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A new memoir tries to mend the pieces of the author’s broken Cuban-Jewish family

(JTA) — In her recent book, “The Object of Jewish Literature,” Jewish Theological Seminary professor Barbara A. Mann writes about how “literature deploys physical objects as emblems of ideas, emotions, and psychological dramas about the self.” In other words, “things” matter: Furnishings, clothing, food and, in the case of Mann’s study, the glued or sewn-together bundles of paper we call books tell the stories of the people who made, bought and used them.

Rosa Lowinger knows this from a lifetime of study of how things are made and how they fall apart. An art conservator who specializes in sculpture and historic architectural materials, Lowinger has written a memoir of her Cuban-Jewish family that uses such materials — marble, concrete, bone, plastic — as organizing principles. Each chapter of “Dwell Time” takes its name and theme from one of those materials to tell how her family came to Cuba and fled after the revolution, and what they found and lost when they settled in Miami. 

She also examines with a conservator’s eye — appreciatively, but looking for cracks and flaws — her own shortcomings as a daughter, wife and businesswoman.

Terrazzo is robust, but it yields easily to gouges and cracks from settling or expansion,” she writes in a typical passage. “It’s hard to fix without leaving enormous scars. It reminds me of my family, those Eastern Europeans who left for America and found themselves settled in the tropics, only to be forced to bust out of their foundation within a few decades. It’s true of my profoundly damaged mother, who had the spark of inspiration and presence of mind to know when it was time to flee the country of her birth, but has a way of smashing relationships to smithereens.”

Three generations of her family, beginning with her paternal grandfather Avrom Lövinger’s arrival from Cluj in northern Transylvania, lived in Cuba — which was still taking in Jews when the United States had closed its doors. Her Cuban-born mother, Hilda Peresechensky, spent her youth in an orphanage founded in the early 1920s as a home for poor Ashkenazi Jewish women. She attended a Jewish high school on a scholarship, experiencing periods of poverty that would haunt her the rest of her life. 

The author’s father, Leonardo “Lindy” Lowinger, was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1932, and, putting aside his own dreams of being an architect, had a peripatetic career in the eyeglasses business as a salesman and occasional optician. 

The Lowingers were middle-class Jews who by the mid-1950s were well-established members of Cuban society. Most of Cuba’s 20,000 Jews lived in Havana, a city, she writes, “that boasted Jewish schools, kosher restaurants, and three synagogues.”

After Castro came to power in 1959, he didn’t target Jews, but businesspeople like Lindy Lowinger saw a dim future under communism. In 1961, after a fraught flight, father, mother and young Rosa — born in 1956 — found a one-bedroom apartment in Miami Beach. 

The exodus of most of the country’s Jews — and the Jewish history of the Cuba they left behind — has recently been the subject of several new books as a new generation of people with ties to the country make sense of their families’ stories. Aaron Hamburger’s “Hotel Cuba,” published in May, examines how his grandmother’s American Jewish identity was forged during a stint in Cuba in the 1920s. “Tia Fortuna’s New Home,” a children’s book by Ruth Behar published last year and distributed through PJ Library, tells the story of a contemporary grandmother facing dislocation for a second time after leaving Havana as a young woman. And AJ Sidransky’s “The Incident at San Miguel,” published in March, is historical fiction based on the real story of two Jewish brothers torn apart by the Cuban revolution — including one, like Rosa Lowinger’s family, who barely managed to flee.

As it did for many Cuban exiles, the exodus of Lowinger’s family left scars. She would later tell a friend that her father is “morose, suspicious, and we always have money problems.” Meanwhile, Hilda was beautiful and resourceful, but took out her frustration and disappointment on her daughter. “My mother’s punishments were laced with turbulence beyond her control, a violence born of pure rage at the world that had betrayed her, the sort of thing that feels like it will escalate dangerously toward irrevocable tragedy,” writes Lowinger. “Though her behavior appeared sadistic and designed to terrorize, I see now that she was simply drowning in her own suffering.”

It’s a generous view of what appears to be child abuse, but the description seems part of Lowinger’s project to understand her family members, like her conservation projects, in all their dimensions. “There was also active kindness, humor, and generosity in my family,” she writes. “It was hard to see it, just as it’s hard to notice anything but the dents and cracks and gouges in an otherwise beautiful sculpture.”

As a child, Lowinger attended Jewish schools and practiced what she calls “a moderate form of Conservative Judaism.” By the time she was a teenager, Lowinger could not wait to leave Miami, and took off for Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

Lowinger went on to land an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, a fellowship at the W.F. Albright Institute for Archaeological Research in Jerusalem and a job at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and later launched a number of consulting businesses. Among her career highlights was the conservation of the Watts Towers, the monumental folk art sculptures in Los Angeles, and relocating a 100-foot-wide mosaic from the façade of Houston Methodist Hospital.

Lowinger would eventually marry and embark on a series of professional and personal journeys that would take her to Los Angeles, Israel, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Charleston, South Carolina. And yet, rarely at home in the cities she lived in, she was constantly drawn back to Cuba, mostly by its vivid but crumbling architecture but also by “the cloying nostalgia of Cuban exiles” that she once tried to escape. 

