Saturday, January 20, 2007

Monday Jan 21

My birthday today according
the Jewish calendar, celebrated
in bitter disappointments of
the past, blasted hopes etc.
but with a hope for a brighter

Attended Dr. Thon's reception
meeting at Cooper Union enjoyed
speeches of Weitzman Lipsky and
others. Some more mental food.

The picture of my niece
Tabale with her husband in
bridal dress which first
arrived today, brought a tear
from my eyes. I recalled old
happy memories when we were
all together, and I left her a
small child.

How everything has changed.


Matt's Notes

Sometimes what Papa writes is so sad that I don't know whether to comment on it or just let it stand on its own, but a few things really get me about this entry.

It's bitterly ironic for him to rattle off "the
bitter disappointments of the past, blasted hopes etc." going through his head on his birthday, as if those things are de rigueur for birthdays (he would have turned 29 this day by the Hebrew calendar, which in my book is as good as, or even worse, than turning 30 for prompting soul-searing soul searching). He adds a typical dose of optimism in noting his "better hopes for the future," but I'm not sure he believes it at this moment. (He's so low that he barely touches on the event he attended, in which the true heavyweights of Zionism gathered at Cooper Union, one of the most storied intellectual venues of the day.)

The wistfulness keeps piling on, as often seems to happen when you're having a depressing day, with the arrival of his niece's wedding photo. The distance and years separating him from Tabale, and by extension his parents and other siblings, must strike him on this day even harder than it might have. Even thoughts about the sister and niece who live right around the corner don't help. And, since his self-reflection no doubt centers on what his life is coming to, whether he's running out of time to make his mark, and whether he'll ever have a family of his own, the image of his young niece already on her way to building a life for herself must feel all the more bittersweet.

Again, though, maybe this analysis is not necessary. It's enough to think of him as he arrives home from his lecture and there's an envelope from the old country waiting for him on the kitchen table, he's excited for news from home, so he opens it by gas light, or maybe his hosts are asleep or he can't spare a coin for the gas meter so instead he sits up on his rented cot in the corner of the parlor, and it's too dark to read the letter so he pulls out the photo instead and angles it toward the window, and so by the street light he squints and turns his head and turns the photo and finally he makes out the image of his niece, all but unrecognizable as the little girl he last saw, standing in her wedding gown, standing with a man he doesn't recognize, by now his eyes have adjusted to the low light and he would like to see the picture more clearly but he can't blink away his tears, so he stretches out on his cot and looks around the room at the candles and cups and bowls and books, all of them belong to another family, everything he owns fits under his cot in a trunk and he has no one, no one but his diary to share his thoughts with on his birthday.


I don't have any pictures of Tabale from 1924, but she's in this picture sent from Snyatyn in 1938. Tabale is second from the left, her husband is the tall guy in the middle rear, and her kids are up front.

Here are their faces:

Oh, and by the way -- Papa, this is you:

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