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  • Two Memoirs After Seven Decades
  • Rachel Berghash (bio) and Helène Aylon (bio)

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Rachel Berghash Half a House: My Life in and Out of Jerusalem Sunstone Press, 2011 Photo left: Berghash in army uniform, Nachal Brigade (Fighting Pioneer Youth)


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Helène Aylon Whatever is Contained Must Be Released: My Orthodox Jewish Girlhood My Life as a Feminist Artist The Feminist Press, 2012 Photo right: detail from Aylon's installation, My Marriage Contract

We both were born in the '30s—Rachel in the holy city of Jerusalem, Helène in the Jewish ghetto of Borough Park. Seven decades later, we each wrote our memoirs. Our books are coming out around the same time. [End Page 126]

Helène Aylon:

You know, my life as an artist began when I was 35. My first show was in 1970 when I finally crossed the Brooklyn Bridge.

Rachel Berghash:

I was in and out of Jerusalem.

HA:

And you still are. But I see my life as a feminist artist being a continuation of my Orthodox girlhood. There's just a dash that separates my two halves.

RB:

How so?

HA:

My mother had strengthened me in her absolute convictions, even though I tried to reason with her and negate what she stood for. There were no two ways for her. Something about her staunchness became an anchor for me so that I would not float away entirely.

RB:

And after marrying an American I left my homeland, a country I love, and moved to New York. It wasn't until the age of 38 that I wrote my first poem. We both started our "Arts and Letters" in our late 30s. I shuttled between my original and adopted countries, and grappled with a divided self. As Cavafy, the Greek poet, writes, "He who hopes to grow in spirit/will have to transcend obedience and respect/ . . .he won't be afraid of the destructive act: half the house will have to come down."

That is where the title of my book comes from, Half the House.

HA:

Oh, lovely. But what was your "destructive act?"

RB:

I was also raised in a religious home. But I stopped observing; I could do this only in "exile."

HA:

You are implying that Israel is Homeland, and the rest of the world is Exile. So what did you bring into the House from outside?

RB:

I would never be comfortable teaching Christian and Buddhist sources, which I did for many years, if I had stayed in Jerusalem.

HA:

How come?

RB:

It would be taboo.

HA:

Really?

RB:

Yes. It felt heretical to introduce other religions in Jerusalem when I taught a seminar there in 1974. Now, Buddhism in Israel is much more understood. But then . . . my parents were wary about my books in Buddhism and especially Christianity.

HA:

We have to get over our fears about Christianity and see it as a continuum. Tell you the truth, I remember one comment I learned in your seminar that Jesus said, something about what's important is not what goes into your mouth, but what comes out of it.

I never told you about my installation in a Christian seminary. I called it "The Last Supper/ Names," the names of Jesus and the disciples all in Hebrew.

RB:

This, now, can be okay in Jerusalem. And I myself might not be so uncomfortable teaching comparative religion in present Israel. Jerusalem is still my home, and New York is my office.

HA:

And I think of Borough Park as my home, but as Thomas Wolfe wrote, You Can't Go Home Again. I suppose I am clinging to the past and leaving it at the same time. I am [End Page 127] like a runner on a treadmill. I don't go far. I did try living in California for a decade, but it seemed like Play Land.

RB:

What about Israel?

HA:

For me, Israel is the Platonic ideal, and the refuge from anti-Semitism, just in case.

RB:

You know, I took a long detour before reconnecting with Judaism.

HA:

Where did you...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9552
Print ISSN
1046-8358
Pages
pp. 126-132
Launched on MUSE
2011-06-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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