What do you do with your parents’ possessions? With the collections of a lifetime? What do you do with the books?
I sat with my husband, Alan Snitow, in my mom’s living room in Jerusalem feeling the anxiety ebb and flow as we pondered these questions. My stepdad, Bill Daleski, had suddenly died, and I had just moved my mom, Shirley Kaufman, to the Bay Area to live near my two sisters and me so we could take care of her now that her dementia was rapidly progressing.
Now, I had flown back to this strangely quiet apartment in Rehavia, the old tree-lined neighborhood of the Ashkenazi elite: professors and intellectuals, mostly secular liberals, the generation that is now passing. We had had our share of passionate moments in this home—mostly arguments about Israel’s occupation of Palestine, but also scotch-soaked parties with visiting writers, artists, and far-flung friends. In Rehavia, where the streets are mostly named after scholars and poets from the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain, today you see growing numbers of black-clad Orthodox Jewish families who have taken up residence, and you hear feral cats scurrying amid the overflowing garbage bins.
My stepdad was a well-known English professor at the Hebrew University, a literary critic, and Israel Prize winner. He had a significant collection of English literature, which his family arranged to donate to the Hebrew University right after he died. Beautiful editions from Dickens and Lawrence to Sillitoe and Le Carré. My mom is a poet, author of nine books, and recipient of many literary awards. She had a large and sumptuous library of English-language poetry books, collected over sixty years, many signed by the authors. The shelves lined the walls of her study down to the floor and up to the ceiling. For her, this was the world that mattered most—George Oppen, Adrienne Rich, William Carlos Williams; the shelves burst with whole landscapes of pleasure and pain and mystery. A window looked out over a flowering Jacaranda tree in the garden below and to weathered pines across the street, where the mourning doves sang at dawn. This library was a cool oasis in a stressed-out city, and it was my mom’s private Garden of Eden, tended to over the decades.
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