Thursday, November 30, 2006

Postcard #2 Spirit Antarctica

Karyn Huntting headshot by Karyn Huntting

This story was included in the Storyblogging Carnival LX.

Dead of night in Spirit Antarctica, time rolled to stillness as the voices of Neanderthalensis faded into soundless echos of memory. Movie reels in the projection room began to hum and two surrogate suns appeared within a shimmering, bounded rectangle of flickering purple light, cast low on the horizon against the ancient snows of the polar caps of the mountains of pseudo-existence. The crunch of quiet feet breaking through crusted ice became louder as it neared, and I tossed some buttered popcorn your way knowing just who it was came to see the movie. Thanks, you said, laughing. Raisinettes? There was an empty seat.

Movies, even in Spirit Antarctica, end too soon for the price we pay for admission. Soon the suns were but tomorrow's memory and yesterday's foreknowledge, as they must always have been. I heard the squish of popcorn under your feet as we got up to leave, and remembered the sound of the Neanderthal's cry. Raisinette? Here, the last one is for you. No, bite off half and we'll share. Sated by raisin thoughts, we were ready for winter's sleep, but never for the uncertainty of what lay beyond the mask of death.

As you turned to go, you stopped. Crunch went the ice. I opened my eyes so that I could not peek, and held out my hand. From the blackness came one glimpse of a dog-eared photo postcard. A daisy! For me? Here, in Post-apocalyptic Ice Age III? Remember me, you said, frozen tears in your eyes and the smell of Raisinettes on your breath.

Reaching out, I grabbed the rough canvas of your Spirit Antarctica patrol coat. When, I asked? Remember you when we're asleep, for God's sake? Yes. Yes. Asleep, awake. Just always. And the wisps of hair around your face fluttered as you turned to fall into the snow and to the center of the earth.

Would the suns ever rise again? Would we ever feel the popcorn beneath our feet? It didn't matter. My best friend was gone. All that was left was a daisy from a postcard, freezing now as the projector bulbs cooled. The purple-blue of dawn's first whimper began to peek out above the drive-in screen and soon, the suns began to rise, coloring the sky pages with their tawny pink glow.

I reached a cold hand under my Spirit Antarctica patrol coat and gently nestled my postcard daisy next to my heart to warm it. Closing my eyes, I took one last look at the suns, turned, and fell into the hole you had left in the snow. The brilliant, bright blackness of the center of the earth engulfed me as I spun forever downward, listening for the crunch of popcorn and longing to taste the other half of the last Raisinette in Antarctica.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bush Family Values Revisited

(Some Perspective on Family Values and the Law)

Fred Vaughan headshot by Fred Vaughan

PROLOGUE: This article was written in the early part of 2001 while I still chafed at the thought of democracy having been hoodwinked. I was waiting for an opportunity to submit the article to publication. But in those months history took over. That was before criticisms of G. W. Bush were considered tantamount to treason following the events of September 11. Continued unraveling of the evidence of unethical individuals financing far more than could be amassed by his opponent's more numerous supporters, the immediate payoffs in revised government policies worth many times what was expended, emboldened me again. On January 29, 2002 we had a news story that continued to shed the same perspective on Bush family values -- Noelle Bush (Brother Jeb's daughter) was arrested in Florida and released on drug charges. Today, November 28, 2006 the resident's girls are in the news again - this time in Argentina. So here's the original article:

Recently we have been privy to the juxtaposition of the time-honored concepts, family values and the law. These are concepts that have recently been promoted along with Christianity, as exclusively right wing Republican values, but, whether or not Jesus really was a Republican like Billy Graham, the Reverend Moon, or Bob Jones, let us begin by considering the plight of the "presidential" twins Jenna and Barbara Bush.

Look at what Fertility Drugs Can Do!
W babe Laura's shoulders
A New Daddy Bush and Twins A Little Overwhelmed

The venerable conservative William F. Buckley blames the Texas teenage alcohol use law for their current predicament. He says, "whatever one might intone about the relative responsibilities of children of public figures, still the offense for which they were arraigned is better commentary on the misbehavior of the law, than of the two violators of it." It is not clear, but one senses that "the misbehavior of the law" perceived by Mr. Buckley has been with regard to scooping up royalty along with the trash for which the law was clearly intended. The law's primary promoter and the one who actually signed the maligned legislation into law was none other than the right honorable right wing, bible-slapping family man Texas Governor George Dubya Bush who in so doing promoted himself as an adamant unstinting supporter of strong teen alcohol and drug laws. So in that spirit, Jenna has been the first offending teenager according to the Austin Times-Statesman who got her charge (her first one, that is) reduced to a lower class of offense than other teens: "Since September 1999 police have usually charged people using fake identification to buy alcohol with a more serious offense - a Class B violation of the Texas Transportation Code. Class B offenses typically result in arrest." During his campaign Bush advocated the teaching of "moral values" as the heart of raising children, so we must conclude that sidestepping the law must be one of those most "valued."

Bush twins
A Next Generation Picks Up The Torch -- "Watch Out!"

Earlier Frank Rich noted in the New York Times: "Had George W. Bush conducted a charm offensive when his daughter was hospitalized for an emergency appendectomy at Christmas - rather than fleeing for golf in Boca Grande, Fla. - would she be in open revolt now? By engaging in two underage-drinking ruses in one month - a 'crime' likely committed by more college students than not - Jenna Bush has made herself into the No. 1 poster child for the lack of compassion in her father's conservatism. It's Mr. Bush who signed the 1997 three-strikes, 'zero tolerance' Texas law that now puts her a margarita away from serving 180 days in jail."

Of course in Florida we have brother Jeb promoting a law rejecting the use of contraception by teens, espousing abstinence instead, although his own son has been arrested (one of the times!) for breaking and entering the apartment of a former girlfriend while intoxicated - presumably for cookies.

Nor was the earlier generation of Bushes a model of propriety. Jeb had his own appointed Playboy playmate just one office down the hall even though other more legitimate appointees (she had been appointed to a position in which she would rule in favor of her former employer) were assigned to other buildings. Then, of course, we have a brother for whom his father had to use presidential powers to rescue failed savings and loan escapades out of (correct me if I'm wrong) many billions of dollars in losses incurred by innocent people - why do we no longer hear of that brother and why do I worry about what he might be up to? Dubya's professed date of giving up booze and drugs seems to have coincided with Papa beginning his own campaign for the presidency for which naughty children could be construed as a liability. So that obviously made sense to Dubya, but it wasn't family values as traditionally held nor certainly the deep respect for the feelings of his wife Laura or their children as implied by the current resident of the White House. No. (Right wingman Dick Cheney out prioritizes Laura in living room photo ops!) The twins Jenna and Barbara were already well past the age when right and wrong and inebriated parents are beginning to crystallize into a life long family image, and well past the time that responsible parents have seen those obvious "thousand points of light." So clearly family values are secondary to political and economic necessity in his case, and in general that is the only logical lesson to be learned if family values are things to be learned from the Bushes at all.

W family
The Family Unit of Which Legend Is Made

And what about ethics? We have heard a lot from the Bush corner about the lies of "Slick Willie." As we all know, he was caught by a four year $70,000,000 fraudulently tax funded witch-hunt conducted by the right wing. And what was the ultimate offense secured illegally by intimidation? That the meaning of "having sex" was being restricted in a purist sense rather than to include any act conceivably involving the genitals that most (and all Republicans at this juncture of history) might include under that rubric. He was, in fact, impeached by a right-wing congress for that offense even though the out-of-wedlock generality of the offense about which the restriction applied was one of which virtually every one of his primary accusers and his predecessors in office were equally guilty - I'm not actually sure, of course, whether Senator Orin Hatch has ever had sex of any denomination so that claim may not unanimously apply. But the president's offense alone was escalated by bigots to the magnitude of treason since there were virtually no other flaws in the unprecedented economic and diplomatic successes of the Clinton administration nor in the reduction in the national debt, crime rates, welfare recipients, government costs, and outstanding records with regard to the many other measures of the health of a society which are now once again plummeting. Of course Republicans feigned disdain that Clinton had not served in Viet Nam (a failing in common with Cheney and Dubya and again, most all of his accusers) and that he had demurred with regard to having smoked "but not inhaled" marijuana. Recently resident Bush has signed a proclamation that would deny financial aid to any student who refuses to answer questions concerning his/her previous drug use record. This is the same demagogue who refused throughout his campaign to answer any question whatsoever concerning whether he himself had ever used drugs.

So let's compare Slick Willie's crimes with those of the Bush brothers if you will. We have a resident of the White House who has repeatedly hidden his arrest and drug use record in order to secure public office, who has broken Federal laws on several occasions to accrue tremendous profits on insider trading, and who with his friends has used political influence to accrue huge benefits at public expense and avoid criminal prosecution. And whereas the right-wing tittered about Clinton's campaign contributor's being granted a night in the president's spare bedroom at his place of residence - albeit called the "Lincoln Bedroom" in such cases - Dubya's backers were put at the helm commanding top secret US nuclear submarines resulting in the loss of innocent lives and international embarrassments of the first magnitude. In these first few but ever lengthening months that he has been in office,

Kenny Boy
ENRON Executive and long-time supporter of George Bush - "Kenny Boy" Lay

Dubya's primary backers have already gleaned hundreds of millions of dollars at public expense with favorable taxes and authorizations for exploitation of public resources with promises of much, much, more to come even while the economy is languishing on that account. His appointees are violating the public trust to their own benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars just as Cheney's companies amassed wealth by illegally dealing with foreign governments that were off limits to law abiding citizens. A precedent that Dubya's grandfather Preston set in dealing with his favored Nazi's long after such dealings had been outlawed for all US citizens. This does not even broach papa's pardon of Jeb's drug dealing affiliates. "Slick Willie" indeed!

