Shouting Won’t Help: A Book Review by Judy Bolton-Fasman

When Katherine Bouton was 30 years old she suddenly lost the hearing in her left ear. As she notes in her new book, a mix of memoir and reference guide for the hearing impaired, Bouton was suddenly among the 48 million Americans, or 17 percent of the population, who have some degree of hearing loss.

In “Shouting Won’t Help,’’ journalist Bouton puts a human face on these numbers by chronicling her own long, steady descent into deafness — a word that she claims to describe her “invisible disability.’’ Using her own personal narrative as a kind of locus, she explores the medical and environmental causes of deafness, the social stigma attached to it, technologies to help, and professional challenges faced by those with hearing loss. To broaden her tale she ends each chapter with a short piece titled “Voices,’’ which profiles the stories and hardships of various other sufferers.

shoutingwonthelp

In Bouton’s case it took almost three decades to come to terms with what was happening to her. But, as she reports from the front lines, denial is pervasive among people when they begin to lose their hearing. A statistic from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that only one in five people who would benefit from a hearing aid uses one.

Bouton stubbornly refused to acknowledge how difficult it had become for her to hear. Hearing loss and its consequences invariably bring on stages similar to grief. Denial gives way to anger and family often bears the brunt of that anger. Bouton almost lost her marriage while she tried to keep her hearing loss and the inevitable depression that went along with it at bay.

Next comes acceptance. But before Bouton gets to acceptance she gives her readers a bevy of statistics that illuminate but occasionally slow down her book. She’s at her best when she addresses her dilemma through her own story.

The reader struggles beside her as she goes deaf and scrambles to hear what’s being said at a work meeting or a Broadway show. “Even when I do understand what is being said,” she writes, “the effort of trying to hear eclipses my ability to think. My brain is so preoccupied with translating the sounds into words that it seems to have no processing power left over to dig into the storerooms of memory for a response.”

Bouton eventually got a cochlear implant in her left ear and spent many frustrating visits to her audiologist upgrading the hearing aid in her right. She freely admits that she’s not a cooperative patient. The implant was slow to take, and she was embarrassed to have it embedded in her skull.

Her vanity, she reports, “exasperated” everyone around her and she had a hard time wearing the implant. Her persistent denial led to her departure as culture editor at The New York Times, where one boss questioned her ability to be “a team player.” And still Bouton could not bear to think of herself as a person with a disability and consider the protections and prospect of accommodations guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It’s understandable why Bouton studded her book with studies and statistics. She has taken it upon herself to educate the public about hearing loss and fittingly ends with a description of a collaborative project dedicated to finding a biological cure for hearing loss over the next decade. But her fascinating memoir deserves more attention because she has an equally important life story to impart.

Published in the February 18, 2013 edition of the Boston Globe

 

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523-0765 by Judy Bolton-Fasman

523-0765.

Until last month, the phone number was in my family for almost half a century. But call the number today and you’ll hear a terse message that it has been disconnected. It took fifteen years for 523-0765 to become a non-working number. The drawn out campaign that my sister, brother and I waged to have my parents sell their two-story colonial—the house on the lovely corner lot—began when my late father’s Parkinson’s disease no longer allowed him to climb the stairs. We pleaded with my mother, who was healthy then and quite a bit younger than her ailing husband, to move into an apartment – one floor, no stairs.

The idea of giving up the ancestral home in Connecticut was anathema to my mother, who had already forever left her first home in Cuba.  Like houses that had been in one family for decades, my parents’ place burst at the seams with memories that were good and bad and ugly and beautiful. There were fights and reconciliations and moments of pure love. There were the deaths of parents and grandparents. There were great hi-fi blasting parties where my parents danced rumbas and drank Cuba Libres. There was my wedding grown that I hung on the living room lintel the night before my nuptials. There were grandchildren who toddled around the house.

