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Posted July 17, 2002
I have reviewed many books in the past, mostly for scholarly journals. This is, however, a new experience for me. I know the author; he was a beacon in my own bleak childhood, and after fifty years of journeying in different directions, we are once again in touch. On every page of Journeys I recognize the beam of hope that he has cast for all who entered his life-long journey as a group social worker, colleague, friend or even as a casual acquaintance. If this review appears as much a tribute as a critique, it is only fair to tell the reader where I am coming from. Journeys, together with its predecessor work Deja Views of an Aging Orphan, are a combination of mostly autobiography and history of the author's family in the early chapters. The part that is autobiography has a 'deep structure' dealing with the perennial struggle of conscience over expediency, and between principle and self-interest. In this connection, the book describes the bureaucracies that the author has battled, interspersed with stories of the many troubled individuals that the author befriended and to whom he provided non-intrusive and invaluable guidance. This is all done without self-congratulation; in fact, he gives himself various pseudonyms as he relates these stories. My own relationship to the author is not described in the book, but those that are reported are highly representative of it, and of perhaps a thousand unreported others. Here it is impossible not to interpose a personal account of what Sam meant to me. I too was an orphan. Although she was not dead, my mother was institutionalized when I was ten, and although he was not dead either, my father was unable to care for a grieving and desperately unhappy pre-adolescent. After family members gave up on me, I was deposited on the doorstep of the Pride of Judea Childfrens home, where Sam Arcus - only eight years my senior - was a counselor. Sam, a caring and dedicated mentor, taught us all that 'a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,' and he encouraged us to get all the education we could for that journey. He shared what he was learning as a part-time college student, and although I believed it to be far beyond my capacity to achieve, he gave me the strength and longing for knowledge that ultimately would lead me to a Ph.D. and a deeply satisfying academic career. At twelve years old, I felt I had only one true friend, and that friend was Sam. At age sixteen, in early 1944, I joined the wartime merchant marine. Sam and I had many conversations about the wisdom of that decision prior to its implementation. I hear echoes of those discussions in several chapters of the book. For instance, one chapter deals with a family contemplating and pursuing conversion from Catholicism to Judaism, and another is about a frightened, lonely and bewildered youngster who had been through them all -- counselor, social workers, parole officer, cops - without relief. Among the many reasons the author is able to help where other fail is that he never forgot the loneliness, bewilderment and fright from his own childhood and adolescence. The earlier book, Deja Views, told of Sam's own experiences as an orphan at the Hebrew National Orphan Home, and as a counselor at the Pride of Judea. Journeys contains historical accounts of Sam's family in Russia, explaining how he came to HNOH, and autobiographical accounts of his career as a social worker and administrator of various Jewish Community Centers in the United States. (Never mind the pseudonyms; all the characters are Sam.) The family history is fascinating, giving the reader a glimpse into the true meaning of the phrase, 'The best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray.' As the son of a relatively prosperous Jewish horse breeder in Russia, Sam's father Nathan (Nochem, as he is called in the book) came to the United States with plans to bring his wife Basha and two young children along as soon as he had the means to doWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 23, 2002
¿Journeys¿ is an interesting book and a most surprising one, as well. After reading the author¿s initial book, ¿Deja Views of an Aging Orphan¿, and knowing that ¿Journeys¿ was to be its sequel, I expected it to be just that, a straightforward sequel. But, it isn¿t. All of the stories in this volume are, what the author calls, ¿free-standing short stories¿. While the first eight such stories are sequels to the ¿Deja Views¿ book, the rest are quite different, although they do follow the author¿s life and remain true to his ¿journeys' theme. In the initial eight stories, the author shares with us the dramatic twists and turns of his family in ¿the old country¿ as they attempt to survive and emigrate to the ¿new world.¿ It¿s small wonder that the dominant theme, expressed by the author for this part of his history, is the Robert Burns aphorism, ¿The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray!¿ Consider, if you will, his father, Nochem (Nathan), going to the new world, and inadvertently disappearing, for years; the willful torching of the family house that killed nine family members, and the harrowing journey of some 600 miles by foot, in the dead of winter, by Bashya, Nochem¿s wife, and their two small children, who were the only survivors! After finally rejoining her own family, on a journey worthy of Ulysses, Banya has to wait years before being able to locate Nathan, in America, only to learn, that because he had heard that she and his children had perished in the fire, had remarried and had three children by his second wife, Mollie. Sam Arcus is one of these three children! Mollie, upon learning that her husband¿s first wife and children are alive, immediately believes that she and her three children are illegitimate and becomes acutely distressed by the shame. The upset is so severe that when young Sam is but seven years old, his mother throws herself off her apartment house roof and dies. Nathan cannot work and care for his 3 youngest children and has no recourse other than to place them in orphanages. As the doors close on their baleful cries of 'Papa, why are you putting us here; don¿t leave us here, Papa,¿ this painful segment comes to an end. As indicated above, this segment of early Arcus family history was gripping and powerful; lives forever shaped by anti-Semitism, accidents, murder, poor decisions, miscommunications, and the like, that sent people, young and old, in all directions! It is an account that most of us can identify with. Don¿t each of us have, in our ancestries, just these sorts of ¿journeys¿ that enable us to say ¿almost the same thing happened to my family! Or, if we were luckier, ¿There but for the Grace of God, go I!¿ Upon conclusion of this segment, the author reminds the reader that his entire 12 years in the HNOH orphanage is covered in his book, ¿Deja Views of an Aging Orphan.¿ Part two really begins with Story XI when we next meet Sam, not only married, but a father as well. There¿s a great sense of paternal pride in this story, ¿Norman¿s First Journey,¿ where little Norman Arcus, son of Adele & Sam, and just 19 months old, goes for an unexpected neighborhood walk, much to the near heart failure of his parents. But, then we say goodbye to Sam Arcus and say hello to his pseudonym, Sol Wise, as Sam takes us through his interesting career in directing Jewish Community Centers. That he adopts this literary ploy is a clever thing to do because he obviously wants to remain accurate to his stories, and yet he needs to disguise the colorful characters who populate the different stops in his illustrious career. So, in story, #12, we meet Sol Wise, assistant Y director, young, dynamic, idealistic, but about to be ¿set-up¿ in this story, aptly entitled, ¿The Set-Up.¿ And so the reader is introduced to the typical JCC, a world of politics, power, and maneuvering, that always makes the director feel as if he¿s constantly being tilted¿..toward the exit door! But ¿Journeys¿ takes soWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.