Book Review with Sleep, Names, and Separation

A book review of The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping by Aharon Appelfeld

The Man Who Never Stopped SleepingThis review explores important themes of the book, such as sleep, names, separation, literary explorations within a book, connections to the past, and healing.

Basic plot: The main character along with a group of teenage boys is a Holocaust survivor. He and this group have lost their parents and presumably their entire extended families, murdered in the Holocaust. The book follows the main character as he first joins the group in Naples and later they travel as a group by boat to the land of Israel (it was not yet the State of Israel). He works in the fields, and then when the fighting starts, he is almost immediately wounded. The story weaves from the realities the young man faces to his dreams and subconscious connections to his parents and other people of his childhood. The book also gives a glimpses of how the other boys cope (or not) as well.

Sleep: In Appelfeld’s book, why does the title imply that the main character never stops sleeping? In the beginning of the book, fellow refugees must carry him fast asleep from place to place. A few chapters into the book, he seems quite awake. Perhaps the reference is to character’s emotional world. He seems to prefer to connect to the world of his childhood. By the end of the book, he is spending more time in his dreams and his mind than he is interacting with people that are really alive in his world. By the end of the book, his dead mother seems more real in his dreams than the people of Tel Aviv, where he then lives.

What’s in a name? An important theme in the book is a name. The boys indeed many of the Holocaust survivors are urged to change their European names, the names their (now dead) parents had given them, to Hebrew names. Ephraim, their leader, didn’t have to change his. He was born in the Land with a Hebrew name. One nurse that he meets emphatically did *not* give up her name, and the main character regrets that he did not have her strength. There is one boy in their group who does not give up his name – tragically, he has way too much pain in general; he makes a deadly choice.

Some of the best parts of the book are references to literary text and text of the Bible. As a patient convalescing, the author is introduced to Agnon. He talks about a connection to Kafka through his father; he remembers his father bringing home short stories by a little known author named Kafka. It makes sense that he connects to Agnon in his real and present world, the land where Agnon wrote his stories. And Kafka is part of the tragic Jewish European experience, a foreboding of the crazy, evil world of the Holocaust. He learns Bible through a character named Slobotsky, described as a genius when he lived in Berlin. Slobotsky gives a lesson on prayer: voiced prayer and the voiceless prayer of Hannah. The reaction of one of the boys: Why are we studying the Bible and not biology?

Separation: in the normal course of life, a child is supposed to eventually separate from his parents. But if a child is emotionally very attached to parents and the parents are “yanked” away (murdered brutally), it can be hard for the child, even as an adult, to ever separate.

“Where have you been, father?” I asked, struggling to breathe. “Here,” he said, in a voice I knew in all its timbres.” “But they drove us out and scattered us.” “You’re mistaken, my dear. We were together, we were always together, even when we momentarily parted. The camps existed and then disappeared, but we remained together.” That was Father. Time had not stained his face. p. 61-62

Connection to the past: there is a character who shows up off and on in the book, Dr. Weingarten. Dr. Weingarten is the only person who is familiar with his family, the only connection to his past who is still alive. We learn about the main character’s parents through Dr. Weingarten. There is another older character who seemed to know of his grandfather. It is a struggle to connect to his childhood. He often fears losing his childhood language, while at the same time he struggles to improve his Hebrew by copying biblical texts (and Agnon text as well).

Healing, Doctors and Names: Why is the doctor who operates on him called Dr. Winter? What is the symbolism of the name? The other doctors are discouraging. Only Dr. Winter brings tempered hope. Maybe he only can offer physical healing. The emotional fractures remain. Maybe the emotional part must treated by the main character himself, as he struggles to become the writer his dead father wanted to be.

You can read more about Aharon Appelfeld.

Jewish Newport, Rhode Island: Colonial and Modern

Touro synagogue detail Newport, RI
The oldest standing synagogue building in the United States is the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. I was surprised to learn the building was used in Colonial times for only a few years. Then the War of Independence began, the British came into Newport, and soon after the Jews left the city. Some families came back when the war was over; however, Newport did not regain its stature, so the Jewish community never flourished again in the same way.

Judah Touro grave, Newport, Rhode Island
If you walk up the hill a few blocks (we did), you will find the old Jewish cemetery. Among others, buried here is Judah Touro, son of Isaac Touro. Because of his funding and efforts, the building was kept going.

colonial Jewish cemetery Newport RI

The congregation was a Sephardi one, meaning its members’ ancestors were originally from Spain, and the prayers are in a Sephardi manner. There is a Torah scroll behind a glass case in the sanctuary. My son noticed it is an Ashkenazi Torah scroll, not a Sephardi one (how did he know? Sephardi Torah scrolls are stood upright while the Torah is read, whereas Ashkenazi ones lie flat). Our guide pointed out that the Torah scroll was already two hundred years old when it was donated by the Amsterdam Jewish Community to the Newport Jewish community. Perhaps this was one that was not needed, so it allowed to take the long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean?

Several people asked us: did the tour guide show us the trap door underneath the bimah? No, she did not. It seems that the synagogue was a hiding place in the underground railroad in the 19th century. There was a movie about the history of Jewish Newport in the building in front of the synagogue, but we did not get a chance to view it.

One interesting note: the synagogue is built at an angle. This was in order that the sanctuary face Mizrah (face to the east, where Jerusalem is – standard procedure for a synagogue).

