters as they speak to one another and to themselves.

When Christine is told she can no longer see Isaac, her reactions are described as, “Now, the sparse room reflected the way she felt, bone-cold and empty as a cave, the cool drafts of the coming winter already making their way through the invisible crevices in the fieldstone and mortar walls and the undetectable cracks in the thick, dry timber.”

After experiencing extreme desolation and deprivation, Christine’s senses are overwhelmed. “It surprised her, and she had to catch her breath before she choked on the joy of something so simple and delicious.”

Everything is out of control. Christine is soon faced with life and death decisions on a daily basis. What she decides to do (or not do) has rippling effects on everyone she cares for. In some respects, as is often true in war; even the illusion of choice and routine provides a sense of comfort and solace.

Christine makes the mental note about her mother. “But she knew why her mother had gotten up. Her household was the one thing she could control… the only way she knew how to deal with her unpredictable life.” The Plum Tree is itself, graciously laced with uncertainty and an air of unknowing what will befall the families and who will or will not survive (physically and/or emotionally).

There are portions of this novel that will remind readers’ of Schindler’s List, the difference being that few in this story are saved. There are no heroes, only survivors.

Although nothing is held back in chronicling the gruesomeness of the Holocaust, the bombing of Germany, and the suffering that millions endured, The Plum Tree also exudes a sense of faith in one’s family, truth and humanity.

Its attention to historical detail is to be appreciated, yet these details do not trump the core of the tale, which is both a story about enduring love and the suffering unleashed by Hitler’s mania.

Read complete review and others at the New York Journal of Books.

Islamic School In Synagogue

Islamic school plans to move onto St. Louis synagogue campus
July 20, 2012

(JTA) – An Islamic school in the St. Louis area, the Al Manara Academy, is planning to move onto the campus of a local synagogue, B’nai El Congregation in Frontenac, Mo.

By August, the Islamic day school plans to move to the space previously occupied by the Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy, according to the St. Louis Jewish Light. A conditional permit of use was approved Tuesday by the Frontenac City Council, limiting the number of students to 100, the newspaper said.

Amye Carrigan, B’nai El president, told the Jewish Light that a “firm, signed lease agreement” is not yet signed with the Reform congregation. “If and when it happens, I hope it’s going to be a very positive thing for the community,” she said. “This arrangement can be a wonderful opportunity for understanding and promoting positive outcomes.”

Earlier this year, the Reform Jewish Academy merged with the Solomon Schechter Day School of St. Louis to form the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School. It will operate on the campus of Congregation B’nai Amoona, which previously housed the Schechter school.

Phillip Paeltz, a board member of Al Manara Academy, told the Jewish Light that the operation is “an Islamic school which seeks to train students in the Islamic faith, but also prepares them for a multicultural world.” He said, “As Muslims, we refer to all Jews as people of the book. In so many places in the world there are conflicts between Muslims and Jews. Hopefully, this is a time when we seize the opportunity to work together.”

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Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed,
National Director
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America
Phone 202-544-5656 Fax 202-544-6636
110 Maryland Ave NE, Suite 304
Washington DC 20002

One God – Muslim and Jew

by Sean Kirst/The Post-Standard
4 May 2012

A message for Shabbat: Love and mercy from the same God.

A quiet friendship breaks down walls: Photo (below) Imam Yaser Alkhooly (right), of the Islamic Society of Central New York, Rabbi Daniel Fellman of Temple Concord in Syracuse and Mohamed Khater (left), president of the Islamic Society. They’re pictured here at the Islamic Society; Alkhooly and Khater will speak tonight at Temple Concord.

Rabbi Daniel Fellman of Temple Concord was walking across a driveway last winter when he slipped and fell. While Fellman manages to laugh about the pain — leave it to him, he says, to find the only patch of black ice in Syracuse during an historically mild winter — the impact was no joke. It broke his back.

He soon heard from many worried friends, including Yaser Alkhooly and Mohamed Khater of the Islamic Society of Central New York. Alkhooly is imam – a religious leader and teacher – at the Comstock Avenue mosque, while Khater serves as president of the Islamic Society. Fellman was not surprised at their concern, even if that bond might be startling to Americans accustomed to supposed animosity between Muslims and Jews.