But the house also teemed from years of hoarding that my mother mistook for protecting memories. I didn’t understand that even a few years ago. I only knew that she hung on to tests that she administered as a high school Spanish teacher in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and she saved every single greeting card anyone ever sent to her. She saved her children’s baby clothes—clothes practically disintegrated from age. There was my prom gown, the dress I graduated high school in. My mother’s wardrobe grew exponentially, particularly after my father died, She ordered clothes from the Home Shopping Network and catalogues I never heard of. She had more clothes than she could possibly wear in this lifetime and piles of them encroached on every bit of available space in closets and atop empty beds. .

Maybe that is a sign of age—an unkempt house filled with stuff. Or maybe it was a bulwark against leaving. When my father died ten years ago, the house was still habitable and my mother swore she wasn’t budging. The heater broke down and had to be replaced. The sump pump wasn’t up to the task of keeping the basement dry. Weeds shot through cracks in the driveway. The shrubs were overgrown. The window air conditioners—streaked with bird droppings—wheezed asthmatically. The wall opposite the banister was forever scarred after my father’s chair lift was removed. The house was, in a way, diseased. And that disease was progressive. My mother could not take care of the house and the house could no longer shelter her safely.

She argued this was the home she had made with her husband, and for better or worse, she was staying until death did part her from it. We must have looked like the most negligent children in the world as the neighbors watched her haul her pails out every Sunday night, or noticed that her sidewalk was not shoveled after a big snowstorm. She lied to us and said her lawn man did snow removal. She lied to us that she had a lawn man. She lied to prevent her own removal from the house.

My mother’s health deteriorated. At first her gait was halting. Bad knees is what she told us. She refused to use a cane and we lived in fear that she would fall and break a hip, or worse, hit her head. Still, she refused to move, to live near my sister and me in Boston. Hartford was her home. She knew the television stations and the best place to get tuna salad. She was not budging and by the end of her run in the house she was not walking. Once again a chair lift was installed. My siblings and I were bewildered. This was déjà vu all over again.

And then one day my mother couldn’t manage her house anymore, couldn’t care for herself. She called me panicked that she was feeling very unwell. What should she do? I called an ambulance. She’ll tell anyone who will listen that that hospital stay was the beginning of the end for her. I will tell anyone who will listen that the phone call I made for the ambulance saved her life.

Here’s what my siblings and I had to do to save my mother further. During her extended stay in the hospital and rehab center, we used the power of attorney that we had wrested from her the year before. We sold the house with her grudging acceptance. She knew it was time. We promised to salvage pictures and other mementos. She decided to go to an assisted living facility in Connecticut because leaving the area would cause unbearable changes like watching a different local news anchor.

rotaryphone

She was disappointed when she couldn’t take 523-0765 with her to the next town. I was devastated. It turns out the house move was as hard on me as it was on my mother. I left the old rotary phone when we cleaned the house out. After all these years, she was still renting it from the telephone company.

 

This essay was originally published on http://www.ba50.com. To read more articles like this click on the link and subscribe.

The Secrets of Happy Families by Judy Bolton-Fasman

With the rise of the digital age, and parents caught between raising children and trying to help their own parents, best-selling author and New York Times columnist on contemporary families Bruce Feiler decided that it was time to write a new playbook for the 21st century family. The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More brings together Feiler’s personal experiences as the father of young twin girls with his skills as an investigative reporter to find new sources and innovative ways to strengthen family ties.

SecretsofHappyFamilies

Feiler has his work cut out for him. A few years ago New York Magazine published a story, which exposed parenting as one of the least happy experiences in life. The reaction was both outrage and empathy. Was bringing up children really making us miserable? Feiler counters that assumption with a 2010 Pew Study that found that three-quarters of adults said that family was the most important part of their lives. That same 75 percent further claimed to be very satisfied with their home life and 80 percent of the respondents said that they were closer to their family today than their family of origin. So what’s going on?

Are we really happier in the midst of parenting wars where tiger moms are duking it out with more lax French mothers? Feiler credits some of our happiness to positive psychology, the basis of the trendy happiness movement. But Feiler is anything but trendy. His research is solid, his findings sensible. And he has forever endeared himself to me by not mentioning Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.

