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Aug252017

Book Review: Jumping Over Shadows: A Memoir

Jumping Over Shadows: A Memoir. Annette Gendler. Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press, April 4, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 232 pages.

Reviewed by Deb Lecos.

Jumping Over Shadows is a powerful and creative telling of the author falling in love with a Jewish man, their eventual marriage, and her conversion to Judaism. Ms. Gendler layers this narrative with the story of her Great Aunt Resi’s marriage to a Jew, just prior to the Nazi takeover of Germany. The author answers the question “Is there any form of love not worth fighting for?” She takes a reader on a journey through her introduction to the Jewish faith and her own questions about what she believes, the complexities of interfaith relationships, and the horror and pain that has been heaped upon the Jewish people and those that loved them during the Nazi era and the modern world.

Throughout this personal and honest memoir, Ms. Gendler beautifully interlaces two time periods, bringing readers along as she learns more about the history of her family. In Czechoslovakia, a few years before the war, the author’s Great Aunt Resi fell in love with a Jewish man at a time when different religions not only kept people apart but, in the ensuing years, being Jewish or related to a Jew got people killed in gas chambers. When the day arrived that Nazis assumed power over their hometown, Resi and her husband Guido had to make a terrible choice for the sake of their children.

With that as the tragic backdrop, in Germany 1985, Annette Gendler meets and falls in love with a Jewish man whose family prefers him to marry a woman of the Jewish faith. He is a child of survivors of the Holocaust and she a German shiksa—a non-Jewish woman. They keep their relationship a secret until they are sure the love they have for each other can survive the scrutiny and judgment of an interfaith and intercultural marriage.

After the author marries Harry Gendler, she learns the traditions of keeping a Jewish home kosher. As she is schooled in the art of making gefilte fish from her husband’s Aunt Rachel, Ms. Gendler speaks to Harry on the phone in German. Aunt Rachel, who had been imprisoned in a concentration camp, had heard German on many occasions in her past. When the phone call ends, Aunt Rachel wonders aloud why she cannot understand the dialect Annette used. German soldiers had beaten her nearly to death in Auschwitz, their language no doubt a painful reminder.

As this illuminating memoir moves through Annette Gendler’s eventual conversion to Judaism, the author reflects on what faith means—not only to her, but also to the broader issues our world is currently struggling with. Walls that have been built through separation, both by beliefs and the real bricks stacked between us, cannot stop the force of humanity rising. Germany making it illegal to use or distribute swastikas, perform Nazi salutes, or have statues memorializing Nazis, and the destruction of the wall dividing that country are a testament to what is possible.

As I read this story, I reflected on my own obtuseness about history repeating itself until the framework for hate and division are finally deconstructed. As Ms. Gendler has so beautifully conveyed, love is found between our innate humane souls, and it behooves us to accept all people as worthy and allowed to love who they love, and believe what they believe. It is there in that vast space of acceptance that true humanity and peaceful coexistence resides. Love is not contained in a box that separates us, but is rather a doorway to one another. 

Jumping Over Shadows is a timely and thought-provoking book, one that I urge people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds to read and reread. Intolerance is not sustainable in a society of many people with differing backgrounds. Acceptance is the only humane path forward.

 

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