23 February 2010

Hong Kong: Day Three

The Hong Kong Jewish Community Center events committee produced this card about my two talks on Wednesday and Thursday:

It should be very interesting as so many people are saying they will attend.

I forgot to add an interesting conversation I had last night with Amy Mines Tadelis on the way to dinner. She told me about her husband, whose family is Polish, although their Sephardic name TADELIS - about as rare as TALALAY - is possibly related to the famous Benjamin of Tudela (Spain), who wrote a book about his journeys.

Never made it to the Kowloon ferry today, as I attended a Jewish Women's Archive (JWA) luncheon meeting at the JCC. The JWA holds meetings and events here, and I was interested because Tracing the Tribe often blogs on JWA events and activities in the US, but didn't know there was a branch here in Hong Kong.

Speaker Professor Atara Sivan of Hong Kong Baptist University has been here for some 20 years, when the community was very different. She and her husband came from Israel for six months a long time ago, and stayed; their sons were born and raised here.

Atara's talk was "Lost in Translation: The Emotional Journey of Women" and centered on women who follow their husbands to different countries for work, discussing problems of adjustment as well as that of their children, whom she refers to as "children of the world."

The core point was identity, who are we, what do the children consider themselves, issues of passport and "real" home, as well as the personal identity issues for the parents who may have been away from their home countries for many years.

It was a follow-up to the identity conversation I had yesterday with Mira Hasofer. It was also very personal for me. I remembered all too well my long-ago arrival in Teheran, back to the US and then to Israel. "Fish out of water" came to mind in my own memories. I wish a seminar like this had been available all those decades ago.

After lunch, we sat and talked, with several other long time residents of HK, for about an hour after the event ended. Atara described her work with some at-risk schools in the area who do not enjoy anything remotely like the resources of the Carmel School, housed at the JCC.

In fact, I'm sitting right now in the beautiful two-level JCC Judaica Library (below is one wall of the room). I haven't found any Jewish genealogy books on the shelves; I'm going to suggest a list for them to acquire, including Jeff Malka's "Sephardic Genealogy."

Following the theme of preserving identity and memories, I just saw now - right at my elbow - "In Memory's Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin," (Jason Aaronson, 1996) edited by Cara De Silva and translated by Terezin survivor Bianca Steiner Brown. If you haven't read this slim volume, do look for it. In Michael Berenbaum's forward, he writes:
"For some, the way to deal with this hunger was to repress the past, to live only in the present, to think only of today, neither of yesterday nor of tomorrow. Not so the women who compiled this cookbook. They talked of the past; they dared to think of food, to dwell on what they were missing - pots and pans, a kitchen, home, family, guests, meals, entertainment. Therefore, this cookbook compiled by women in Theresienstadt, by starving women in Theresienstadt, must be seen as yet another manifestation of defiance, of a spiritual revolt against the harshness of given conditions. It is a flight of the imagination back to an earlier time when food was available, when women had homes and kitchens and could provide a meal for their children. The fantasy must have been painful for the authors. Recalling recipes was an act of discipline that required them to suppress their current hunger and to think of the ordinary world before the camps - and perhaps to dare to dream of a world after the camps."
In the introduction, Cara de Silva explains how the hand-sewn crumbling cookbook arrived at the home of Anny Stern, 25 years on the way from Terezin to New York's East Side. Sent by her mother Mina Pachter, it included a photo of Mina and Anny's son (then Peter, now David) and a fragile, crumbling book with pages on which were written some 80 recipes in different hands.

She writes:
"Food is who we are in the deepest sense, and not because it is transformed into blood and bone. Our personal gastronomic traditions 0 what we eat, the foods and foodways we associate with the rituals of childhood, marriage and parenthood, moments around the table, celebrations - are critical components of our identities."

In the camp, Mina and her friends faithfully recorded their favorite recipes: Heu und Stroh, fried noodles with raisins, cinnamon and vanilla cream; Kletzenbrot, a rich fruit bread; Erdapfel Dalken, potato doughnuts; Badener Caramell Bonbons, caramels from Baden Baden; and more.

Some of the people I met today included a woman whose mother and mother-in-law were living in Shanghai and also had connections to Harbin, people originally from Los Angeles and New York, some who have been here for a long time and speak Mandarin and Cantonese, to those who have just arrived, such as a Persian man and his wife who have been here only one year from New York. It is certainly an interesting community.

Tonight we (Mira, Armelle and me) had dinner at the JCC's Sabra Coffee Shop - a low-key quiet night and we all left early to catch up on work.


  1. Anonymous1:52 PM

    "Badener Caramell Bonbons, caramels from Baden Baden",

    are you sure, "Baden" refers to the German "Baden-Baden"? There is also a Baden bei Wien, which, for some of the Terezin inmates may have been geographically closer than Baden-Baden ...


  2. Hi, Fritz,

    That information was written in the book itself. I can only assume that the woman who contributed that recipe believed it was Baden-Baden and not Baden bei Wien.
    with best wishes

  3. Hi, Fritz,

    That information was written in the book itself. I can only assume that the woman who contributed that recipe believed it was Baden-Baden and not Baden bei Wien.
    with best wishes