“I remember I brought some of the kids from our temple over here (to the Islamic Society) and they saw me put my arm around Yaser and Mohamed, and they were shocked,” Fellman said. “They were amazed, but I thought it’s good that we show them we can care about each other, as we want them to care about each other.”

The connection takes the spotlight tonight, when Alkhooly and Khater visit Temple Concord to speak during Shabbat, or the observance of the Jewish sabbath. Alkhooly said he intends to address the “two central components” of Islam, which involve the “oneness of worshipping one God” and the need for all Muslims to show mercy.

Those qualities, he said, provide a unifying factor for three great religions whose roots begin with Abraham — Islam, Judaism and Christianity. As for Khater, he intends to make a similar point: “We might have different laws, each of our religions might ask us to do different things, but in the end we have the same God and the values are really similar.”

Fellman said the friendship goes back for a few years, to the angry national dispute about the potential opening of an Islamic community center near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. Because the men who attacked the twin towers came from Muslim backgrounds, some Americans saw it as inappropriate to build a center for Islamic culture near a place of tragedy.

For his part, Fellman viewed those objections as baseless. He does not blame the millions of Muslims across the world for the actions of a few, any more than he would blame all Christians or Jews for the criminal actions of individuals raised within those faiths. Fellman made that point during an appearance on Central Issues, a WCNY television program hosted by George Kilpatrick. Alkhooly was a guest on the same show. Afterward, the two men found themselves sharing tales about their children.

“Yaser and I began to get to know each other,” Fellman said. The conversations became more frequent when Fellman, Khater and Alkhooly all served on ACTS, or The Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse. That coalition of local religious groups is dedicated to helping those of any faith who suffer from need or neglect.

“We live in Syracuse,” Alkhooly said, “and we all want to improve the city.”

The three friends concede they have political differences about Israel, the fate of the Palestinians and the Middle East. But political disagreements, they said, should not be enough to shatter larger commonalities. Indeed, one way toward resolving seemingly impossible global stalemates may be through small steps in faraway communities.

Work together, they agree, and it becomes impossible to see each other as the enemy.

Khater and Alkhooly noted how fear of the stranger has applied to each wave of American immigrants. Those barriers were easier to overcome, they said, when groups from different nations attended the same church. The fact that Muslims go to a mosque and Jews to a synagogue can still trigger suspicions about the motivations of each group.

What’s important to remember, Alkhooly said, is that American Muslims have the same goals as anyone else: They want peace, security and education for their children.

With Khater, Alkhooly will bring that message tonight to Temple Concord. While the three men say it will be a significant event, Fellman said it is only one result of the outreach that Khater and others within the Islamic Society have been doing for a long time.

“This is really nothing new,” Fellman said. “Mohamed has spent years and years building bridges in this community. If you ask me, for the rest of us, the real question is: Why has it taken this long?”

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Post-Standard

Religious Co-operation

From Tablet

A Bronx Tale
by Ted Regencia and Lindsay Minerva
23 January, 2012

A Bronx Tale

After the congregants of an Orthodox synagogue could no longer afford their rent, they found help in the local mosque.

Near the corner of Westchester Avenue and Pugsley Street in Parkchester, just off the elevated tracks of the No. 6 train, Yaakov Wayne Baumann stood outside a graffiti-covered storefront on a chilly Saturday morning. Suited up in a black overcoat with a matching wide-brimmed black fedora, the thickly bearded 42-year-old chatted with elderly congregants as they entered the building for Shabbat service.

The only unusual detail: This synagogue is a mosque.

Or rather, it’s housed inside a mosque. That’s right: Members of the Chabad of East Bronx, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, worship in the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, which is home to the Al-Iman mosque.

“People have a misconception that Muslims hate Jews,” said Baumann. “But here is an example of them working with us.”