According to Feiler, like successful businesses successful families have the ability to adapt. In Silicon Valley, Feiler explored a concept called “agile development.” He describes it as “a system of group dynamics in which workers are organized into small teams, each team huddles briefly every morning to review progress, and the team convenes for a longer gathering at week’s end to critique how it’s functioning and make changes for the future.” Within a family, agile development can translate into a weekly family meeting in which each member discusses what went well that week, what could be improved, and what he would commit to work on for the week to come.

 

The family meeting is not only a natural outlet for communication; it leads to other healthy activities like eating dinner together. I firmly believe in the salutary effects of the family dinner. I’ll risk repeating well-known research about eating together because I think the facts are so critical to reiterate for families with children still at home. Children who eat with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide and develop eating disorders. Yet according to UNICEF, Americans still rank 23 out of 25 when it came to teenagers eating dinner with their parents at least a few times a week. That’s a missed opportunity because dinners create perfect conditions to talk to one another. Dinners are also the ideal setting in which to develop resilience in children of all ages by sharing stories about parents and grandparents. Can’t have dinner together? Then gather for breakfast or dessert.

One of my favorite sections of Feiler’s book, was about “cultivating a strong intergenerational self” in children. Children should know that they are a part of a larger family continuum. If they know they come from somewhere, they are more likely to know where they are heading in life, which brings me to the chapter on grandparents. As Feiler notes, countless studies have shown the extraordinary influence that grandparents, particularly grandmothers, have on their families. Even infrequent visits from grandparents can increase the chances of a child having a healthier relationship with her parents. A grandmother’s support reduces stress and exhaustion in a family.

Finally, just when I thought I had heard everything there was to say about fighting fairly in families, I learned a few new things. It’s a given that how you fight is important to resolving conflict, but I picked up a few pointers such as monitoring pronouns. For example, using “I and we” during an argument suggests togetherness versus the accusatory “you.” Feiler encourages not only listening to someone else’s side of the story, but also being genuinely curious about their version of events. A “he said, she said” argument should segue into a third story created together by the opposing parties.  That’s a precursor to compromise.

There are other takeaways in The Secrets of Happy Families. Feiler looked to Warren Buffet’s banker for advice on allowances, the Green Berets for planning the perfect family reunion and successful coaches for team building. Yet throughout this entertaining and informative book, Feiler’s message is imbedded in three crucial rules that transcend time and place: Adapt all the time, talk a lot, and yes, go out and play.

 

*Dreaming in Cuban by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Dear Mamá:

You came to the United States in 1958, a year before the revolution. Havana is an aerosoled city—Viva la Revolucion 54 is spray painted everywhere. It’s been fifty-four years since Castro came down from the Sierra Maestra Mountains and triumphantly marched into Havana on New Year’s Day. You once waved the Cuban flag for him. He was going to change Cuba for the better. Maybe he did for some people. But in the end your family fled along with 90% of the country’s middle class. You like to say that your mother packed a small bag and closed the door on forty years of her life at Calle Merced 20.

Calle Merced #20

Calle Merced #20

Calle Merced was a storied address in my childhood. It was Never Never Land, the place of your eternal youth. When I finally saw it a few weeks ago, the heavy wooden door you described was still there and I recognized the balcony from pictures you had shown me. You lived in Old Havana. But that too was consigned to fantasy. There were no marble steps that a maid had shined in your apartment. You lived simply on one floor, with a courtyard between the dining room and kitchen. Sometimes your mother brought home a live chicken and called the shochet – the kosher butcher – to slaughter it for the Sabbath meal. I imagine he did it right there in that open area between cooking and eating.

When I think of what is now our Havana, I envision the laundry on the balconies hanging like team pennants. But we are no longer divided into them and us. The people of Cuba hope and dream and cry with you for your country. How often did I hear you say in one long sigh – Hay Cuba como to estrano. I didn’t realize how much I missed Cuba too until I went there.

I saw the synagogue where you grew up. Women in the balcony, men gathered around a raised bima. I also went to the Patronato where you dreamed of being married before Castro took over the country. Your schoolmate Adela Dworin stayed in Cuba. She said that to be a revolutionary before the age of 40 is about passion. After 40 it seems like a foolhardy decision. Adela’s parents, who emigrated from Russia in the 1920s, stayed in Cuba because she was committed to the new socialism and they couldn’t bear another exile. Adela remembers you. Your old classmate is now the head of Cuba’s Jewish Community, much honored by Hadassah and others for her work with the country’s 1500 Jews.

