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07/15/2020 10:19:21 AM

Jul15

Books & Beyond

   

 

A Salute to Adas Authors

By Robin Jacobson

At a time when stories of hope and fortitude feel essential, we are proud to present four inspiring new memoirs by Adas Israel members Judith Heumann, Esther Safran Foer, Sanford Greenberg, and Ron Hoffer (listed in order of publication). Read more. 

   

Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Activist by Judith Heumann (with Kristen Joiner)

At 18 months old, Judith Heumann contracted polio. The illness left her unable to walk, with limited use of her hands and arms. Her doctor recommended that she be placed in an institution. This was typical advice in 1949, but Judy’s parents flatly rejected it. In Nazi Germany, the place they had fled, institutionalized disabled children disappeared, eliminated through lethal injections or starvation. Ilse and Werner kept Judy with the family in Brooklyn, lovingly raising her with her brothers.

At kindergarten registration, Judy faced her first institutional barrier. The principal refused to let Judy enter the school, calling the little girl in her wheelchair a “fire hazard.” But starting in fourth grade, Judy did attend school, then college and graduate school, launching a life of breaking barriers that kept disabled people from participating fully in society. The first wheelchair-using teacher in a New York City school, Judy was key to a national movement that led to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Later, she served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, and as the World Bank’s first Advisor on Disability and Development.

   

I Want You to Know We're Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir by Esther Safran Foer

Throughout Esther Safran Foer’s childhood, her parents’ past was a closed subject, rarely discussed. She knew little of their wartime lives in Europe. They came to the United States in 1949, bringing three-year-old Esther. Her father’s family history was a particular puzzle because he died when Esther was only eight. Yet even if not talked about, the ghosts of relatives lost in the Holocaust hovered in the house.

Esther was in her early 40s when her mother chanced to mention that Esther’s father’s first wife and daughter had been murdered by the Nazis. Stunned by this revelation, Esther became determined to learn more, particularly about the half-sister she never knew she had and the Ukrainian family that had hidden her father during the war. She searched databases, made connections through her son Jonathan’s 2002 novel, Everything Is Illuminated (loosely based on what was then known of the family’s history), picked up clues in Brazil and Israel, and eventually traveled to Ukraine with her eldest son Frank. There, with the help of a colorful cast of characters, they found some of the answers they sought.

   

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend by Sanford Greenberg

Born to a struggling Jewish family in Buffalo, New York, Sandy Greenberg was proud to win a scholarship to Columbia University. In 1961, he was in his junior year, rooming with a would-be architect named Arthur Garfunkel, when Sandy’s eyesight began to fail. Before long, he was completely blind. A social worker proposed to the despairing Sandy that he become a justice of the peace in a quiet, backwoods town, as other blind men had done, or else train to make screwdrivers or cane chairs.

Arthur, on the other hand, urged Sandy to return to Columbia, promising to help manage the complicated logistics of Sandy’s new life. Bolstered by Arthur, and the boundless love and support of his Buffalo girlfriend, Sue (later his wife), Sandy defied his worried parents and returned to school. He not only graduated Columbia (as president of his class), but went on to study at Oxford and Harvard, where he earned a Ph.D. in government. While in graduate school, Sandy and Sue scraped together $400 to help Arthur (unhappy in architecture school) and Arthur’s friend, Paul Simon, get a start in the music business.

Sandy launched his own highly successful career in government and business, determined to carry on as if his disability didn’t exist. He traveled the world, learning to live with fear and risk, not to mention innumerable falls, cuts and bruises, and sutures. In 2012, Sandy, together with his wife Sue (whom Sandy calls his “center of gravity”) established the End Blindness by 2020 Prize. This $3 million prize will be awarded this December 14 to the person, group, or institution deemed to have made the greatest contribution toward advancing vision science.

   

From the Bronx to Berlin and Beyond by Ron Hoffer

In the heady time after the Berlin Wall fell, Ron Hoffer, a specialist in water and environmental management for the EPA, made many trips to post-Soviet Europe to advise and assist emerging democracies on environmental challenges. Sometimes this involved looking beyond officials’ rosy reports to seek out the brave scientists who for years had recorded actual pollution data. With his 35mm camera, Ron captured images of the people and places he encountered, some of which appear in this lovely, highly artistic photo memoir.

Ron became interested in his own Eastern European roots, despite discouragement from older family members. In strong, salty language, one aunt made clear that her parents had been only too glad to leave the old country. Nonetheless, Ron located the Ukrainian village his grandfather left in 1907. A stop in the village’s ruined Jewish cemetery turned unexpectedly emotional as Ron realized that beneath him rested generations of relatives.

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