Indeed, though conventionally viewed as adversaries both here and abroad, the Jews and Muslims of the Bronx have been propelled into an unlikely bond by a demographic shift. The borough was once home to an estimated 630,000 Jews, but by 2002 that number had dropped to 45,100, according to a study by the Jewish Community Relations Council. At the same time, the Muslim population has been increasing. In Parkchester alone, there are currently five mosques, including Masjid Al-Iman.

“Nowhere in the world would Jews and Muslims be meeting under the same roof,” said Patricia Tomasulo, the Catholic Democratic precinct captain and Parkchester community organizer, who first introduced the leaders of the synagogue and mosque to each other. “It’s so unique.”

The relationship started years ago, when the Young Israel Congregation, then located on Virginia Avenue in Parkchester, was running clothing drives for needy families, according to Leon Bleckman, now 78, who was at the time the treasurer of the congregation. One of the recipients was Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, the founder of the Al-Iman Mosque, who was collecting donations for his congregants—many of whom are immigrants from Africa. The 49-year-old imam is an immigrant from Gambia in West Africa who came to the United States in 1986. After a year in Harlem, he moved to Parkchester, where he eventually founded the Muslim center and later established an Islamic grade school. Through that initial meeting, a rapport developed between the two houses of worship, and the synagogue continued to donate to the Islamic center, among other organizations.

But in 2003, after years of declining membership, Young Israel was forced to sell its building at 1375 Virginia Ave., according to a database maintained by Yeshiva University, which keeps historical records of synagogues. Before the closing, non-religious items were given away; in fact, among the beneficiaries was none other than Drammeh, who took some chairs and tables for his center.

Meanwhile, Bleckman and the remaining members moved to a nearby storefront location, renting it for $2,000 a month including utilities. With mostly elderly congregants, Young Israel struggled to survive financially and, at the end of 2007, was forced to close for good. The remaining congregants were left without a place to pray. During the synagogue’s farewell service, four young men from the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights showed up. Three months earlier, Bleckman, then chairman of the synagogue’s emergency fund, had appealed for help from the Chabad.

“The boys from the Chabad said they came to save us,” said Bleckman. “We were crying.”

At this point, Chabad took over the congregational reins from Young Israel, with members officially adopting the new name Chabad of East Bronx. Still, for the next six to seven weeks, Bleckman said they could not even hold a service because they had nowhere to hold it.

When Drammeh learned of their plight, he immediately volunteered to accommodate them at the Muslim center at 2006 Westchester Ave.—for free.

“They don’t pay anything, because these are old folks whose income are very limited now,” said Drammeh, adding that he felt it was his turn to help the people who had once helped him and his community. “Not every Muslim likes us, because not every Muslim believes that Muslims and Jews should be like this,” Drammeh said, referring to the shared space. But “there’s no reason why we should hate each other, why we cannot be families.” Drammeh in particular admires the dedication of the Chabad rabbis, who walked 15 miles from Brooklyn every Saturday to run prayer services for the small Parkchester community.

For the first six months, congregants held Friday night Sabbath services inside Drammeh’s cramped office. As more people began joining the congregation, Drammeh offered them a bigger room where they could set up a makeshift shul. (When it’s not in use, students from the Islamic school use it as their classroom.) Inside the synagogue, a worn, beige cotton curtain separates the men and women who attend the service. A solitary chandelier hangs just above the black wooden arc that holds the borrowed Torah, which is brought weekly from the Chabad headquarters. A large table covered with prayer books stands in the center, and a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is displayed prominently on a nearby wall. During Shabbat, when Jewish congregants are strictly prohibited from working, they have to rely on the Muslim workers at the center or on Drammeh to do simple chores such as turning on the light and switching on the heater.

At first, it did not make sense, said Hana Kabakow, wife of Rabbi Meir Kabakow. “I was surprised,” said the 26-year-old congregant who was born and raised in Israel. “But when I came here I understood.” The Kabakows have been coming to the service from Brooklyn for the last two years.

Harriet Miller, another congregant, said she appreciated the center’s accommodating the synagogue. “They are very sweet people,” said the 79-year-old Bronx native and long-time resident of Parkchester, who added that she welcomes the new Muslim immigrants in her neighborhood: “We were not brought up to hate.”