Uncle Dick
"Uncle" Dick from Just Next Door…Well…er, Wyoming

Of course, Richard B. Cheney, the currently vacationing CEO of the friendly oil company Halliburton seems like one of the family when we see him sitting around the fireside chatting with his Texas neighbor - Oh, I'm sorry, they can't be neighbors, can they? Dick and Dubya have sworn that Dick resides in Wyoming, haven't they? Oh, well, small difference. Or when Dubya with much concern stubbornly defended that it wasn't a heart attack his cohort had suffered no matter what the doctors said. Anyway, it's hard to think of Dick as other than as all in the Family with his new artificial heartstrings. He is currently in a little hot water with the government accounting office for refusing to disclose the subject and costs of closed meetings with his fellow oil executives to establish US policies, but that too, what with concern for the heart problems that ensued, will blow over. On June 30, 2000, he appeared on ABC's "This Week", and said, "I had a policy that we wouldn't do anything in Iraq, even arrangements that [were?] supposedly legal. We've not done any business in Iraq since U.N. sanctions were imposed on Iraq in 1990, and I had a standing policy that I do that," clearly indicating that Haliburton operated under his (Richard B. Cheney's) policies! But three weeks later he appeared again on "This Week" - this was after it had been revealed that, in fact, Halliburton subsidiaries had been trading with Iraq since 1998 - to exclaim out of the other corner of his mouth Popeye-style, "We inherited two joint ventures with Ingersoll-Rand that were selling some parts into Iraq, but we divested ourselves of those interests." So, he obviously must not have meant that they hadn't been doing any business with Iraq - just a little, indirectly (and "without inhaling" perhaps?). And why would any CEO purchase a company without knowledge of their business base? But of course, if Halliburton had divested itself of those interests immediately as he implied they had, Dick's comments might be considered ingenuous and even marginally honest. BUT it has recently been revealed that the subsidiaries signed nearly $30 million in contracts and traded with Baghdad for over a year to the benefit of Halliburton before he finally sold them off. But still, as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Halliburton, how in the hell was he supposed to know what was going on throughout the company? I still wonder what Saddam might have been thinking, what with his now dealing with Cheney who was, after all, key to his Mother of All Defeats in the Oil War while Republicans were blasting Clinton for not being harder on Saddam. Maybe the fact that Saddam's highly trained fighters, ironically called the "Republican" guard had been considerately protected while hundreds of thousands of unwilling citizen conscripts were blanket bombed into oblivion endeared a natural affection between cunning foes. And of course dealings with foreign powers while sanctions are in place and against which we risked hundreds of thousands of American lives is not foreign to the Bush family.

So while it is easy enough to believe the current resident of the White House when he says, "I know just how hard it is to put food on your family" (have you ever tried it?) one must wonder whether other "family values" have registered. As stated in the New York Times, "Fairly or unfairly, the man who campaigned for president as a Republican with a heart, a compassionate conservative, appears to be favoring the cold, heartless insurers over ordinary Americans struggling with illness and their finances. It's exactly the kind of stance that causes poll numbers to sink." And not amazingly, they are sinking here as they have abroad.

Meanwhile, quietly and without notoriety nor much more than a mere mention by professors that she has been a good student, Slick Willie's daughter has graduated from Stanford and will do graduate study at Oxford. Congratulations Chelsea!

Acorns don't fall far from the tree.

Chelsea with Dad
Another Celebrity Daughter and Her Much Maligned Father "Slick Willie"

EPILOGUE: There's really nothing to change after all the many horrible months except that the flagging polls reversed by promoting the "W" as standing for "Man of War" since "family man" was a hard sell. But much could be added including Dubya's business partnerships with Osama bin Laden. The longstanding business ties between bin Ladens and Bushes could be discussed and the involvement of the CIA (formerly headed by papa Bush) in installing the Taliban and funding and arming Osama and his band. And the "family values" of George and his friend and campaign financier "Kenny Boy," are just plain laughable in retrospect although admittedly in a rather cynical sort of way.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Life of War

by Jacquelinne White

Jacquelinne at home with two of her friends
Jacquelinne at home with two of her friends

My father lived through WW1. He was in the British trenches that famous Christmas when the Germans, in their own trenches only yards away, threw sausages over to the British and the British sent them back plum puddings. Daddy was one of the men who danced on no-man's-land that Christmas Eve. Young and beautiful German men and the young and beautiful Canadians and other British men danced together until each side was called back and told to continue trying to kill one another. My father lived long enough in the trenches to see the hands of the men they had buried in the walls fling off the dirt and stretch out those hands so their still- alive fellow soldiers could shake them going by and send them greetings. He lived through being buried alive for three days, buried under the earth piled up by a bursting bomb. His fellow soldiers found him when there was a "lull", still breathing, talking but not responding to them. Over and over he said," It is Wednesday to-day. It is Wednesday to-day." He had been buried on a Wednesday and tried to keep his sanity by repeating that sentence.

It was one of the first sentences I ever heard and only partially understood. My sisters were one and two years younger than I. We, too young to fully understand, realized Daddy sat down and gripped the arms of his chair when he was under stress. So when we were sad or disappointed we too sat in our chairs, our small chairs, grabbed the seat beneath our bottoms and repeated, "It is Wednesday to-day." We were of course corrected by the maids, our mother, and our much older siblings. When we were a little older and had been trained not express ourselves in that manner we would still hear Daddy so we would hit him on his hands or his knees and say, "No, Daddy. It is not Wednesday," and he would come out of his trance. We did that all through our childhood and our teens and our early twenties, until we left home, and even when we came back to visit we sometimes brought him back to the present by tapping him, stroking his head, being more gentle than we had been as children when we did not fully understand.

He "talked to himself," but it was not really talking to himself. He talked to Alfie. He always said the same thing. " Your mother is coming Alfie. It is going to be fine. Your mother is coming." I questioned him about that when I was perhaps three years old. We lived on a Cree Indian reserve in Saskatchewan. It was a short walk from our home to his office. The walk was on a narrow dirt path through a little poplar woods, beside a willow-rimmed pond, across a little meadow, over a style into the cow yard, across that yard and through a gate to his office in the middle of another meadow. I used to follow, every chance I got, padding along silently behind him, listening to him. I always turned back just before the style because I was afraid of the milling cows. One day when we were almost to the style I startled him by asking, " Who is Alfie?" We sat down on the steps of the style and he told me about Alfie. Nothing he told me made much sense to me but I pondered and I remembered. Before he started he said something about it not being necessary to tell Momma. We were used to having secrets from our mother and we understood why. There might be trouble if she knew our secrets. He then told me about Alfie. He said, "Jacquelinne, he was only sixteen years old. He was wounded and going to die and he kept calling for his mother. He was only sixteen. I thought it would comfort him to think his mother was coming. He was only sixteen when he died, Jacquelinne."

At the age of three or four I could not comprehend sixteen years. Sixteen seemed very very old, maybe about the same as ninety. I think I must have been in my middle teens before I properly understood. Alfie had slipped by the recruiters and had been sent to the trenches with men eighteen years old.

It seems to me I have always known war. I was nineteen in September 1939. Still young when Korea came along. Not old during the Vietnam war, fearful they would draft my grandson in the Gulf War. Now there is war again and others living through the horrors and even worse than the generations before them, unspeakable though those wars were.

Thousands and thousands all over the world are marching and protesting but I also hear people saying, " Turn off the news. Do not think about it. We cannot do anything so why think about it." I have no response for them. I do not criticize them. But it is in me to remember and to cry out. I need to paint it, to write it as artists and writers for all time have done. Guernica. On two magazine covers, The New Yorker and Harpers. Picasso's Guernica. We remember the Spanish artist of 200 hundred years ago who was so explicit in what war looked like. I am so grieved I cannot bring up his name. Most of you know his name I am sure and I too shall in a few moments. I am too stunned to think clearly.

The man's name was Goya. Remember the woman with a bayonet, with a baby in her arms. Remember her victim.

Daddy told another tale: He was sitting, alone, under the only tree left in what had been a small wood. The tree was shorn of leaves, blasted off by the same ammunition that had felled the other trees. It was moonlight. A nightingale flew over and dropped onto one of few branches left on the tree, threw back its head and sang to him.

"Daddy," from a painting by Jacquelline


Monday, November 27, 2006

Winter Poem

Brian Schwartz headshot by Brian Schwartz

When the woods are fields of snow
With trunks and branches etched in ice
And you remember what you always knew
That winter has never really left you
An old friend, predictable and familiar.
Making snowballs, sliding on a frozen pond,
Riding on a sleigh through never-ending snowdrifts.
Did you do this one -- two -- or twenty years ago?
Or perhaps it was your great-grandfather
Or a long-dead stranger whom you never knew.
No matter -- you have breathed it in.
The sleighride and snowdrift are as much a part of you
As the last person to smile at you.
And, if winter seems forever,
Remember that springtime is deep inside you
Waiting its moment to be reborn.

Snow on Campus Parkway

Snow on Campus Parkway by Fred Vaughan © 1959/60


Thursday, November 23, 2006

The S(h)ijo

Maria Claudia Faverio headshot by Maria Claudia Faverio

There are two main poetry currents in Korea: the hansi tradition (poems in Chinese that follow the rules of Chinese metrics), and the vernacular tradition (poems to be sung and heard: hyangga, Koryo, kayo, kara, and what is known today as sijo/shijo).

The term shijo is a shortened version of shijolgajo ("popular seasonal song") and didn't become common until the 1920s, when it asserted itself as a means of national consciousness against Korea's status of subjugation, as "the breath of the Choson people" (Yom Sangsop). It was also meant as a dam against the flood of Western poetry that was starting to invade Korea.

Modern scholars tend to look for the sources of the sijo in the Korean musical tradition rather than seeing the sijo as a form that developed in the process of translating Chinese quatrains. This native origin theory is mainly based on the hyangga, various shamanistic songs, and the Koryo tan'ga.1

All these songs were not meant for literary, but rather for recreational purposes, they were supposed to cause a "tingling excitement" (hung), and were composed in vulgar speech (onmun). Their language is therefore simple and direct, often colloquial. At the same time though, the sijo reveals beauty of execution and follows precise rules.