There were only 11,000 Jews when you lived in Cuba, but you were a thriving community. Enough of you were committed to Judaism to fill five Ashkenazi and Sephardic synagogues. You had Hanukkah parties and Purim balls. That’s still happening, but the community is mostly growing through conversion and the number of functioning synagogues has dwindled to two. There’s an old joke that in the days when the revolution was in full bloom, a Cuban minyan consisted of nine people and a Torah.

A rabbi from Chile comes to Havana every six weeks to minister to the community. If someone is connected to a Jew, usually through marriage, they are encouraged to convert. This past Christmas over 70 people went into the warm ocean and immersed. When they came out they were Jews. There are over 140 children enrolled in the Albert Einstein Hebrew School. Some of those teachers are Jews by choice.

Havana is more beautiful than I had imagined. It’s in gorgeous ruins—an aging beauty queen who hasn’t lost her looks amid the rubble of benign neglect and abject poverty. The place is translucent with pastel colors and light. The outside of your house is a pretty light green. Green is your favorite color — the color of your eyes.

But the people are hungry. Rations are strict. The black market is darker than the Buena Noche, the Christmas Eve sky. People trade all kinds of things for an extra pound of meat or a cup of cooking oil.  Something as simple as a pair of jeans or sneakers that a relative in the States has brought gives a loved one a leg up in the barter system.

You should see the scene at the airport in Miami. Daily charters to Cuba all leave from the same place at Miami International and the check-in is transformed into a veritable marketplace. Cuban ex-pats going back for a visit have emptied Costco or Target or Best Buy, buying televisions, microwaves, bicycles, and air conditioners for their loved ones in Cuba. I saw my fair share of fishing reels too. That old chestnut of teaching a man to fish so he eats for life went through my mind like ticker tape.

God Bless America for all of her materialism and convenience.

“God Bless America,” that’s what my cab driver said in his fractured English as he drove me to the University of Havana. Aside from Calle Merced 20, that was the other place you wanted me to see. How you wish you could have studied at Alma Mater. Maybe you did or maybe you didn’t walk up its famous staircase.  You believed that you did, and that’s all that matters.

My cabbie leaned in close at a light and told me that from one Cuban to another, he was aburrido de esta vida. He prayed that his 30 year-old Russian Lada taxi would start each morning and that he’d catch enough fares to put food on the table for his kids. We both know that aburrido means so much more than just boredom. It’s a kind of lassitude mixed with the same Cuban melancholia I heard when you said how much you missed Cuba.

The driver had a mother-in-law in New Jersey who sent him money every once in a while. It helped more than I could imagine, he said. When I went to pay him he asked me if I had any medicine — aspirin, antacid, anything—that I could spare. He’d take it in lieu of a gratuity. I gave him a half-full bottle of Advil and a 30 percent tip. I had already donated all of the medicine I brought down to the pharmacy run by the Jewish community. The doctor who runs the operation has the same last name as your mother. “We’re all related,” she said jauntily.

Earlier in the day I had passed a state-run pharmacy where a woman beckoned me to come inside. I had an antibiotic prescription with me that I wasn’t going to use. Yes, she would take that, thank you, and did I also have pens to spare? I gave her what I had. She was about your age. Maybe you passed her on the street once upon a time.

“Tell your government we want to be friends again,” she said. “Tell your President Obama, embargo no.”

Aren’t you aburrida of the embargo too, Mamá?

Love,

Judy

*A version of this essay is forthcoming in the Jerusalem Report

 

 

Goodbye 1735 Asylum Avenue

If you have travelled the stretch of Interstate 84 through Hartford, Connecticut, you might have done a double take when you saw an exit for Asylum Street. I grew up about three miles up the road from that exit where the street unfurls into a suburban avenue.