Drammeh also understands the importance of teaching tolerance more broadly, and for turning the school—which was itself founded at the nearby St. Helena Catholic Church on, of all days, Sept. 11, 2001—into a model of sorts for religious tolerance in New York.

“We’re not as divided as the media portrays us to be,” Drammeh said. “Almost 90 percent of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian teachings are the same.”

His latest project involves introducing fifth-grade Jewish and Islamic school students to each other’s religious traditions. Other participants of the program, now in its sixth year, include the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, the Al Ihsan Academy of Queens, and the Kinneret Day School of Riverdale. At the end of the program, students organize an exhibit that shows family artifacts of their respective cultures and religion. The principal of the Islamic school, who is also Sheik Drammeh’s wife, said that even after the program ended, the participants became “fast friends” and would visit each other’s homes.

“They would have birthday parties together,” Shireena Drammeh said. “When someone invites you to their house, I mean, that says it all right there and then.”

Read entire story at Tablet.

Religious Leaders Reject Violence

African Council of Religious Leaders
Religions of Peace
24th November 2011
Marrakech, Morocco

Mid-East and North Africa Religious Leaders Reject Violence And Call for “Contracts of Mutual Care” Among Abrahamic Faiths

Marrakech, Morocco — Senior religious leaders from the Middle East and North Africa rejected violence and called for deepened multi-religious collaboration as the region undergoes historic transformations.

The religious leaders and representatives, from Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, Kenya were convened by the Religions for Peace Middle East and North Africa Council. They were joined by representatives from the United Nations (UN), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Islamic Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). Other participants came from US, Japan, Peru, France, Nigeria and Norway, and were joined by the representatives of the African Council of Religious Leaders, European Council of Religious Leaders, Latin American Council of religious Leaders and the Asian Council of Religious Leaders.

The participants reiterated the urgent and irreplaceable importance of enabling the historic faiths in the region—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—to work together for the common good of the people in the region.

Calling on the religious and faith communities to “unite on the basis of shared values,” the President of the United Nations General Assembly H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser noted in his message that this was the only way to “build flourishing communities committed to just peace across the region”. He noted that the religions in MENA “continue to shape the hearts and minds of millions across the region.”

While condemning fanatics and extremists who call for, and cause violent confrontations in the region, the Secretary General of the OIC H.E. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu noted that these conflicts had nothing to do with religion, but rather its mis-use.

The Director General of ISESCO Dr. Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri condemned the manipulation of religion for political ends. He cautioned those who interpreted the scriptures out of their historical context, stating that this was a dangerous trend that should be stopped. Terming the Religions for Peace North Africa and Middle East Council as „needed‟ in the region, Dr. Altwaijri asked everyone to support this regional body. He lauded Religions for Peace for helping the religious leaders in establishing the body.

Presenting during the meeting, Prof. Mohammed Sammak proposed for the introduction of a Muslim-Christian Contract as a first step in the establishment of „contracts of mutual care‟ among the Abrahamic faiths. Prof. Sammak, who is also the Co-President of Religions for Peace International stated that the destiny of the Middle East and North Africa peoples was inseparable. Prof. Sammak noted with disappointment the dwindling population of Christians in the region, and called on the Muslims in to reverse this trend by protecting the Christian minorities. Prof. Sammak described as total violation of the Shariah, Ahadith and the Constitution the burning of places of worship.

The High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations H.E. President Jorge Sampaio noted with satisfaction the initiatives taken by Religions for Peace International in strengthening inter-religious dialogue in the MENA region, calling it one of the most important ways to secure just peace and dignity for the people of the region. Introducing the MENA Council, Religions for Peace International Secretary General Dr. William Vendley, who also serves as its Interim Secretary General, thanked the religious leaders for taking bold steps to engage in dialogue and practical ways to strengthen multi-religious cooperation in the region. The Mufti of Jerusalem H.E. Imam Mohammed Hussein called for co-existence and dignified life for all people in the Holy Land.