Touro Synagogue window
Above is a view out a window of the second floor of the Touro Synagogue at sunset, between Minha and Maariv (afternoon and evening prayers). My husband and son attended services both in the morning and in the afternoon during our three day trip. My daughter and I came once to Minha-Maariv and sat with other women and girls in the balcony section. The rabbi was so pleased that so many young women were in attendance (he gave a short talk, and at one point he looked up at the girls as he discussed whether women are obligated in fixed-time mitzvot).

raw power juice bar wall fundraiser
One of the best parts of the trip was when we learned that the rabbi gave hashgacha (kosher supervision) to a wonderful little vegan restaurant called Raw Power Juice Bar on Broadway. We went twice: we ordered bean rice burgers, a variety of smoothies and a few salads. We hope they stay in existence!

raw power juice bar painting
Pictured is one of a series of paintings inside the restaurant.

Nasturtium – Water Drop

We have had plenty of rain in recent weeks. My neighbor who has a rain gauge said hers read four inches in just a few days. It has not been constant, so I am fine with having lots of rain water for my garden.

I took the photo of the nasturtium (an edible plant with round leaves and orange or yellow flowers) back in the spring with a macro lens on my camera. It is one of the last edible items that I grow – the deer even eat flowers and leaves. A list of animals spotted in our area recently: deer, ground hogs, foxes, squirrels, rabbits and a coyote. My rosemary plants don’t get touched – I can still grow those. And sage. I have lots of sage.

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Celebrate Israel Parade 2017

Celebrate Israel parade
The last time I had the opportunity to post Israel Parade photos was in 2013. I had a few years of chaperoning, and last year it poured, they marched quickly, and my husband and I showed up late. This year I was excited for the opportunity to take a few good parade photos. If you ever want good subject matter for photos, this parade is great. Besides the many Jewish schools that march, there are floats, bands, dancers, fancy bikers and a variety of people to watch.

This year my daughter is in a new school – new to her, anyway. It is a four-year girls high school. She had a fun time marching today. Unlike with her past school in which she learned a dance to do down 5th Avenue, the girls in Maayanot basically sing whatever songs they like.

I decided to focus on interesting subject matter. Bands, entertainers, dancers, and one politician.

marching band
I really love the colors and energy of this marching band photo.

Here’s a close up of a guy playing the tuba.

There were several clever unicyclists. I like the purple of this one in front of the green of the marching band behind.

Nefesh B'Nefesh
I took this photo, and then I realized the person on the float in a suit is the MK (member of Knesset, Israeli parliament) Dov Lipman.

Dov Lipman
Then I took the next photo of this float – the man in the white shirt waving in the back of the float is my son’s teacher from his yeshiva in Israel, Rabbi Moshe Taragin.

gay group
I didn’t catch the name of this group – it seems to be a Jewish gay, Lesbian, bisexual group. If I find out the name, I will add it to this post. I think the sign says J.O.Y.

El Al dancing
This was rather funny – El Al employees dancing together as though they are at a wedding. Seemed out of context – like they should be getting us to our seats instead and offering us a cup of tea.

El Al
El Al also had a float.

This is a group of doctors from Einstein School of Medicine. The sign says We Support the Doctors of Israel. I am thinking the woman to the left must have seen someone that she knows, given the expression on her face.

baby carriage
From a distance, I thought there was a baby inside that carriage. I am not sure what they are pushing. But I do enjoy the balloons. And at what are they looking? The spectators behind the fence are looking at their phones (boring!).

China Israel relations
Here is a group celebrating Israel China relations.

I am reading a great book on U.S. China relations called The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present. I recommend the book.

daughter at parade
For those of you who may have started reading this blog in 2007 or 2008, my daughter was a little girl then. Here she is at the parade – my young woman.

Have you ever gone to a big parade? What do you like best?

Mask for Purim

Purim is on Sunday. It is one of my favorite Jewish holidays – it gives me the opportunity to be creative. The other details one needs in order to get those creative juices flowing: time, energy, inspiration.

Every year for Purim since my children were little, we have decorated oatmeal containers, filled them with treats to eat, and given them out to our friends. The giving out of food gifts is specific to Purim – it is call Shaloch Manot (or Mishloach Manot) – literally, sending of gifts. This is the first year none of my children are available to help me – the two eldest are no longer living at home, and my daughter started high school with a rigorous academic schedule, a school play and a Shakespeare mini-competition. So I decided to work on the containers on my own.

Here they are so far:
Purim containers

I did not use any photographs as I have in the past. I covered each one with my Purim wrapping paper. I did use my Esther points at Haman watercolor illustration that I made last summer. I decided it needed something green. So last Sunday while my daughter was working on her computer on an assignment that she did not like and wanted my company, I decided to work on my computer and create a mask with some green. That’s the mask on top of this post.

Explanation of the mask: part of Purim is dressing up. It’s not at all a requirement, but many children and some adults do enjoy this part. Purim also has themes of “hidden” – there is a custom of eating kreplach, for example, which is basically a wonton (and a wonton has “hidden” meat). Esther had to hid her identity in order to save the Jewish people. When one wears a mask, one is hiding a bit of oneself.

Cardinals (Male and Female); Black-Capped Chickadee

red cardinal male; female is brown
A red male cardinal and a female brown cardinal visited my backyard yesterday, after we had about 5 inches of snowfall the day before. I enjoy the cardinals’ visits – they usually come as a pair. I had filled my bird feeder, and they found it quickly. The day before we had blue jays visiting. I think blue jays will scare away other birds while they are in the vicinity.

black capped chickadee
The black-capped chickadee pictured here visited in December.

Do you have bird visitors in your backyard?

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