My ancestral address, 1735 Asylum Avenue, is rich with symbolism and irony. But there is something subtler at work here—something beyond connotations of political or insane asylums. A quirky address like 1735 Asylum befit a kid like me—preternaturally grown-up at six—who emerged out of the rubble created by the collision between my father’s mid-twentieth century American patriotism and the fire-breathing communists in Cuba from which my mother fled.

We settled at 1735 Asylum Avenue in 1963—on my third birthday—into a house whose chief merit was that it sat on a main bus line for my mother—a life-long non-driver. If we couldn’t get from here to there via the Asylum Avenue bus, we didn’t go. More than mastering the transit system, my mother charmed the bus drivers; we always had door-to-door service at 1735.

I know that this former address of mine sounds like a cross between the historical and the unbalanced. But Hartfordites understand that the address was neither—this street was the original location of the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, built in 1817, a precursor to the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford.

The original asylum was a gift of love and devotion from Mason Fitch Cogswell to his brilliant deaf and mute daughter Alice. Take Exit 48 of Asylum Street notoriety and you will almost immediately see a bronze statue of Alice Cogswell that sits at a fork in the road in which Asylum Avenue is to the right and Farmington Avenue is to the left.

Alice looks to be about eight years-old when her likeness was cast in bronze, the same age I was when I began to notice her. Two enormous cupped hands tenderly hold Alice, and she clutches a book to show everyone that dumb means mute, not stupid. As an adult I learned that the hands in which she stands—perfectly manicured hands that resembled my father’s—form the word “light” in sign language.

In many ways, now that I know this detail about those giant hands it make sense that Alice was such an illuminating landmark for me. She not only marked my comings and goings on the Asylum Avenue bus with my mother to and from Downtown Hartford, she marked the beginning and end of Sunday drives to my Bolton grandparents in New Haven. The forty mile trek felt interminable to me. But Alice was a touchstone. She limned crucial beginnings and endings in my childhood.

alicecogswell

Alice’s statue also stood near the stretch of Asylum Avenue where the houses were monied and pretty. On the bus ride west to 1735 Asylum, the Queen Anne homes closest to Alice gave way to larger brick homes that ended at Steele Road, the dividing line of wealth. West of Steele Road were boxy colonials and heavily mortgaged roofs; 1735 Asylum—a three bedroom colonial—among them. The house would be the only property my parents would ever own.

1735Asylum,JPG

When my parents and I moved into 1735, I was still an only child. Beige was everywhere you looked, except for the yellow straw wallpaper in the dining room and the deep lipstick-red shellac inside the kitchen cabinets. The previous owner’s neutrality was at odds with the passion and emotion that now rattled the house. My mother eventually redecorated the hallways, and the dining and living rooms in shades of green—the color of her pretty, translucent eyes.

Last week my sister, brother and I said goodbye to 1735 Asylum Avenue. The house was sold to a contractor who will take it down to its studs and rebuild it into something unrecognizable to us. But the truth of the matter is that these past couple of decades, 1735 Asylum was not the house in which we grew up. Like its proud matriarch, it had declined. Not beyond recognition, but to something else—a memory tinged by inevitable age and benign neglect.

When we were done cleaning out 1735, my sister Carol and I took pictures in front of the house, smiling the smiles of the brave, the weary and the sad. We walked through the rooms slowly, mournfully, as if following some sort of casket. “Do you mind if I say a Kaddish for the house,” I asked Carol.

She told me to say goodbye in my own way and in my own time. The Kaddish is a prayer of mourning that does not say a word about death. It’s all about praising God when one feels least inclined to do so. But there was a lot to thank God for even as we emptied our childhood home. On the way out of town I drove the Asylum Avenue bus route so I could say goodbye to my old friend Alice, still stalwart and serene in the hands of God.

 

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: The Boomer and The Holocaust Survivor

Boom goes my generation with all of the energy and chaos of an atomic blast. Born between 1945 and 1964, there are seventy-six million of us in the United States. Boom goes my generation as we take our places on a historical continuum of social and political revolutions. Boom goes my generation as we take care of aging parents and the children many of us had in our thirties and forties instead of our twenties.

