Split at the Root, An Essay on Jewish Identity

This personal essay right away offers the promise of intimacy, self exploration, and unblinking thoroughness.  Does that call to you as a writer or reader?  Personally, it was also wonderful to find out she has a connection to Birmingham, AL.  Her life and writing(s) are well worth exploring.

The full essay is available online:  http://www.public.asu.edu/~hiroshi/eng101/…/rich.doc

 Split at the Root, An Essay on Jewish Identity (excerpted…)                 Adrienne Rich

For about fifteen minutes I have been sitting chin in hand in front of the typewriter, staring out at the snow. Trying to be honest with myself, trying to figure out why writing this seems to be so dangerous an act, filled with fear and shame, and why it seems so necessary. It comes to me that in order to write this I have to be willing to do two things: I have to claim my father, for I have my Jewishness from him and not from my gentile mother; and I have to break his silence, his taboos; in order to claim him I have in a sense to expose him…

But this (story) begins, for me, in Baltimore, where I was born in my father’s workplace, a hospital in the Black ghetto, whose lobby contained an immense white marble statue of Christ.

My father was then a young teacher and researcher in the department of pathology at the Johns Hopkins Medical School, one of the very few Jews to attend or teach at that institution. He was from Birmingham, Alabama; his father, Samuel, was an immigrant from Austria-Hungary, and his mother, Hattie Rice, a Sephardic Jew from Vicksburg, Mississippi. My grandfather had had a shoe store in Birmingham, which did well enough to allow him to retire comfortably and to leave my grandmother income on his death. The only souvenirs of my grandfather, Samuel Rich, were his ivory flute, which lay on our living-room mantel and was not to be played with; his thin gold pocket watch, which my father wore; and his Hebrew prayer book, which I discovered among my father’s books in the course-of reading my way through his library. In this prayer book there was a newspaper clipping about my grandparents’ wedding, which took place in a synagogue.



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