The MENA Council meeting comes in the backdrop of political transformations, violence and instability in the Arab World. The religious leaders, through the MENA Council are taking steps to prevent mis-use of religion as the region undergoes these transformations by working together and strengthening the multi-religious platform.
The theme of the meeting was „Engaging Historic Faiths to Advance the Common Good in the Middle East and North Africa‟. Secretaries Generals of the African Council of Religious Leaders, Dr. Mustafa Y. Ali, European Council of Religious Leaders Mr. Stein Villumstad, Latin America Mr. Elias S. and Deputy Secretary General of the Asia Conference Religions and Peace Rev. Hatakeyama Yoshitaka were in attendance.

For further information Contact
Dr. Mustafa Y. Ali
Secretary General,
African Council of Religious Leaders
The African Council of Religious Leaders,
25 Othaya Road, off Gitanga Road:
P.O. Box 76398 – 00508, Nairobi, Kenya,
Tel: +254 20 3862233 / 3867879: Fax: +254 20 3867879
Cell Phones: +254 727531170 / +254 737531170:

Guardians & Shadows II

Excerpt from novel A Woman of Heart by Marcy Alancraig.

Guardians & Shadows – Conclusion (Part II)

Who are you? I asked, trembling so much I was worried I’d fall over. I grabbed Davy, sure I would never let him go again, and squeezed him against my legs. But your uncle wiggled away, unafraid to face that whole group of strangers. A grin, even, he had on his brave face. Are you wondering, Shoshie, what that smart boy knew that I didn’t? Me too, even after all these years.

We are Guardians, said the oldest. A wrinkled woman, blue tattoos on her chin. Only a skirt of reeds she wore. A shell necklace. Let me tell you, it didn’t cover much.

Oy vey, I gasped and quick put my hand over Davy’s eyes. I didn’t want he should see her bare breasts.

But then, like the priest spirit, she made a motion with her hand and started to grow solid. Stop, I cried out. Enough changing already! She nodded, but not before I saw her legs grow still and root into the dirt. And for a second, all that age in her, it seemed like rings wrapped around her middle. Then she got ghosty again. Thank you, I whispered. Better, I thought, Davy should see breasts than watch her turn into a tree.

She laughed, as if she could hear me, and it sounded like the breeze in the gum grove. A friendly noise it was, a purr, like what a cat makes to show love.

We are Guardians, she said again, with a wink and nod at Davy. When I was alive, my people were known as Winamabakeya, People Who Belong to the Land.

Okay, okay, so maybe you think your grandma is making this up, or like your mother, you want it should be the Alzheimer’s. Poor Gram, you think, in her old age she’s lost whatever sense she ever had. Listen bubee, the comfort in pretending this whole business is some kind of fancy story I understand. Back in 1929, I kept pinching myself, hoping to wake up from this meshuggeneh dream.

But no such luck, because no matter how hard I worked my skin, the Guardians just kept smiling. The eight of them, the two of us, quiet and still on that hill.

Davy’s Guardian smiled and the old one hmphed, her eyes like sun on leaves, shining. Please forgive our interruption, the priest one said.

And then they began to fade, like dew in the morning. In a minute, the hill would be empty, back to the safe place it’d been before they came.

Except not if your uncle could help it. “No! Don’t leave,” he cried. To me he turned. “Make them stay.”

“But bubee, they have to go.” I tried to hold him, but he wouldn’t let me.

“No,” he sobbed. “Come back! You promised to play with me.”

“Shadows have business,” I tried to explain. “You can’t keep them.”

“No, no, no!” he yelled, his fists pounding the dirt. Then from his mouth, a truth so strong it made me lose my breath. He looked up. “You’re the one sending them away.”

I was. Or at least, letting them leave, and glad I was about it. But what about this boy who, I had bragged earlier, should come first, no matter what, when it came to a ghost business? It hadn’t been more than a couple of hours, but already I was breaking my vow? Oy, what kind of mother was I? For the first time, I started to wonder. How much, how many people, had I stopped myself from knowing because I was afraid?

