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    ספר בכל יום בשבוע הספר העברי: A Hug from Afar

    0 תגובות   יום שני, 17/6/19, 15:54


     “A Hug from Afar"

    One family's dramatic journey through three continents to escape the Holocaust.

     Clair Barkey Flash

    Edited and compiled by Cynthia Flash Hamphill

    Translated by Morris Barkey

    Book review by Zehava Chen-Turiel

    (Many thanks to my dearest and beloved teacher and friend Marion Fishel for helping me translate the review.)



    הערה חשובה:

     סקירת הספרות נכתבה באנגלית מאחר שהספר נכתב באנגלית ופורסם באנגלית ובשל חשיבותו הייחודית של הספר לעולם היהודי בישראל ובתפוצות. את הגירסה העברית של סקירת הספרות שכתבתי על הספר ניתן למצוא בבלוג "הנשים של טרואל">>

    אני מקווה שבעקבות סקירת הספר, ימצא אירגון אשר יהיה מוכן לקחת על עצמו את תרגום הספר לעברית.

    There are books that leave a deep impression upon the reader's heart and emotions. This is the case with a book I recently read, "A Hug from Afar".   A book that shook my core and reminded me of  feelings that had flooded me decades ago when I first read "The Diary of Anne Frank".


    I was made aware of "A Hug from Afar", surprising in its content and fascinating in its writing, by my friend Susan Weiss, whose family history it recounts -- from the island of Rhodes, via Tangiers in Morocco to Seattle, Washington, USA.  The discovery of these letters and the telling of the story are once again testimony to the incompleteness of the study of a period that has left a deep scar on the history of the Jewish people.


    Who knows how many documents and how much photographic evidence from that period are still hidden in boxes, forgotten in attics and storerooms? Material that can provide so much information about an era that is no more.


    The book, not yet been translated into Hebrew, is one of the most important historical documents recently written, interweaving a collection of letters composed in Ladino combined with Italian words, sometime between 1930 and the end of World War II. These letters were discovered in recent years by Susan's family in Seattle, and the task of writing and editing to create a story was carried out faithfully by Susan Weiss's cousin Cynthia Flash-Hemphill.


    Among the letters sent to relatives in Seattle are several by Claire Barkey, a nine-year-old Sephardic Jewish girl, who wrote, at times of her own accord and at others following dictation by her mother or other family members, to her uncle, Raphael Capeluto, who had emigrated to Seattle in the 1920s.


    Like many young people who left Rhodes, he had also sought economic opportunities and a better future. Uncle Raphael was only 20 years old when he arrived in Seattle. The story reflects how much responsibility was placed on his shoulders in the mission to rescue his family, and bring them to a safe haven.


    The book opens with a letter written by Claire on March 24, 1930, describing her daily life at school. Below is a small excerpt:


    "Every Friday we have gym, and last week they photographed us with the gymnastics teacher, who is an Italian named Paoselli; and I bought a copy for a small price”.


    In her letters Claire makes sure to give regards to each and every one of both the close and the extended family, which makes it easy for us to trace her family tree in Rhodes.


    The first letter is written in an optimistic tone and allows the reader to become familiar with the life of the Jewish Community of Rhodes. Sometimes little Claire scolds her uncle for not writing to them for long periods, and begs him to write to her and answer her letters so the family need not worry about him. Over the years, Claire grows up and has to deal with a reality that is undergoing major political and economic upheaval, and this is evident in her writing, which illustrates her own and her family’s ways of coping with the challenging reality.


    In 1938, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini published his new laws regarding the Jews on the island of Rhodes that altered the family’s civil status. The new laws affected those who had arrived in Rhodes from Turkey after January 1, 1919, stripped them of their Italian citizenship and forced them to abandon the island immediately. Abraham, Claire's father, was among those who had to leave. Naturally, the entire family chose to go with him.


    Claire tells the story of the family in Tangiers, where they had refugee status for seven years. All the while Claire continues to correspond with Uncle Raphael, who is trying to help them obtain the long-awaited immigration visas to the United States.


    She describes the harsh reality of life as refugees in Tangiers, and is already 17 years old in her letter to her uncle dated August 10, 1939:


    "It's been five weeks since we arrived in Tangiers and unfortunately we have not found work yet, my dear father is starting to go crazy, and he's always thinking about the future ... May God have mercy on us and show us a good way, We cannot leave Tangiers... "


    The practice of writing detailed letters to family and friends was a sort of personal diary. Those who have managed to preserve the letters and documents can reflect a picture of life that was completely unknown. The preservation of the letters and their publication as a book sheds new and tangible light on the life of the Jewish refugees in Tangiers during World War II.


    I read the book over and over, each time   learning something new that I had not noticed upon earlier readings. The story of Claire and her family’s plight as refugees is touching. The book transmits the difficult to grasp situation of people without civil status, detached from all affiliation, fighting for bread and a shelter, and living in constant fear for their personal safety.


    And how do I relate to all this?


    Fortunately, despite the hardships of immigration, Claire and her family survived. Unfortunately however, the Jews with Italian citizenship who were allowed to remain in Rhodes were sent to Auschwitz by the Nazi oppressor and never returned; including members of my family and of my friend Susan's family.


    The Ladino communities of Rhodes and Milas were in fact a single community, some of the families of Rhodes established the community of Milas. My family lived for approximately 170 years in Rhodes before moving to Milas, Turkey, which is not far from the coast of Rhodes. Our family and our cultural history is shared, and there were probably marriages between my family and the capelutos.


    I frequently visit Seattle where there is a large community of Jewish Rhodian immigrants who maintain close contact with Rhodes, where they and their parents were born, and with the State of Israel, their spiritual homeland, so I naturally identify with the characters in the book, as well as with the story itself.


    I met Cynthia two months ago in Seattle. I was fascinated by the clever author and journalist and wanted to understand her process in the writing of "A Hug from Afar". I was curious about why she decided to write the book, and about her own backstory. This is what she told me:


    "Growing up, we heard the very brief story that my mother, Claire Barkey, had written letters to her uncle Ralph and that the family eventually was able to come from Rhodes to Seattle. That was pretty much all we heard. No one talked about it too much. It was past history and the good news was that the family was in Seattle, happy and successful. We didn’t know that the letters were saved.


    Fast forward to 1994. At that point Claire, Ralph and Rachel Capeluto had all died. When Ralph and Rachel’s children were cleaning out their house in preparation to sell it, they found a few boxes full of letters and documents – many written in Ladino and many with Claire’s name on them. Not reading Ladino, but sensing that perhaps the letters might be important, they gave them to my father, Phil Flash. Phil was the type of guy who never threw anything away. He recognized that the letters might be important or interesting, so he sent them – a few at a time – to Claire’s brother Morris Barkey in Los Angeles to translate. Morris enthusiastically embraced the project and translated the letters from Ladino to English, typing them on a typewriter. He sent them back – a few at a time – to Phil in Seattle. Phil then compiled them into a binder. I happened to be home from work on maternity leave with my first son, Nathan, at the time. One day Phil came over with the binders full of letters. He said, “you’re not doing anything now, you’re the writer, do something with these!”


    Over the next few years – starting, stopping, starting again – I read the letters, compiled them into chronological order, then eventually wrote narratives to string them together and fill in the gaps. We first made 30 photo copies of the “book” for family members. Then I let it sit for several years. Eventually I hired an editor to read through what I had and help me fill in more gaps and continue to string it together. Eventually – after Prof. Devin Naar came to Seattle and expressed interest in the historical significance of these letters and documents – I took the next step to publish the book through Amazon."


    תוצאת תמונה עבור ‪a hug from afar‬‏

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