I write this column in my mother’s room at the Hebrew Senior Life Rehabilitation Center. Her house has just been sold. At the moment, her world has shrunk down to one bed as in, “a bed’s come available.” She’s been poked and prodded and operated on while, boom, my siblings and I chase her benefits, balance her checkbook and watch her assets dwindle until Medicare kicks in.

I also write this column after reading Susan Kushner Resnick’s funny, poignant and storied memoir about her relationship with a loveable, difficult Holocaust survivor named Aron Lieb. Boom goes my generation and some of us will blow up before we can appreciate the multi-generational relationships that can so enrich us. Kushner’s memoir is a vital reminder of how important it is to reach across the generational divide, and simply put, love each other.

The title alone—You Saved Me, Too: What a Holocaust Survivor Taught Me About Living, Dying, Fighting, Loving and Swearing in Yiddish— maps out Kushner Resnick’s book to some degree. The reader is cued into the fact that it is also a Yizkor book—A Book of Remembrance. Kushner Resnick tracked down the prototype of such a book about Zychlin—Aron’s shtetl in Poland. “This is not your first appearance in a book,” Kushner Resnick writes to her dear friend. “The other one, published when I was eleven years old [in 1974] is called The Memorial Book of Zychlin.” Boom. Most of that generation of Europe’s Jews disappeared in a pestilent cloud of Nazi genocide.

But You Saved Me, Too is a book of life as much as it is a Yizkor book. It begins with the fact that Lieb and Kushner Resnick both liked to talk to strangers. It tells the truth that their friendship rescued Kushner Resnick from a crushing post-partum depression. That was in 1997. Kushner Resnick has a baby that she leaves in babysitting at the JCC so that she can swim off her depression. She meets Aron Lieb on a lark at the same JCC. “[Aron was] my faux father, my son, my crush, and my cause.”

You Saved Me, Too is also a quixotic book. For anyone who has shepherded a parent through the murky health care system, Kushner Resnick’s advocacy for Lieb’s benefits and his dignity will resonate, deeply and painfully. Kushner Resnick is not shy about indicting the Jewish community and its leaders for Lieb’s benign neglect. In her tongue-in-cheek style, she takes on the honchos, the machors, who made empty promises to help a man who bore the ultimate tattoo of Auschwitz.

That tattoo, the number 141324, takes up residence in Kushner Resnick’s imagination. She notes the sloppiness of the letters—the tattooist must have been in a hurry to go down the long cue of people arriving at Auschwitz—the fact that, “for fifty years, every time you’d taken off your shirt at night or reached out to adjust your side-view mirror on a summer day, you saw those numbers, 141324, the brand the Nazis gave you when they thought you were theirs.”

Boom. Kushner Resnick becomes, in essence, a third-generation survivor or a 3G. She’s bent on keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, intent on telling stories that go beyond the blue Yizkor books from Polish shtetls. “Eventually all the tattooed arms will disappear” she writes. “Then the forgetting will truly commence. … How would the numbers look on my arm? I could get the same tattoo in the same place. 141324. Whenever people asked what it meant, I could tell them about you.”

Although Kushner Resnick, is speaking metaphorically, there are 3G grandchildren who have actually tattooed their grandparents’ numbers on their arms. It’s a radical act that has stirred up as much pride as it has consternation among their survivor relatives. Those numbers are also an address of unimaginable tragedy and entrenched optimism. For all of his heartache and kvetching, Lieb survives because he has dealt with unbearable horror as much as he has thrived in the small joys of life like meeting his friends for a daily cup of coffee at McDonald’s.

With no significant family willing to care for him, Kushner Resnick becomes Lieb’s healthcare proxy and has power of attorney over his affairs. She secures his reparations and learns that she has to open a separate account so that the money is not taxed and therefore not counted as an asset. Boom. She learns that the Boston Jewish community pays mostly lip service to the survivors among them and that it’s a problem also prevalent in Israel.

Halfway through the book she questions her involvement in Lieb’s life. “I can’t write anything conclusive until I figure out why we’re together,” she says. “Some writers say they find the answers by writing their way towards them. But I need to know the last line before I type the first word.” I think I know what she means. My mother sleeps as I type these last words about Aron Lieb and Susan Kushner Resnick, the woman who made his life a blessing for the world to read.