I mean, these Guardians — so all right, yes, they were scary, but who couldn’t see, with their wind and grasses and leaves, that they belonged here? And in how they spoke and treated us, so quiet and polite, there was nothing close to harm. So what was I worried, Davy should want to play with them a little? A piggyback with the Irish girl, what could be so bad?

Wait, I called out and they stopped fading. In a blink, there they were again, strong and glowing on the hill.

Then I bent to Davy, who had stopped crying and was watching the Guardians, his bright face smiling. “One piggyback and then we have to get home to fix supper. When I call and say it’s over, you promise to come?”

“Yes,” he yelled, running with eager feet. With a swing and a yelp, as if all the grasses on the hill had started laughing, his piggyback ride began.

Plenty of time I had for thinking as the Irish ghost carried Davy across the hill on her back like he was the king of the grasses. Such gladness in his face, the whole story he would have to tell. And yes, there would be yells and slaps, tears when the family thought he was lying. “Davy’s usual fairy tales,” Nate would shrug. Mimi would sniff, “Just a dream.” And that poor boy would wipe his eyes, “Mama will tell you. She saw them.” And what could I say, without giving away this ghost business? Oy, such a pickle.

So I looked at the old one, the tree, because she seemed the smartest. Straight out, with all the courage I had in me, I asked her: What should I do?

The old one, Wina she said I could call her, beckoned, and the Irish girl came over.

“So soon?” Davy whined.

The spirit put him down on the grass in front of the old lady. Wina smiled at him, so warm, so knowing. Then she reached out and put her hand on his head.

On Davy’s face — such a sweetness, like I had never seen. He closed his eyes and stood quiet, almost dreaming maybe. Her hand patted his curly hair.

And then, the patting stopped and the sun got brighter. That light, all gold, filled up the hill. I blinked at it, so shiny — and when I was done no more Wina. All the Guardians , they’d disappeared.

I looked around, sad a little to miss them. And yes, I’ll be honest, Shoshie. Also, I was relieved.

Davy opened his eyes. “Mama, I’m hungry. Let’s go home.”

“You’ve had enough playing?” I asked, looking at him closely. All right he seemed, nothing strange or bothered. “Enough you’ve had with the piggybacks for now?”

“What piggyback?” he asked, rubbing a scratched knee. Then he cocked his head, like a pullet trying to coax a little more feed, and sighed. “I’m tired. Will you carry me?”

All the way home, he got a ride, that boychik, such a wheeler-dealer. I carried as much as he asked, amazed about the Guardians he didn’t remember a thing. That Wina, she made a magic on him what made for peace in the house when we got back for supper. But you know, Shoshie, even then for Davy I felt a little bad.

Think about it. My boy I’d cheated of his first experience with a wild magic. Much later, after the war and his two years in that prison camp, I spent nights wondering — would he be any better if that piggyback ride, it had stayed close to his heart? But how could a little piggyback make better what he suffered — forced labor, the beatings — from those Nazis? Still, I wonder about it — every time I look into his sad eyes.

And that’s why, my dearest girl, when you were nine and Wina came down from the hills to meet you, I asked she should make it so you remember. Like a tree in the wind, she nodded, and put her hand on your head. “Yes,” you said, looking up at her and then you smiled, so bright and happy. I was there. I saw it. Wina, the oldest of the Guardians, she leaned forward and kissed the top of your braids.

PART ONE (Yesterday)


Guardians and Shadows

Excerpt from the novel A Woman of Heart by Marcy Alancraig.

Guardians and Shadows – Part 1

What happened next? Magic, that’s what happened! Shoshie, the day I met Mae Cherney, you wouldn’t believe what came and put a finger on my life. Not pretend, not fairy tales and superstition. Real magic. A group of ghosts – Guardians they called themselves – later that afternoon, they appeared on the hill.

Don’t look at me like that. It would kill you, to try to believe your grandma little? You asked, so I’m telling. I can’t help what I have to say.

It’s the truth and so yes, maybe it’s a little scary. These Guardians, I admit, they frightened the meat right off my bones. Oy, the power what oozed from their fingers! And eyes what made me shudder, so soaked they were with time. Listen, this is for real and I swear it on all the years of my living. In your short time on this earth, haven’t you met up with something you can’t explain?

