September 8, 2007
Books: Exile from Egypt through a daughter’s eyes
(Page 2 - Previous Page)While working on the memoir, she took a leave from the Journal, traveled to Milan, Italy, to visit a cousin who had lived in her father's home in the 1940s, and to Cairo, where she went to their old apartment as soon as she got off of the plane. In writing, she used her investigative reporting skills, interviewing relatives and community members, who also shared stories about her mother and grandmothers.
In addition, she credits Chabad of Southampton for inspiring her to remember. She spends weekends at her home in Sag Harbor and attends service regularly at Chabad. In the Sephardic synagogues she was used to, she had never seen the laminated cards given out during Yizkor, memorial services, with specific prayers to mourn different relatives. She explains that the cards sparked the flow of memories.
"You find redemption in the strangest places," she says.
When asked if she carries some of her father's religiosity, she says that she hopes so. She explains that for Leon, who always had a prayer book nearby, religion became all-consuming in America, when he no longer had the other pieces of his old life, like the cafes and casinos. Now, she can't bear the idea of not going to shul on Shabbat no matter where she is; she meets her husband afterwards.
She also interviewed male friends "who seemed seasoned and interesting," to understand her father's ways with women. Two of her three siblings were helpful, in particular her brother Cesar, who, to her surprise, kept all sorts of family records including the cancelled checks Leon sent to the many orphanages and schools he had asked to pray for his daughter's recovery.
Cesar came to the previous week's reading dressed in a white suit.
Sandee Brawarsky is book critic for The Jewish Week.
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