 

A Visit to Poland with a Camera and a Tombstone: Evan Kleinman’s ‘We Are Still Here’

The family was warm, familiar, Jewish. The grandparents’ English was charming, old-fashioned – glazed in a Yiddish accent.

Meet the Kleinmans, the focus of Evan Kleinman’s new documentary. The 28-year-old filmmaker turned the lens on himself to make the aptly titled “We Are Still Here,” about his trip to his grandparents’ Poland – a Poland that held sweet memories turned bitter and unimaginable.

Kleinman’s paternal grandparents grew up in shtetls near Krakow and were deported to concentration camps. On screen, his grandmother remembers her time in the Warsaw Ghetto and how she volunteered to go to Bergen-Belsen with her best friend.

Although Kleinman’s film records his particular legacy trip – a return to his roots with his father, mother and younger sister – it’s a universal home movie. The message of the film is that every Jew survived the Holocaust. This shared survival is what led to the founding of Boston 3G in 2009, the sponsors of the Boston debut of Kleinman’s film last week.

The group’s name, 3G, stands for the third generation of survivors. The group is made up of people in their 20s and 30s, most of whom are the grandchildren of survivors.

Liz Bobrow’s involvement in Boston 3G stems from her close relationship with her paternal grandparents. Both of them are Holocaust survivors whom Bobrow remembered as “very different from my other set of grandparents.

“While they loved me just as much, they were different,” she added. “They spoke with an accent and had funny quirks like always making sure I had enough to eat. I also recognized [as a child] that we didn’t have the big family reunions with my father’s side as we did with my mother’s side.”

Bobrow, Boston 3G’s president, also noted that this third generation has the “unique privilege of connecting with the survivors in a different way from the second generation. While our parents have become caretakers of the survivor generation, we are able to focus solely on who these people are and their incredible stories of survival. It gives the survivors comfort seeing that their stories are not being forgotten, that we are still telling them so many years later.”

“We Are Still Here” was organized around the central event of taking a tombstone back to Poland – a stone to mark Leib Kleinman’s grave. Leib was Evan’s great-uncle, his grandfather’s kid brother who died in a small concentration camp in central Poland.


“The stone is heavy,” the grandfather tells his grandson. The younger Kleinman has set up the context of his film so well that it’s clear that the weight of the tombstone is as difficult to bear as the history of the Jews in Poland.

But in an e-mail interview, the New York native was ebullient about his grandparents and unequivocal about their positive influence on him:

“They are the most powerful and inspiring people I know, and I wanted to be able to share them with other people and with future generations of my family. By doing a film it provided us with an exercise that would bring us closer together, capture our story, and also perhaps bring closure for them because they had not seen these places in 70 years. When my grandfather revealed to me that he could pinpoint the place where he buried his brother I felt beyond compelled to make sure his brother was memorialized.”

Kleinman’s preparations for the trip to Poland are as poignant as the trip itself. His grandfather sketches a map to help his family find his house in the small town of Sediszow. The grandson dutifully brings the map with him to Poland, and it’s almost miraculous when it proves to be useful and accurate.

In Poland, the four Kleinmans move through the country in a hazy dream. But their disorientation is frequently punctuated by moments of triumph. They find a birth certificate of another greatuncle. They find Leib’s burial place through determination and his brother’s description of a place he hadn’t been to in more than seven decades.

Kleinman is similarly scrupulous in showing that the buildings in Poland are a mixture of the old and the new. The observation is a living, breathing subtext of his portrayal of his family and the intense family history attached to them.

Kleinman’s film was also presented last month at the Museum of Tolerance in New York City as well as at a number of film festivals. Since the film’s debut, Kleinman has been gratified by the positive responses from his third generation of survivors.

“Many have voiced to me that the film inspired them to explore their own family history,” he said. “Also, many have told me that my family even reminds them of their own families.”

It’s the ultimate recognition for a young man who movingly portrays his third generation as “living links” to history.