An American immigrant explores the sprawling history of the Jewish people, from Poland to Jerusalem and the New World, through the struggles of generations of his family.
Chaim Linder starts his debut memoir with the story of his grandparents in Poland in the late 19th century, who felt the rumblings of trouble for the Jews in Europe and left to find the shining city of Jerusalem. What they discovered wasn’t exactly what they pictured—there were still political problems and financial trials. But they were with other Jews, hoping to build the city they envisioned. Both sets of grandparents, the Linders and the Reismans, came from Plotsk, near Warsaw, traveling by donkey, ship, or even walking. In Jerusalem, they lived by Orthodox custom, with matchmakers arranging marriages, the men studying the Talmud, and the women’s families providing dowries. Linder’s parents, Haskel and Reizel, almost didn’t get married. Haskel’s mother was horrified by Reizel’s lack of refinement. Fortunately, the match endured, and Linder was born in Jerusalem. His family survived World War I and terrible conditions under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, then the Kaiser, and finally the British. The movement to make a permanent home for the Jews was under way, and tensions with the Arabs in Palestine were rising. Meanwhile, Linder strained to find his true calling. He didn’t want to study the Talmud all his life and was bored by his print-setting job. That led him to join his father and his brother Moshe in America. The illuminating book—written with Mark Linder, the author’ son, and filled with family photographs—is rich in history, taking the time to explain the political and religious currents that led a population to Jerusalem and caused many to flee to America. In Jerusalem, “money was eating away at the Hasidic community….The lack of housing was part of this mix, for it meant people had to share apartments, and the watchful eyes of the elder generation kept the younger in line.” The author also tells his family’s story with passion, charm, and exquisite detail. He re-creates dialogue from conversations held a century ago and describes where people lived and worked down to the floor plan, mostly drawing from his family’s records and tales. As a memoir, it’s beautifully rendered, and as history, it’s masterfully told.
An engrossing and important look at the Jewish experience of the last century and a half.