The sijo poet tries to convey his own experiences, like friendship, love, wine, loyalty to the king, transience and old age. The sijo includes historical songs, political songs, drinking songs, moral songs, songs of loyalty, love songs, songs of solitude, music, mortality, nature, retirement and rustic life.

Many of these songs are anonymous (like our folksongs), and were and are sung by everybody everywhere, including shoeshine boys. Old people for example sing sijo in their backyards, slapping their knees with rhythmic blows to mark the tempo.

Taeypo and Pukchow are usually considered among the earliest melodies which are still played.

The sijo has three units (called chang): an opening chang, a middle chang, and a final chang, with 14-16 syllables in each chang, distributed according to the following pattern of syllables and breath groups:

chang 1 ku 2 ku 3 ku 4 ku
1st 3 (2-4) 4 (4-6) 4, 3 (2-5) 4 (4-6)
2nd 3 (1-4) 4 (3-6) 4, 3 (2-5) 4 (4-6)
3rd 3 (3) 5 (5-9) 4 (4-5) 3 (3-4)

This is the common structure of the ordinary sijo. However, there are three main variants: 1) the slightly expanded sijo, called ossijo; 2) the widely expanded sijo, called sasol sijo, used as a narrative form, and 3) the yon-sijo (linked poetry). These new forms were the idea of Yi Pyong-gi (the father of the modern sijo), who called the attention to the fact that the sijo should "convey the complexities of modern life by extending its structure, if necessary, from the conventional single stanza to two or more …."

There have been other attempts of modernization and reform. Yi Un-sang, for example, introduced the seven-line sijo, the yangjang sijo (two lines) and the tangjang sijo (one line), but these new forms have not been very successful.

The sijo uses a rhythm pattern which is common to all Korean writing, namely a 3-4 rhythm. In English, this rhythm pattern reminds somehow of Hopkins's sprung rhythm.

In the English language, sijo can be written (or translated from Korean) in three ways: 1) in three long lines with a breath in the middle of each line (each line representing a chang); 2) in six lines (the three long lines are divided at the breath point), or 3) in five lines, as supported by Kevin O'Rourke . The reason for O'Rourke's preference of the 5-line structure is that it corresponds to the five parts of the kagok-ch'ang, to which the original songs (kasa) were sung. The first and second lines correspond to the opening chang, the third (longer) to the middle chang, and the fourth (shorter) and fifth (longer) to the final chang. This structure also seems to convey a visual pattern similar to the original Korean one.

The opening chang is normally a general statement, it conveys an image, an idea.

Ride a horse through a field of flowers
and the scent lingers on the hoof.

The middle chang then develops the idea of the opening chang, often by introducing details or providing a specific context.

Enter a wine-spring tavern
and the smell of undrunk wine sticks fast.

The first ku of the final chang is the "twist", quite often just a conventional phrase, and serves as a contrast to the wit of the second part of the final chang.

All we did
was catch each other's eye; why then all the lies?

Another two examples of representative sijo:

A shadow is reflected in the water;
a monk is crossing the bridge.
Monk, stay a moment;
let me ask you where you' re going
Stick pointed at the clouds,
he passes without a backward glance.
Deep blue stream, don't boast so loud
of your passing through these green hills.
Though your way runs swiftly down to the sea,
there is no such easy return.
While the bright moon floods these lonely hills,
why not pause? Then go on, if you will.

Explicit metaphors or comparisons are rare in sijo (usually there is only one term), although they are more frequent than in haiku, where they are forbidden. Implicit metaphors are more widely used. Sometimes sijo also employ conceits as a means of expression, although these sijo are usually not among the best.

White heron, do not mock
the crow for being black.
Black outside,
is it black inside, too?
White outside,
black inside: that's really you.
This sijo, for example, is supposed to express the pangs of conscience felt by Yi Chik (1362-1431) for supporting the new Choson dynasty.

Another technique employed by sijo poets is symbolism, mainly drawing on Chinese tradition, e.g. trees, flowers, and birds. The willow branch for example symbolizes parting, the flower transience, the cuckoo unhappy love, the magpie good news.

Colours are also relevant. There is a clear predominance of green, blue, and white in sijo. These three colours seem to represent an ideal state, something desirable. In combination with other symbols, they can acquire other or additional meanings. Moonlight and whiteness combined, for example, symbolize loneliness.

Yun Sondo (1587-1671) is considered the greatest writer of sijo. He mainly wrote sijo focussed on the countryside and on morality.

Here is one of his famous sijo:

You ask how many friends I have?
Water and stone, bamboo and pine.
The moon rising over the eastern hill
is a joyful comrade.
Besides these five companions,
what other pleasure should I ask?

All the greatest sijo masters wrote in the 16th and the early 17th centuries, the time of the Renaissance in Western culture, like Yi Hwang (1501-1570) and Hwan Chin-I (1522-1565), the most famous female poet of that time, besides of course the already mentioned Yun Sondo.

To conclude this article, I would like to introduce two examples of sijo by contemporary authors and an example of an extended sijo:

In the Grass2 (Chi Song-Chan, b. 1942)

I become the grass
where my lovely Suntee runs at play.
The more she treads it
the greener it grows.
Suddenly she flares,
a red flower.

Snowy Period (Song Son-Yong, b. 1939)

Here is a bird that carries dusk home
after roving the wind-swept fields.
This is a bird that returns
driving firelights onto the dark yard.
Here is a bird that pecks at my memory
brooding on the camellia of my heart.

The Cricket (Pak Kyong-Yong, b. 1940)

Flowing out and over
the moonlight submerges the world below.
Your cry calling your mate
echoes faintly in the air.
How will you cross the evening sky,
a thousand miles of night road,
ten thousand miles of water road?

Your grief anchored at the ferrypoint
where lamentations gleam and glimmer,
I sorrow over your spirit that spins
like a length of thread. O cricket,
both of us cry for our mates,
though an impassable river separates us.


O'Rourke K., The book of Korean Shijo, 2002 Harvard University Asia Center

McCann D.R., Form and Freedom in Korean Poetry, 1988 E.J. Brill

Rutt R., The Bamboo Grove, 1971 University of California Press

Jaihiun K., Modern Korean Verse in Sijo Form, 1997 Ronsdale Press

Jaihuin K., Classical Korean Poetry, 1994 Asian Humanities Press, California

POEM - by Marie Faverio

Morning impressions

Sitting here at dawn,
under a colour-crazy sky
spilling visions
over angularities,
I try to discern
some godly utterance
that may give sense
to my life,
an incipient sound or form
gravid with in-fieris.

The dark's collapse
bails out the nimble-winged possibilities
of the uncertain,
making room for unwalled horizons -
scary sometimes -,
among birds exploding
into unrestrained impromptus.

The gulls are less excited.
They don't screech
like during the day.
They smear the sky
with muffled wings,
splitting brimfuls of colours.

People are already jogging
along Sri Chinmoy's Peace Path
before facing another busy day
in the City.

I'm just waiting for more light
to write a new poem.

1 There are only a few facts we can rely on as to the origin of the sijo, for example:

  • There is no classical record that makes reference to the sijo in the present 3-chang form;

  • There are less than 20 songs that date to Koryo, all included in the great sijo anthologies (dating from the 18th century);

  • A great variety of short songs from early Choson are also recorded, but they are not called sijo;

  • Before the 15the century, all songs in Korea were either recorded in Chinese or passed on orally. It was during the reign of Sejong that the han'gul was invented;

  • There are various songs recorded in Chinese, han'gul, or a mixture of both in anthologies and private munjip, but again they are not called sijo;

  • The songs can either be sung to a kagok-ch'ang or to a shijo-ch'ang. The second form is much easier in its structure and can also be easily tapped. For this reason, it gradually replaced the kagok-ch'ang by the end of the 1920s;

  • The shijo-ch'ang also seems to be the basis for the 3-chang structure that is used in our days.

2 Titles are usually avoided in sijo, but are used in Jaihiun's excellent collection of modern Korean verse..


Wednesday, November 22, 2006


If salvation is the cure, then atheism is the prevention.

Dan Barker headshot by Dan Barker

This article was included in the Carnival Of The Godless.

This is the abstract of a speech presented at the World Religions Conference "Silver Jubilee," October 1, 2005, in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Dan was invited to represent atheism at this 25th annual event, along with representatives of Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, Christianity, and Aboriginal spirituality. The topic for all was "salvation." His participation was kindly sponsored by local Humanists, who joined Dan in singing "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" at the end of his talk.

Atheism is a philosophical position, a world view that disbelieves or denies the existence of god(s). It is not a religion. Atheism has no creeds, rituals, holy book, moral code, origin myth, sacred spaces or shrines. It has no sin, divine judgment, forbidden words, prayer, worship, prophecy, group privileges, or anointed "holy" leaders. Atheists don't believe in a transcendent world or supernatural afterlife.

Most important, there is no orthodoxy in atheism. We atheists do not expect conformity of thought or action. To freethinkers, allowing for differences of opinion is a sign of health.

Terry Mosher of the Montreal Gazette drew an editorial cartoon on March 5, 2002, saying:

"Here's a headline we never see: Agnostics slaughter Atheists!"
Atheists are simply people without theism.

However, many atheists have opinions about much of the above. We champion reason as the only tool of verifiable knowledge. For morality, most atheists follow humanism, a set of natural principles (not rules), that help us think about how to live.

In many religious traditions, "salvation" is a deliverance from one of the three "D"s: danger, disease, and death. Most believers see these in both natural and supernatural ways. Danger can arise from an occupying conqueror, or from the threat to morality and order by evil spirits or devils. Disease and death can be feared both physically and spiritually.