“That place where I was born and that my parents left behind is forged from African, indigenous, Spanish, Chinese, French, North American, Ashkenazi, and Sephardic cultures,” she writes. “People who were fleeing from and coming toward. Builders, planters, innovators, tinkerers.”

Her mother, still alive and in her 90s at the book’s end, remains a huge presence in Lowinger’s life, a conservation project the author is never going to complete

“Try as I might, I can never get my mother to understand that conservation is not about repairing what is old. It’s about sustaining all fabric of human endeavor, what people treasure, where we live, and what we honor, no matter when it was made.”

“Dwell Time”’ takes its title from an art conservationists’ term meaning how long it takes for a cleaning product to do its work. Lowinger calls her book a “love story” to the profession of conservation, but it is also a guide to examining the Jewish past, understanding loss and appreciating the ways people and individuals can emerge stronger and sometimes more beautiful after decades of wear and tear. 


The post A new memoir tries to mend the pieces of the author’s broken Cuban-Jewish family appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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University of Toronto seeks injunction to end protest encampment over ‘harmful, discriminatory’ speech outlined in court filing

The University of Toronto is now seeking a court injunction to put and end to the encampment in King’s College Circle after the 8 a.m. deadline passed Monday morning—while unionized workers joined students, faculty and other protesters at a rainy morning rally. Shortly after the ultimatum hour, the university announced in a statement from UofT […]

The post University of Toronto seeks injunction to end protest encampment over ‘harmful, discriminatory’ speech outlined in court filing appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Monday morning saw the Toronto community and politicians showing support for the Chabad girls’ school struck by weekend gunfire

Mayor Olivia Chow was among those who addressed the crowd.

The post Monday morning saw the Toronto community and politicians showing support for the Chabad girls’ school struck by weekend gunfire appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘A Call for Genocide’: South African Jews Blast Country’s President for Chanting ‘From the River to the Sea’

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Chatsworth, South Africa, May 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Rogan Ward

South African Jewish leaders castigated their country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, for what they described as him calling for a “genocide” against Jews in Israel over the weekend.

Ramaphosa was speaking at an election rally in Johannesburg on Saturday when he deviated from his prepared speech to lead the crowd in in a chant of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine shall be free” — a popular slogan among anti-Israel activists that has been widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of the Jewish state, which is located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The address took place at FNB Stadium, where South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) held its final rally before South African elections on Wednesday. According to Politicsweb, a news website focused on South Africa, a call for the release of the “hostages held in Gaza” who Hamas terrorists kidnapped from southern Israel on Oct. 7 appeared in Ramaphosa’s prepared remarks but not in his final speech.

The South African Jewish community lambasted Ramaphosa for his remarks in a statement shared with The Algemeiner, expressing “its revulsion at the introduction of a call to exterminate Jews from their homeland” by the president.

“The president of the ruling ANC party and the head of state of a democratic country has called for the elimination of the only Jewish state in the culmination of the ANC president’s election speech made to thousands of ANC members and on national television,” said Wendy Kahn, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD). “He uses the populist slogan ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be Free,’ which is widely regarded as a call to genocide of the Jewish people. The call to remove all Jews from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea equates to removing all Jews from Israel.”

Kahn compared the slogan with Hamas’ goal to “see Israel as ‘Judenfrei,’ or Jew free,” before noting that such an endpoint contradicts the South African government’s stated policy of supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The chanting of this slogan by a head of state of a government that recurrently tries to express their commitment to a ‘two-state Solution’ as their policy on Israel and Palestine is hypocritical to the full,” the SAJBD said. “How does a sitting president reject his own government and own party’s international relations policy? This reconfirms our understanding that President Ramaphosa and his government are not looking for a peaceful solution to the tragic conflict, but rather to cause discord among fellow South Africans against its Jewish community.”

Kahn added, “The president’s contempt for South African Jewry is evident in this unscripted outburst at the rally which amounts to nothing more than Jew hatred. The SAJBD is reviewing its options for holding the president accountable for these hateful words.”

South Africa’s ANC government has been one of the harshest critics of Israel since Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists launched the ongoing war in Gaza with their invasion of and massacre across southern Israeli communities.

South Africa temporarily withdrew its diplomats from Israel and shuttered its embassy in Tel Aviv shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom, saying that the Pretoria government was “extremely concerned at the continued killing of children and innocent civilians” in Gaza.

In December, South Africa hosted two Hamas officials who attended a government-sponsored conference in solidarity with the Palestinians. One of the officials had been sanctioned by the US government for his role with the terrorist organization.

Earlier this month, members of South Africa’s Jewish community protested Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor’s recent call for students and university leaders to intensify the anti-Israel demonstrations that have engulfed college campuses across the US.

In January, the South African government failed in its bid to argue before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel’s defensive war in Gaza constituted a “genocide.” However, the top UN court last week ordered Israel to halt its military operations against the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The emergency ruling was part of South Africa’s ongoing case at the ICJ.

The post ‘A Call for Genocide’: South African Jews Blast Country’s President for Chanting ‘From the River to the Sea’ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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