Social Commentary

sites/default/files/Me as baby copy.jpgI wore my best blue suit to meet Harry Springett. In a place where even modest dwellings were named, my parents took me to “Fairhaven,” 15 Flower Street, The Gardens, Cape Town. Mr. Springett was the first photographer I’d met.

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On a unique occasion, before I entered elementary school, my mother spoke of her birthplace. She called it “Yelok,” the Yiddish form of Ylakiai. It was then a tiny village, a shtetl, in northwest Lithuania, with a population of less than one thousand. About half of them were Jewish. My mother’s family name was Abramson, her father, Simon. I don’t recall her mother’s name, and mother quietly refused any further inquiry. By the time I was a teenager, I realized that she was taking refuge from intense pain, and I didn’t pursue the subject.

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On the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah in 1946, before my eighth birthday, I accompanied my parents to visit my only remaining grandparent, Blume-Devorah Westermann-Shevelev. The others had all died in Latvia and Lithuania before I was born. We lived in a flat on the lower slope of Table Mountain, with a view of the city and harbor. My paternal grandmother – bubbe – lived in the vibrant suburb of Sea Point, two or three blocks from the oceanfront, from which one can see Robben Island.

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Many, many years ago, in deep midsummer, I journeyed to consult with the wisest of all people, the Oracle of Delphi. The arduous horseback ride north of Athens was quite uncomfortable, especially the last twenty kilometers into the mountains.

Arriving at the top of the hill, where the temple is located, I sank to the ground and rested on the cool, shaded marble, drinking copiously from an unglazed amphora of cold water provided by an acolyte. I sat there, quietly and reflectively, for perhaps an hour, before being summoned into the presence of the Oracle.

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