Dan Barker

(photo by Brent Nicastro)
Dan Barker, is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation with Annie Laurie Gaylor, is the author of Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, three books for children on freethought and humanism, and more than 200 recorded songs for children. Before "losing faith in faith," he majored in religion at Azusa Pacific College and was an ordained minister specializing in a musical ministry. He has produced three tapes of freethought music, the "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist" CD, and the "Beware of Dogma" CD.

Atheists, with the same human desires and fears, also care about deliverance, but only as natural concerns. We see deliverance coming - if it is to come at all - in the real world, from our own human efforts.

Sometimes no deliverance is needed at all. The New Testament Jesus reportedly said, "They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick." (Matthew 9:12) We atheists consider ourselves whole. We are not sick. We don't need the doctor.

Suppose you were convicted of a horrible crime and sentenced to life in prison, but after a few years behind bars you are surprised to hear you are being released. This "salvation" would be a wonderful experience, but which would make you feel better: learning you were released because you were pardoned by the good graces of the governor, or because you were found to be innocent of the crime?

Which would give you more dignity?

We atheists possess "salvation" not because we are released from a sentence, but because we don't deserve the punishment in the first place. We have committed no "sin."

Sin is a religious concept, and in some religions, salvation is the deliverance from the "wages of sin" - death, or eternal punishment. Sin has been defined as "missing the mark" of God's expectations or holiness, or "offending God," so it follows that since there is no god, there is no sin, therefore no need for salvation. Only those who consider themselves "sinners" need this kind of "salvation." It is a religious solution to a religious problem.

We atheists might ask: how much respect should we have for a doctor who cuts you with a knife in order to sell you a bandage?

If salvation is the cure, then atheism is the prevention.

People who believe in "sin" and "salvation" have nothing to fear from us atheists. We are not barging into mosques, synagogues and churches dragging people from worship. If believers do not have freedom of conscience, then neither do we.

Most humanists define ethics as the intention to act in ways that minimize harm. Actions have consequences, so morality is a real-world exercise. A moral person is accountable. If my actions cause unnecessary harm, intentionally or unintentionally, then my "salvation" comes in trying to correct that harm, or to repair the damage as much as possible.

Canadian physician Dr. Marian Sherman, a prominent atheist from Victoria, B.C., in the Toronto Star Weekly (Sept. 11, 1965) article, "What Makes an Atheist Tick?" is quoted saying:

"Humanism seeks the fullest development of the human being. . . . Humanists acknowledge no Supreme Being and we approach all life from the point of view of science and reason. Ours is not a coldly clinical view, for we believe that if human beings will but practice love of one another and use their wonderful faculty of speech, we can make a better world, happy for all. But there must be no dogma."

When asked about death, Dr. Sherman replied: "It is the end of the organism. All we can hope is that we have found some sort of happiness in this life and that we have left the world as a little better place."

Those with a negative view of human nature might seek help in solving problems from outside humanity. But those with a positive view of human nature - a true hope - will work for "salvation" from within the human race, using the tools of reason and kindness.

For atheists, "salvation" is active problem solving.

We do not think there is a purpose of life. If there were, that would cheapen life, making us tools or slaves of a master. We think there is purpose in life. As long as there are problems to solve, hunger to feed, illness to cure, pain to lessen, inequality to eradicate, oppression to resist, knowledge to gain, and beauty to create, there will be meaning in life.

A college student once asked Carl Sagan: "What meaning is left, if everything I've been taught since I was a child turns out to be untrue?" Carl looked at him and said, "Do something meaningful."

If you want to be a good, kind person, then . . . be a good, kind person.

If salvation is the freedom from sin, then we atheists already have it. If salvation is deliverance from oppression and disease in the real world, then there is real work to do. In this ongoing effort, we atheists and humanists are happy to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the truly good religious people who also strive for a future with less violence and more understanding.

Other Dan Barker related Reason and Rhyme content:


Another Puzzle

Staffan A. Svensson headhshot by Staffan A. Svensson

The pieces of this puzzle should be combined in a way that will be the obvious answer when found.

Look below for the solution.


puzzle solution


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dissection Puzzle Clue

Albert Frank Headshot by Albert Frank

A big clue for the Dissection Puzzle: Four straight lines are enough for the solution.


Memoir of a Non-Irish Non-Jew

Part 2
(Part I)

Richard May headshot by Richard May

Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of many generations.
Ask your father, and he will show you,
Your elders and they will tell you.

- Deuteronomy 32:7

Truth is the safest lie. - Yiddish proverb

What do I have in common with the Jews?
I don't even have anything in common with myself.

- Franz Kafka

Obsession: How Many Ancestors Danced Under a Yarmulke?

I am the great grandson of a yarmulke-wearing Boston jeweler. He looked very Jewish, but was, of course, a gentile. My father assured me that we weren't Jewish. We just wore yarmulkes. Or some of us did, back then. Didn't most gentiles?

Incredibly I never questioned this until recently. How could one question ones father about his identity? (How could one identify with ones family?) How could we be Jews (or Christians, for that matter)? How could I be the other? How could I not be the other?

And, as in an indirect proof in Euclidean geometry, if one assumes the truth of the premise of my father's tale, i.e., that we were not Jewish, then contradictions and absurdities follow. But if one assumes the negation of his premise, i.e., that we were, in fact, Jewish, then every consequence is plausible.

How probable is it that a gentile could, merely by wearing a yarmulke, "fool" the turn-of-the-century immigrant Jewish community in Boston, Massachusetts, as to his status as an (presumably) observant Jew? And, perhaps, more importantly, why would he do so, even if he could?

The fundamental assumption of my father's narrative that my great grandfather wore a yarmulke "to fool the Jews", that is, the Jewish clientele of the family jewelry business, seems to be absurdly flawed. Even if one were to assume that Jews bought jewelry exclusively from Jewish jewelers (never from gentile jewelers) and that they completely ignored free market considerations, such as price differences, what percentage of the population in Boston was Jewish in the period from 1890 to 1930? (Between 1877-1879 the first census of American Jews conducted by the Union of Hebrew Congregations determined that only 0.6 percent of the population in the Northeast was Jewish.) Probably Jews comprised less than 2 percent of the population, i.e., most prospective clients of any jeweler would be gentiles by a ratio of more than forty-nine to one! (In Boston Irish Catholics may have predominated.) Unless, of course, the Jewish 1or 2 percent of the population of that time period in Boston spent more money on jewelry than the non-Jewish 98 or 99 percent of the population! This seems exceedingly unlikely. I have never even heard this claimed as a stereotype. And, of course, a jeweler who wore a yarmulke would risk alienating the prospective clients who were of the 98 or 99 percent gentile majority or at least the anti-Semitic ones. So, wherein would consist the business advantage of a gentile jeweler impersonating a Jew in a predominantly gentile milieu, even if he could do so successfully?

According to my research, a Reform Jew of the classical period in question would not have worn a yarmulke ever. A non-Orthodox Jew who wore a yarmulke would have been a Conservative Jew. But a Conservative Jew would have worn a yarmulke only when praying or studying sacred texts (What Is a Jew, by Rabbi Morris N. Kertzer; The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, Keith Krim, General Editor) And a Conservative Jew was more likely to be of Eastern European origin, rather than German. Only a male Orthodox Jew wore a yarmulke continuously throughout his waking hours, including his work.

Hence, I conclude that great grandfather was seemingly either a German Orthodox Jew who wore a yarmulke in his business or a gentile who impersonated an Orthodox Jew, because allegedly this conferred some mysterious business advantage that he would not enjoy if he were perceived as a gentile. But would not a turn-of-the-century Orthodox Jew be precisely the most difficult variety of Jew for a gentile to impersonate? Rather, why not impersonate a German Reform Jew, who would have been a much easier study to pass as? But no, a Reform Jew of the era would not have worn a yarmulke ever, even when praying or studying sacred texts, certainly not at work. Even in the seemingly unlikely case that at that time and place it was somehow essential to be Jewish to prosper in the Jewelry business, since great grandfather "looked and sounded very Jewish," according to Father, then his wearing a yarmulke would have been rather superfluous, if its sole purpose was deception. Ockham's razor may also be tentatively applied here. Given various possible explanations for an occurrence, which are all equally supported by the evidence, the simplest explanation is to be preferred as the most probable. Doesn't it seem more internally consistent and logical to conclude that my great grandfather wore a yarmulke in his jewelry business, because he was an Orthodox Jew?

Oddly, grandfather was never mentioned as having worn a yarmulke, only great grandfather. The implication by omission was that he had not worn one. During this period of history the number, relative percentage in the population, and the financial status of Jews in the Northeast were all increasing. Hence, their buying power was also increasing. So, if it had been necessary for great grandfather to wear a yarmulke at work in his business in order to "fool the Jews," why would not this stratagem of deception have been continued by his son? Grandfather, who was an elementary school dropout, worked in the family jewelry business with his yarmulke-wearing father, even as an adolescent. How could it be possible that the son of an Orthodox Jew (who wore a yarmulke at work) wore no yarmulke, as they worked side by side? Great grandfather and grandfather were either Jews or imposters as Father alleged. Imposters, in order to pass as Jews, would necessarily have emulated what actual (in this case Orthodox) Jews would have done. In either case grandfather would also necessarily have worn a yarmulke, although, I think, probably only as a young man, before he assimilated. But maybe to admit this would have brought the "Jewishness" too close to my father, i.e., his own father had also worn a yarmulke.

It was suggested to me that at the turn-of-the-century the wholesale jewelry business may have been controlled by Jews. Hence, in order for a retail jeweler to obtain a "good deal" from a wholesale jeweler, it might have been necessary for him to be a Jew. If, in fact, this had been the case, then theoretically it could explain the case of a gentile, who was a retail jeweler, pretending to be a Jew in order to obtain the best possible price from the Jewish wholesale jeweler. This possibility never occurred to me. And I could think of no convincing refutation of the argument. But it did not fit with my father's explanation that the Jewish customers accepted my great grandfather as a Jew. Years later I learned that we had no problem dealing with the wholesale jewelers. In fact my great grandfather was a wholesale jeweler. He was also, as I correctly inferred, an Orthodox Jew (who had for the most part assimilated).