No, I’m not talking the usual mysteries, love and how it comes and goes without asking. I don’t mean the riddles of families or politics or wars. Such puzzles, they’re only the regular business of living. The magic I’m talking was bigger and older than that.

Shoshie, this largeness — something you knew when you were little. When we’d take walks together, you’d raise a finger, pointing it out to me. “Grandma, look at the sun on the creek. It’s smiling.” One night in this very backyard — you remember? –you danced to a song from the stars.

Ai, what a crime, we grow up and close our eyes to the biggest story. Believe me, just like you I was until that long-ago summer day. Mae started the whole business, of course – what with the ache she left after our first lunch together. The kitchen felt so close, I just had to get out of the house.

But Davy was stirring from his nap, and soon he would cry out “Mama, come,” wanting to tell his dream. Mimi and Nate were maybe an hour away from rushing up the porch stairs to shout about their day at school. I had no business wanting to walk somewhere.

A wail and then sobbing was filling up the house. And so strong, I could tell he’d been going at it for a while. I dropped the bucket and hurried to your uncle.

He’d stopped crying but was hiding under the sheets — a hand holding his blanket. “Who’s in there?” I asked, pulling back the bedding and lifting him in my arms. “What is it, bubee? You woke up lonely, maybe? Is that why the tears?”

“My dream scared me and then there were the shadows.” Davy wiped his nose on my shoulder, then sat back. “Can you see how they have eyes? Over there.” Davy pointed to the window, framed by thin blue curtains. Between them, I saw a group of quick faces — blue eyes, brown ones, smiles, a gray eyebrow — and then nothing. In a blink, the shadows were gone.

Davy wriggled past my fear. “Did you see, Mama? The shadows pushed the bad dream away. They were nice to me.”

“Really?” I smoothed back his hair, trying to calm my shaking hands.

Davy nodded, big eyes as round as Gitl’s. “They winked and told me not to worry about the dog. They chased it. They yelled and made it leave the room.”

“You had a dog in here?” I kissed both his cheeks. Ah, now here was something I could begin to understand.

Davy jumped down from my lap. “The dog bit me. Right here.” Such an imagination, that boychik. He showed me the place on his leg where yesterday he’d been scratched playing in the blackberries. “That’s what I’m telling you. My dream.”

“Good,” I stood up, relieved.

And then I bent to my son, not even waiting to see how my spirits reacted. I went ahead and spoke as if they’d agreed with me. “Such a long story from a small boy, maybe you need a cookie? I know an oatmeal raisin what’s got your name on it in the kitchen.”

“Three,” Davy nodded, “one for me and two for the shadows. I want to find them.”

Not without me, I thought, my heart banging. “So, let’s have an adventure,” I suggested to Mr. Big Eyes, hoping to steer him toward something different. “Just you and me — how about we take a walk?”

“Long?” he asked, eyes brightening. “Up past the fences?”

“Up enough,” I promised. “We can look down on all the houses of Chapman Lane.”

Almost an hour it took to huff and puff up the big hill behind the ranch. Through the grasses we followed a little trail and no stopping either. “Hurry up, Mama!” Davy’s eyes were fixed on a big rock at the very top. And nothing else would do, because from there, a boy could see all of Petaluma. In that wild country, what belonged to no one we knew, he could shout: “You are mine. I name you Slominski Rock!” Then Davy could sit and rest, waiting for me to catch up. He could laugh at the smallness of his brother and sister as they walked home from school.

“Like ants, Mama. Look at them. Aren’t we tall?”

I didn’t feel tall; I felt tired.

“Papa’s pointing,” Davy yelled. “He’s showing Mimi and Nate where we are.” Davy pulled at my hand. “So beautiful. Like one of my dreams.”

Like a dream, the heat: rising up through the rock and warming our tired bodies. And then a hawk, circling, so close we could hear its wings. “Look at the tail,” Davy pointed from my lap, “so red.”

He squirmed, your uncle, gladness in every corner of his small body. Then he jumped down, “Look!” and pointed. “Over there!” Davy ran across the hill, whooping. “The shadows are here.”

