I typically choose memoirs that I can relate to in some way, but freely admit to choosing Jumping Over Shadows by Annette Gendler because of the love story I expected to find within its pages. Having experienced true love in my own marriage, I enjoy reading about other couple's relationship stories, particularly those that must overcome some obstacle. In this instance, the obstacle was a difference in faith.
What I didn't expect, however, was such rich historical detail of Jewish tradition and faith. The daughter of an American mother and German father, Annette Gendler was raised in Germany. She met the love of her life in 1985, just three weeks after her father had died. Harry was the son of Jewish Holocaust survivors. One of my favorite paragraphs in the book comes early on, shortly after they'd met at a party. When Annette calls Harry, she gets his answering machine.
"Sholem aleichem," was the recorded message, a Yiddish greeting that means "peace upon you," with the you being plural. The author writes:
The plural is used even when addressing one person because one person is seen as a multitude of at least one body and one soul. I liked that idea: one person is a multitude. Since my father's death, I had become keenly aware that one person's life connects with so many others, and one person's death takes away not only one life but a whole world.
Is it a fair comparison when the author weaves her love story with that of her great-aunt who married a Jew in Czechoslovakia fifty years before? It turns out it is. The couple hides their relationship from Harry's devoutly Jewish parents for three years. When they finally reveal their marriage plans to his parents, Harry's father reveals how unhappy he is with the union.
"I have to jump over my own shadow here, and I don't know if I can do that."
Gendler does a superb job of seamlessly going back and forth in her narrative, as well as with descriptions of the Jewish traditions to which she is increasingly drawn. Harry makes it perfectly clear that it is out of the question to have non-Jewish children with him. I admit this did bother me, as if he'd drawn a line in the sand. I'm not sure I would have taken too kindly to that kind of ultimatum. Considering how little Annette or her parents had practiced their own faith, however, she would hardly have been described as a devout Christian, or even a lukewarm one. It was not surprising then that she decided to convert before they got married. The author delves into her own family history even as she explores what it means to be, as her boss in American calls her, a "German Jew."
Excellent, well-written memoir.
Read an excerpt from this book (pdf).
Annette Gendler is the author of Jumping Over Shadows, the memoir of a German-Jewish love that overcame the burdens of the past. Her writing and photography have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Tablet Magazine, Bella Grace and Artful Blogging. She served as the 2014-2015 writer-in-residence at the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois, and has been teaching memoir writing at StoryStudio Chicago since 2006. She lives in Chicago with her husband and three children. Learn more and sign up for her newsletter on her website.
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