I learned that German Jews of that period were generally middle class business owners or professionals, whereas the immigrant eastern European Jews tended to have been much poorer. Many of them had lived in the Lower East Side of New York City and had worked for very low wages in the garment district, under deplorable conditions. But on the extremely rare occasions when father spoke of this, he implied that the Jews were very wealthy. Even more strangely, I discovered that we were the Jews of whom he spoke, no doubt extremely wealthy!

I also learned that Charles May had an aunt on his mother's side, who was from the Goldschmidt family of Bad Hamburg, a very prominent family of Court Jews or Hof Jueden, as they were called in German. And, he had an uncle, Rabbi Dr. Benedikt Samuel Levi, also on his mother's side, who was the Chief Rabbi of the Grand Duchy of the Hessen! Doubtless, all were "just pretending" to be Jews, in order to "fool the Jews"! But, Father certainly met the Nazis' criterion for being a Jew, i.e., that of having at least one Jewish grandparent. And, perhaps, so did I, depending upon the identity of descent of Charles' wife Millie May nee' Laster or other genealogical ambiguities.

Yizkor (Remembrance)

Charles May's father was Ferdinand Mayer. Ferdinand's grandfather, Abraham Mayer, his wife's father, Isaak Simon Landauer, and both of her grandfathers, Simon Abraham Landauer, and Salomon Michel from Gelnhausen, were protected Jews (Schutzjueden or vergleideter Jueden), a phrase whose meaning was unknown to me. The precise meaning of this term varied with the particular historical context. Jews did not have the full rights of citizenship in the various states which now comprise Germany, until varying dates in the 19th century. Generally, a protected Jew was one who could afford to pay an exorbitant Jew tax (Schutzgelt or protection money) to obtain a letter of protection (Schutzbrief or Geleit) for a specified period of time from the local secular authorities at various levels of government, which allowed him and his family to settle in a particular area or city and practice a profession or to set up a business or to trade there. Those who could not afford to pay to obtain discriminatory protection by or from the local baron or authorities were known as unprotected Jews (unvergleideter Jueden) or, more often, simply as Jewish beggars (Betteljueden), who were forced to wander the locality living on charity or to work for a protected Jew. In some cases only a protected Jew could obtain permission to marry. A religious marriage of an unprotected Jew would not be recognized by the local secular authorities. The number of Jews granted protected status was limited in order to restrict the growth of the Jewish population in the area. (Sources: the Jewishgen archives)

Abraham Mayer (Meyer), who was born with the patronymic name Abraham the son of Meyer, lived in (Frankfurt-) Hedderdheim at least as early as 1765,according to a Muster List. He married Theresia Philippina Hess, the daughter of Isaak Hess who died in Heppenheim, and Babett, whose maiden surname is unknown. (The surname "Hess" is an Ashkenazic name which means someone originally from the state of the Hessen, Germany, according to the previously mentioned book by Dan Rottenberg.) Theresia was born in 1724 and lived one hundred years, dying in 1824! The Mayers moved to Mannheim sometime after 1778. In 1779 Abraham Mayer is listed as being freed from making payments as a protected Jew in Heddernheim. No longer being required to make the payments implied that he had become poor by this time. His daughter's death record states that he was a merchant in Mannheim while still alive. Hence, it is likely that he died in Mannheim.

Abraham and Theresia Philipinna Mayer had seven children according to a (Nierstein) Muster List of 1817. David (the son of) Abraham was born in 1760 and nothing else is known. Meyer was born in 1761 and he went to Holland. Judas was born in 1763 and remained in Mannheim. Judith was born in 1763 or 1765 and died in 1838 in Nierstein. She married Benedickt Bloom in 1788 and went to Nierstein. Wilhelm, Ferdinand's father, was born in 1767 and it is not known when or where he died. Presumably both Wilhelm and his wife, Juliette, lived until at least 1826, since neither is referred to as deceased on the 1826 death record of their daughter, Babet. Hirsch was born in 1764 or 1768 and died in 1834.He went to Ober-Ingelheim and changed his name to Phillip Mayer. His first wife was Schoenchen, daughter of David Feist. His second wife was Esther, daughter of Samuel Loeb. She became known as Therese. Finally, Jacob was born in 1770 and he went to Mainz.

In 1796 Wilhelm Mayer married Juliette Hamburg, who was born in 1770 and was from Frankfurt. His profession or business was trade. In 1817 in Nierstein his wealth or assets was listed as 1000.florin. He also possessed two tillage gardens. Wilhelm and his family, including Theresia Philippina, the widow of Abraham Mayer, left Mannheim for Nierstein sometime between 1805 and July of 1809. They had ten children of whom Ferdinand was the youngest, according to the 1817 Nierstein Muster List. Therese was born in 1797. Maximilian was born in 1799 and died after 1864. Max Mayer and his family were granted permission to settle in Frankfurt in 1835, according to an 1864 application to start his own wine dealership or wine store in Frankfurt (at the age of sixty-five). Margaretha was born in 1800. Babet (probably named after her great grandmother, Philippina's mother) was born in 1801 in Mannheim and died unmarried at age twenty-four in 1826 in Nierstein. Simon was born in Mannheim at the end of 1802 and died in Frankfurt on 8 November 1883, at 81 years old, a widower, living in Frankfurt am Main, Jewish and, independently wealthy, according to his death certificate. He had a son named Maximilian who was a merchant. He was married to a Catherine Salomon who may have been his second wife. Friederich was born in 1807 in Mannheim and died in 1826 in Nierstein at the age of nineteen. No wife is mentioned on his death certificate. Judith was born in 1800 or 1806. Henriette was born in 1810. (A Henriette Levi neé Mayer, the first wife of the Rabbi of the Province, Dr. Benedikt Samuel Levi, died on 22 December 1842 at age 36 in Giessen. The birth records for some of her children indicate that she was from Mannheim. At the time Ferdinand's sister, Henriette Mayer, was born, the Mayer family was known to be still living in Mannheim. Henriette's first child was named Samuel Wilhelm Levi, presumably after her father, Wilhelm Mayer. Ferdinand was a witness at the birth of the Rabbis and Henriette's fourth child. Dr. Levi, who signed some documents as "Rabbi of the Grand Duchy Of the Hessen", was a witness on the occasion of the birth of Ferdinand's first son, Isidor Wilhelm Mayer, 6 December 1842. Hence, Rabbi Dr. Benedikt Samuel Levi's wife was almost certainly Ferdinand's sister Henriette Mayer. Senior Rabbi Dr. Levi, who was the son of Rabbi Samuel Wolf Levi, was born on 14 October 1806 in Worms and died in Giessen on 4 May 1899 at the age of 92 years. He was active as a Rabbi from 1829 through ca.1896. Dr. Levi had the title of "Grandducal Provincial Rabbi for the Province of Hessen." Kaetchen Mayer nee' Landauer's paternal grandmother was Feile Levi of Giessen. Hence, it is not unlikely, given the Jewish practice at that time of marrying relatives, that Dr. Levi was also a blood relative of Ferdinand's wife, Kaetchen.) Johanna, apparently also known as Jeanne, was born in 1809 or 1811 in Nierstein. Lastly Ferdinand was born on 26 February 1812 in Nierstein and died on 14 March 1890 in London, England.

Ferdinand Mayer and his wife, Kaetchen, had eight children, the first seven of whom were born in Giessen in the Hessen (Germany): Rosalie (whose marriage to Luis Heim was previously mentioned), born 4 March 1839; Friedericke Luise, born 5 February 1841; Isidor Wilhelm, born 6 December 1842; Siegfried Karl ("Charles"), born 14 December 1844; Emma, born 25 April 1848, married on 8 July 1880 at the Islington Registry Office (a civil marriage), aged 26, according to the certificate (daughter of Ferdinand May, independent) Charles Adolph Fieber, aged 41, a boot manufacturer (son of Carl Fieber, a merchant), in the 1881 London census at 42 Leicester Square a residence is listed with Charles A. Fieber, aged 42, boot maker, as the head of household, his wife named Emma, and boarders consisting of a Ferdinand May, aged 69, retired, and his wife, Katharine, aged 69, both born in Germany, a surgeon, born in Ireland, a young man with no occupation, born in Paris, and their nineteen year old servant girl; Georg, born 26 June 1850 (George May) lived in 1894 on Highbury New Park, London, a road of which a professional researcher (after checking the 1891 census) said, "looks like a very high class area - lots of servants"; Moritz, born 6 January 1853; and lastly Anna who was born in England ca.1854. It is interesting to note the complete absence of any Hebraic names for the children, possibly excepting "Anna." It appears that only Charles emigrated from England to the U.S.A.

The following letter (translated from the German) was written by Ferdinand's oldest brother, Maximilian Mayer, who was a merchant born in the Hessen in 1799, probably in Mannheim. It was written little more than two years after Ferdinand immigrated to London, England. It seems that Max was quite involved with the local Jewish community rather than assimilating and apostate, as was apparently the case for his youngest brother, Ferdinand.

(To) the Mayor in Nierstein, Mr.Sandmann
Frankfurt, April 6, 1855

Dear Friend!
I previously answered your esteemed letter concerning the matter of the Synagogue in Nierstein; however, I wanted to wait for the right moment to introduce the likes of Dr. Stein, which I have also done but unfortunately without a favorable outcome, as he let it be known he could not do anything about the matter. This man is generally very bad-tempered because a lot was lost in this manner due to his sweeping reform. It is not advisable to appeal to other philanthropists at this moment, because due to the hard winter and high price of food these people will be very busy. Besides, it is inconceivable to me how the Jewish community, although poor, could sink so far as to be incapable of paying the trifling sum of the rent. It seems to me more a matter of indifference and negligence in regards to religious life, than good will. I am not speaking here about the old people who are not able to earn very much, but about the young men, who as I hear are able to support themselves pretty well. If they have any religious feeling whatsoever, could they truly not afford a small weekly contribution? Indeed they could and you will concur with me in this regard dear friend. Apart from that, I will notify you if I hear anything encouraging.