“Wait!” I screamed. “No!”

Because he was right — coming towards us, the very same spirits what had smiled at me from his window. Tall, foggy, and — I screamed again — not like people at all. They were older than us somehow and, like wind or bobcats, full of wildness. Yes, they had human hair, bones, skin — all the regular business — but look close! Human wasn’t who they were at all.

For instance, the thin woman, the one your bad uncle reached first because he didn’t come when I called him. The way she swung him up in her arms, laughing and talking — like the Irish girls from the Shirtwaist Workers Union. Wispy hair, calico skirt, freckles. A nose so small you could miss it if you blinked. A stranger, but a little familiar something to her face.

Then your uncle laughed, and she threw back her head and shouted with him. Oy, how I shivered, Shoshie, at the terrible sound. Like all the grasses on the hill, suddenly they found voices. And then, through the mist of her body, I could see a mean wind working the slopes where nothing was blowing. Little shadows, like redwing blackbirds, dipped up and down over what should be her bones. I blinked. Nu, what was I seeing? The month of June, so hot it could kill all the pullets in one afternoon, in a human shape — that was what stood before me. And that spirit had my Davy in her arms.

“Put him down!” I ordered in a voice I had never heard come out of me. So much muscle, low and growling. “Put him down right now.”

The ghost smiled, a breeze whipping up an empty field. Davy she set back on the grass.

“Come here,” I demanded of my bad boy.

“But Mama,” he protested. “She was going to ride me piggy back.”

We mean no harm, Missus, said a curly-haired man, brown as the backside of our barn. A gray robe he was wearing, worn and coarse with a rope around the middle. Worse — a wooden cross, big enough to make me shudder, hung from the side of his belt. So many memories he gave me, Shoshie — of the Terlitza priests, with their frowns and bows and curses. Of the church bells ringing in Easter, what in the Ukraine you know was open season on killing Jews. I trembled, looking at this ghost. And worse, I know he saw it. Such a nod he gave me and then his hand moved, palm up, making his body change. Instead of see-through, what I was used to already, he got solid, almost like the living. It should have made me feel better, yes? Except his muscles, they were made of clouds and rain. That spirit, he turned into the worst of our wet winters right before my eyes.


Multi-religious University

Religious leaders launch new multi-religious university in Claremont
Sept. 6, 2011 | Corey Moore | KPCC

Leading clergy from the Southland and beyond have launched a graduate-level institution that will emphasize Jewish, Muslim and Christian theology.

The clergy are hailing the new Claremont Lincoln University as the first multi-religious educational program of its kind.

During an event Tuesday South African ambassador Ebrahim Rasool said the university will help establish a new generation of theologians and clerics.

The goal is, “Connecting citizens with the overarching purposes which are divine, in order to create a world that is more sustainable, that is socially just, that is at peace with itself and that is able to overcome many of the challenges through compassion,” he said.

Students, leaders and speakers – representing the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths – noted that the opening of the university coincides with the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Some of them said the launch underscores the need for better ways to educate religious leaders.

Faculty member Najeeba Syeed-Miller said the new program at Claremont resonates with her.

“For me, engaging in this project is not despite my Muslim identity, it’s because I’m a Muslim that I seek out to have a conversation with people of other faiths and traditions,” she said.

The school’s effort to become a more interfaith institution has met with some resistance. The United Methodist Church – long associated with Claremont – last year reportedly railed against the move.

Since then, school officials have pushed ahead to launch a university that will house three programs. They include the existing course of study for Christian pastors-in-training, another for rabbis, and a third for imams.

Third-year divinity student Vera Alice Bagneris said she’s grateful to participate in the new curriculum.

“So we’re coming together in a table of dialogue where each gets to wear their own clothing. So the Christian gets to be Christian. And the Jew gets to be Jew,” she said.

The namesakes of Claremont Lincoln are trustee David Lincoln and his wife, Joan. They donated $50 million to help establish the program. The new university is part of the century-old Claremont School of Theology. The school enrolls more than 300 students in masters and doctoral programs in religion and counseling.

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