Sunday, February 13, 2011

gifts of love

My Valentine's Day present: this morning, at the Y, I started chatting with Audrey. Audrey is a favourite of everyone there; she's in her late 70's or early 80's, fashionable with hilarious cat's eye glasses, always full of cheer. "Do you want to see my tattoo?" she asked. I sure did. I helped her off with a few layers, including a stiff brace she has to wear to support her spine, and she showed me - a beautiful red heart on her left arm, just below the shoulder, with MEF printed through the middle.

"Mef was my husband, who died 2 years ago," she said, "I was devastated, beside myself, in deep mourning. I never dream, but one night, Mef spoke to me. 'Stop with the crying,' he said. 'Get on with your life. Get a tattoo so that when you miss me, you can touch my name.'

So I did," she said. "They loved me at the tattoo parlour on King Street. I'm their oldest customer. And he was right - when I miss him, he's right here." She stroked her arm. "I called the parlour the other day and said my tattoo needed a touch-up. 'Do you remember me? I'm Audrey,' I said, and they said, 'How could we forget you?' They said to come in and help them celebrate Valentine's day. So I'm going to bring a cake."

I gave Audrey a big hug and kiss for Valentine's day, for being a marvel of energy, spunk and charm - my hero for today.

Then came home to find that my friend Sylvie's husband John had dropped off another Valentine's present: a package of home-baked s'mores, brownies with melted marshmallow and heart-shaped cookies on top, and a Passion tea bag.

Forgive me, there's a little tear in the old eyes, thinking of the great love and thoughtfulness of friends.

AND - Friday, another great, great gift. I wrote to my publisher, Syracuse University Press, to ask if they were considering re-issuing the book in paperback. And received this note back:

Dear Professor Kaplan,

Many thanks for your email—it would be a great opportunity to be able to think of doing a paperback version of your book! Not only was the scholarship superb but there are great reviews we could put on the new back cover.

I wish to be addressed as Professor Kaplan from now on, please. They haven't actually said they will, but it looks good. I sent this note to my new Yiddishist friend Ruth, in Texas, and she wrote back asking if she should post a review on Amazon. I said sure, if you'd like to, and this is what she wrote:

As other reviewers have noted, this is a meticulously researched book about the great Yiddish playwright, Yakov Gordin. As a lover of Gordin's dramas, I was thrilled to find a contemporary book available on this little-researched subject. The author traces Gordin's life in Europe, his journey to the United States, and his challenges and triumphs during the early years of Yiddish theatre. As well as serving as a multi-level research resource for academic papers, the book is also a riveting look at a time and place long gone.

The fact that the author is Gordin's great-granddaughter lends a sense of intensity to the words on each page. Her pride in her Yiddish heritage and the substantial accomplishments of her progenitor is most refreshing in an age when most American Jews show little interest in things Yiddish. Ms. Kaplan is an extremely talented writer who brings the past alive for the reader. Indeed, as I read the book, I could almost hear the sounds of the ocean as Gordin's ship reached the shores of New York, the laughter and tears of the homesick immigrant audiences so far from all they had known, and the clop of carriage horse hooves on the city streets outside the theatre.

In many ways, by telling the story of her great-grandfather, the author also tells the story of my great-grandparents, who arrived in the United States at the same time and in the same manner. Not only is the book an important work for Yiddishists, it is also an important read for the majority of American Jews in the United States today.

Couldn't ask for better than that. Thank you, Ruth.
And the happiest of Valentine's days to all of you, too.

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