Live well, and please be assured of my esteem and friendship.

Yours truly,
Max Mayer


I find some consolation in the fact that the eminent M.I.T. mathematician Norbert Wiener, the inventor of cybernetics, also did not know that he was Jewish! I learned this in an anthology of essays on Jewish topics, possibly the Jewish Almanac. Professor Wiener's father was Jewish, but his mother was Episcopalian. His mother did not want her son to know that he was Jewish. So his father agreed to raise him without knowledge of his Jewish ancestry and culture. Lack of knowledge of his Jewish roots was especially ironic in Norbert Wiener's case, because his father, who taught at Harvard, had written several acclaimed scholarly books on the Yiddish language!

Less than five years ago the only genealogy, which was known to me was that my father's father was William. He was my only living grandparent at the time of my birth. William died on 3 January 1949 (two months before my fifth birthday), at age seventy-one. Although I met him, I have no memory of him. I have never seen a photograph of William.

Grandfather was an elementary school dropout who was said to have read a book per day. According to tradition, he had a very large vocabulary, corrected people's grammar and spoke professorially. He was the son of Charles May And Son Company. He was also a violin player; a fiddler on the roof of the family wholesale jewelry business.

William's death notice read as follows: Framingham News (Massachusetts), Wednesday, January 5, 1949, Deaths & Funerals: Private Services For William May - Private funeral services were conducted this afternoon by Rev. John O. Fisher of the First Parish Unitarian Church (emphasis added) for William May, 71, retired Boston jeweler of 141 Hollis St., who collapsed and died Monday morning, at Bigelow Chapel, Mt. Auburn, Cambridge. Cremation followed. (Perhaps it is interesting to note that cremation is prohibited under Jewish law.)

Arrangements were in charge of Hollander-Boyle Funeral Service. (Strangely, there is no mention that he was survived by three of his four children from his first marriage, by his grandchildren, and also by his second wife. At least I assume that she was his wife, although I never could find a record of their marriage.)

Later I discovered that William was named after his father's (Charles') oldest brother, Isidor Wilhelm. I further learned that the name "Isidor" was more or less equivalent to the name "Israel" in Jewish naming patterns. (Etymologically the name "Israel" means contender with G-d. "Israel" also refers to a common Jew who is neither a Levite nor a Cohen. During the Nazi regime, "Israel" was the name that all Jewish males in Germany were forced to take as a middle name on any official documents or identification. The mandate for compulsory given names for Jews began on 17 August 1938.)

Isidor Wilhelm was named after his own grandfather, Wilhelm Mayer, whose name at birth in ca.1767 (before Jews were required to take surnames) was the patronymic name "Wilhelm the son of Abraham". So William, my grandfather, was named after an Israel Wilhelm who was, himself, named after a Wilhelm the son of Abraham!

But who was William? And who are we? Remembering with awareness of various levels of irony the response of Bodhidharma (the Indian monk who brought Buddhism from India to China) to King Wu's question, "Who are you?" -- "I don't know"! What is our identity, if we awaken in the moment from the stories of our lives and the dreams of our culture? Why did I enter this incarnation as a Jew, by Reform criteria at least (my maternal line, consisting of orphans who are descended from orphans, does not lack ambiguity), without knowledge of this, stripped of so much of my heritage and cultural identity? In attempting to uncover my Jewish roots am I "undoing" a pattern of karma of my ancestors or laboring to "undo" my own pattern of karma from a previous life or another life in which I negated or denied my Jewish identity?

It is interesting to note that traditionally most groups in the ancient world traced their membership and descent patrilineally. The Jews (Israelites) were originally no exception to this rule, as is illustrated by various Biblical stories. The practice of including patrilineal descent as a determinant of identity is, of course, recognized and continued by Reform Jews and Reconstructionist Jews, even today. Between 200 C.E. - 300 C.E. (the precise date is unknown) the Jews changed to the principle of matrilineal descent. The change to matrilineal descent has been called an historic misinterpretation (from an academic rather than a religious perspective) of a certain Mishnaic rule (M. Qiddushin 3:12).

But, perhaps, I'm only a "homeopathic" Jew, not of pure stock? Do I need to have reverse rhinoplasty? No, being of Jewish descent is a lineage not a percentage, not a blood disorder, as the Nazis maintained. And, in any case, homeopathy teaches us that even a miniscule dosage can have a profound effect!


Monday, November 20, 2006

Storyblogging Carnival LVIII

Lovely Leslie Carbone presents Through the Window a warm and vital post at LeslieCarbone. 192 words, rated PG.

Mama Duck presents The cookie monster is appeased posted at Lil Duck Duck. Mmmm, M&M cookies with cookie monster pictures! 284 words, rated G.

Praveen presents The Gathering posted at Fantasy Tales. Grab an ale and join the adventurers! 354 words, rated PG.

Pernicious presents a rich dark battle: Heorogar, son of Halfdane. posted at Sea of Humanity. 514 words, rated PG.

Story Scribe presents Shopping posted at Story Storage. I, for one, am not taking my grocery shopping nearly serious enough. 578 words, rated PG.

Chris Dolley presents The Horse Ride From Hell posted at Author Chris Dolley's Page. Drive safely. 696 words, rated PG.

What is clock time dilation all about? What would it be like for identical twins reunited after a separation involving space travel? And...what about biological clocks and their synchronization? Fred Vaughan writes about Deirdre and Alana Poe and Their Tell Tale Hearts. 824 words, rated PG.

Something is definitely wrong when a sensitive child realizes, "What she wanted couldn't be held up, couldn't be described to these people, couldn't be found in this room, perhaps couldn't be found anywhere at all." Charmaine Frost writes about Awakenings. 928 words, rated PG.

Jane Chin, PhD., writes My Two Selves where past and present are shared now from Live Your Inspiration. 1027 words, rated PG.

degenerate.leftist shares How I Defeated the Mice. My wiley cat Mage would have enjoyed these heroic battles! 1107 words, rated PG.

Bob Parker presents A Lucky Girl posted at Bob's Scary tales. 1216 words, rated R (scary!).

More information about the Storyblogging Carnival and previous Storyblogging Carnivals can be found here.


Saturday, November 18, 2006


Charmaine Frost headshot by Charmaine Frost

Mother's gritty voice, from the kitchen just beyond the archway, stopped her; Claire clutched the banister, one with the eavesdropping shadows.

"Well, you have to preserve their self-esteem; that's what all the books say," the gritty voice gargled. A coil of smoke unraveled into a gray veil over mother's face; clouds of earlier smoke lingered, muting the yellow light into a bilious choking haze.


"Hmm," the man grunted, his back a murky silhouette in the smog.

Earlier that evening, Claire had danced into the kitchen, caressed by the aroma of simmering spaghetti sauce, the golden light twinkling off brass lamps, and her teacher's praise. She hadn't colored completely within the lines, hadn't drawn uniform patches of color as the older kids were able to do. But she'd copied from Christine, the best artist in the class, drawn scalloped circles for the clouds and foliage, added billowy pink curtains to all the windows, and it was good. The teacher had said so, had tacked her picture in the center of the bulletin board with a gold star beside the yellow sun.

"Look what I made!" she exclaimed as she leapt into the bus.

"Ah, let's see," the old driver drawled, "Very nice; you're a real artist."

"Look what I drew!" she shouted as she clattered into the house.

"Don't slam the door," her mother growled. "And hang up your coat."

"Look at my picture!" she sang a few minutes later.

Mother glanced fleetingly at the neighbor lady and crushed her butt.

"OK, let's see," she sighed.

"Oh, honey, it's marvelous!" the neighbor lady caroled as she squinted through her bifocals. "If you were my child -- why, I'd put it in a frame and hang it in my living room right over the sofa!"

"Yes, very nice," mother grunted. "A gold star too, the teacher liked it. Yes, very nice indeed...why don't you tape it to the refrigerator, so that everyone can see."

Mother lit another cigarette, waving it like a baton as she turned to the neighbor lady.

"Like I said before," she muttered, "I'm all against this new zoning. I don't care how much revenue it brings in, it'll bring in the riffraff -- trailer parks and modular homes that fall apart in 10 years. It won't be a nice quiet town anymore, you'll see; we'll have to worry about bikers and beebee guns and..."

Claire had pressed each strip of scotch tape carefully along her picture's margins, each aligned parallel with the freezer's sides and top. She'd pushed the brashly yellow and screaming red magnets far to the right, where they wouldn't clash with the timid pink of her breeze ruffled curtains. She'd pushed the calendar, with its grimy winter sky etched by twisted branches, down, far from her lawn of sun stroked clover. She'd scrubbed away fingerprints with her knuckles and scratched away a streak of dried tomato juice as the adults jabbered about something boring, something she couldn't hear anyway as she soared into the sky's unblemished blue. Gleaming white porcelain sparking gold highlights, the sweetly lulling scent of brewing basil and the hum of contralto voices murmuring incomprehensible nothings had framed her latest creation.

Now Claire, heavy from so much pasta, shuffled towards the archway through the shadows.

"So," the gritty voice continued, "If you want them to be confident later, you've got to feed their self esteem when they're young. Dole out some praise when they try hard."

"Mmmmmm." A rumble from the silhouetted back.

"So, even if it's not an A+ performance, you've got to encourage them. The books say that low self-esteem is the biggest cause of depression in America today."

"Look, Jeanne," the man interrupted, "Why don't you just throw all those books away? Who ever heard of parenting by recipe? Isn't there some instinct involved?"

