They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland before the Holocaust / Edition 1

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Overview

Intimate, humorous, and refreshingly candid, this extraordinary work is a remarkable record—in both words and images—of Jewish life in a Polish town before World War II as seen through the eyes of an inquisitive boy. Mayer Kirshenblatt, who was born in 1916 and left Poland for Canada in 1934, taught himself to paint at age 73. Since then, he has made it his mission to remember the world of his childhood in living color, "lest future generations know more about how Jews died than how they lived." This volume presents his lively paintings woven together with a marvelous narrative created from interviews that took place over forty years between Mayer and his daughter, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Together, father and daughter draw readers into a lost world—we roam the streets and courtyards of the town of Apt, witness details of daily life, and meet those who lived and worked there: the pregnant hunchback, who stood under the wedding canopy just hours before giving birth; the khayder teacher caught in bed with the drummer's wife; the cobbler's son, who was dressed in white pajamas all his life to fool the angel of death; the corpse that was shaved; and the couple who held a "black wedding" in the cemetery during a cholera epidemic. This moving collaboration—a unique blend of memoir, oral history, and artistic interpretation—is at once a labor of love, a tribute to a distinctive imagination, and a brilliant portrait of life in one Jewish home town.

Copub: The Judah L. Magnes Museum

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Editorial Reviews

Artdaily.org
“Brimming with rich narrative detail. . . . This unique project is a blend of memoir, oral history, and visual interpretation.”
Religion & Ethics Nwswkly
“When Kirshenblatt paints Jewish rituals and life, whether in joy or sadness, he preserves . . . the collective memories of the Polish Jewish community.”
Journal of American Folklore - Suzanne MacAulay
"An inventive, lively collection."
Publishers Weekly

Memoirs have become a vital genre in Holocaust studies, and while all are important, the uniqueness of some makes them especially important. Mayer Kirshenblatt (b. 1916) grew up in the small Polish town of Apt, a center of rabbinical culture, and in 1934 emigrated to Canada. When he was in his mid-70s his wife and daughter urged him to paint a visual record of the everyday life of his youth. Kirshenblatt's paintings are amazing-a cross between a childlike realism and the embroidered fantasy of memory; they convey a sense of boyhood innocence tinged with grief. The subjects range from people shopping in town stores and chopping wood to celebrations like weddings and the festival of Succoth. Kirshenblatt has an eye for quirky visual and social detail, as in his picture The Kleptomaniac Slipping a Fish Down Her Bosom.These exactingly reproduced paintings are enhanced by Kirshenblatt's equally fresh memoirs, transmitted to his daughter, Barbara (co-editor, The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times): from jokes that emanated from the women's mikve, or ritual bath, to the mechanics of the local laundry. This collection of pre-Holocaust memories will be a lasting contribution to our understanding of Eastern European Jewish life and culture before its destruction. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Mayer Kirshenblatt is an artist living and working in Toronto. His work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at The Jewish Museum in New York, Koffler Gallery, and Canadian National Exhibition, as well as in an exhibition organized by the Smithsonian
Institution. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is University Professor and Professor of Performance Studies at New York University. She is the author of Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage (UC Press) and Image Before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland Before the Holocaust (with Lucjan Dobroszycki) and coeditor of Art from Start to Finish and The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times.

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Table of Contents

Storehouse of Memories
1. My Town
From the Ancient City Gate
Along the River
The Jewish Street
Opatów
Competition Was Keen
Getting Around
2. My Family
Dominoes, Cheesecake, and Cigarettes
A Turkey as Big as a Calf
Rivke the Cossack
The Soup Pot Never Left the Stove
The Courtyard
Going Bankrupt
3. My Youth
Robbed of My Youth
Teasing Snails from Their Shells
A Place to Belong
No Future in Apt
4. My Future
A Cold and Stormy Crossing
A Heavy Heart

A Daughter’s Afterword
Note on Language
Acknowledgments
List of Illustrations

Index

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