Claire stole closer. A snake of smoke meandered through the archway, tickling her nose.

"What I'm trying to say, if you'd listen, is that I don't like the thing any more than you do." Mother's coffee cup clattered shrilly against the saucer. "I don't like looking at the kid's scribbles either. So, we'll just leave it up a day, the self-esteem thing. Then we'll take it down tomorrow; she won't even notice."

Encased in smoke, Claire coughed; she couldn't suppress it.

"Oh, there she is!" mother stammered. "Uh, I was just telling your father all about your lovely picture. Right, Sam?"

Claire turned towards the refrigerator, popped open the door and stared at the shelves. The air in the room seemed so heavy and thick with words, muggy with warm phrases and the vapor of dissolving promises, putrid with praises that crumbled to ash like the silvery smoke. The cool refrigerator air felt refreshing against her sweaty neck.

"Are you looking for something, honey?"

Claire held up a Coke. Squinting over the can as she sipped, she noticed the glazed eyes above a lipsticked smile, the jiggling knee beneath the elegantly arched wrist. She memorized the slump of her father's back and the parched folds sagging under his hooded turtle-eyes as he grunted through his part. She wondered when his body had begun folding in on itself, and when her mother's face had split in half, the bottom fixed in a pink smile while the top shifted between frowns and squints and laser stares; she wondered when legs had begun talking more honestly than the mouth. What she wanted couldn't be held up, couldn't be described to these people, couldn't be found in this room, perhaps couldn't be found anywhere at all.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Deirdre and Alana Poe and Their

Tell Tale Hearts

Fred Vaughan headshot by Fred Vaughan

Two nicely-endowed identical twins - lovely girls - decided to strip relativity of its mystery by resolving once and for always the riddle of the "twin paradox." They began by spending considerably on a spacious user-friendly ion blaster equipped with exercise room, bathroom, makeup room, and other amenities so that the life style of the traveling twin could remain equivalent to that of her sister left behind. In addition, they spent even more to instrument themselves to the hilt - medical equipment costs being what they were in the US at the time. This involved specially developed brassieres with sensitive nonintrusive transducers in the left cups that could detect each heartbeat and powerful transmitters to broadcast each coded beep to the ends of the universe. In addition each maintained a receiver antenna for her own and the other coded beeps with a readout of the cumulative heart beats of both twins. When the instrumentation was so well implemented that it no longer itched and could not be seen under a silk gown, they were satisfied.

Perhaps they were operating under false assumptions. For they had come to believe that without mishap or sickness identical twins should have identical numbers of heart beats in their lifetimes and that on the average they would have the same number of heartbeats each year. They tested this hypothesis for a couple of years early in their lives and found that whereas Dierdre had 31,600,029 beats between their 16th and 17th birthdays, Alana had 31,558,371. But then Deirdre had had her first fling somewhat later than Alana and they were gratified that between their 17th and 18th birthdays, Deirdre had 31,579,181 and Alana had 31,579,219. So the idea seemed to work fairly well as biological clocks go. By then the preparations of the ion rocket were completed and so, being inhibited by God's not playing dice, they decided to draw straws. Deirdre drew the short straw so she would have to stay home and watch. They reset their counters to zero, fastened their bras, and with no more adieu Alana was off!

Deirdre watched with some alarm as her own counter ticked along at its usual rate while Alana's crept along, slowing ever so methodically so that at the end of one year it read only 27,932,420 and during the second year it registered only 23,684,400 more ticks. Deirdre was happy that during the third (and final) year of the outward bound leg of Alana's mission she had 23,693,767 beats. At this point Deirdre's readout said 94,737,600 whereas Alana's read only 75,310,587. For the next year Deirdre worried because the number of heartbeats from her beloved sister did not increase as dramatically as she had hoped. But eventually it began picking up and by the end of the fourth year Deirdre was worrying about whether Alana's heart could hold up under the stress of the increasing toll of heartbeats.

The spaceship was sighted at an extreme distance some five and a half years after blast off and the sisters became ecstatic at the prospects of giggling together once again as they had when they were both young. Once they were in voice contact, they no longer watched their readouts as they had so assiduously before. Upon touchdown Alana stepped through the hatch opening she beamed and said, "One tiny step for me and a giant one for womankind!" Whereupon the sisters embraced with giggles enough to make up for years of loneliness. Their beepers raced.

Luckily a couple of thoughtful - though somewhat insensitive - male geek scientists who had become fascinated with the story (and instrumentation, to say nothing of the attractive girls) ripped the bras off the women to stop the beeping and read the meters at this historic point. The bewildered men looked from the now bare-breasted women, back to their readouts, and back again, over and over again in excitement. They shook themselves and looked again. Finally, in total disarray and confusion one of the men asked the other, "Does this mean there's more to life than just so many heart beats?"

The other thought for a while and said finally, "I think it means that if life, or time, or whatever you want to call it is measured as a number of significant events such as heartbeats, then covariance must apply and that quantity must be preserved across reference frames - but damn those twins are beautiful, aren't they? I think the younger one wants me!" he added with a wink.

The twins held their breasts modestly and looked at the men and back at each other in utter disbelief and amazement. Rapidly their biological clocks pheromonally re-synchronized and began pulsing in unison.

"I've been away a long time," Alana said wistfully.

"But not as long as you've been gone," Deirdre stated as a final scientific wrap-up to the just-completed experiment, and then with much more enthusiasm she asked, "Which one do you want?"

Deirdre and Alana sketch
sketch by the author


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Memoir of a Non-Irish Non-Jew

Part I: A Letter to a Rabbi
(Part 2)

Richard May headshot by Richard May

Copyright ©2006 Richard May

Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of many generations.
Ask your father, and he will show you,
Your elders and they will tell you.

- Deuteronomy 32:7

Truth is the safest lie.
- Yiddish proverb

What do I have in common with the Jews?
I don't even have anything in common with myself.

- Franz Kafka

Dear Rabbi Betrueger,

Thank you for helping me to obtain the genealogical work Americans of Jewish Descent, by Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern, Ph.D., from the library of the Temple Beth Zion. Thank you especially for allowing me to take it out of the library.

Rabbi drawing

My great grandfather was a yarmulke-wearing jeweler in Boston, Mass. (Charles May and Son Company). But Father, who almost never spoke of this, hastened to add that we were not Jews. Great Grandfather "just pretended" to be a Jew in order to "fool the Jews." (Father may have been told this by his father who was his only parent after an early age.)

That was Father's only statement of religious identity ever that I can recall. We weren't Jews. Not that he ever claimed that we were Lutherans or German Catholics. (Nor did he deny that we had been Muslims or Hindus!)

Father also added that Charles looked very Jewish. So Charles would hardly have required a yarmulke to have a Jewish appearance for whatever reason. I later learned that my grandfather was also a jeweler. But he was only said to have had "a business."

Death notices in the newspaper said that Charles had been a wholesale jeweler. Curiously no photographs of Grandfather remained for me to see, although he lived till early 1949.

Jewish genealogical sources have told me that there were many Jews with the surname "May" in the region of Germany where my ancestors originated, Giessen in the Rheinland in the state of Hessen. I thought that a town such as Giessen seemed an unlikely place of origin for Jews, who would have been in large cities such as Berlin or Frankfurt. But I have been informed that there are several people researching the subject of Jews in Giessen on the Jewishgen, the largest on-line Jewish genealogical service. Genealogical research (with the help of a professional Jewish genealogist among others) has revealed that my great great grandfather, who was born ca.1811, probably in the Hessen, was named Ferdinand May or possibly Ferdinand Mayer. I thought that the given name "Ferdinand" sounded neither Germanic nor Jewish, but I was mistaken. In the article in The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia on the Jewish MAY family, the given name "Ferdinand" occurs throughout. Moreover there is a reference to a "Memoir and Genealogy of Ferdinand Mayer, 1832-1971" in the list of 8000 Jewish surnames published in Finding Our Fathers by Dan Rottenberg. "Ferdinand" is also listed as a Jewish surname.

Ferdinand May, with his wife and seven children, left the Hessen (Germany) in March of 1853 and took up residence at Number 3 New Street Bishopsgate Street in London, England--which coincidentally, of course, was one of the very best places to be a Jew in the mid 19th century.

I was able to obtain a complete copy of Ferdinand May's English naturalization papers of 1856, by which he applied for and was granted English citizenship. These papers included the testimony of four character witnesses who swore that he was a good fellow who loved England and the Queen. Obviously these four were among Ferdinand May's most trusted friends and associates in his adopted country. Their names were as follows: Morris Hart, Henry Levin, Benjamin Cohen, and David Israel! Coincidentally all four names were "Jewish," during a time in which Jews were more separate from the non-Jewish world than they are today. I suppose that Father might have claimed that they were "just pretending" to be Jews in order to "fool the Jews," if there actually were any real (non-pretending) Jews to fool!

In the words of a member of the congregation of the Temple Beth Zion upon hearing this, I am a "Jew by my Father's side". (I may also be a "born Jew under the law" through my mother's mother, Florence Crane, who was an orphan whose daughter, my mother, was also an orphan. But that is another, more fragmented tale.) So, indeed, I think that my ancestors "fooled the Jews," and I was among the Jews who were "fooled" (through apostasy, intermarriage, assimilation, and denial of Jewish identity).

Eventually I hope to obtain a copy of Ferdinand May's death record from England and to learn the names of his parents and maybe discover a Hebraic family name. Also I would like to learn if the family surname was originally "Mayer" in Germany.

How does one obtain a kippah?

Richard W. May

Genealogical Discoveries

Initially I did not realize the significance of the London street addresses on Ferdinand's naturalization papers. Ferdinand's address at that time was Bishopsgate Street. His character witnesses' addresses were as follows: Mr. Levin's address was also Bishopsgate Street, David Israel's was on Whitechapel, Morris Hart's (a dealer in foreign fruit) was also on Whitechapel, and Benjamin Cohen's (a commission agent) was at Bevis Marks Saint Mary Avenue. Each of these addresses is in London's East End, i.e., the well-known Jewish quarter!

Later the May family moved to13 Wilson St., near the Clerkenwell area, which is noted for its Jewish watchmakers (London and Its Peoples: A Social History from the Medieval Period to the Present Day, by John Richardson). According to the 1863 London street directory three doors down at 16 Wilson St. was Reuben Levy and Company, wholesale watch manufacturers. It is not unlikely that Charles learned the art of watch making here.

On the English naturalization papers in 1856 of Ferdinand May in London he states explicitly that he is substituting Declarations in lieu of Oaths in accordance with an Act of Parliament passed in the sixth year of his late Majesty William the Fourth, which permitted the abolition of unnecessary Oaths. I thought that this was a strange concern until I learned the following: In 1851 David Salomons was elected M.P. for Greenwich, took his seat without taking the Oath and was fined 500 pounds sterling. In 1858 a Jewish Oath Bill was passed by Parliament permitting Jews to sit. Baron Lionel de Rothschild became the first Jewish M.P., after having been twice elected by the City of London as their member and not allowed to take his seat (from The History Of The Jews In London, by Adler, page 238, Chronological Annals, Jewish Publication Society).

I wondered what was going on here regarding Jews and oaths. Was my ancestor's statement regarding oaths being no longer necessary a matter that would be of concern to an observant Jew? Then I learned that while the Talmud doesn't absolutely prohibit the swearing of an oath it advises, "Whether you are right or wrong, never take an oath." Avoidance of oath taking based upon the Talmud has continued even to the present (The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, page 261). So my suspicions seemed to be confirmed.

Charles May and Son Company was a wholesale jewelry business founded by Charles in the late 19th century. He was listed in a Boston, Mass. business directory by 1866 (one year after his immigration to the U.S.A.) as a watchmaker. According to the 1861 London census, Charles had learned to practice the trade of watch making by age sixteen.

Charles May and Son Company, which was located at 373 Washington St., Boston, Mass., at the corner of Bromfield St., was incorporated in Massachusetts in 1912. The corporation was not legally dissolved until 1943. Indeed, Charles worked there until he was in his eighties, according to his death record. William May, his son, was president of the corporation. The treasurer was Walter Stanley Campbell, his son-law. To my surprise the family business was apparently listed on the stock exchange. Charles' will of 1924 and the codicil of 1926 referred to shares of common and preferred stock in Charles May and Son Company.

Charles May, his wife, their two daughters and a son-in-law are buried in a common plot in a non-sectarian cemetery in Boston, Mass. with no religious symbols (such as crosses, stars of David or Hebrew writing) on their graves. As the Deists compared G-d with a watchmaker, maybe in this case the watchmaker became a Deist?

In March of 1853 Ferdinand "May," accompanied by his wife and seven children, arrived in London, England, having departed from Giessen in the State of the Hessen. Giessen was the chief city of the upper Hessen. It had a university and at least two synagogues. (Germany did not exist as a unified nation until 1871.) Prior to this in what is now Germany the family surname had been Mayer (Meyer), since 1809 when Jews in the Hessen adopted surnames. Before 1809 in the Hessen most but not all Jews used patronymic names. Spelling was not standardized in the early 19th century. Hence, a name could have several spellings, which were all considered equivalent and none incorrect. So Mayer was equivalent to Meyer (among other variants) and both often occurred on the same record or document.

Charles May's name on his Giessen birth record was Siegfried Karl Mayer, certainly sounding more Germanic than "Jewish". Charles on American vital records gave his mother's name as Catherine May. This certainly doesn't sound very Jewish. Her name in England was Kettchen May. In Germany her name was Kaetchen Mayer. Her maiden surname was Landauer. So Catherine May was Kaetchen Landauer Mayer!

Finally after three years of research I found the smoking yarmulke. On 18 November 1863 Rosalie May, age 24, Ferdinand's daughter (Charles' oldest sibling) married Louis Heim, the son of Jacob Heim who was a synagogue reader, at 13 Wilson Street, London, England (where both were living). The marriage was officiated over by Dr. Nathan Marcus Adler, the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue. The marriage certificate adds that the marriage was performed according to the "rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion." Indeed, until only very recently in England only Jews could be legally married in their homes, whereas gentiles could be married only at a Civil Registry (justice of the peace) or in a house of worship.

A death notice in the Jewish Chronicle of 16 November 1894, says "On 10th November, Kattchen May of 23 Penn Road Villas, N., aged 83, mother of William May of Finsbury Park, and George May of Highbury New Park." The United Synagogue burial records for Kattchen May list her status as "member of East Ham". "East Ham" refers to the East Ham Synagogue in East London. The United Synagogue burial records for Ferdinand May list his status as "stranger"! There was no death notice in the Jewish Chronicle for Ferdinand May.

Ferdinand Mayer's professions as listed on the birth records of his seven children who were born in Giessen were as follows: wine dealer, restaurant owner, businessman/trader, liquor manufacturer (which, incidentally, was considered a respectable profession and not prohibited by Jewish law), and businessman/merchant. On his London death record, English naturalization papers, census records and in London commercial directories in the 1860s he was said to be a hotel proprietor ("private hotel keeper"). Commercial directories also listed "Ferdinand May: watch maker" and "Ferdinand May, 13 Wilson St.: commission agent". "Commission agent" was generally in Victorian London a gentile term for bookmaker of the gambling variety!

Ferdinand MEYER (Mayer) is listed on a register of citizens from Giessen (which spanned the years 1770-1898) as follows:

Ferdinand MEYER
Born: 25 March 1812 in Nierstein
Religion: Jewish
Profession: wine dealer
Received as a citizen 15 May 1838 as per order of the district council.
Nierstein is well known for its wines, hence Ferdinand's profession. Receiving citizenship was a step taken in preparation for his imminent marriage.

The Giessen citizenship register (1770-1898) had the following information on Ferdinand's father-in-law, Isaak Simon LANDAUER:

Isaak Simon LANDAUER
Born: 7 January 1775 in Rohrbach (Baden)
Religion: Jewish
Profession: merchant
Isaak Simon Landauer and his wife (name not given) were granted citizenship in Giessen on 2 April 1833.

Jewish vital records were, and in fact still are, kept separate from gentile vital records in the Giessen archives. Oddly, it is here in the separate Jewish-records section where my May ancestral records of the MAYERs and the LANDAUERs were located.

The civil marriage record of Ferdinand Mayer in Giessen stated that Ferdinand Mayer, local citizen, twenty-six years old, and Kaetchen, twenty-six years old, daughter of the local citizen Isaak Simon LANDAUER from here (Giesssen), were married on 5 June 1838. The witnesses were Simon LOEB and Salomon HEICHELHEIM from Giessen. The civil marriage record referenced the Rabbi's certificate, but did not give the name of the Rabbi who officiated at the marriage.

Ferdinand's birth record is in French, because Napoleon occupied that area of the Hessen at the time of his birth, which occurred on 26 February 1812 in Nierstein (very near Oppenheim) on the Rhine river. His father was Guillaume (Wilhelm) MAYER, aged forty-two, a tradesman by profession. His mother was Julienne (or Juliette) MAYER. Initially it appeared that her maiden name was also Mayer (Jewish marriages to relatives, including cousins, were quite common and in accordance with Jewish law). But her maiden name was actually Juliette Hamburg.

Ferdinand and Kettchen May are buried in the West Ham Cemetery (a Jewish cemetery) in East London. On Ferdinand's head stone the Hebrew inscription says: "Niftar Erev Shabat Kodesh" (Died on the Eve of the Holy Sabbath) "Kaf Bet" (22 Adar, the 22nd day of the month of Adar) "Taf Resh Nun" = 650, that is, the year 5650 on the Jewish calendar, which corresponds to Friday, 14 March 1890.

Nizkor et masoret hadorot, v'nishzor bah et sarigay chayeynu.
(Recalling the generations, we weave our lives into the tradition.)
- from The Book of Blessings, by Marcia Falk

Note on Not Being Irish

On 13 March 1911, near the time of a full moon and four days before St. Patrick's day, my grandfather, Hiram Porter McGinnis, a Scots-Irish farmer and great grandson of a Revolutionary War soldier, returned to his home at Cold Spring Park, Crown Point, N.Y., apparently drunk, and shot his second wife (my grandmother, Florence Crane McGinnis) through the left lung. He then shot himself through the heart, after first unlocking the door to their dwelling to prevent any property damage when the authorities arrived. Both died.

Florence had apparently been sifting flour in the pantry at the time, according to the coroner's inquest report, a document not often mentioned in genealogy. These events were witnessed by my mother who was six years old and her younger brother. Both watched outside, looking in a window. An infant slept nearby.

Hiram was sixty-one years old at the time, whereas Florence, who had initially been Hiram's adopted daughter, had just turned twenty-nine two days before, according to their death records. Hiram's first wife, perhaps aptly named "Sophia" (wisdom), had driven a horse and buggy off a pier and subsequently drowned, according to the anecdotal report of a cousin.

Hence, we weren't Irish, as we weren't Jewish. I was only told that Mother's maiden name was Crane, and that she had been an orphan and did not know the names of her parents. ("Truth is the safest lie.")

Note Explaining "kippah"

Kippah is the Hebrew word for yarmulke. The word yarmulke is of Yiddish/Polish origin. (Somewhere in the Talmud it is stated that a man shall not walk four paces without covering his head. Apparently one to three paces was permissible. The sages did not interpret this to apply only to bald men. The purpose of the kippah was to remind the wearer that G-d is above.)

Related Reading

Suddenly Jewish: Jews Raised As Gentiles Discover Their Jewish Roots, by Barbara Kessel

The Tribes of Israel, by Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail

After Long Silence, by Helen Fremont

Turbulent Souls, by Stephen Dubner